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June 2008 Archive

WHY THREE FORUMS? Well, this is YOUR blacksmithing forum to use for whatever you wish within the rules stated above. It is different than the Slack-Tub Pub because the messages are permanently posted and archived.
This page is NOT a chat - it is a "message board"

Our chat, the (Slack-Tub Pub), is immediate but the record of it is temporary. DO NOT post permanent messages there. We refresh the "log" every 24 hours now and your message will be lost.

The Guru's Den is where I and several others try to answer ALL your blacksmithing and metalworking questions to us.

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J. Dempsey  <webmaster> Rev. 7/98, 3/99, 5/2k, 6/2k, Friday, 04/06/01 16:43:25 GMT

Major Crane Failures:
Miles wrote to me about the reports of weld failure in the most recent NY crane accident and if it should not have been a bolted connection.

My experience with complicated and big cranes is that human error is almost always to blame. When things fail it is usually the result of some other screw up. On these large cranes it takes a team of people to operate them and make the self building moves. Every moment is a possibly a major incident waiting to happen.

I think they can inspect, inspect and inspect the cranes and look into failure modes over and over and not stop the problem. I think the problem is probably under or poorly trained crews and high pressure work schedules.

EXAMPLE: On one nuclear job we were working on an Ironworker crew assigned to us decided to pull Union rules on the plant even though they had an agreement not to interfere with the assignment of people to jobs during an outage. They were not to interfere with other Unions. Nobody in any Union was sent home if there was no work. They just sat and waited and got paid. However, this outside crew decided that THEY should direct and operate the cranes on any job they were assigned to. . .

The problem is that in the reactor containment they have very unique cranes known as polar cranes. They are a bridge that crosses the containment and runs on circular tracks high above the plant floor. The crane operator is often 150 feet above the lift. Directions like right and left mean nothing and the signal man is often hidden far from the operator. Signaling is done with a radio headset system and is often one worker relaying hand signals to the radio man.

In these plants they have teams that work together, usually two guys per shift. They know each other, they know the crane, they know the plant, and they will probably retire together. Above all they UNDERSTAND each other. AND in this case they were also members of a Union.

So our outside Union guys were throwing their weight around on MY job. We had a big move to make and a crew of about a dozen. When we got into the building our guys were in the "hot" zone with the contaminated equipment and the crane signalers were a level above them. I am one level above that so that I can see what is happening below and run UP another level to direct setting the equipment down. Signaling starts. Nothing happens. Someone has to show the Union guy how to turn on the radio. More signaling and the Union guy AND the regular guy are both talking to the crane operator. More signaling and I see the Union guy fiddling with the head set with a puzzled look on his face. Finally there is a move and a lot of yelling and mostly waving from my guys in the hot zone (wearing full anti-c's and full face respirators). The Union guy is looking UP at the crane and down at my guys. . . I'VE had it. I stop the move and send everyone OUT of the building. THIS is a big deal since everyone is in anti-C's and and it takes an hour to get in and a couple hours to go through all the
hoops to get out. There was no way to complete the task on this shift.

Of course I catch hell. There is a big meeting with everyone arguing about me and our company. I won out in the end (didn't get fired) because I was right. Someone or something was going to get hurt. We had a pre-entry meeting and nobody had raised the question of WHO was going to direct the crane. I pointed out that the Union guy was not familiar with the crane, the communications gear OR our equipment move and flatly did not know what to do. I pointed out that all three safety areas were at risk (personnel, plant and equipment). There was a lot of grumbling. . . But I was right. The problem is that most people would not have stopped the job.

Several days later they had a similar but easy move to make. I was on another aspect of the job. Suddenly there was a loud CLANG (if you can hear it over all the plant noise it is REALLY loud) and I could see the hoist cables (24) failing back and forth and the crane bing jerked back and forth. . .

Luckily nothing was hurt or broken. I suspect the crane operator had to change his pants. . . Nobody would talk about it even though I asked some very pointed questions. But the next few weeks most of the Union crew's riggers were left playing cards in the trailer.

Now WAIT! I have nothing against Union crews. Just the foreman on this particular job that kept making trouble on our job.

This kind of incident happens every day on every major work site. Miscommunication, lack of training and nobody willing to stand up and say STOP. Work gets hung, rigging fouled and bad things happen.

The few times I have worked in big plants I have been surprised to find myself the rigging and lifting "expert" on jobs where others supposedly trained in the field do not have a clue what is going on. This includes crane operators that cannot estimate the reduction in capacity as they boom out, riggers that do not know what "center of gravity" means or the results of rigging below centers of gravity, and riggers that do not understand the force increase due to steep angle and flat rigging.

The problem with almost all complicated heavy lift situations is that EVERY person involved should understand the physics of rigging as well as the rigging AND be able to communicate any problems they observe or encounter. The reality is that in many cases it is a common laborer with little if any training that is attaching rigging, giving the thumbs up when there NEEDS to be someone watching over their shoulder or instructing them as to how to put that sling on. It is a huge nerve racking job if you are IT and you stay on top of things.

Human error is almost always the issue. When hardware fails it has almost always been damaged by some human error prior to or during the failure.

- guru - Sunday, 06/01/08 21:08:00 EDT

Old catalog: When I started out in the 1960's, the one blacksmith supplier that I could find was Kennedy-Foster Co., Inc., in Clifton, NJ. I have lost their catalog and would like to obtain a copy for reasons of nostalgia. A xeroxed copy would be OK. I think I ordered my first Buffalo "tuyere iron" (fire pot) from them. They also sold Heller Brothers hammers and tools at that time.
Frank Turley - Monday, 06/02/08 08:04:19 EDT

Frank, Old catalogs of all kinds have become serious business in the used book trade. I usually find these via I tried yours with no luck. . but databases change. The only listing I could find for them was on a 1995 blacksmithing resources list.

If I had one I would make you a copy. . .
- guru - Monday, 06/02/08 09:44:39 EDT

Union Ironworkers are funny guys.
They do a lot of the most dangerous, high and scary, big and heavy stuff on big jobsites. And after hanging 30 feet out and 200 feet up, welding upside down in 20 mile an hour winds, they tend to get a bit cocky.
I have had a lot of interchanges with them on jobsites, and they often start out pretty aggressive- its one of those "jock" jobs where you gotta be one tough hombre. Or hombrette- the women who stick it out and become journeymen ironworkers are formidable people.

They usually try to hassle me, when I first show up on jobsites, as they think I might be competing with them- but the work we do is so different from what they are used to, that they usually soften up on us pretty quick. We are almost always tig welding and site electropolishing stainless forgings, all of which fascinate them, and they realize we are no threat.
Also, I am usually in and out of a jobsite in a few days, a week at most.
I did a bunch of work on the Mariners Baseball Stadium, and the Union Ironworkers there did something like 2 years of 6/10's- those guys were making SERIOUS money- but, of course, getting a little punchdrunk by the end of 6 days straight. I did my best not to stand under any of those 20 ton stadium parts they were slinging around like toys...
- Ries - Tuesday, 06/03/08 12:48:18 EDT

Unions, Cranes, Long hours and Cover ups: While reading the NY Times articles on the crane accidents one had some brief information about NY crane operator's licenses. There is a point where you can get a license to operate ANY crane and they gave the number licensed as such. However, there are not enough of the unique nuclear polar cranes in the entire state to train that many operators. So the "any crane" statement may not be appropriate.

We generally did not have any trouble with the Union guys because we were special equipment supervisors and trainers. However, we actually DID a lot of the work because we were the most qualified (or only qualified) and the short training periods allowed for the site personell was insufficient. Maybe we had one of those class A "any" crane guys. . . They were definitely tough and sometimes aggressive types.

The long hours really ARE crazy. We worked 5,6 and 7 12 hour shifts. Once in a while one would run into 24 hours. I never got into the excessive down-time partying. However, constant drug and alcohol testing toned a lot of it down. Even if you were called in on a emergency you were not allowed to have consummed detectable alcohol. There were also a lot of job site affairs and 60's style "easy sex".

On job sites this all adds up to a lot of camaraderie as well as a "them and us" attitude about engineers, inspectors and safety people. It is VERY hard to find the truth of any incident in these situations. It starts with "you don't snitch on your fellow worker" and ends with "our company or administration is at fault so lets blame faulty hardware that cannot complain". Coverups at one level or another are the rule, not the exception.

We were once asked to do an engineering study of a failed pump. The answer that everyone wanted was that the pump failed due to mechanical reasons nobody could foresee OR to mistakes in assembling the pump.

In fact the discharge was closed and the pump turned on. It only took 10 seconds for the 10,000 HP to vaporize all the water in the pump and another 10 to melt the rubbing parts that were cooled and lubricated by water. . . By the time they realized the mistake (which was almost instantly), the damage was done. Nobody would admit to the facts even after being shown mathematically that the ONLY way the pump could heat up that fast was to be run it with the discharge closed.
- guru - Tuesday, 06/03/08 13:38:56 EDT

i got and 55 lbs cast iron anvil form harbor freight and i have 2 steel plates that are 3/4 inch thick by 6"x12" should i use the anvil or weld the plates together for an anvil top
- Jacob Lockhart - Friday, 06/06/08 20:19:11 EDT

YOur question was asked and answered in the Guru's den a few days ago. Did you think you might get a different answer here? Not likely, as the physics are still the same. They'll still be the same fifty years from now.

Use the anvil until you get a better one. Obviously, you are still at the early learning stage and you will, therefore, make lots of mis-hits and you don't want to damage a good anvil. By the time you're ready for a new one, you will have enough experience to get the most use out of a better anvil, and can relegate the HF to being a door stop.
vicopper - Friday, 06/06/08 20:29:08 EDT

Or doorstops, perhaps, but it will last a while.
Mike BR - Saturday, 06/07/08 07:45:46 EDT

thanks for the answer though only the question about coal was really answered in the gurus den
- Jacob Lockhart - Saturday, 06/07/08 14:49:47 EDT

Here's the anvil answer:

"Jacob, Not enough information Plate doe not make an anvil as the mass is in the wrong direction. The 55 pound anvil is generally too light for average work." - guru - Wednesday, 06/04/08

In other words, don't bother with the plates, beat the heck out of your cast iron anvil-shaped object, develop your skills (especially hammer control), and see if you still have the desire.

Or go find a big hunk of heavy plate (at least 3" thick) or shafting and use the narrow end of that. Both of those will have better rebound than the cast iron or the thin plate welded together.
Alan-L - Saturday, 06/07/08 15:44:22 EDT

Wild life: No I'm not partying again. Saw a bald eagle yesterday. First one I've ever seen on Cape Cod.
John Christiansen - Monday, 06/09/08 09:54:46 EDT

Wild Life Eagles:
I spent a great deal of my youth and much of my adult life outdoors or in rural Virginia and never saw a hawk or an eagle or a flight of geese. However, I had seen almost every other game know to exist in the state.

Since the abandonment of DDT 40 years ago the birds of prey are coming back and in just the past decade I have seen various eagles and hawks. In Petersburg Virginia along the Appomattox river we would see eagles almost daily. The same goes for places around the larger lakes. At home at our Grist Mill I have seen various large hawks. Eagles like larger bodies of water, high roosts on dead trees and a large territory.

There were enough birds of prey on the comeback that about 10 years ago the gameskeeper for the Kluge estate near Charlottesville , VA was prosecuted for killing hundreds of hawks and eagles. It was one of those deals where the employee was doing the masters bidding but took the hit. . . I'm sure there a lot more birds now. Just have to stock a few more pheasants.

The anti-environmentalists used to joke about banning DDT and preferring birds over people. . But a whole class of birds including our national symbol has come back AND fish from many waterways are much safer to eat than they were in the 1960's.

Geese that had been over hunted in the 1800's and were not seen for 100 years in many places along the East Coast due their migration being interrupted. They are now back along the East Coast due to Operation Migration (see movie Fly Away Home based on the true story). We now see and hear flocks of geese regularly in Virginia and North Carolina.

This year, Whooping Cranes!

Operation Migration
- guru - Monday, 06/09/08 14:56:45 EDT

i asked awhile ago about wether i should use my 55 lbs anvil or weld these two 3/4 inch thick 12x6 inch plates and bolt or mount them to somethng or even make a base for them, what would you reccomend and specifically how? thanks
- Jacob Lockhart - Thursday, 06/12/08 14:57:10 EDT

my bad i didnt notice that someone replied to my earlier question ignore the one above plz
- Jacob Lockhart - Thursday, 06/12/08 14:58:57 EDT

Help: Warm bodies needed

The Blacksmith shop at the Gold Discovery State Park in California (Coloma, about 8 miles north of Placerville on hwy 49) has lost several of its volunteer docent blacksmiths. We try to have the shop open almost every day of the year, and try to have at least two blacksmiths in the shop most of the time. Due to family obligations, work relocations, retirement relocations, and illness, we are now down to where we may have to cut back on open days.

ANYONE (probably those within a reasonable driving distance, but we aren't particular) who would be willing to trade some time and talk one day a week for the gratis use of a rather good (true path - you have been warned) shop, please contact me at war1arche2r@com3cast.n4et (remove the numbers). If there is a match, I'll pass you on to the official recruiter.

Thank you, Rudy

- Rudy - Saturday, 06/14/08 20:25:56 EDT

Selling an anvil: I am NOT a blacksmith and know almost nothing about it. I do, however, have an anvil to sell. It belongs to my Dad, and it's a long story how I came to possess it. I'll do my best to describe it. It is a forged anvil, nearly 300 pounds (my Dad says 296). It has a hard steel plate welded to the main body of the anvil. There appear to be numbers on the side - a "2" on the left, a rather wide space, another "2" toward the middle, another wide space, then a "1 6" on the right. There are letters above these numbers, but they are very difficult to read. They are located toward the center, and seem to be in a semi-circular pattern. The only letters I can make out are "N A". My Dad says he bought it for $1/pound about 15 years ago. Any info would be greatly appreciated. Also, if anyone is interested in buying it, how the heck do you ship an anvil? Acme?
- Erik Selinger - Saturday, 06/14/08 20:53:40 EDT

Eric Selinger: Because of the cost & hassle factor involved in shipping an anvil You should mention Your location. Many folks will drive a few hours one way to pick up an anvil.
- Dave Boyer - Saturday, 06/14/08 23:21:38 EDT

Erik: Yup, your anvil weighs 296 pounds by the numbers on the side. It's English, but that's all I can tell about it from the description.

DEFINITELY give your location!
Alan-L - Sunday, 06/15/08 10:26:16 EDT

In most of the U.S. your anvil is worth $2 to $3/pound if in good condition. If in exemplary condition and in an area where anvils are sparse it could sell for $4/pound or more. However, you may have to advertise it a while to get that price.
- guru - Sunday, 06/15/08 11:07:45 EDT

forging titanium: what is the proper way to forge Titanium?
boneman - Sunday, 06/15/08 16:15:05 EDT

there are somethng like 300 different titanium alloys, ranging from CP (commercially pure), thru bizarre russian navy surplus titanium foam alloys that are supposedly mildly radioactive, which were briefly sold on ebay.

So first, it helps to know what the heck you have.
There are a few alloys smiths have found to work well, and I know there are some that dont forge easily at all.

Ideally, you want to forge titanium in an atmosphere that contains no oxygen- but thats expensive and difficult.

The usual smithing shortcut is to heat it partially, roll it in borax like you were breading a chicken breast, heat, forge, reflux, reheat, and so on- using the coating of borax to prevent to much oxidisation.

Get it hot, and it forges nicely. Allow it to cool too much, and the difference in workability is very obvious.

After forging, even with lots of flux, its often still necessary to clean off oxides- the smith I know of that does the most titanium forging, John Rais, sandblasts or glass beads all his forging afterwards, to get an even clean surface.

He demos and teaches occasionally, and he knows as much as anybody about hand forging titanium.
- Ries - Sunday, 06/15/08 16:45:10 EDT

Nowhere in sales is Undercut's Rule of the Right Fool more important than in selling old tools or old anything, old cars, old furniture, etc. Too many people come by inheritance or gifts to possess marvelous old goodies and, in their haste to unload, wind up giving 'em away. Trouble to find out the value, as you have just now done, and hold out for the right fool to come along. This is in no way to disparage the buyer. By conventional contemporary values-- i.e., Harbor Freight, Home Depot, Lowe's Hardware standards-- anybody who pays what your anvil is worth is a fool. We know better, though, don't we? As the Guruissimo says, be patient!!
Miles Undercut - Sunday, 06/15/08 17:26:26 EDT

tools wanted: Hello I am looking for a tire bender upsetter. and 150# to 250# anvil. I prefer a Fisher then a West or Columbian. must be in good shape. thank you NICK
nick mobley - Wednesday, 06/18/08 16:15:03 EDT

Nick do you care if they are 6000-12000 miles away and will cost several times as much to ship as a local to you item would?

If so you might want to give a general location...

Thomas in central NM
Thomas P - Wednesday, 06/18/08 21:09:20 EDT

Nick: As Thomas says, we need a location. I have an absolutely pristine 250# Fisher that I hardly use, and was offered a tire bender for free the other day. If you happen to live on St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, that might be good for you, otherwise the shipping on that $950 anvil is going to nearly double the price.

For what it's worth, I have never seen a tire bender that was also a tire shrinker (upsetter). They are two very different critters and I can't even really imagine how you could combine them into one tool.

Or were you looking for an upsetter as well as a bender and anvil? If so, how big an upsetter are you looking for? I may know where there's a 4" upsetter for sale pretty cheap, if you have a way to move a 100,000(+) pound piece of machinery and the three phase power to run the hydraulic pumps.
vicopper - Wednesday, 06/18/08 21:59:42 EDT

tools wanted: Hello thank you for the emails I forgot to put location for tool add I am in Cleveland Ohio area I am looking for tire shrinker and tire and axle upsetting machine plus 150# to 250# anvil thanks Nick
nick mobley - Thursday, 06/19/08 00:59:48 EDT

Washington Post Article on the Longship Company: The article is up, and I would hope it's published in the hard copy today.

Link to a short video is on the page.
Bruce Blackistone (Atli) - Thursday, 06/19/08 09:46:04 EDT

Locatio0n: Vicopper, I have moved a 4" upsetter, and its no big deal, as long as you can afford a rigger with the 250' long trailer with all those wheels and the cranes and the foundation etc. I do know of a 18" approx, upsetter that will move at a weight of about a million pounds. Probably only need a couple of hundred cubic yards of concrete for the foundation. But you then have about 3300 tons of upsetting force.
Did I mention it will need an ocean going barge to bring it to your or my shop? :)
ptreeforge - Thursday, 06/19/08 18:36:08 EDT

tools wanted: Nick

I am right down the road from you. I have a tire shrinker and tire bender.
- Rustystuff - Thursday, 06/19/08 20:32:55 EDT

Tools: I have parts (maybe most of) a Mole tire shrinker. . . It was in a pile under leaves next to a small blacksmith shop and was overlooked at auction. Now it is under poision ivy and honey suckle at my Virginia shop. If is free for the taking. I will not load or ship. . .

Good tire rolls are a different thing. I have a nice set and they come in handy fairly often. Would like to motorize them though. . . or build a slightly better machine (with motor).
- guru - Friday, 06/20/08 00:19:24 EDT

Upsetter: Nick - I was hoping that Jeff (ptreeforge) would chime in on the upsetter issue and he did. Please read what he posted. He's talking aobut a 4" upsetter for axles, and it takes a 250 foot trailer to move it. I'm still not sure what you mean when you say you're looking for an axle upsetter, since I seriously doubt you're interested in a multi-million dollar piece of equipment that weighs thousands of tons. Can you be more specific?
vicopper - Friday, 06/20/08 01:23:55 EDT

Upsetter: It sounds like Rustystuff has what you need. The terminology is sinple: tire upsetter and tire bender. Farmerstown Axle Company in Baltic, Ohio furnishes new buggy axles.

"Enterprise Blacksmithing and Wagon Repair."
This was a beautiful old shop in Gallup, New Mexico, servicing the Navajo farm wagons. They had a clamp device of large roller chain which eliminated the old fashioned tire shrinking (upsetting). They would torch out a section of tire, put the tire in the clamp, squeeze to close the gap, and arc weld it.
- Frank Turley - Friday, 06/20/08 07:16:45 EDT

Tire Upsetting:
I have seen numerous OLD tires with upsets. Had to be hell on the wheel. But I suspect that roads were not smooth enough to notice a repeating bump, bump, bump. . .

Arc welding had to have replaced forge welding fairly rapidly. I remember an old school film simply titled "The Blacksmith" where an old timer performs a number of operations including forge welding in a charcoal fire. The film was in black and white apparently from the 30's. The smith arc welded the tire. The thing that impressed me the most was how he bent the tire. He laid the bar on the floor, put the wheel on top at one end, gripped the bar and the wheel with special tongs and rolled the wheel pulling the steel up with it. He marked the end, sawed it off, arc welded it together and used an angle grinder to finish smooth.

That tire had to have been some dead soft wrought iron to roll onto the wheel with almost no spring back.
- guru - Friday, 06/20/08 11:40:39 EDT

Tire upsetters: I had an interesting old tire upsetter for a while. It was hydraulic with a two stage hand operated pump. The cylinder was about 14 inches in diameter, but with only about 2 inches of stroke. It was designed to upset the tire cold while still on the wheel. You would set the wheel in the machine in an upright position and it would grip the sides of the tire and perform the upset. There was also a cone shaped affair that bolted to the wheel to control the amount of dish. The thing weighed close to a ton. I finally sold it to a friend that did wheel work because I got tired of it taking up room in the shop.
- Bernard Tappel - Friday, 06/20/08 15:52:25 EDT

tire shrinker and tire bender: Hello Rusty stuff where are you at and what are you asking for the tools? thank you for the responce Nick
nick mobley - Friday, 06/20/08 17:03:49 EDT

Upsetters: In the industrial world an upsetter is a horizontal(usually) forge press with a twist. The twist is the what would be the upper dies on a normal forge press are split in half and one half is fixed to the frame of the machine. The other half is on a grip slide. Once the pedal is depressed, the fun starts. The brake releases, the clutch is pulled in, and the bull gear starts to go round. The bull gear is on the main crank. The first bit of rotation of the crank causes the grip slide to slam shut, grabbing the billet and holding it firmly against the back stop. The billet runs thru the center of the two die halves. The crank continues to turn and the pittman moves the tool slide forward and forges the bar, then reverses and the grip slide opens just before the crank reaches 360 degrees. There are usually 4 to 5 sets of dies that move the metal in a progressive fashion. In a 10" upsetter one can push about 3' to 4' (thats FEET) of bar back onto itself in 5 hits. And thats how one makes an axle for a large off road truck or loader. 542# of axle from 5.5" OD bar. The little 4" upsetter would be used in an axle shop to "bump up" the end of an axle (13/8" to 2.5" OD)in one hit, for a semi truck enough to have the splines rolled in it.

If you want to see some not very clear photos, look at the "Surplus record" at forging equipment and then upsetters. They have a couple of little toy upsetters that are a 1". Called a "table top" unit in the trade, they only weigh about 30 to 40,000#

Tooling for the little ones could probably be turned in a small toolroom lathe from prehard.

Ohh and these are not for the faint hearted. You stand there holding the porterbar, and when you step on the pedal, that brake drops and the clutch pulls in and round she goes come hell or high water. A little 4" has about 900 tons as the crank goes top dead center, and that 10"er is about 2400tons. Don't have the bar lined up? I have first aided several who flew through the air without the greatest eaze:( One learns quickly where to place the tub of just forged axles lest one land IN the tub!
ptreeforge - Friday, 06/20/08 17:06:30 EDT

tire shrinker and tire bender: I have worked a little on upsetters and 15,000# drop hammers in a drop forge but the upsetters and tire benders I need are for wheel wright work I have seen some in the book A Blacksmith & Hammermans Emporium. . No big equipment at my shop its a single car garage in the burbs. thanks Nick
nick mobley - Friday, 06/20/08 17:10:24 EDT

Atli & Longship Co in Richmond paper: Hey Atli, There was a little article in the Times Dispatch this morning about your viking bunch, complete with a pic of the Sae Hrafn. The headline says "Potomac Plunderers. Sail with Vikings, be Thor for a day". Oh brother! So, don't be surprised if you get some would-be vikings with southern accents up there sometime.
- Tom C - Friday, 06/20/08 18:01:53 EDT

Nick, Champion made three upsetters they called their "Star Tire and Axle Upsetter and Welding Machine". The
models were made ranging in weight from 800 to 1150 pounds. The operating wheel looked like a ship's wheel.

Its very small pinion operated against a large bull gear about 2 feet in diameter. THAT is the one I would be looking for. . .

While this is infinitesimal to industrial machines it is huge for a small shop. The Mole bender weighs about 1/5 as much. . . But all upsetters are considerable in mass.
- guru - Friday, 06/20/08 18:02:24 EDT

The idea of a ships wheel powered upsetter sounds cute. I may just have to have the first junk yard upsetter made like a mini National:)
ptree - Friday, 06/20/08 20:21:49 EDT

tire shrinker and tire bender: Nick
I sent you an email yesterday. You may need to check your spam folder. I have a shrinker and bender. I am close by.
- Rustystuff - Friday, 06/20/08 21:12:07 EDT

50# little giant : I have a 50# little giant hammer for sale. no motor, bought it intending to set it up for line shaft but never got around to it, now it just sits and I don't want to see it go to waste. needs a little work to make it perfect, the die is a bit worn and the babbit will need to be replaced soon. email for pictures. please don't reply here as I don't come here. thanks David 5038960045 Moro Oregon
David - Sunday, 06/22/08 02:48:08 EDT

tire shrinker and tire bender: Never did hear a response from the emails I sent Nick. No big deal. I was just trying to help someone out. I am just as happy keep my shrinker and bender.
- Rustystuff - Monday, 06/23/08 12:07:11 EDT

tools wanted : Hello Rustystuff I got you second email thank you I am grateful for all the responce and look forward to talking with you I have not been on the computer for a couple days thanks Nick
- nick mobley - Monday, 06/23/08 17:09:45 EDT

tools wanted : Hello Rustystuff I got you second email thank you I am grateful for all the responce and look forward to talking with you I have not been on the computer for a couple days thanks Nick
- nick mobley - Monday, 06/23/08 17:10:32 EDT

tools wanted: Hi Nick
No Problem....I will drop you another email.
- Rustystuff - Monday, 06/23/08 18:46:52 EDT

teach me.: Hello all this is my first post and i'm new so thanks to anyone who answers. ok, so what i am posting about is learning to blacksmith ive tried everyone in the area who might smith and none are looking for help, or to teach anyone. i live in lewiston idaho and am really excited and have been for a while about starting to do this. problem 1: no one will teach me: problem 2: at this point i cant buy anything i need to learn to start on my if you live in the area or near there and are looking for help or could teach me, my email is thanks!
frodoghex - Monday, 06/23/08 20:34:33 EDT

frodoghex: Go to your local library and see what blacksmith books they have. Read, study and learn. You should find a wealth of ideas about how to start with very low-cost or no-cost materials if you are resourceful. Coal is one item you probably have to buy.
- djhammerd - Monday, 06/23/08 23:10:08 EDT

frodoghex: Howdy! The best way to learn any trade is to be persistant about it. Get an extra job and pay someone to teach you. Also, join your local blacksmithing assn. as there are many low cost demos. Never expect anything for nothing. Best of luck.
- Barry Denton - Monday, 06/23/08 23:51:40 EDT

There are several long posts currently on the guru's page on the subject of learning on a low budget and the willingness to work, not whine.

Read my article on Sword Making (linked below), particularly the part on the Cost of Education. No one gets taught for free (other than what we give away here and THAT is paid for by the advertisers - please by their products.).

Books can be borrowed but should be bought as they are often tools as much as any other.

In the end you absolutely will have to have funds. AND no matter how bad the economy there is almost always work for those willing. Lawns to mow, weeding to be done, barns to clean, stalls to muck, garages, gutters and lots to clean. If you are not willing to work at these jobs and at the rates that millions of immigrants are willing to work at then you are saying you don't need money and don't need the work.

Blacksmithing is heavily reliant on tools. 50 to 200 pound anvils, 50 pound vices, 3 pound hammers, forges, tongs, grinders, FUEL . . . all necessities. All cost money.

Note that fuel prices are currently unstable and while some such as coal and charcoal are comparitively cheaper than oil they WILL rise to match the price per BTU of oil. In our global economy EVERYTHING is now keyed to the price of oil including Cheerios and charcoal. Unless you have your own wood lot and the skills to cut and move wood at no cost to make charcoal then fuel is going to cost money no matter what.

There is no free lunch, nor education.
Sword Making
- guru - Tuesday, 06/24/08 00:08:44 EDT

frodoghex: Head south to Boise, and get in touch with the repousse artist, Nahum Hersom. Nahum has a neat little studio behind his house. He's in his 80's, but still working. He offers one week classes, but he may have some contacts for you. Ph 208-345-9163
Frank Turley - Tuesday, 06/24/08 09:22:21 EDT

Well I'll be contrary and say that you don't have to *buy* anything to get started in blacksmithing. You do have to be creative and willing to put the time into scrounging and making things.

I would suggest reading "The Complete Modern Blacksmith" for a scrounge/build your own intoduction. If the local library doesn't have it ask them about ILL--Inter Library Loan, out here in NM I can get the loan of library books from several states over that would cost hundreds of dollars to buy for US$1 per request.

Note that in cleaning out barns/stables you can often *find* smithing equipment and my be able to trade work for it *or* find someone who can teach you the basics.

My original copy of "The Modern Blacksmith" (before they put all 3 of Weyger's books together as the Complete Modern Blacksmith) has dirty fingerprints all over it as I'd be at the forge with the tongs in one hand and the book in the other learning. I survived and have been doing this for about 27 years now...

Thomas P - Tuesday, 06/24/08 12:07:02 EDT

Money, Costs, Scrounging:
Where money raises its ugly head for the scrounger is if they are in a bad location and do not have transportation. LOTS, probably the majority of scrounging, is done by by automobile or pickup. But it CAN be done on foot or bicycle if the range is reasonable. In my teen years I bought a number of items at small shops that I walked by and then had to find transportation. But an automobile helps a lot.

Yes, you can do a lot if you are resourceful and creative. But I also figure that anyone that accesses these pages has SOME KIND of resources. If you have a PC at home then someone spent $1000 or more on a non-essential "tool". If you access us from a library then you physically got to and from the library. If from school then there are usually parents involved in some form.

If you live anywhere within walking distance of a road in North America then you are not that bad off. We live in a VERY rich society were scrap is everywhere, tools are not far behind and a LOT can be had for the talking. Used tools often sell for 1/10th of new and the folks selling them will often trade (at a profit).

Now is you are accessing this from a low cost school PC in an out of the way unstable part of Africa or South America then you might have a hard time being a scrounger of tools. . .

- guru - Tuesday, 06/24/08 14:47:52 EDT

Uhh; I have had a PC at home since 1989 and the most I have ever spent on one was $150. Some folks just don't consume like other folks do!

Most of my married life we have had only one person employed and living well on a single paycheck can be an art these days. I will never be on the cutting edge of fashion or technology at home; but we make do! Why just recently we got out first car made in the 21st century!

Thomas P - Tuesday, 06/24/08 15:29:24 EDT

Still, you DO have a job, car, house with outbuilding to put your ill gotten gains. . . AND are a 5 star plus scrounger.

It also helps to be opportunistic. Have just enough money squirreled away to take advantage of that $25 250 pound anvil or $100 power hammer. . .
- guru - Tuesday, 06/24/08 17:31:40 EDT

Not always, we were pretty poor getting started and I've worked jobs that were hard and hot when I had to to support my family---like on the open deck over the foam insulation ovens at whirpool during the summer in AR, unairconditioned of course, living in rental property and driving clunkers.

Course my Grandfather is a master scrounger too and taught me well. It is a trainable skill though some folks seem to be gifted with a talent for it. He grew up during the Depression and then was a Marine in WWII in the south pacific; little place called Iwo Jima...

Storage of junk has always been a problem for us scroungers, I give a lot of it away to folks getting started as I have generally be able to find more.

Thomas P - Tuesday, 06/24/08 20:32:48 EDT

Thomas P: "I will never be on the cutting edge of fashion" How do You explane that red hat?
- Dave Boyer - Tuesday, 06/24/08 23:20:29 EDT

frodoghex, if I may give you a little insperation, I am a blacksmithing newbe going on three years. I am not a kid but, I don't just go and flash the magic plastic every time I want something either. I am an icurable scrounger and ALWAYS have my eyes open for that certain what ever I just can't live without.
My first hammer was a 2.5 lb cross pane that had a split handle wraped with a couple of hose clamps to get through my first week end club meet.
My second hammer was just an old 2lb cross pane head that someone threw out at the town dump(my every Saturday morning destination)that I made a handle for to use at the next years blacksmith club meet.
My third hammer and, the one I use the most, is a 2.5lb straight pane that was purchased for me by a good friend of mine brand new at Centuar Forge because he thought I should own at least one new hammer.
I got very lucky to be given the very old rail road forge and blower that had been on my father in law's family farm since the 40's (I actualy found it in the woods and asked my usual question "hey, what are ya gonna'do with that?") It was cracked and had no legs and the bearings in the blower sound terrible but, every time I crank it I can feel the old mans hand on it and my two boys love it too.
My first anvil was a foot long chunk of rail road track fixed to a very heavy saw horse, the next was a "Russion Pattern" cast steel unit from Harbor freight paid for with overtime money and my current #1 anvil is a very nice old Hey-Budden that I almost had to fight for at a swap meet to get.
I have a reputation as "a scrounger with a mission" and so some of the salvage yards that I frequint know what I'm after when I make my rounds.
What I'm saying is just what the real experts here are saying Get to the library and read every antique tool book you can find so you recognize them when you see them at a sale of some kind or at the salvage yard were they might be bought for the price of scrap. Every day I come to this web site to read what people are talking about at the Guru's den and here, then I go and read and re-read the iForge How-To lessons that have been done by some very talented people. When you get closer to getting set up you might buy a copy of "101 Metal Projects for the Novice Blacksmith" ( This book is put out by Ken Scharabok who is a regular contributor here.
BTW be very carefull around coal smoke. It is extreamly addictive! Just a couple of whiffs and you'll be hooked for life!
- merl - Tuesday, 06/24/08 23:54:05 EDT

scrounging: Doesn't hurt to accumulate things that you don't want just so you can trade or sell for smithing money either. I walked many miles picking up aluminum cans so I could buy tools as a kid. Found some other good stuff laying along the road too. If you live in or near a neighborhood with large item pick up day borrow a truck and gather anything that is metal and take it to the scrap yard (fridges, freezers,ovens are $8.00 a hundred weight here) if you can't use it and then buy stuff with that money.
- Robert Cutting - Wednesday, 06/25/08 11:37:08 EDT

mongo : New York City garbagemen, says The New York Times in a recent feature, call this found treasure "mongo." There is just an endless supply, because upward strivers break off the asparagus verrrry high up the stalk in The Big Apple. Cameras, typewriters, perfectly fine furniture, First Cabin luggage, even some bleacher seats from the old Ebbetts Field are just some of the stuff I have come upon wandering Manhattan sidewalks. Not too many anvils or swage blocks, though.
Miles Undercut - Wednesday, 06/25/08 13:16:28 EDT

Dept. of etymology: Attn.: word people-- rundown on the (possible)derivation of mongo at
Miles Undercut - Wednesday, 06/25/08 16:15:59 EDT

From a work by Kipling:

"He's what is called a first-class engine-room artificer. If you hand 'im a drum of oil an' leave 'im alone, he can coax a stolen bicycle to do typewritin'."

Thomas P - Wednesday, 06/25/08 17:27:25 EDT

Scrounging, Storage, Scrapping:
Storage does get to be a problem and some items that you really don't need tend to accumulate. I was moving some more of my shop to the new location. Except for a few heavy machines that need work to work we are getting down to the dregs. Among those is another pallet load of old motors. One ancient 3HP-3PH that is as big a modern 20HP, a couple flea market specials bought for the EC-JYH project that make too much noise. . . a couple fan motors I paid $10 each for that are weird voltage and rely on being in a fan for cooling. . . (bad purchase), and a couple three more that were in a flood and filled with sand. . . MIGHT be redeemable. And I almost forgot the 3 pump motors that are still in the basement. More flood loss (were running under water - briefly).

I just got rid of a pallet load of antique and 3PH motors at our failed "auction". The pile at the shop is a heavy pallet load. . . But probably not enough to cover the 7MPG fuel bill of the truck. . . Getting darn close to $1/mile.

SHEAR PUNCH: I have at least one machine (that I paid good money for) that might go to scrap. Its an old Hendly and Whitmore 40 ton shear/punch that needs repairs. The pinion gear had been broken. I had a new one made out of 4140 and put on a heavy pillow block to replace a bearing stand. . . The work is incomplete. It has a late 5HP 3PH motor. The machine needs a good home. . . But I could use parts off of it for another project.

My problem is as they say, "Time is money". I would love to be fixing up all the old machinery I have collected but it would be more profitable to be doing other things. So I have had to be a little more selective in what I work on.
- guru - Thursday, 06/26/08 12:20:50 EDT

Junking: Forgot to mention I only live 2.5 miles from the scrapyard, but this one only buys and won't let take anything back out. Seen lots of good stuff go bye,bye, unfortunately.
- Robert Cutting - Thursday, 06/26/08 12:33:12 EDT

Hello: I have been thinking about Blacksmithing as a career option for when I get out of Highschool. I was wondering how much much money I would be able to make smithing Medieval swords/plate armor.
- Jeff - Thursday, 06/26/08 13:29:17 EDT

Bhutanese Blacksmiths in Washington, D.C.: I ran down to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall today (see link). Naturally I bee-lined for the Bhutanese blacksmithing and silversmithing demonstration. Very nice stuff, and well worth dropping by. I'll try to take some pictures tomorrow or next week.

I did notice that they were being supplied with Charcoal briquettes. (Kingsford brand at that.) Sigh!

I didn’t get to the Texas exhibits (mostly food and music from what I could see) but I did get to the NASA exhibits (“50 Years and Beyond”) with its own set of fascinating hardware. Brought back my days in my youth when I belonged to the National Association of Rocketry and later worked at NASA. I even met someone who worked with my brother-in-law on the Genesis project.

Warm, sunny and humid on the banks of the Potomac.

Visit your National Mall:
Smithsonian Folklife Festival, 2008
Bruce Blackistone (Atli) - Thursday, 06/26/08 14:21:34 EDT

Jeff how good are you? There are a very small number of people who make good livings doing this. Most people hover on the edge of bankruptcy---often when a medical emergency happens.

Remember no one is going to pay you while learning these crafts so you will need a job while you are working on learning. This will include taking as many Business and SBA cources that the local college has! Remember you will be running a small business and if you don't know the "rules" you are basically shooting yourself in the foot---with a shotgun!

Generally in knifemaking we suggest that a person make knives on the side until he's making about the same from the knives as he does from his "day job" before he things about switching. This also allows them enough capital to spend the thousands of dollars on equipment and research books needed to do this sort of thing and make a living at it! (and with luck provides you with medical insurance to cover common learning injuries...)

Thomas P - Thursday, 06/26/08 15:25:24 EDT

Careers in Blacksmithing:
Jeff, The areas of blacksmithing you are referring to are fine art and as such subject to the rules of being an artist. The term "starving artist" is not a joke or euphemism, it is real. To be a successful artist you have to be GOOD, you have to be a self promoter and you must be dedicated. AND besides the art you must also be skilled in the technology.

Most artist-blacksmiths (that includes those in fine architectural work as well as bladesmithing, armour and sculpture) are self employed and as such must also be entrepreneurs, that is, they must know how to start and maintain a business as well as being chief, cook and bottle washer (or ad executive, book keeper, salesman, janitor and production slave).

A FEW make it to the point where they can hire employees and make a decent living, but employees adds a whole NEW layer of complexity to a business.

SO, You have to LOVE the business as well as being dedicated. It is possible to make a living but most fail. The level of formal education needed is greater than a high school diploma and less than a doctorate. However, at least one sword smith has a doctorate in metallurgy. ALL that are successful or even semi-successful eventually end up with an education, either formal or self taught that is the equivalent to a doctorate or multiple doctorates.

The only advantage to a formal education is that people no longer take the self taught seriously anymore. . .

AND as I started out. It IS art. There is drawing and conceptualizing involved. To sell a major project, be it a knife, suit of armour or an entrance rail you MUST be able to communicate that idea to the customer and that mean drawing and or painting. Can't draw well? Better plan to learn.

See Atli's link above for the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival. Many of these craftsfolk are world renowned yet they do not make a living at their craft. . .
- guru - Thursday, 06/26/08 16:20:23 EDT

No sell junk yards:
Yep, this is more and more common. You can buy freight car loads of chopped scrap from them but not that Little Giant on top of the pile. . . I suspect liability or fear of liability is a major concern. On the other hand, many of these folks are not setup to do a cash business in small quantities.
- guru - Thursday, 06/26/08 16:23:20 EDT

Rising Costs, Passing on the Costs:
$4/gal gasoline would be bad enough for most of us but Dow Chemical's two recent increases of 20 and 25% for a total of 45% on every product they make is another serious adder for industry. Dow supplies both raw materials as well as maintenance and assembly products to virtually every other industry in the U.S. Steel has gone up almost monthly this spring as well. That means many products you and I or the businesses we work for use.

Combine these with the pass-through costs on food and the tying of corn and other grain prices to that of oil (a VERY bad precedent I mentioned months ago) and we have VERY serious inflation. Food, fuel, business supplies. . . The rate of the inflation is MUCH greater than in the 1970's. The government numbers will be made to look better than they are by balancing the (other) bad news of falling housing prices against the fuel costs. . . But real costs of living for the majority are increasing at alarming rates. You can pretty much take the rise (doubling in two years) of oil and apply it to EVERYTHING in a short time.

SO, the big question IS, "How many of us can pass on these costs?" IT is not just the airlines who sell tickets in advance of rising fuel costs or truckers who are locked into long term contracts that are hurting. It is ALL of us.

I can increase my labor rate some but that may reduce the amount of work I get. . . especially in a tight market. I can increase the cost of products I sell but that too may reduce sales as I do not have a captive market much like DOW Chemical OR the oil companies.

Those of us that work for ourselves and can increase costs to some extent. But what of the vast majority that work for fixed or dictated wages and have no power to negotiate without threatening to quit their job? What will the majority do?

North America has not had major strikes like many other countries but the time is rapidly approaching. One day the truckers are going to call a strike and everyone else is going to follow. . . .

SO, can YOU pass on costs? Does your contract have a fuel adjustment clause?
- guru - Thursday, 06/26/08 16:30:38 EDT

Not to mention that the intermediate levels of crafts people get hit HARD when the economy is "iffy" as people are not willing to spend on items they don't really need. A top historical armourer just recently dropped armour and went into ornamental ironwork as he could no longer afford to pursue the craft.

So where to go from here? If you are still in high school can you take any votech classes at a community college and have them pay for it? Learning to weld and machine steel is a big step up for what you want to do *and* gives you a marketable skill to use in the mean time. Don't overlook Jock's suggestion about art; learning to draw and design is a *must*!

Start building up equipment even if you have to mow lawns and clean out stables and basements for the money. Buy *good* machinery especially if you won't be able to replace it for years---once you have to pay rent/mortgage/food costs your spending money goes way down!

See about taking classes at the ABS school. Check with the local SCA group and see if there are any *good* armourers locally and see if they will teach.

Start looking for research books at library book sales, book remainder stores, etc. One secret to having a great research library is to buy all the books on the subject cheap at a good book remainder store as they come through and then wait 10 years! Learn how to use ILL at a local library and how to use

Basically you have to demonstrate that you have the will and the drive to work 80 hours a week for a pittance.

People do this because they *have to*; it's a whole lot harder than working for somebody else!

Thomas P - Thursday, 06/26/08 16:49:03 EDT

Advice to a younger self: If I could get a message to myself 28 years ago... (an I dreamed of being a blacksmith even then)would be to get My high pressure welding ticket, work hard, stay in shape, and SAVE SAVE SAVE every penny I could, gather tools, take whatever classes in blacksmithing I could, retire at 50, and become a full time hobby smith.
JimG - Thursday, 06/26/08 17:14:06 EDT

Drawing: But I can't draw...
Wrong, everyone can learn to draw, it's just a matter of practice. Back in the BC (before computor) era a friend gave me some simple practice lessons in drawing, I found after about a month of faithfuly doing my exercises for 20 minutes an evening I was looking at things differently. Unfortunatly I got out of the habit when I got the comp.
JimG - Thursday, 06/26/08 17:20:01 EDT

Guru, you make a point that is the burning question I've been asking myself lately and want to poll the good folks here about. How many of the regular contributors to this web site make thier living as some type of blacksmith? I don't mean that you work in a fab shop as a welder/fabricator but, rather that you use the traditional tools of the smith to make your living. By that I mean if you go to some public gathering or event to demonstrate or make and sell your wares, you would use the same equipment at the home shop to conduct your daily business.
I ask this because I (like maybe many others ) stand at a cross road in my life and I'm trying to collect data, information and advise to help make a decision.
Like most here I greatly enjoy matalworking in general and blacksmithing especilly. I have been a Journyman Machinist for going on 27 years and I practice all aspects of the trade that are avialable to me. I am considerd to be "highly skilled" and can do a wide veriety of work including management duties.
However,the part of Wisconsin that I live in has been loosing my type of jobs steadily for some time (as every where else) and the future of the profecion in the state as a whole looks grim.
I made planes some time ago to start my own business and run it at least on a part time basis to suppliment the family income and hopefully retire into it in another twenty years (or less).
To this end my wife and I did start a small fish farming project with the intention to build it up slowly over time. It did require alot of our liquid capital (no pun ) to operate so when the inevitable "loss of job three months befor birth of first child" occured we chose to shut it down with the hopes of re-starting when things setteld down.
That was five years ago and the time havn't changed much. I still look for ways to tirm enough off the operating expences to be able to start up again but with the way costs are spiraling up out of controle I can't even begin to guess how much trimming I would have to do.
Now as I gather more smithing equipment together and become more proficient and knowlagable I wounder if I might change fish farming for blacksmithing? Or am I living in a fantacy? I see little future in my profession here as fewer and fewer jobs are available to more and more machinists. I could see smithing as an nice suppliment but highly doubt it as a full income opertunity (I know two long time smiths right around here that had to take welding jobs at factories this past year)
You would think farming would be a fairly secure thing (eveyone has got to eat right?) ...
I've gone on long enough. I want to know what some of you old timers think and, what some of the guys in my situation are doing and thinking about.
Sorry to take up so much space Guru...
- merl - Friday, 06/27/08 00:26:24 EDT

Drawings & Experience & Education: Do they still give mechanical drawing classes in shop class (and do they still have shop classes?) anymore in Junior High/Middle School? The couple of weeks we spent on that, and the two and three point perspective classes from my art classes in High School have proven invaluable in my career in the Federal Government. English and History classes taught me how to write and communicate, but mech dwg & art classes taught me not just how to draw and read plans and renderings, but also how to interpret them to others.

My friend, Billie Grey, also talks about craftsfolk and others using the "calibrated eyeball." She defines this as the ability, through practice, to look at something and accurately understand the size, distance, or proportion; sometimes to very high tolerances. A little bit of training, however, can save you a whole lot of experience; especially in areas where you may be deficient. Geology, geography, and a whole handful of courses that may be thought of as useless or obsolete or no longer relevant have taught me how to read aerial photographs and topographic maps and graphs and charts and all sorts of useful things that I employ in my job every day, even if I’m not a geographer or geologist..

We live in an increasingly complex society; but then, we always have. I was reading, recently, about the complexity of early 19th century sailing warships. It makes me appreciate the relative simplicity of the Viking Age vessels that we sail, but also the relative simplicity brought about by the later steel and steam warships; themselves mechanically complex in construction, but more easily handled by smaller crews. You may have to specialize in one aspect of what you do; but you need to generalize and always increase your knowledge about how the rest of the world; and your commercial, social, and natural environment; works around you. Good hammer control doesn’t fill out the tax form properly, and good accounting won’t save you from bad hammer control.

Education and experience are never out of fashion. Folks should get all that you can, from whatever sources they can.

Cap’n Atli at Oakley (…don’t quit my day job!) Forge

Go viking!
Bruce Blackistone (Atli) - Friday, 06/27/08 08:59:48 EDT

peter wright anvil: posted a few months ago thanks for the help. one more ? I bought a peter wright anvil 105lbs. Top is rough. my friend who owns a mach. shop said he could shave the top a little. is this a good thing to have done ? Paid a 1.00 lbs for it. PS Was going to use coal but in new mexico is hard to come buy, having to look into building a gas forge. I really wanted to use coal.
- Charlie - Friday, 06/27/08 10:14:42 EDT

Charlie: An attempt to "shave" with milling cutters might wreck the cutters. It's safer to surface grind. I've touched up a few anvil faces by disc-sanding with an angle grinder.
- Frank Turley - Friday, 06/27/08 10:29:11 EDT

Shaving Anvil: I recently sold a really ugly 180 pound anvil with a torn up face to a fellow that then shaved the face (took off 3/8") with a small carbide shell mill. It worked well but he used low speeds a slow cut and his mill runs coolant as well. If you have a surface grinder that big its no problem but as far as billable shop hours involved it would be far cheaper to buy a new anvil because it is a slow process. It will be his training anvil for apprentices so they don't ding up his good anvils.
Robert Cutting - Friday, 06/27/08 11:04:53 EDT

DON"T DO IT! On a traditionally made anvil the hardened face may only be 1/2" to 3/8" thick, taking 3/8" off is sort of like saying you will improve your car by cutting off everything in front of the windshield. Once you have lost that tool steel face you no longer have an anvil but merely an anvil shaped piece of ferrous scrap!

Last anvil repair workshop I attended a highly skilled weldor spent 6 hours and a lot of electricity and rod putting back steel on an anvil that had a beautifully smooth shiny face; but was milled too thin to be used for anything but the lightest work. The cost of the original milling and the cost of the repair to make it usable again would have exceeded the cost of buying a new anvil in mint condition!

If you absolutely *must* mill on the face remember that the face and the base are often not parallel---I have seen amother anvil where they clamped the base to the mills table and then milled it nice and parallel milling all the way through the tool steel face leaving soft wrought iron in the part that had been high. ruining a good anvil. So if you have to do it, clamp it upsiade down and mill the base parallel to the face---it's just wroughtiron/mild steel/cast iron and no great loss. Then flip it over and just kiss the surface----if you are taking as much as an eighth of an inch off I'd think hard about if you are using the right repair technique!

Don't assume that a machinist or a weldor knows squat about anvil repairs or construction! An anvil does not need sharp corners, it does not need the face parallel to the base, it does not need the entire face plainer. It needs face thickness to withstand heavy hammering!

When I need to straighten a blade I tend to go to my most worn anvil whose face has the exact sway in it so that when I hit the hot blade it goes just a bit too far and bounces back to dead straight. *Much* easier than messing with my dead flat anvil!

Thomas P - Friday, 06/27/08 11:31:44 EDT

Much better is to take a sander to the face and see how it cleans up, remembering that unless you are working silver or gold on it it doesn't need a mirror polish!

If it has some bad areas---can you work around them? You really only need a small section to be smooth and that should be over the center of the anvils mass. The edges can be a real mess and not hurt things at all. If you really have a need for a better edge make a hardy tool---shoot make one you can put in all 4 ways to give you a different edge each time.---Say Sharp, 1/8" radius, 1/4" radius and 3/8" radius.

I have a lovely Hay-Budden that was in a damp unheated location for 50+ years. The face has a fine even light pitting. I didn't even sand it. Using it is polishing out the face very nicely and as a student anvil I want *ALL* of the original thick face as protection---one of the students broke a previous anvil they had...

Now I have had an anvil repaired, came from an old copper mine in AZ and had air arc gouging and crush damage. It was repaired at an anvil repair workshop put on by a friend who teaches welding and is also a smith and knows how to do it *RIGHT*

Thomas P - Friday, 06/27/08 11:47:55 EDT

Did I mention that milling the face of an anvil is generally a very bad idea!

Thomas P - Friday, 06/27/08 11:48:30 EDT

Milling any old English anvil:
This is always a bad idea. The folks doing the work generally do not have a clue.

While anvil finish is important for certain classes of work a slightly rough anvil (minor even rust pitting) will not hurt most decorative work ESPECIALLY that which you want to add texture to. For tool making and blademithing an anvil should be very smooth but needs to be no better than the scale that touches it.

Anvils also do not need sharp corners. Often a little dressing with a grinder will take care of any jagged edges and when mushrooming is removed from the side it often leaves a much better corner than you thought you had.

Anvils ARE NOT a precision flat and those with some sway are better for straightening than new and flat. IF you need a reference surface then use something else or have a piece of heavy plate surface ground. IF it is very important such as for measurements then you want a cast iron or granite surface plate.
- guru - Friday, 06/27/08 16:01:10 EDT

Merl- I probably know 20 to 50 people who make their livings as blacksmiths- and, with the possible exception of Peter Ross, not a single one of em can satisfy your test- that of using tools they can carry with them to a public demo.

Almost all of them use power hammers, hydraulic presses, ironworkers, arc welders, forklifts, plasma cutters, and a wide variety of machine tools.

This is not to say that they cannot do hand blacksmithing with a hammer and a coal forge in a shed- in fact, most of them are extremely talented and experienced at hand hammering- but you dont make a living that way.

A blacksmith today, for better or worse, is, as the guru stated, a businessman, one who designs, then builds, metalwork using the best tools and processes available. That means 3 phase machine tools, computers, and exotic alloys.
The underlying goal is to move hot metal in its plastic state into shapes and forms that cant be done cold- I am not talking about fab shops here- but to do so, and do so on a large and profitable scale, a modern blacksmith uses any means necessary, to quote Malcom X.
The really good blacksmiths I know dont limit themselves artificially- and they produce forged work every bit as good as any ever made.

So if you go into the field expecting that you can do it all by hand, alone, using rural 18th century techniques, I say, good luck to you- its not impossible, but it sure is one hard row to hoe.

- ries - Friday, 06/27/08 19:52:10 EDT

saved: Thank you guys. I called him before he started. So I guess I will be sanding bright and early. and thank you again
Charlie - Friday, 06/27/08 21:03:22 EDT

Working Smiths:
We have a hand full that are regulars. Many are regular readers that rarely post. Far more are part timers making money off their "hobby" or second vocation. Many are looking for it to be a "retirement" occupation. The vast majority do it for fun.

When I was a full time smith I did almost everything wrong business wise and was pretty much a failure. My marketing plan, location and being under capitalized were major problems. I worked hard but often undervalued my labor (still do on occasion). IF, I had waited until I had an all weather shop to work out of and a few more machines I might have made it IF I's had a good marketing plan. I went into it as an escape from my mechanic job which I was very good at but had bad business partners. I had no real plan and thought that it would be easy to sell everything I made since there were so few blacksmiths. This was far from the case. I underestimated the need for machinery, a power hammer, ironworker, saw. . . My shop actually has filled in after blacksmithing, paid for by machine design and building. . .

As to using what I used at demos, my portable shop WAS my shop. It was very convenient as long as it wasn't raining, snowing, below freezing. . . OR above 100F. For hand work it was a fairly efficient arrangement and you could not want for ventilation. . . But I made more money in one month drilling holes on an antique drill press and turning a few parts on a 1916 SouthBend Lathe than I did in 5 years of "full time" blacksmithing with the shop trailer.

While you CAN go into blacksmithing as a hobby with nothing more than a pit in the ground and a small anvil you cannot make what we call a living in the U.S. You need the proper tools and machinery to compete. You cannot hand saw every piece of stock or cut every piece on the hardy and make money. You cannot punch every hole or use a hand crank drill and make money. You cannot produce the expected custom cross sections and textures by hand without a power hammer. And you can make a LOT MORE money using a vibratory finisher to clean parts perfectly than doing it poorly by hand. . . You cannot afford to hand file everything while your competitor across the street uses three different belt sanders OR is slave labor in SouthEast Asia. You cannot make every weld by forge welding unless the customer insists AND you charge 10 times as much as your neighbor across the street who quoted RIGHT with arc welds. You cannot make a living selling to the average American. Hand work is EXPENSIVE and only the very rich, rich and near rich can afford it. This is the market you MUST tap.

The really successful smiths I know have shops you could almost make a good living in as a machinist. They have mills, lathes, big saws, presses. . . Usually they are only short the stacks of attachments and tooling these machines need to be really profitable. But they also have multiple power hammers, every type of welding equipment and of course the necessary anvils, swage blocks cones. . Which while important are actually a SMALL part of the tools in their shops.

Now I DO know a few smiths that work mostly by hand and make a living. They are VERY good and are shrewd businessmen and about as tight as one can get. But these are the rarest of smiths.

SO, my question would be, have you spent your life as a Journeyman machinist working in other people's shops or do you have your own shop and tools? That would be a good start in a metalworking business. Which is what blacksmithing is. Metalworking of ALL KINDS.

The advantages the guys with machine tools have is: IF they need a special die or part for any of their (often antique) forging equipment they can make it. IF they have a job that need precision fits, flat surfaces or polished spindles, they can do it. IF they have a job that needs special fasteners they can make them. AND they can bid on jobs that welding shops turn down because they require precise drilling or simple machining. AND they can bid on jobs that machine shops turn down because they require heating, bending, forging. . .

If I was listing the equipment for a competitive full time smithy it would include a small (12 top 16") lathe, a Bridgeport size mill, a heavy duty drill press, a plasma torch and a (slow out of date) EDM machine for special die making. This on top of all the things you find in a good welding shop. The smithing equipment would include at least two power hammers, a treadle hammer and a flypress. You also need an overhead hoist or fork lift but preferably both. Then you can list every tool available from or advertisers plus a good small ironworker and a power bending machine.

You can add it all up. It amounts to a life time collection (or investment). But you also need the skills and shrewdness to make it work. . .
- guru - Friday, 06/27/08 21:15:51 EDT

I would offer that the blacksmith has always used the best techniques and equipment he could afford, build or cobble. A blacksmith is credited with making the first useful electric motor. Probably tired or turning that hand crank. Just because smiths a hundred years ago did not use an arc welder does not mean they would not have if they had been available. I would promise you that any smith who was a decent buisness man at any time in history would have used any technology or tool he could get if it would have improve his quality, production or eased his tired back. True then, and should be true now.
- ptree - Friday, 06/27/08 22:09:02 EDT


I think you've just explained why all the smiths became fabricators. To me, we're blacksmiths because we deliberately use techniques that industry has abandoned as inefficient. Of course, forging *is* still the most efficient way to do some things. And how traditional one wants -- or can afford -- to be is a question each smith has to answer for him- or herself. But I believe that "blacksmithing" describes a process, not a result.
Mike BR - Friday, 06/27/08 22:24:48 EDT

Antique German Anvil on eBay: This is the kind of old, hornless anvil that many of us cannot afford. "Matchless Antiques" is the seller. Personally, I copy some of the pictures and put them in my photo file. It appears to be a fine anvil, worth a looksee, and the current bid is $1,659.99.
Frank Turley - Friday, 06/27/08 22:25:34 EDT

Anvil eBay #: I forgot to post: 110263939790.
Frank Turley - Friday, 06/27/08 22:31:46 EDT

Professional blacksmithing: I am, currently, a professional blacksmith. I make my living doing this. I most assuredly DO NOT make my living using the same tools that I use when doing a public demo. For demos, I use a small forge, small anvil, a couple of hammers, hacksaw, hardy, a punch or two. If I tried to make a living doing it that way, I'd be broke in a year or less.

I am profitable because I use a powerhammer, fly press, lather, mill, drill press, two belt grinders, two pedestan griders, four bench grinders, three anvils ranging from 200# to 450#, half a ton of various tooling for the anvils, powerhammer and fly press, an oxy/acetylene torch, three gas forges, one coal forge, an AC?DC stick welder, two TIG welders, a MIG welder, finger brake, table saw, 3 band saws, chop saws, multiple angle grinders, drill motors, shears, six or seven vises, etc. I still need to get a plasma cutter and a punch press, but those will happen when the opportunity arises. May be a good while, since those things don't exist on my island and have to be shipped in from the States. The other reason I'm profitable as a blacksmith is that I have multiple skill-sets that I bring to the table with every job. But the biggest factor by far in my profitability as a blacksmith is that I am the only game in town, so to speak. If you live here and want forged work, you have to come to me to get it as there isn't anyone else locally who can do it. Otherwise, I'd be doing a lot more fabbed work and less forging. As it stands though, I can stay busy enough forging to make ends meet adequately. I'm probably somewhere at the upper end of the low-income bracket, but I live simply and don't have any debts to service.

My point here is that you can make a living as a blacksmith, but not as an 18th century blacksmith. If it weren't for power tools, few if any guys my age could stand the physical rigors of earning a full-time living swinging a hammer. In the 18th century they had apprentices, slaves, indentured servants and children to provide the consumable muscle power. These days, you have to pay the federal minimum wage of $6.45/hr (and rising) for muscle, or you have to have a stable full of power tools.

If I were you, I'd look for a change of location, rather than changing professions after 27 years experience as a skilled tradesman. Note however, that I changed professions rather than location, but that was because I wanted to go back to my metalwork, even if it meant losing money at it.
vicopper - Friday, 06/27/08 22:39:18 EDT

Mike BR: I differ in opinion regarding the use of power tools. I cannot see what is more noble, more realistic, or more true to the art about swinging a hand hammer versus using my power hammer. You said that blacksmithing is a process: I would challenge that as being too simplistic. Blacksmithing is a whole plethora of processes, not just one process. It is manipulative, additive and subtractive all at once. I am a blacksmith. I make things by forging, cutting, riveting, welding, drawing, upsetting, tapering, bending, etc. Whether I use a hand ahmmer or a power hammer is meaningless; either one is a means to an end. The same applies to the fly press versus the hand punch, the tig welder versus forge welding (though I do both regularly), the electric drill press versus the hand-cranked, etc. right on down the line. As lone as I am using the processes of smithing, it matters not whether I am assisted by electric motors and hydraulics or a couple of no-neck goons swinging 16# hammers. It is still forging. I have never deliberately used technique simply because industry has determined it to be inefficient - dong so wouldn't brand me as a blacksmith, it would brand me a romantic fool at best, and an idiot at worst. I am neither - I am a person who loves to manipulate metal in a plastic state to achieve certain results. That makes me a blacksmith, in my view. Your mileage may vary, of course.

I do, at times, like to make something by the most primitive methods I can employ, simply for the purpose of appreciating the vast effort that went into the process before the advent of modern tools and processes, and for the purpose of maintaining my connection to the past.

In the 18th century I wouldn't be a blacksmith - I'd already be long dead from damage caused by years of toiling at the anvil without help, breathing unknown toxins, and suffering infections without antibiotics. I like to connect with the past, but I don't want to live and work there, thanks anyway.
vicopper - Friday, 06/27/08 22:59:58 EDT

Charlie: a portable belt sander works well for smoothing up an anvil face, and is less likely to give You gouges that an angle grinder or sander might if You are not extremely skilled with it. The blue zircona belts will cut the best, start with 40 grit and work Your way up. Remove all the sawdust from the sander first, an if it has a dust bag leave it off.
- Dave Boyer - Friday, 06/27/08 23:36:18 EDT

Merl,: Machine tools were invented by blacksmiths. Hundreds of years ago. Machinists evolved from blacksmiths, but became specialists. These gentlemen have covered many good points, no sense me repeating them. Heres some other points. I am a fulltime smith. I own a rather complete machine shop. Large and small bridgeports, lathes, grinders and so on. The list of equipment and tools, is staggering, not even including the ubelievable number of actual blacksmith-specific tools. A modern blacksmith shop is based on a machine shop with complete and adequate fabricating and welding equipment, in addition to anvils, hammers, forges, benders, chisels, punches,and the litteraly thousand or so, of other forging tools I have had to buy or make. In addition to all this, I have also had to buy or make mechanics tools,(mostly top shelf brands), complete wood working, electricians, plumbing, stone,brick, and concrete mason, auto body, draftmans, sheetmetal, jewelry, patternmaker, foundy, and even landscaping tools to practice my trade. Like Thomas, I shop for tools often, but buy seldom. I have invested a lot of money to make my business succeed. I also have a huge library, of technical books of many types, not just metalworking and art. I served aprenticeships in several metalworking trades, including five years in a ninety year old blacksmith shop in Boston. For many years, I either ran large commercial fishing boats or worked in someone else's shop, while I also ran my own shop, often 100 hours a week or more, till I finaly had enough skill and equipment to make it fulltime. Being a machinist, you probably know how much it costs to tool up even one machine, even with the bare minimun of tools. If you have the passion for it, pursue it, just remember, starving artist is a true descriptive term, not a joke, as Jock said. Been there.
John Christiansen - Saturday, 06/28/08 00:55:47 EDT

Smiths and Technology:
Blacksmiths were the ultimate technologists until the 19th Century when the tools they created largely replaced them. In the early 20th Century blacksmithing tool catalogs were heavy on machines, mostly lathes and drill presses and light on other forge tools including power hammers. This was because, at least in the U.S. where a lot of their work was repairs they were needed to repair machine made products.

My Grandfather ran an early automotive garage and did custom body work. His shop was just one step out of the horse and buggy era. He had anvils, vises, drifts and many hammers. This was in the era before paint was sprayed on and pin striping was done by hand. His shop also had an early acetylene generator. By the time I was old enough to remember any of this it was all long gone. . . But my father worked there as a kid.

I think the "blacksmithing is a process" line is artistic BS and goes with "true path blacksmithing". That is FINE for selling art to the ignorant snobs but you do not want to get caught believing your own BS. Artist-Blacksmithing is about the IRON and what can be done with it. Does it matter that a 18th Century blacksmith would forge, file and scrape a spindle as a masterpiece that could be made on a lathe today by any apprentice in 100th the time? It certainly DOES! Many things that required a MASTER and were important parts of the "process" are no longer. Just as EDM has largely replaced most hand die sinking skills so have machines replaced many blacksmithing skills.

RESULTS are the goal. A power hammer can be used to create ugly "crash and bash" forms and phony textures or just as fine of work as any smith with a hand hammer. A torch or even an induction forge can be used to heat work and get the same results as heating over a charcoal brazier. A CAD-CAM plasma torch or LASER can be used to cut out stupid silhouettes from traced photos and cheap clip art OR it can be used to create a beautiful screen from a hand drawing as well as clean efficient blanks for forging fine artistic forms. Any hack can make CAD templates but it takes an ARTIST to make them art.

Whether the results are crappy junk (very easy to do with machines) or fine art is a matter of skill and artistic talent. Those who know the exceptional iron carving or Ward Grossman know he can do it completely by hand but in his shop he takes every technological advantage to remove as much metal as possible before doing the fine hand work. That includes torches, saws, drill, mills. . . AND forging when it is more efficient.

Machines replace slaves, indentured servants and bound apprentices and allow us to not only be more efficient but to do work in scales never before possible by the individual.
- guru - Saturday, 06/28/08 02:08:52 EDT

Process: I think my post must have come off a little stronger than I meant it to. I certainly didn't mean to criticize anyone who uses modern techniques or imply that a "real" blacksmith doesn't use a power hammer. And I'd never call someone less of a smith because he or she used a band saw instead of a hacksaw or an electric drill press instead of a hand-cranked one.

I think one of the Guru's examples proves my point, though. If you could go back to 1908 and hand a blacksmith a CNC laser and teach him to cut beautiful ornamental screens, would he use it? Of course. If he designed and executed them well would he be an artist? Of course. If that's all he did would he still be a blacksmith? No.

VICopper described the processes involved in blacksmithing much better than I ever could. But if you don't use them -- at least to some significant extent -- you're not a blacksmith. And I still believe that it really is the process (however defined) and not the result that makes a blacksmith.

If challenged, I bet there are several smiths on this site who could make an exact replica of a modern fabricated railing using only 18th century tools and techniques. That would be blacksmithing. On the other hand, technology (and available off-the-shelf components) have almost reached the point where you could assemble what looks like a quality hand-forged railing without ever taking a hammer (power or otherwise) to a piece of hot steel. I'll leave it to someone else to say whether such a railing could ever be art, but it wouldn't be blacksmithing.

It's by no means simple to define exactly what processes constitute blacksmithing, or how how much you can replace them with other techniques in a given piece before you're engaging in a different craft.

But it's not hard to guess what would happen if we handed an early 20th Century smith an arc welder. He'd start using welds to replace rivets and collars. Then he'd realize that pieces didn't have to meet at a tangent to weld them, so he didn't have to make scrolls anymore. He'd start knocking out cut and paste railings; they'd probably sell like hotcakes because they looked "modern" and used the latest technology. And of course, that's pretty much what *did* happen. So I don't think "would an old-time smith have used it?" can be the test.
Mike BR - Saturday, 06/28/08 08:02:26 EDT

Mike, That was MY point. The difference is the ART. I have seen old (pre arc) work work without scrolls with all the parts meeting at crazy angles. It was done with fancy joinery that COULD have been done with a saw and files but probably was done using a shaper or milling machine. The joints were perfect and clean. The work well designed. It was NOT to my taste but it was high class artistic work. The machines available to do this were available in 1850. The machine gave the freedom to work in a new way. How you apply it matters.

Take my example of a forged spindle. I have seen (held) a very beautiful German Master Work that was made with great effort to look like an octagonal milled piece. A great deal of effort was put into the work to hide any tool marks. Today a smith would not select this as a project to show his mastery because NOW it looks like a piece of machine work. On the other hand, I have seen modern work with turned pieces of similar character used to great effect.

On the other hand, I have also seen an early 20th Century screen made of 1/8" plate that was carefully hand pierced to show a beautiful scene. A modern laser cut piece could be no cleaner. The piece came from the Yellin shops and is attributed to a student. It was a wonderful piece used as a room divider. Today, a smith with pride in his work would have a hard time using such work because it has been cheapened so much by machine made works.

I have also seen work by fabricators using off the shelf components that was much better than some all hand made work. It may not have been the fabricators art but it was SOMEONE'S.

In Costa Rica there is ironwork EVERYWHERE and most of it is crappy arc welded re-bar stuff. . . But even among the re-bar stuff there is occasionally some art. One butterfly gate comes to mind. In recent years they have started to use components and do it fairly well. But there are also now artist blacksmiths doing good work, competing against the rebar and fabricated work.

Often the subject of "traditional ironwork" comes up. Who's tradition? When? When asked this Dean Curfman of Oakhill Ironworks (also maker of the Big BLU) says that they are producing the NEW "traditional" ironwork. They very successfully use power hammer forging and modern assembly methods to produce work that they are proud of, the customer likes and is profitable enough to keep them in business.

Times change, tastes change, technology changes.

- guru - Saturday, 06/28/08 09:02:58 EDT

Tradition: IMAO the only thing traditional in a blacksmiths shop is to do the job in the most profitable method available.
JimG - Saturday, 06/28/08 09:42:13 EDT

Stupid Blacksmith: Tom Bredlow said that a non-blacksmith was in his shop and noticed Tom's arc welder. The guy said, "Hmph, I thought you were a blacksmith; what's that arc welder doing over there?" Tom said, "I am a blacksmith; I'm just not a stupid blacksmith!"
Frank Turley - Saturday, 06/28/08 11:14:50 EDT

I think making rules about how you are going to work, before you even go into business, is a recipe for failure.
The one thing all successful small businesses do is adapt and improvise.

If you are hobby type, with a paid off house, a wife with a job that has health care benefits, and a hefty pension check in the mailbox everyday, then you can make all the rules you want. If you insist on only hammering left handed, and only working hot on thursdays, or only using tools made in the 1870's in Massachusetts, more power to you.

But if you must make a living, and support a family, then you tend to get flexible fast.

Additionally, it makes a big difference what market you are trying to sell to.
Many very small niche markets will pay big bucks for traditionally crafted items- but usually only for a recognized "name" craftsman, who has a reputation, and 20 or 30 or 40 years of experience that it took him to get that reputation.
There are tool makers, knife makers, gun builders, and similar specialists who are backordered for years, at high prices.
You cant, however, waltz into these fields in a year or two.

In the field of ornamental iron, you are competing with low cost, factory produced items. You cannot hand forge a fence, and expect to compete on cost with a mig welded powdercoated square tubing fence.
Realistically, in most parts of the country, you must sell ornamental iron based on BETTER design, and BETTER craftsmanship. And to deliver that, all by hand, means charging, at a minimum, $50 to $100 a square foot. Now, assume you get a nice $50,000 railing job- but it requires 1 solid year of hand work to produce. Back out materials, finishing, overhead, delivery and installation, and you get around ten grand to pay yourself for a year of hand hammering- or, a month of power hammering, mechanically assisted punching, sawing, and bending, and you see why the average smith these days is mechanised.

I recently was at the Bellevue Art Museum, where they have a magnificent pair of Albert Paley gates. There is no way these gates could have been made without copious quantities of machinery, and a bunch of guys- yep, another point not mentioned is that many, but not all, of the smiths who make a living today use employees.
this is nothing new- as mentioned above, historic blacksmiths almost never worked without help- and the bigger the job, the more guys. I believe Yellin peaked at well over 300 employees. Many of the classic shops in europe that made the greatest ironwork were 50 to 100 man shops.
Today, with machinery, its possible to get a lot more done alone, but once a job gets over a certain size, you will usually find helpers in the shop.

The trick is to keep focused on the reason you started to love blacksmithing- the wonder of moving metal, in a constant volume way, to totally change and transform the material.
- ries - Saturday, 06/28/08 14:30:26 EDT

I agree with Ries and Vicopper et al. As I stated not the tools that make the smith.
I did not take offense at the opinion that its the process that makes the smith. In a way I would the same words with a subtly different meaning. Its the process of moveing metal, and shaping etc that defines a smith, just not the tools used to do that moving/shaping.
Since I do have welders etc I can now proclaim that Anvilfire says "I am not a stupid blacksmith" :)
ptree - Saturday, 06/28/08 18:19:45 EDT

"Traditional" Blacksmithing: When I make a piece that is well made and that I'm particularly pleased with, I'll sometimes add the tag line: "Tomorrow's Antique Today!" Part of the joke is that that many of my pieces are based on 1,000+ year old artifacts; but a well made and pleasing piece of forge work, whether of antique or modern design, is more likely to be treasured and held onto and cared for far into the future.

After almost 40 years of reenacting, I can appreciate the past; but it's a nice place to take a vacation- you really don't want to live there. I'm all for learning all the ancient techniques, and understanding how things were done, and, if lucky, why things were done. But I learn modern techniques, too. For cat sake, we're typing and reading this stuff about ancient knowledge and wisdom on computers that didn't exist 40 years ago!

The key point is the knowledge, and then using it appropriately for whatever goal or project is embarked upon. If I were to order a reproduction gate for an historic NPS structure, I would insist that the joints be collared, riveted, or otherwise appropriately joined for the period of the historical gate. But when I designated protective ironwork for a modern facility I left the method of fabrication up to the bidders. ( I did give them a loooong paragraph on how the work was to be coated and painted, however ;-)

Use the best methods to make the best work; and sometimes the old methods are best, but you have to convince people to pay you for them.

There was one situation I can recall where much of the above didn't apply. We had a ranch blacksmith shop out west in one of the historic parks where the smith would make wonderful things far beyond what a 19th century ranch smith would have bothered with. Too much art and not enough horseshoes! His "good government job" was to make what the original smith would have made with the same tools (once again; mostly horseshoes).

Another hazy, hot and humid day on the banks of the Potomac.

Visit your National Parks
Bruce Blackistone (Atli) - Saturday, 06/28/08 22:02:56 EDT

Stupid blacksmiths: I would submit that you can have a bunch of really good, appropriate tools and machinery and stil be stupid - been there, done that. (grin) Still, I try to get smarter all the time.

Ries, as usual, makes a very cogent point about niche markets. That is what I have found, and it works for me. I don't do big railing and fencing projects, since I haven't yet found the rich guy who's willing to drop $200 a running foot for my work. If I do find that guy, or lady, I'll do the railing, fence, whatever, and be happy to do it. I'm just not willing to do it for half that, and there are plenty of cut-n-paste boys out there who will, and people who are satisfied with that stuff. The cut-n-paste kids can't fill my niche, and I don't want to fill theirs, so we get along fine.

I do dearly love doing meticulous, detailed hand work, but 90% of the time it won't pay the bills. What generally seems to pay the bills is the off-the-wall stuff that only someone with as diverse a background and training as I have can do. The key to success, for me anyway, seems to be in finding the things to do that I can do well and enjoy doing, that someone else is willing to pay me for because they can't find anyone else to do it.
vicopper - Saturday, 06/28/08 22:42:24 EDT

Thank you to all !!!
This is exactly the kind of response I was hopeing for.
This is what concerns me the most about the job situation around here. If I stay in the industry as a machinist I will have to continue to work for someone else. I have a fairly comprehensive shop at home that alows me to do most any type of work within the capasity of my machines. Even though I work exclusivly with CNC's at work I don't have them at home ( not that I wouldn't if the need arose) this leaves me able to under bid to a certin point the small shops that have to feed their CNC's but, at the same time of course hard pressed to meet production levels. I have the knowlage and expeirience to tool up and run any job on a turret lathe or CNC. I'll have much more fun running the job on the manuale turret lathe but would choose the CNC 90% of the time because of ease of operation and simple tooling. Like most of those that choose to blacksmith as a hobby or an occupation I am enamored of the past and the history of metalworking but, I'm pretty sure if I was a 18th century metalsmith of some sort I would probably be dead from the work by my age of the mid forties. No thanks!
As far as smithing with "modern equipment" I have no qualms over using the TIG wilder on a hand forged piece and I have no desire to blow my arms out by the "noble use of hand hammers and post drills". I still need to learn to use them but, I have a rather large production drilling/tapping machine in my smithy and a JYH is under construction.
Frankly, unless the customer is specificly paying for a certain prosses, it's non of their damn business how I get the job done.
This, for me, is still a question of "do I turn my hobby into my profession"? Can I create and maintain my niche market with the equipment and skills I have?
I do this every day at work but, am I living in an "Old World Wisconsin" fantacy to think I can make a living doing it?...
You have all given me a great deal to contemplate and concider, Thank you again.

- merl - Sunday, 06/29/08 01:43:31 EDT

I don't want you guys to think I'm just another over paid tradesman who is bored with his work and his life...
The stress of producing high precision parts for less and less money and shorter and shorter times for customers and engineers who don't understand the equation "cheap, fast, and accurate, pick any two" has become nearly unbarable. I wish I could could find a blacksmith shop that needed a good machinist.
- merl - Sunday, 06/29/08 01:58:13 EDT

Ptree --

I'm glad I didn't offend you -- I certanly could have worded my posts (especially the first one) better. Thinking about it a little more, I've come to the conclusion that a smith should be defined by what he or she *does*, not by what he or she *doesn't* do.

For example, I think we'd all agree that operating the latest CNC bender isn't smithing. But if you're building an ornate railing that happens to include 100 identical C-scrolls, and you decide to make them on a CNC bender, so what?

Now, if everything's CNC bent except a couple of hand-forged pieces MIG welded on at the end, you can't really call it a blacksmithed railing. But making the hand-forged pieces is still smithing.
Mike BR - Sunday, 06/29/08 06:40:21 EDT

In my tiny small buisness, I do about 80% welded structures, as that is the market in my area. I do trellis, arbors, and other large garden art type structures. Very very few are alike, all one offs. I do the 20% mostly as forged handles and coat hangers, but the leading forged work I sell is forged trowels, made ironically from RR spikes. These are an item that would require a striker to make as the 5/8 shank is a bugger to spread by hand. I do have from time to time a striker. He loves to strike, but he is only available once in a while. So I use my sloppy old power hammer that was made in the same shop it runs in. Not a single hand forged item on that powerhammer, except the foot treadle extension. I could make a trowel a day in the shop, and try to sell them for $1000. I choose to make them using a combination of hand and power work and sell them for $40. The gardeners that are serious love them, some commisioning special blade shapes. I think I am over 150 sold now. I describe them as hand made, since every one is made by my hands in my shop. I would argue that all the work in my shop is blacksmithing, as I bend, cut, shape and join black metal. I do it mostly by eye, with the quality of hand work. I do not ever claim to be true path, and do not put down those that do.
I left ABANA membership after the 2004 conference as I perceived a strong sentiment against those who do as I do, use all the tools available. It ran through the magazine, and was heard often at the demos etc. I choose to leave as I felt ABANA did not match my thoughts and was not well serving me.I am a member of the IBA,where I have never felt that sentiment.
For what its worth, I recently assisted in a demo, makeing a huge cut hinge, by hand. I was the striker, and my striker was the forge tender and holder of the iron. Great fun, but no way to make a profitably hinge unless a customer really wanted to watch.
ptree - Sunday, 06/29/08 09:27:19 EDT

Merl, something else to consider, is who are you going to sell the stuff to?
JimG - Sunday, 06/29/08 09:40:14 EDT

Location, Location:
Currently the smiths making the best living are in places where there is a LOT of new construction, particularly high end homes. While the current interest crisis has put a kink in construction in most of the country there still are high growth areas.

The absolute best growth areas are resorts (beach, ski, golf) where homes are not just second homes but often third and built for people that get what they want. But high growth in tech areas also are good.

If an Olympics or world's fair is planned then it is worth moving to that city well in advance just for that brief spurt of opportunity. Many retire off such opportunities.
- guru - Sunday, 06/29/08 10:29:24 EDT

Merl- have you checked to see if Bob Bergman needs any help?
right there in Wisconsin, and he does large scale blacksmithing, as well as restoring and selling big powerhammers- I know that a fair amount of chips are made in that shop.
There are several blacksmiths I know who combine machining and forging.
Grant Sarver, for example, designs in CAD, and runs a Haas VMC and a CNC sinker EDM, but every part he sells is forged. He has figured out how to make stuff nobody else makes, cheaply and efficiently, using the best of old and new tech.
Part of the problem with making a living at smithing, and this is something the Guru has pointed out, is that you gotta smith locally, and sell globally.
If you make small items, you need to work hard to get them out into the world- the total market is large enough to support many smiths, but its geographically spread all over.
When I used to do the wholesale craft show circuit, there were maybe a dozen or so blacksmiths, each located in some tucked away rural area- but each was going to a national show, and selling to 40 or 80 stores scattered all over the US, Canada, and points beyond.
Steven Bronstein would go broke trying to make a living off his neighbors in Vermont- but he has run a commercial production blacksmith shop for 20 years, at least, by selling work everywhere in the USA.
If you want to do big stuff, though, you gotta move where the money is. The big shops I know all started out in the western US or the sunbelt- places that are growing, not shrinking.
Detroit is about a third the population it had at its peak, while Vegas is building something like one new high school and three elementary schools every year.
So while I love Wisconsin, I wouldnt wanna try to make it selling dairy farmers $200,000 fences.
Now once you put your 20 years in (this is my considered opinion of how long it takes to get both good enough, and well known enough, to actually make a decent living at most art related professions) then you can move where you want, as the market will seek you out.

Ptree- I find it funny that you got that reaction to ABANA- I guess its actually saying something good about ABANA, in a backhanded way- which is, its so big, you can find a bunch of people who dont like just about anything.
Me, being the wierdo that I am, always manage to find a big crew of homies at ABANA who work in big shops, with a mongrel mix of modern tools, to shoot the breeze with.
I know a whole bunch of guys (and girls) in Abana who make stuff like trowels, as well as people who make art, people who wouldnt let art in their house if you paid em, industrial smiths, teachers, and friends in every flavor and style.
Grant, for example, makes tools. Just like your trowels. He has forgotten more about practical ways to forge things than I could learn in several lifetimes- and he is completely approachable, without attitude, and willing to share- as long as you buy an occasional too- he did just buy a new truck he's gotta pay for, after all...

- ries - Sunday, 06/29/08 10:36:01 EDT

Ries, I am sure there are many in ABANA who don't put down those non-true pathers. I was not fortunate to have made their aquantance at that event, and the magazine was pretty strongly that way then. Have not read it since, so can't say. I am not mad at them, just sorta disappointed.
I suspect Grant and I would get along well if we met in person, he strike me as a fun guy.
Perhaps you can make Quad State this year. Great time there.
ptree - Sunday, 06/29/08 13:05:16 EDT

Coatings: Just got a special order yesterday. Drawer pulls for an antique w non standard centers on existing holes.

I can make what the lady wants, but I got to wondering about finish on something than will be handled occasionally w the bare hand.

I've got a bunch of things I can put on, unfortunately very little experience in this kind of situation.

I've got Krylon clear coat spray on, the standard wax/kerosene/linseed, penetrol, boiled linseed, and a couple brass/copper cleaner coaters I've been told work well on any metal.

Oninions please?

- Rudy - Sunday, 06/29/08 15:34:58 EDT

Coatings: Rudy, A lot depends on what the customer wants. If the parts are to replicate old iron fittings then the originals were probably black Japanned (thin black lacquer over clean steel - these parts were often filed all over). The thin black ages and flakes off being replaced by rust for the most part. If the furniture was maintained by waxing then some of this would have gotten on the rust and you end with a browned finish under wax.

So a good "restoration" finish would be rust browning the slow way or an accelerated browning using chemicals. In the end you would want to apply a flat clear lacquer to prevent further rusting.
- guru - Sunday, 06/29/08 17:30:55 EDT

There are still folks that know and understand first class joinery and forge welds in ironwork and occasionally will pay for it. I know smiths that still produce all their work with rivets, tenons, forge welds. . . It is beautiful but very expensive work. Few are willing to pay what it is worth and it is almost always sold for less than it is worth.
- guru - Sunday, 06/29/08 17:31:07 EDT

If you want to work strictly as a 19th, 19th, 17th, etc, century smith your best bet is to find a living history smithy where they will pay you to work in the manner of the period you are representing. Don't expect much money. Do expect a lot of hassle by folks who don't know how it was done but think they do!

Watch out for places that say they want you to *work* as a smith but actually want you to demo---a very different thing indeed!

Thomas Powers - Sunday, 06/29/08 20:20:32 EDT

Ries: I was out in the shop cleaning today and I noticed that Grant shouldn't have any worries about paying off that truck - I think I've already bought it for him. (grin) I do seem to favor Off Center tongs...
vicopper - Sunday, 06/29/08 21:19:37 EDT

Rudy; Finish for Pulls: As Jock noted, if they were originally iron pulls they were probably japanned. Black lacquer applied in two or three thin coats will look the same as they would have when new.

If, on the other hand, this is one of those "antiques made while you wait" situations that I often run into, then browning followed by clear coat is the way to go. I use Birchwood Casey "Plum Brown" with good results, followed by clear acrylic lacquer. I recommend not using the so-called flat lacquer as the flatting agents make it cloudy. Instead, use gloss clear and then rub it down to a satin finish with some pumice on a piece of cloth or brush. Works well for me.
vicopper - Sunday, 06/29/08 21:24:38 EDT

Jim G, I am a tool maker and so I plan on making tools. Hand tools, garden tools, specalized reprodution tools for the antique tractor crowd.
When I demonstrate at my antique tractor club's annuale show we get requests for this kind of stuff alot and often we have to take their name and number if the item is too involved to do during the show or requires any precision machining as we don't have any thing beond the post drills and power hacksaw.
I think there is a small market in custom orderd hand made tools for people who know what they want and are willing to pay a resonable price for it.
Another part of my situation is would I be making my own small machine shop more more competitive by adding the typical blacksmithing services ( I already provide light sheet metal work and welding along with the precision machining)or am I just trying to make something from nothing. When I had just turned 17 I was offerd an apprenticship to a blacksmith after I finished school but, I didn't take it (kick myself now) and I sometimes wonder if I'm trying to make up for that (not good business practice) or can blacksmithing be a good and viable part of the overall package for my shop if I choose to "go public"with it.
Location, location... I have no intention of moving just to persue a job, especily when the global market can be reached from my home. I fully relize one has to go to the customer most offten but, I do have an inside track to the "Door county new home builders" now I just need to get good enough to merit that connection. I have moved several times in the past in the persuit of a job and now that I have a family I'm done moving...
Thanks ries, I will check him out.(name sounds familer) hey if you're in Wisconny you might stop by the show and swing a hammer with us at the Dodge County Atique Power Club the third weekend in Aug.
Thanks again to all for the sage advice.
- merl - Monday, 06/30/08 00:15:43 EDT

Iron Arrows: I have a past customer who is interested in two iron arrows. Arrow blade, shaft and feathers. Beyond my means. If interested contact me and I'll pass you along to them.
Ken Scharabok - Monday, 06/30/08 02:44:35 EDT

merl, if you can get in the antique tractor crowd it could be a lucrative market. People often will spend more on their hobbies than they would on other things. Good luck, just don't expect it to be easy.
JimG - Monday, 06/30/08 09:07:14 EDT

I would love to go to Quad State this year- but that seems to be one very popular weekend- I am booked to speak at SIU (the blacksmithing MFA program in Carbondale) as they are having their metalsmiths conference that weekend- which means I not only miss quad state, but also the OTI conference in St. Louis, which is also that weekend.
OTI is the ornamental turning group, the guys who do rose engine work, holtzappfel lathe owners, and other unbelievable ornamental work.
Their conferences pull the solitary geniuses out of their shops, with lectures about how to make all kinds of things that mere mortals cannot conceive of.

As the firesign theater used to say-
"how can you be in three places at once, when you're not anywhere at all?"
- ries - Monday, 06/30/08 09:38:42 EDT

Merl, if you're near Door county, look up Ric Furrer at Door County Forge Works. He may have some advice.
Alan-L - Monday, 06/30/08 11:12:23 EDT

Iron Arrows: Just out of curiosity (since the new shop is under construction) are the iron arrows for ornamental use, weathervanes, or projectiles like crossbow bolts?
Bruce Blackistone (Atli) - Monday, 06/30/08 13:23:35 EDT

Finally a use for rebar!?!: Been using rebar, Lots n'lots o' rebar.
makes good snakes. sells good..... keeps me in business..... just make a head n' a tail....... use them to trick walmart employees......lots o' fun!
- packrat - Monday, 06/30/08 18:26:08 EDT

Iron arrows: I took the job. The guy has a rustic cabin/home and will use the 33" long arrows as side supports for a hinged panel which is over his flat TV set. They will be removable, set into small blind holes when in use.
Frank Turley - Monday, 06/30/08 19:24:47 EDT


I was walking down a dark driveway after a guild meeting, and bent down to pick up a piece of rebar someone had dropped. Then it started moving. I guess if a piece of rebar can look like a snake . . .
Mike BR - Monday, 06/30/08 21:50:49 EDT

Alen-L, I actualy met Ric this spring at the Jainsville knife show and talked to him for a couple of hours. A realy great guy with a standing invitation to drop in to his shop any time.
Talking to him must be what talking to Albert Einestine was like. He is so deep into his craft one can only aspire to get an inkling of what he does.
I meen come on any one that recreats an ancient formula for Wootz steel and then casts it into ingets and forges those into what would seem to be an authentic and historicly accurate piece is realy out there.
He does some astounding domestic work too.
I don't live too far from Sturgon Bay and I plan to go see him this summer.
BTW when I say not too far I mean within 100ml. Not quite daily driving distance for me
- merl - Monday, 06/30/08 22:46:12 EDT

Travel to Friends:
My average travel to visit old blacksmith friends used to be 125 miles and I did it whenever I could. Now that I am in NC the trip is 250 miles and I need to make it a couple times a year. Off season the trip is 1800 miles one way (to Costa Rica). I try to make it once a year.

Visiting with other blacksmiths can be an important part of your smithing education. Their shops, tools, how they work, what works for them, the mistakes they have made. . . are all something to learn from.
- guru - Monday, 06/30/08 23:52:24 EDT

Traveling: SOme of us don't get to visit other smiths at all unless we travel thousands of miles. I do it a couple times a year, so far. May soon have to be only once as fuel prices keep rising off the charts.

I'll be attending the Atalntic Coast Blacksmiths Conference in early September, and that my rule out Quad States this year, unfortunately. I can' tpass up the ACBC though, as they're having great demonstrators in a terrific venue and I already volunteered to do one of the pickup demos. I got my airline tickets early so the price was tolerable, but if I try to do QS too that will be pretty much last-minute and probably not affordable at all.

I'm with Ries and the Firesign Theater. Love those guys!
vicopper - Tuesday, 07/01/08 19:13:48 EDT

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