Making Your Own Tools


| 6/9/2015 9:25:00 AM


Forge 1

Blacksmiths often held a special status among traditional people; when your plow bent or your scythe broke, he kept your family alive. They must have seemed like alchemists, turning bare stones into gleaming jewellery or fierce weapons; here in Ireland even their homes looked different, with a bizarre keyhole-shaped door that announced the resident’s craft as clearly as any barber pole or butcher sign.

Try blacksmithing for a short time and you respect them yourself. Metals like copper or tin can be hammered into shape cold, but iron needs more than a thousand degrees of heat to become malleable; for those temperatures you need charcoal, a forge and a continual blast of air, along with the skill to know what you’re doing.

I do not claim to have such skill, but under the guidance of two excellent tutors, I was able to take a rusty piece of discarded machinery and, by heating and pounding it many times over two days, flatten and shape it into a useable machete. The course was one of many offered by the Irish organization CELT, and hosted at the Slieve Aughty Centre in County Galway.

We started by creating a forge – in this case, out of clay, sand and horse manure, mixed and shaped like a sand castle. We cut and stapled plastic bags and wooden planks to form bellows, and used pipes to connect them to the clay structure, and soon we had something primitive yet useable. We used metal ones later to save time, but it’s a great pleasure to know that you can make a working forge from almost nothing.



We quickly learned that forging metal means a lot of time standing over the fire, holding the metal – with tongs, obviously – in just the right place to get the proper amount of heat, and withdrawing it at just the right moment. Too much heat and it sparks and disintegrates, too little and no amount of hammering can budge it. Movie blacksmiths look like bodybuilders slamming white-hot metal with sledgehammers; the reality involves a lot more frantic and often delicate tapping, as the smith has only a few seconds to make the right changes before it cools again.





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