Working with metal can be a satisfying hobby. When you create something out of metal, you’re creating something that will last through the ages. Working metal is incredibly rewarding, but it also has strict requirements. After all, to work metal, you need immense amounts of heat. Without heat and some method to contain it, metal will be stubborn and impossible to forge.
With enough heat, even the most stubborn metal will be malleable under your tools. The key to this heat is the forge. Forges run on either coal or gas. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and even if you don’t want to buy a forge kit, you can easily build your own. Plans for homemade forges, with some modern updates, can be found on hobby sites across the Internet. Building your own forge is a rewarding project on its own, and once you have it, you’re free to dominate metal in any way you choose
A gas forge is ideal for small projects. It’s simple to build, easy to transport and gives you all the heat you need to get a piece of iron glowing white-hot. You don’t have blacksmith coal to worry about so gas forges are cleaner to deal with.
On the other hand, there is a visceral satisfaction that accompanies firing up a coal forge. You need to keep feeding the flame and managing hot and cold spots. Tending the forge fire is an art of its own. Thankfully, with modern technological innovations like automatic air blowers — or vacuums on reverse — you don’t need to manage a bellows while you work.
Metal doesn’t forge itself, and no matter how hot you get it. You need tools to protect yourself from the heat, tools to manage a hot piece of metal and tools to bend that metal into shape. A set of hammers are essential, to pound the metal into submission. Hammers come in a variety of weights. A heavier hammer will help pound metal flat much easier than a light ball-peen hammer, but will have a harder time with detailed work. You will also need a heavy, long-reaching set of wolf jaw tongs to manipulate metal that, even at the cool end, is still hundreds of degrees. These are the basic tools of the trade.
Of course, you can’t bend and shape metal with a hammer if you don’t have anything to hammer against. No blacksmith forge is complete without an anvil. Anvils come in many styles and sizes. A small, fifty-pound anvil is likely all you need as a beginning blacksmith. With these tools, the anvil and a nice hot forge, you’re ready to start shaping metal.
Once you’ve invested seriously into smithery, you can always purchase more tools. A floor cone is useful for ensuring rings are true. Punches and stamps let you leave your mark in a more direct way than a hammer blow. Anvil blocks, horns and other accessories give you a wider range of options with what you make. It all depends on what you want to forge.
You can forge any metal you desire, but steel is the most common. Steel stock with low carbon content is perfect for nearly any project, including anything you want to weld together later. On the other hand, if you’re putting your forge skills to use creating other tools, especially tools that need to hold an edge, high carbon steel is a better choice.
Working with metal can be extremely rewarding. However, it is a hobby that requires access to a forge and a certain set of tools. With the right amount of heat, and some patience you’ll be shaping metals in no time.
Diane Cooper is a blogger and metal work artist, currently residing in Katy, Texas. Her experience working with her hands has made her a confident handywoman around the house, and she regularly enlists the services of Texas Iron & Metal for all of her Steel Houston needs.