Introduction: Bolt Tongs Forged of 2 Railroad Spikes

About: I am Joe, a blacksmith from the Netherlands

Bolt tongs are a type of tongs that are used often by blacksmiths.
This design of tongs has an arc before it reaches the jaw end, also known as the nibs.

The arcs allow the smith to grab bars with awkward shapes or parts to be grabbed easily.
It makes sense they're called "bolt" tongs. The arc grabs around the bolt head, so you can hold it.
With flat nib tongs, you would only be able to the hold the bar end (usually where they are threaded)
and not where the head is.
Even though called bolt tongs, they're not just used for holding bolts. You can hold many other types
of bars too, with or without awkward sections, such as the head of a bolt.
It can also hold an L shaped bar right where the corners is, because of the arcs giving clearence.

Materials list;

2 railroad spikes
anvil & stand forge

rounding hammer various tongs

block brush


leg vise & stand

round hot punch

Hot chisel cut-off Hardie


center punch

bolster plate

brass callipers hot drift Rivet or stock for a rivet

Step 1: Barring Up Your Railroad Spikes.

Firstly the spikes must be turned into a bar. Having the head still present has no use.

You can either forge the head back into itself to make it square. This is what I would advise, because then you don't lose material. Or you can cut the head off, but then you will lose material, which is pretty much wasteful.

If you are forging the head square, do this well warm. Don't try to force it at anything less than an orange heat.
Or the head could start folding, which will result in cracks.

This is normally a two heats opporation.

Step 2: Drawing Down for the Nibs, Arcs and Boss

Most of this is proportional, so I can't really give dimensions to follow.

Forge the end of the bar that was previously was the head into a section that is about 3/8" x 3/4" - 10 mm x 20 mm.
Take this section back roughly 1/2 way of the bar.
So, one half of the bar is is roughly 5/8" - 16 mm square stock and the other half 3/8" x 3/4" - 10 mm x 20 mm.

This is a one heat opporation.

Step 3: Starting the Nibs and Arc.

I start by laying about an inch - 25 mm of the 3/8" x 3/4" - 10 mm x 20 mm section on the far
edge of the anvil and forging this down about 1/3 of the way down. This is the the first set-down.

Then I take the bar back to the near edge of the anvil and look closely for this proportion;
the first taper from the first set down (area 2) + a square section of the 3/8" x 3/4" - 10 mm x 20 mm bar (area 1).
This second set-down is forged about 1/3 of the section down too.

After the 2 set-downs have been forged, the middle section between the 2 set-downs can be drawn out.
This will be a square bar with the section: 3/8" x the height of your set down - 10 mm x the height of your set down.

While at it, forge the nib back into inself to make it taller and less wide, relative to square bar section it is attached to.
See picture 1 and 5 and look at the nibs.

This is a one heat opporation.

Step 4: Creating the Arc and Boss

Bend the arm out, make sure the set-down is facing up! Take a good look at picture 1!
The blend the bend in so, it is no longer visible there was a set-down there.

Now you can move on the the boss, also known as the hinge plate, and do this set-down.
Lay the bar, with the arm hanging down over the far edge of the anvil and put a set-down there, about 1" - 25 mm
away from the arm. Look closely at pictures 2, 3 and 4.

After you have made the boss, you can bend the arm which will become the arc of tongs.
Bend this over the round horn, also known as (a round) bick, of your anvil.

Step 5: Creating the Reins

There are multiple ways to create the rein on one half of the tongs.
You can;
-Draw them out
-forge weld them on
-cut them

In this instructable, I draw the reins out.
I draw the reins out over the well radiused edge of the anvil, because that is the most efficient process.
I could draw out on the flat face of the anvil or over the round bick of my anvil.
But this isn't nowhere near as efficient (quick) as using the edge of the anvil.

The shape of this rein is a taper. Thus as I go down the length of the rein, from the boss, it becomes thinner in both planes.

Again there is no fixed dimension. I just draw them down as I go. I forge what material I have left of the railroad spike into the reins.

Step 6: Punching the Holes and Cutting the Jaw

The tongs are almost done and in order to work, they need holes for the rivet.

I use a hot punch I forged and punch a hole into the boss, in the center (by eye).
Every time you hit the punch to make a hole, take it out.
Otherwise your punch will heat up and mushroom on the punch end. Your tong half will cool off too if you keep the punch in the punch hole. So, take it out every hit, so you can look at your punch hole, keep your punch cool and your material hot.
The eye is then hot drifted to the size of the rivet.

Then I take the tong half to the vise, and use a hot chisel (which I forged too) to cut a groove in the nib.
This groove is what will accept the bar stock, whether round or square.

Step 7: Riveting, Setting and Cleaning Up.

A rivet gets set in and I forge the rivet.
Regardless of the size rivet you use, this is a proportion that always works.
For a good rivet head I use: 1,5 x D.
Thus if I use a 1/4" rivet I need 1,5 x 1/4 = 1,5 x 2/8 = 3/8"
1/4" is roughly 6 mm
In Metric: 1,5 x 6 = 9 mm
This is the amount of material that STICKS OUT for the rivet head.
The total length of a rivet: (2 x rivet head) + the cross sections of all parts that will be riveted.

After riveting the jaws are set the stock size needed.

Once this has been done, the tongs get a hot brushing to make them look nice and get stamped by me.
The tongs are now down and ready for use.

Step 8: Production on Demand

For anyone who wonders; I make tongs and other blacksmithing tools on demand.

If you're interesed in purchasing a tool or have questions; send me a personal message or write me at:

Step 9: YouTube Video of Forging the Tongs

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