The beginning of blacksmithing can be quite challenging and overwhelming for some people. Maybe some people are telling you to not even bother starting out because of the complexity of blacksmithing. If you want to start blacksmithing, but don’t know which techniques are required, in this article you will learn 5 techniques that every beginner should learn.
Without further ado, here are 5 basic blacksmithing beginner techniques:
Keep in mind that these are only the basic blacksmithing techniques, there are a lot more of them. Also, note that the same technique often has many different names, but we chose the most popular ones in the blacksmithing industry. Now, let’s start by describing each one of them.
Basic Blacksmithing Techniques
Drawing is the most basic technique used in blacksmithing. Most often, it is the first technique you will learn in a typical blacksmithing class. It is used for increasing the length of the material. When doing this technique, the angles between the hammer, metal piece, and anvil will determine the final shape of the working material. Note that the volume of material will not change, it will only become longer and thinner.
There are 2 most common uses for drawing:
- Forging a point
- Forging a taper
Forging a point is the fundamental skill of every blacksmith. You will have to practice this a lot in order to build muscle memory for proper hammer control and striking. First, make sure that metal is forged to its forging temperature (orange color) before hammering. To keep point centered, the material should be slightly tilted up.
When forging a point, you should always start at the end of the working piece and slowly working your way down the length until you have the desired shape and thickness. After every strike, rotate the metal 90°, otherwise, it will become wide and flat. For beginners, it is recommended to use a light hammer (2lb) to have better hammer control. It is possible to forge different types of points like a round point, flat chisel point, or the simple square point.
To make around point, you have to make a square shape first and draw it to the desired size. After it is drawn, make the point eight-sided by gently striking the corners. Finally, to make it round, you should do rapid hammering while slowly rolling the material on the anvil. With shaping the square point first, you avoid a lot of extra work and distorted piece.
Speeding up the drawing process can be done in several different ways. You can either use the peen of the hammer, horn of the anvil or you can use the anvils round corner.
Using the peen of the hammer is a much easier and effective way to draw your material than with the hammers’ face. The shape of the peen allows you to squeeze the metal much faster. It also gives you better direction control of the metal, meaning it allows you to push the metal along the bar or to spread it.
Another possible way to speed up the drawing process is to use the horn of the anvil. It acts similarly as the peen of the hammer. If you work the material across the horn, it will lengthen without much spreading. On the other hand, if you want to spread the material without increasing the length, a working material has to be held along the horn.
Last but not least, you can use round corners of the anvil. The metal piece must be held at an angle of approximately 45 degrees and hammered exactly over the rounded corner. After each strike, the bar has to be slightly moved to prevent cutting. As with other methods, you will use the face of the hammer on the flat part of the anvil to realign the dents.
Forging a taper also refers to tapering. Some people also use the term sharpening for this process. Basically, it is continued drawing until you created a tapered point. It is advised to start with a squared piece of material. As with forging a point, it is recommended to place the metal on 45 degrees angle. After every few strokes, rotate the metal at 90 degrees. After assessing the piece, return it to the forge as needed.
Upsetting is the opposite of drawing out the metal. It is used to increase the thickness of the metal, rather than its length. Keep in mind that the volume of material always stays the same. Upsetting the metal allows you to make a flat end or round ball at its end. It generally requires higher forging temperatures than those for the drawing process. Typically, when your metal is yellow-white color, it is ready for upsetting.
Only the part of the metal you want to change should be heated, otherwise, there is a tendency for the metal to bend. In case of bending, upsetting should be stopped until the bar has been straightened up as further hammering will simply bend it more instead of upsetting it. To avoid bending, the part of the material which is not being upset should be kept cool. Also, the tip of the material must be leveled up before upsetting.
Should I Use the Hammer or the Material Itself to Upset a Metal?
Upsetting can be done on 2 different ways:
- Using a hammer
- Using the weight of the material
Using a hammer is exactly how it sounds, you are simply striking the metal piece with a hammer. This method is beneficial for larger pieces, although it can work for the bigger ones too. You simply hold the item vertically with the heated tip resting on the anvil while hammering the top of the item. Depending on the size of the material, you will use different hammer sizes.
For example, if the diameter of the piece is ½ inches, you don’t need a heavy hammer, but 2lb or 3lb would be much more convenient. You can also place the item on the anvil with the heated tip sticking out beyond the corner. It is important to hold the item very tight because you don’t want the hot metal to fly loose, trust me. Unfortunately, I learned this from my own experience.
After every few strikes, rotating the piece a quarter turn is a must in order to have everything balanced. Compared to drawing technique where you hammer a light and controlled blows, upsetting the metal requires much heavier and well-directed blows. When starting, one or two light blows are needed to get the direction of striking but after that, it is all about strength.
Using the weight of the material itself is another possible method for upsetting. This method is recommended for larger pieces. Hold the vertically with the heated tip pointed down to the anvil or steel block. After that, bounce the metal piece on the anvil or steel block. Note that you should rotate the bar 90 degrees after every bounce. Except upsetting the metal, this is an excellent exercise for your abdominal muscles, so don’t be surprised if a day after upsetting you have soreness in your abdominal area 😊
Bending metal is self-explanatory. Before starting, it is necessary to heat the desired portion of the metal. When a metal is bright red, it is ready for bending. For this technique, use bending or leverage blows, instead of using extra-heavy blows.
How to Bend a Metal?
There are a lot of different ways to bend metal. In this article, we will show you some of the most popular methods.
- Using a corner of the anvil
- Using a horn of the anvil
- Using a leg vise
- Using hardy tools
Using a corner of the anvil
This is the simplest method of metal bending. Make sure that the corner of the anvil is rounded. You should always hammer the metal slightly in front of where you want the desired end to be. Also, try not to crush the metal between the hammer and corner of the anvil because this will draw the piece rather than bend it. Keep in mind that the length of the heat will significantly affect bending. Make sure that you heated the part exactly where you want your bend to be.
Note that the material bends more where it is higher heat and less where it is cooler. If you are using this method, as you are hammering the bar, the part on the face of the anvil will bend up. So you will have to straighten it up or control it. For good control on the anvil, you will need help from one person as he or she will hold the metal piece with the hammer while you are striking.
Using a Horn of the Anvil
This method is used more for the precise curving of the metal. Firs thing you want to do here is to place the heated metal piece on the horn of the anvil. The end should be slightly past the horn. If you want to create a full circle or some larger curve, it is very important that you start bending at the end of the bar. The reason is that will be much harder to do the ends late due to inertia.
In case you notice a twisting of the bar, just place it on a flat part on the anvil and straight it up.
Using a Leg Vise
For more controlled bending, using a leg vise is recommended. First, place the cool part on the vise to provide leverage. Then, simply hammer the part you want to bend. This way, a cool metal section will not bend up and therefore it will be much easier.
Using a Hardy Tools
The most common hardy tools for bending are hardy block and hardy bending fork.
Hardy block is usually around 45 degrees angle on the one side and 90 degrees on the other one. It is very easy to do. All you need is a hammer, the anvil, and a hardy block.
After heating your material up to forging temperature, place it onto the side of 45 degrees. Again, always start from the end of the bar and gradually go further as this way it will be way easier. This method is good for hot as well as the cold process. If the bar starts to buckle, it should be laid on the face of the anvil and straightened immediately.
Hardy bending fork is another useful tool for metal bending. First, place the tool in the hardy hole. Then, put your bar diagonally in between the forks. As with all other methods, start from the end of the working material and progressively move further. Another way to use this tool is to place the bar parallel to forks and strike the heated section in between. If the bar is long and thin enough, you can even use arm pressure for bending instead of blowing the hammer.
Punching is referring to punching holes in the metal. There are a lot of punching tools for this purpose. You can also find them in different shapes and sizes. Two of the most popular punching tools are punches and drifts. They are very similar but the main difference is in the point size. Punches make bigger holes while drifts gradually enlarge the existing holes.
These tools have more been used before the advancement of power drilling tools. In blacksmithing, punching tools are still very popular. A lot of people like the tradition of the craft.
In order to punch a hole, heat the metal bar to the proper forging temperature. Place the metal bar on the flat part of the anvil. Then, drive the punch almost all the way until it reaches the anvil. If it happens that you cant drive it further, there are two reasons. First is that you lost the heat and therefore it is impossible to continue. The second is that you simply reached the end of the anvil, so it is physically impossible to drive further.
In case you lose the heat, simply put the material back in the forge and heat it again. The main reason why punching has to be quick is that the metal can cool down very quickly. Note that you don’t create a whole here, but rather you decrease the thickness of the bar. Keep in mind that the hole can be shrunk when metal is cooled down. This is where drift comes handy as you can use it to open up the hole to the desired size.
Now, turn the bar on the other side. You will notice a mark on the hole. As you strike that mark, it will shear the slug of metal at the base of that hole.
We wouldn’t recommend using a punch bigger than 1/3 of bars width. It will create a weak spot as it removes a lot of material. But let’s say that for some reason it is necessary. For that purpose, you would use the rectangular punch first and then follow up with the round or square punch. The rectangular punch creates a large hole without weakening the bar, where the round punch simply reshapes it afterward.
On the anvil, there are generally two holes that serve for punching, hardy hole and a pritchel hole.
THE PRITCHEL HOLE
It is used for punching holes and also for holding various tools. The main difference between the pritchel hole and hardy hole is in the shape of the hole, the pritchel hole is round and the hardy hole is square, which we will discuss next.
THE HARDY HOLE
The hardy hole is a square hole which is located near the pritchel hole. Its main use is to secure various tools like chisels, various swages, etc. This feature makes it excellent for bending metal and hole punching. Typically, it is larger than a pritchel hole.
As the title says, it is a process where a metal is cut. In blacksmithing, splitting is a different term for the same process. You can cut metal in its length or width, depending on what you want. It is a similar process of punching. Cutting can be divided into hot and cold cutting. Hardy tools and chisels are the two most common tools used for this technique.
Using Chisels for Cutting
Chisels are another simple but extremely useful tool for every blacksmith. As punches, they come in different shapes and sizes. Their main role is to cut the material. A typical chisel has a blade-like point and handles that are typically made metal. In order to cut a material, a force has to be applied, typically with a hammer. Chisels are further divided into hot and cold types.
As the name suggests, hot cutting is used for hot pieces. It is much more common in blacksmithing, so quick and efficient hot cutting is important skill for every blacksmith. Hot chisels are used to cut metal when is hot. Unlike cold chisels, they have an edge bevel of somewhere around 30 degrees that makes them much sharper.
On the other hand, hot chisels are more fragile than cold chisels because they are made from alloy steels which contain less carbon. Keep in mind that hot chisels should never be used for cutting cold material as they are often not hardened, so the edges crack easily.
This type is primarily used for cutting mild steel. In order to cut a small piece of mild steel, the metal has to be cut first about a ¼ of both sides. After that, it should be easy to break it off over the edge of the anvil. Cold cutting tools should not be used for hot cutting.
Cold chisels are used for cutting the cold metals. When working with cold chisels you only need to drive them in about 1/3 of the thickness of the metal.
They will create a fracture line that should allow you to break a material easily. Cold chisels get sharpen somewhere between 50-60 degree angle. They are typically used to remove waste material when files or hacksaws cannot be used.
If you want to see what easy blacksmithing projects you can make, check 5 Simple Blacksmithing Projects for Beginners