The town blacksmith was still an integral part of American life just 150 years ago. And before that, you didn’t have a town without a smith. Though the industrial age brought about a decline in the number of smiths and the need for that trade, blacksmithing has never gone away. It’s still an amazing way to make a knife, and can be used to create a host of other useful items for the home, garden, farm, and ranch.
The best way to learn is through hands-on training under someone who has been smithing for years. It is a complex craft that’s full of variables, and you’ll go further and faster with some expert tutelage. But if all you have is a book on smithing, you can gain the basics with a little trial and error. The school of hard knocks is always taking new students. My favorite book on the subject of beginning smithing is “Edge of the Anvil” by Jack Andrews. But there are plenty of other good blacksmith books available, if you can’t find that title.
Makeshift Equipment or The Real Deal?
If you decide to dabble in backyard blacksmithing, you can get into the craft with a minimal amount of equipment. I have seen a forge made from a hole in the ground. The air was fed to in by a 1-inch steel pipe buried in the ground, and the bellows to feed that air was a garbage bag duct taped to the end of the pipe. The bag had a hole in the end, which the smith used to get air into the bag. He would squeeze it shut and press the garbage bag much like a bagpipe player. With that same rig, the smith had an anvil from a 20-pound chunk of railroad rail, a hammer, a few pliers for tongs and a bag of Kingsford for his coal. His knives made from car leaf springs looked a little rough coming out of this makeshift smithy, but they looked and cut like knives. I would call that a success.
You might be able to pick up the real tools of the trade at a good price if you get lucky at a flea market or estate sale. If you’re going that route, you’ll need a proper anvil, an assortment of hammers and sledges, tongs, a hand crank or electric bellows (or a wood stove blower), hardies, fullers, swages and punches. You may even need even more unusual tools, based on your intended products. You’ll also need some coal. If you find a local heating fuel supplier, they can usually tell you where to buy small amounts of coal.
Acquiring the metal you’ll work on is usually the easiest part of the operation. You can find some great metal at the junkyard or a salvage yard. You can also buy steel straps at any home improvement store. And you can order any kind of metal you like, in a variety of sizes and shapes, from metal supply companies.
Are any of you interested in trying this? Would you like to make? Tell us your story by leaving a comment.