First Blow. Getting Into Blacksmithing With Empty Pockets

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About: I made a beer mug with only a knife and a hatchet. I think that says a lot about me.

That first time I hit that piece of hot steel was a moment to remember. It was joy, it was powerful, it was complete. First blow with my grandpa's hammer on an anvil I only made a week ago, assisted by a forge I built this summer. From a to z from scratch. Best things in life are free, always, again.

You know, as I wrote in my latest project, thanx to my canoe adventure I came more & more into hand tools, and more specific adzes, planes, froes, drawknives & axes. The more I advanced on that skill curve, the more I returned to basics. During this process it was only a matter of time before my mind would diverge to the making of the tools I would possibly need in the future.

Finding an nice axe for cheap on a flea market or a garage sale is fun, modding an old no-namer into something that fits your specific needs is fun, also, but forging your own tools is the peated whisky of the thrue craftsman. You make them, you break them, you make them better and you use them forever.

What it's all about, is the learning curve that goes with it. I've had a wonderful learning ride with my canoe, and now I wanted that same thing again with steel, and just like in that boat building project I decided to start from scratch.

Of course you can buy tools, forge, anvil, carbon steel etc. But there's absolutely no glory in buying.

When you're a craftsman you don't consume. You create.

Supplies:

I decided to build what I needed from what I had hanging around. My father always told me 'don't waste any metal son, grab what you find'. My father is a retired metalworker, you know. As a kid, I remember him bending steel and welding gates & other structures together. Big things. Cold processing. He learned me the value of basic materials - even tho he didn't call it like that. He gave the example. Dad things, you know. Scrap metal is everywhere. Collect it, store it, forget about it, rediscover it again many years later and one day you're gonna make something of it. This instructable is above all a lesson of patience. Living now is fun, but actions of the past can make today's fun better. Be nice to your future you.

I wanted to build a setup to forge tools. So I sniffed around and found exactly what I needed in the boxes, barrels & corners of my wokshops.

Good lesson, dad.

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Step 1: Water Heater Issues

Let's say it all went in rollercoaster mode when our water heater broke down. This hughe old 200L monster had largely done his duty and instead of making a scene about the lack of warm water in the house I saw in this a wonderful opportunity. Water heaters are built as a tank. It's just a solid container with a resistance in it and some isolation around it. That container is made from heavy steel and it can make an excellent forge. At least that was what I assumed in the first place.

Mine was already cut in half, since it was the only way to get it out of our cave. This monster was heavy.

I grabbed an axe, and literally hacked away everything that didn't look like a solid container. At the end, I had a clean base to work with.

Now I needed a concept. Progressive designing, you know. One solution at the time.

Step 2: Concept Setup

A forge is just an over testosteroned bbq. It's a basket of burning wood with a tornado running through it. I've seen wheel forges (brake rim) before, I've seen classic masoned forges, but I wanted something different - which was not that difficult since I started with my unconventional water heater in the first place.

The idea was to use one half as a solid base and air hub, and the second one as a big fire basket mounted on it.

To get my base nice & stable, I found a few cast iron bathtub feet I collected a few years ago.

Knowing what you have is somehow a must, also. I've got a very visual mind, which helps. I also have a very dirty mind, which confuses people.

Step 3: Growth Rings of Molten Steel

Before I started welding, I removed a slab of the base to get it exactly the right height. Not too high, not too low. Anticipating, you know.

I think I used almost 10 rods to weld these two halves together again. I didn't search for the niciest level fit, I looked for the best fit. One nice run all the way round. No gaps.

Then came the big uprising again. This thing was still heavy as hell - they knew how to build stuff af the time. 3mm plated steel, no kidding.

Step 4: A Belgian Bushblade's Story

In my family, a lot of men were metalworkers. My father worked his entire life as a technical drawer, one grandfather was fine blacksmith, another technician in a blast furnace and a lot of uncles had jobs in the same factory. Almost half of the adult men of my youth were working in or involved with one factory, the Blast Furnaces of Clabecq, a small town on the river Senne in the heart of Belgium. Most of them entered the factory at age 16 and spent their entire career in it. Hard to imagine, these days. I grew up when the inland steel industry was rapidly declining. My father got his 'golden hand' when the factory finally shut down at the end of the nineties. But just before - the shut-down came as a surprise to everyone - I asked him if he couldn't 'organise' me a jungle knife. His collegues were great craftsmen, and they all had hobbies after work. I explained him more or less what I wanted and for months I didn't hear anything about it. And all of a sudden, must be on my 20th birthday or so, he came home with something long in his leather working case. Wrapped in newspaper. It wasn't exactly how I'd imagined it would be. It was so much better. And it's been a compagnon for almost 25 years. I used & abused it, cut down trees & bamboo, lost it a few times, broke & repaired it, used it as a froe & a shovel, and never, ever, I've been disappointed. It's great steel, it's balanced, it's powerful & it's just one of a kind.

Just a no-name. But one with a story. One week after this gift the factory closed its gates forever. It took months for the furnaces to cool down. They've been dismantled a few years ago, and those beacons on the horizon of my youth are no more. But I've got one, one of their last babies. And you bet I'll use it forever.

Step 5: Final Shape, Already

The fire zone doesn't need to be deep or voluminous. Just enough for a few inches of coal, but since I wanted to cover the base with clay I gave it a few inches more. Place it where you want it, that forge, mark a line level all the way round and cut the upper part off. 3mm plated steel, as I said. You'll use a few cutting discs again.

Step 6: Wind Gaps

Last step in this built is to create multiple air gaps since you want that lower container functioning as a big air dispenser. You want that air wall rushing through your coals and getting the whole thing to apocalytic temperatures. Fuel & oxygen. Thinking big.

I started perforating this iron base with classic steel bits and gave up quite instantly. Too long, and way too devastating for these expensive bits. Changing tactics again, so I tried my high performance concrete percussion bits. You know what? It's really really loud, this episode, but it gets the job done. 16 holes 12mm diameter.

Now that's a dispenser. Since I wanted to cover the whole base with clay I welded pieces of tube on each hole.

At the end, it definitely started to look at something.

Step 7: Fire on My Mind

The solid clay base serves two purposes. One it protects the forge itself from the fire, and two it stores the energy of it. Straight from the garden - we have a quite high clay content - to the forge. No mixing with water, the moisture of the fresh stuff is more than enough to jam it nicely together. I could have made a nice belt to create the walls of the forge, but I decided to use a few simple bricks. No special 'fire bricks', just what I had hanging around.

From this phase on, the only thing on my mind was to get that fire started. Flames was I wanted.

Step 8: Thunderstorm

A lot people use a simple hairdryer for their forge, but I wanted power. More power. A lot more power.

Your first forge deserves the big guns.

Classic vacuum cleaners, you know them right? Great devices. Cheap & powerful. Their problem tho is that they're supposed to suck the air, not to blow it. But as we all know, what goes in must come out and if you find a way to mount them backwards you're the king of your kingdom. The more, their flow is adjustable. More wind less wind. So I mounted a piece of flexible tube to the exhaust of the vac and linked it to the forge. Every setup is different, it's all about the concept.

Since I had some aluminium fire protection sealing tape - I'm in the renovation business so I have leftovers everywhere - I used it to wrap the whole tube nice & tight. The more it protects the plastic tube from potential sparks, also.

Step 9: One Hour, One Anvil

I didn't want to buy an anvil. One because I didn't have the cash & two because I was confident that I had more than enough scrap to make one myself. The big base plates and the smaller bars came from the coalmine terrils nearby. Quite incredible how much metal is still stuffed in there. Otherwise, check your local scrapyard and you'll find exactly what you want. Or find something to make it different but workable. When I started with my ingredients I had no idea where this was going, I just puzzled a few things together.

Remember the key of an anvil: a solid base plate and a nose like structure mounted on a solid base to absorb the shocks. The first is to get things level & flattened, the second to get things curved.

If you don't have acces to a welder, just use a big mallet like thousands of local blacksmiths around the globe.

Whatever. I cut a few pieces apart and welded them back together. A few years of collecting tho, but less then one hour to build. It looks like a cannon, and it's exactly what I needed. 40 or 50 kilogram, something like that. No needed more.

Step 10: Anvil 2.0

From the first comment it was clear that my scrap anvil had no chance of survival in the brutal world of forging. Sooner or later I would smash the disc right into my stomach and since I'm better in absorbing life saving suggestions than in heavy pieces of steel, I decided to give it a bit more support.

Look at that heavy corner piece - 10mm thick steel. Solid enough? The other side is also supported with a steel bar underneath.

If I manage to blow this thing apart, I quit the vegan lifestyle. Promised.

I rehandled an old hammer also, btw. Built like I'm building my axes. I'm also good in mixing styles.

Step 11: A Nepali Bushblade's Story

When my parents went to Nepal this spring, I asked them 'to get me the dirtiest most brutal jungle knife they could find'. 'Don't you want a Kukri?!' my mother asked. 'Nonono, just a backyard leafspring rhum quenched piece of awesomeness' I replied. Literally. I've been to Nepal before, many years ago, and I know how basic things can be, over there.

Somehow I knew I was pushing my parents in a potential mini-crazy adventure, and I also knew that would lead them to unexpected encounters and everlasting memories. Children have to influence their parents, you know.

It ruled out exactly as I hoped for. They searched local blacksmiths, turned their back on tourist traps, got lost a few times, got drunk with Tibetan refugees and finally found the local do-it-all. 'We finally found what you asked for' my mother mailed me. 'Brutally finished & heavy as hell, you'd better like it son!'

So here it is. And it turned out to be one of the most versatile tools of the pack.

Step 12: Knockin' on Hell's Stump

You want that anvil mounted on something, right. Most of the time big nice stumps are used for this, but since I didn't have one large enough I decided to make one, also.

Remember that slab I cut off while building the forge? Well, it had the perfect diameter for the stump I was looking for, so out of the blue I thought it wouldn't be the dumbest idea on earth to fill it entirely with 60cm firewood.

Screw your first three feet to the belt, and fill/knock the whole up till there's not one single gap left. You can dig all your scrapwood in this device. Feel free & be creative.

Step 13: Keep. On. Knocking.

Big, small, dark & light. Jam it in, unleash the beast, and remember there's always room for one more. The whole will compress as hell, and that belt will it hold nicely together.

Free stump. Awesome mini-project. You're welcome. Pics above are from the stump in progress, not from the finished result.

Step 14: We're Onto Something

First presentation of anvil & stump. Looked good for me.

From that point, I really started to feel the vibes of the whole thing. A lot of energy had been stored in it during the weeks, and it started to radiate all over me.

Step 15: Getting It Level

There's a simple way to get your stump smooth & level. Screw two planks to it, mount your router on another one and skate over it till you can't skate no more.

Again, I was happily surprised with the outcome. This thing looked just beautiful.

Step 16: Filling the Gaps, Somehow

Since I felt I was onto something again I decided to push it to its limits. Poor some wood glue on the top, mix with sawdust and cover the whole. Of course this is not a need, finally it's just for an anvil base right.

But remember, I'm a woodworker. I think as a woodworker.

Step 17: Because It's There

Pine tar on top & more sanding. At this point it was already pure personal. I wanted the smoothest brutal anvil stump ever build.

Don't try to get me. I don't get it either.

Step 18: Kroc-style Boom, Like That

When that anvil stump turns out so nicely your wife want to declassify/upgrade it to a coffee table.

Walnut oil finish. We all love this stump now.

And I negociated to build another one for that coffee/beer table ;)

Step 19: First Blow

Finally, it all comes to a plus b. Vac connected to the forge, anvil on the stump. All you need is a hammer and a piece of steel. I had some decent tool steel hanging around - of course I had, thanx dad - and I gave it a first run with that. I only have one decent hammer, not too heavy not too light. You don't need the cavalry when you're just getting into it.

Find a piece of carbon steel - spark testing, check the net - and lit the fire. Of course you can buy special coal, but you don't need that. I used scrapwood, waste, leftover, what I had on hand. All you need is brutal hotness, just enough heat to get that steel as bright as you can.

That's where the vac comes in. Mine was like opening the gates of hell. The airflow is just immense, this thing is working so freaking good. Beyond expectations. Like a hurricane rushing through the fire. Of course you don't need that hurricane, but it's nice to know you can get exactly the temperature you want.

It seems I started something, again. I'll be learning the weeks, months & years to come, make adjustments, fall, step up and get better. Back on the learning curve again, you know.

Step 20: First Blade - 01/10/2019

Nothing better in life than a kick in the nuts and knowing you've still everything to learn.

You won today, forge of mine.

But I'll be back tomorrow.

And the day after.

And next week.

Bart isn't best first time.

But bart never gives up.

One day I'll deserve you.

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    25 Discussions

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    caitlinsdad

    19 days ago

    Now that's a knife...
    Good to see you are still at it and resourceful as ever.
    Does the anvil need to be bolted down to the stump or does the pine tar keep it in place? Wouldn't want something bouncing around to land on your toes.

    1 reply
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    bartworkercaitlinsdad

    Reply 18 days ago

    Thank you old friend, I'm glad you're still here and you didn't loose your vibe either! No need to bolt that lady down, gravity works quite vertical here - and my ego isn't large enough to such it sideward either ;)

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    uncle reamus

    19 days ago

    Welcome to the world of black smithing. It will become an obsession.
    You have made a few mistakes that i can see, but that is the learning curve.
    As someone else has pointed out your anvil needs more mass under it. Do a search on improvised anvils.
    Your forge is a bottom blast, good for coal but if you are to use charcoal or wood side blast is much better.
    The best thing i can suggest is do a search on "just a box of dirt" (JABOD, for short) You can build a forge with a piece of plywood and a couple 2x4's in under an hour.
    3 things to keep in mind 1) hold the black end, hit the red end. 2) just becuase it is black does not mean it is cold. 3) a blacksmith will make a tool, so that he can make a tool.
    Anyway looks like you are on your way. Be safe but most of all have fun. Oh did i mention be safe.
    Love the anvil stand.

    1 reply
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    bartworkeruncle reamus

    Reply 19 days ago

    Thanx to put me on track about these colors, I'll print that out & post-it on the forge. Not easy tho with all these forging color codes. There's blue & cherry & white & straw & black, very confusing all this tho!! lol Seen my anvil 2.0? Better like that? ;)

    IMG_0006.JPG
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    woodreaux

    23 days ago

    Yo, good effort...but. Gussets welded under the round top area of your ASO(anvil shaped object)will help keep the "anvil" from bending with each blow of your hammer, same dynamic when trying to use a railroad track, mostly. The anvil hits back with a lot of force, if it does not "give" when hit. you must shore up the edges down to the base pieces. Railroad track can be used but not like you might think! You turn the track vertical,mortise a ledge into a stump and attach it to the stump. Your anvil will be about a couple inches in diameter and however long the piece of track, maybe a foot or two. Think inline mass. the face of your hammer is the size of your anvil, essentially. You want all the rebound to strike the bottomside of your workpiece. Your arm will thank you at the end of the day. The steel needs to be yellow hot to forge, lower heat will cause "shuts" or cracks in the metal.

    3 replies
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    StormC6woodreaux

    Reply 22 days ago

    Could you explain what you are saying about the RR track? "You turn the track vertical, mortise a ledge into a stump and attach it to the stump." I am having trouble visualizing what you are suggesting. Would the end result be like sticking a chunk of RR track into the ground with the end forming the anvil surface?

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    woodreauxStormC6

    Reply 22 days ago

    Hope you got the image.

    You can bing search "vertical railroad track used as anvil" and it should take you to the pic. You must use" images" for the search

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    bartworkerwoodreaux

    Reply 22 days ago

    Thanx for your input. I know a guy who knows what he talks about when I see one. That weak spot has been mentioned in the very first comment and is already solved right now, making this aso a bit heavier again. I'll post an update, largely worth it. Have a good one.

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    StormC6

    22 days ago

    I feel your approach to Instructables is so much better than burying the reader in details. It is the ideas we need. Anyone who is really going to build something doesn't need to know to use a 2 1/2 pound hammer purchasable at Amazon. FWIW, I published an instructable years ago with your stump leveling with a router technique. Anyway, loved your approach., The one I build using your instructions will look nothing like yours cause I will find different materials.

    1 reply
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    bartworkerStormC6

    Reply 22 days ago

    Thanx for your support, and I agree completely with your philosophy. Plans are good when you're building a fusion reactor or a deep space telescope, but in general one decent idea is worth the whole instructable. Btw, I learned the idea of flattening a stump on this site indeed, but it was mikesaurus (on a real stump) who got me into it. Still remember that one. Gonna look yours up tho, let me know about your next one.

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    Eh Lie Us!

    23 days ago

    Damn. You summed it up for me with this:

    When you're a craftsman you don't consume. You create.

    1 reply
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    bartworkerEh Lie Us!

    Reply 22 days ago

    You got it. It's not the brands that make a craftsman, it's the skills.

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    ShannonW49

    23 days ago

    Thanks for posting. I'm about to remake a furnace for melting aluminum. Just need something big enough for my small crucible. I was thinking of using a small fridge, with the door facing upwards and lined with a plaster/sand/vermiculite refractory. However - I happen to have an old water heater sitting as an eyesore in my yard. Its now a target.

    Gonna use a propane burner, gonna line it thick and round to swirl the heat. Thanks for the info, it'll be a great help. Wish I had a welder... ;)

    1 reply
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    bartworkerShannonW49

    Reply 22 days ago

    Glad you liked it. These water heaters are a lot more solid than your fridge, so go with that. You don't need that welder btw. Try to get some parts overlapped and bolt or rivet them together. When you line the whole up with cement or clay it'll do the job. Good luck.

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    immaculatelation

    23 days ago

    Well--I'm definitely making that stump. Wish I'd thought of that! I've been trying to get into metal working with no money, and I've come a long way, but I haven't gotten into the groove yet. I got a brake drum forge from one uncle-in-law, an old broken anvil from another uncle-in-law, I made a crucible furnace, propane torch and crucible tongs, and I finally bought a blacksmith hammer; but I hadn't yet worked out where to put my anvil--doh! Now I have it! Thanks for sharing!

    1 reply
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    bartworkerimmaculatelation

    Reply 22 days ago

    Some processes just need time, a gradual sedimentation of picked-up ideas, thoughts, material and the rage to start with it. This whole thing has been sissling in my head since many many years, and all of a sudden you just need one spark to set the barn on fire. I hope this was the spark you needed, enjoy the road!!

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    scaritual

    23 days ago

    For some reason, I suspect that the stump you made could help absorb the ring of a regular anvil. I may try that.

    And thanks for your journey and ideas.