Learn Blacksmithing Basics

Ever wanted to bend, twist and shape metal? Here’s how you can learn a timeless craft that’s fun and useful, too.


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    Explore the art of blacksmithing and learn how to make useful metal objects for your home and homestead.
    ISTOCKPHOTO/BOJAN FATUR

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 Hot, dirty and physically demanding — blacksmithing isn’t for everybody. But for those so inclined, learning this craft can be both rewarding and useful. Imagine the satisfaction of striking a glowing piece of metal with a big hammer against an anvil and reshaping it into the desired form. In fact, blacksmithing is so physical that it can be a great release for stress in these days of technology overload.

Learning a Timeless Craft

Traditionally, if you wanted to learn to be a skilled smith, you would go to work as an apprentice or helper in a local blacksmith shop. But today, you don’t need to learn all about the trade to enjoy the art of blacksmithing.

A few years ago, my teenage son, Griffin, and I enrolled in a three-day introduction to blacksmithing class at the John C. Campbell Folk Art School in Brasstown, N.C. Nestled in the rolling Southern Appalachian countryside, this school has been teaching a wide variety of folk art skills since 1925, and it makes a wonderful getaway, with comfortable lodging and family style home-cooked dining.

Our mentor for the class was full-time artist-blacksmith Paul Garrett. Garrett created a relaxed atmosphere and took into account the different skill levels of everyone in the class. By the end of the first day, even the first-timers were bending and twisting metal stock into functional hardware. The environment at the school fosters learning and creativity, and just as importantly, it provides all the necessary equipment and hardware to learn about blacksmithing.



Blacksmithing Tools and Techniques

At the heart of a blacksmith shop is the forge. Reshaping metal requires extreme heat, and that heat comes from the forge. The old-school type of forge is coal-fired. Another option is to use more modern gas forges, which are cleaner and more easily controlled. But to the traditionalist, the act of stoking and tending a coal forge is no small part of the romance. A coal forge requires constant attention from the second you light it. The firepot transforms the coal into coke, a solid carbon fuel that burns with intense heat and little smoke. The forge temperature is adjusted by the airflow from a bellows or from a hand-cranked or electric blower. A coal forge can become so hot that leaving a work piece in too long will turn it white hot and actually burn up the metal.

The blacksmith’s arsenal includes the anvil and a variety of hammers, hardys, punches, tongs and fullers, among other tools. The traditional anvil design has a large flat work surface called the face, a step used for some forming techniques and a horn used for rounding, such as crafting horseshoes. Most have a square hardy hole and a round pritchel hole. The hardy hole accepts the square shank of a hardy tool used for cutting. The pritchel hole is useful for punching, where the hot metal is pierced with a punch, eliminating the need for drilling.

joly
10/31/2019 1:31:18 PM

I see this article as encouraging people to take up a dying trade. We certainly do not want to see this craft go by the way side. If you can see your self doing it maybe you should try.


texassmithy
4/14/2015 7:58:28 AM

I PRAISE YOU FOR ATTEMPTING TO HELP PEOPLE TO LEARN BLACKSMITHING, BUT, LIKE EVERY ONLINE AND PUBLISHED MEDIA OVERVIEW, THE FAILURE IS THAT YOU HAVE TRIED TO MAKE A SKILLS-ORIENTED CRAFT INTO ONE WHICH IS TOOL-ORIENTED,.... MY ADVICE IS TO HELP PEOPLE SEEK OUTREPUTABLE TEACHERS LOCALLY, OR MAYBE YOUR PUBLICATION, BEING A RESPONSIBLE ONE, COULD CONSIDER PUTTING A SKILLED ARTISAN INTO YOUR STAFF TO DEAL WITH THE TECHNICAL ASPECTS OF SUCH WORK, i HAVE TAUGHT BLACKSMITHING FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS, WOODWORKING AND FINISHING FOR THE SAME AMOUNT AND HAVE TAUGHT AND SERVED AS A CRAFTS TRAINER FOR WOODCRAFT SUPPLY, AND OTHER ORGANIZATIONS. PLEASE, IF YOU CANNOT SEE FIT TO HIRE A CONSULTANT, DON'T MAKE THE ERROR OF MOST ONLINE SERVICES AND MAGAZINES BY LETTING IT BECOME OVERRUN BY BAD AMATEURS, THIS IS TOO UNSAFE AN IDEA AND TOO UNSOUND A FRAMEWORK FOR TEACHING.


Patrik Baláž
6/8/2012 5:54:39 PM

An interesting article about blacksmithing in Slovakia: http://www.levican.sk/index.php?app=noviny-levice&sec=ukaz&show=1081






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