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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    35 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Great instructions as always, my first pair of tongs would have taken months longer if it hadn't been for your videos. Hope to see more instructables in the future!


    3 years ago

    How do you finish you work? I'm am apprentice and I have yet to see any finish as clean as that.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    I brush my work when it is hot. After cooling I put on a clear coating, or paint it.
    Or like the tongs. I leave them as they are. They are as forged, after brushing.


    3 years ago

    Well done my man. Much respect. It takes a natural gift to make a quality tool out of a useless piece of material. I need more like this out of people who dare to engineer. Repurposing is paramount for our planet.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Great Instructable, just as good as your videos. Nice set of tongs too.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Great "ible" It makes me want to make a brake drum forge right now! Very well explained and I find your choice of railroad spike to be astonishing, as it seems to be a minimal amount of metal to work with.

    Well Done.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Nice, voted, My boy is a farrier and some of these tools are hideously expensive, yet so cheap and easy (ish) to make

    3 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you!

    I think we have different views. (Quality) tooling costs money because they're not simple to make and are made to a standard.
    What I do isn't "simple". It's not the hardest thing in the world, certainly not.
    But if doing what I do truly was simple, no one would buy tongs or other tools (of high quality). And anyone could make these. But it isn't the case.
    I have had many people who remake the tongs I show here.
    But I haven't seen anyone finish it as clean as I do.

    What I do isn't cheap either.(My steel, fuel, time, tax, profit etc.) My tongs sell for more than factory tongs and wouldn't of course be made of railroad spikes.
    The tongs I produce for sale are made of mild steel, 1045, spring steel or another type of steel if the customer requests that.

    If a pair of tongs costs 100$, remember by whom and how it was made.
    It's a tool to be used for decades, not seconds.

    The difference between an expensive tool and a cheap tool is the time you use it.
    A 100lbs anvil roughly costs 900$ give or take ( average quality, not high, not low)
    use it almost daily for a few hours, for a year and that 900$ gets reduced to merely a few cents per hour. It will only because cheaper with every passing hour.

    Now if you buy the same anvil and only use it once every month or so or less.
    Then you have an expensive tool, regardless of the quality.

    Something being expensive is a relative thing.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Yes I appreciate that but my lad is one of the UK's top Farriers and I'm just saying that he could make these as a method of keeping his skill levels up, also as you said if you need lots of different sized yet infrequently used sets this is a really cost effective way of doing it


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I encourage all smiths to make their own tools. But many feel the value of their money is worth more than building and maintaining a skill.
    Relatively speaking, a pair of bought tongs will be cheaper than making it oneself to the same standard. That's the abrupt end of that relativity, though.
    You won't have had the exercise, you don't have the extra added experience, you don't know how the tool exactly is because you didn't make it, and much more.
    I feel experience and skill building is way more valuable than all money in the world. Especially for any smith at the top of their game.
    But many disagree with me, and that's perfectly fine.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice. A very nice pear of tongs indeed.

    just a thought, you did not mention anything about left or right hand tongs and you didn't mention how to free up the rivet. for those how don't know,{you take a heat and work the tongs back and forth to free them up and keep them moving till they cool. i wouldn't quench a railroad spike become it mite crack.}

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    hmm....good thing i read through the comments or i'd have reposted what you did. since it's been said once, i'll leave it at that.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Cool, you have my vote.

    I definitely need to visit my blacksmith neighbour again.

    The last time, we tried to make damasted knives. Not too successfull i admit. (We should have better cleaned the surfaces...) After this, i ordered some blade steel to make a knive.


    4 years ago on Step 9

    Nicely done. I didn't even think there would be enough material in a spike.


    4 years ago

    This is great... When I saw the metal contest this is what I imagined should be in it. Voted


    4 years ago on Introduction

    This is super cool, and I have to say most of all I dig your anvil.