Becoming a blacksmith is a fun and productive hobby that anyone with a backyard can get into. As long as you aren’t afraid to get your hands dirty, you can make anything you want out of iron or steel to use at home, or even just to hang around the house.
Steel is the bedrock of the modern world. It’s one of the most essential materials in almost every aspect of human life. From engineering, cooking, to art, all of these disciplines use steel in some way. Iron has shaped the course of human history from the moment our ancestors first discovered it in its meteorite form. In learning to shape iron, humans created newer and better ways to influence the world around them.
3 Key Points About Becoming a Backyard Blacksmith
Blacksmithing is one of the oldest skills around. At its core, it sounds pretty basic; you get metal hot, and then you hit it until it does what you want it to do. Nowadays, sourcing the information and materials to start learning how to work metal is easy, making blacksmithing an excellent choice for the backyard hobbyist. Learning how to smith will let you make pretty much anything you want. The only limit is your skill and imagination.
Building a Forge
The most important tool in a blacksmith’s arsenal is the forge. It’s what allows the smith to heat up the metal and get it pliable enough to shape. Forges can come in different shapes and sizes, but the easiest one to build for beginners is the simple brake drum forge. Sourcing brake drums is easy, and your local junkyard will most likely let you buy them for cheap. The brake drum will serve as your firepot, which is the part that actually holds your fuel and keeps the heat contained.
The tuyere is the part of the forge that forces air up and into the flame, feeding it oxygen so that it can burn fuel at a higher temperature. For a brake drum forge, your tuyere is going to be a vertical pipe that both allows air to flow inward and upward, and debris to fall down and out. Sourcing something to use as a tuyere is easy enough since almost all decent hardware stores supply large-diameter steel pipes.
There are many other form factors that you can consider when building your forge depending on what kind of projects you want to take on. The brake drum forge is one of the simplest and easiest to set up. You can always build another one once you’re more experienced and have decided that you want to pursue blacksmithing more seriously.
Safety Is Everything
It can’t be understated how dangerous blacksmithing can be if you aren’t careful. After all, it’s the art of heating up iron or steel to ludicrously high temperatures so that you can hit them with a hammer. It’s vital that you never forget to respect the process and always stay safe.
Wearing protective gear is a no-brainer. The number one most essential thing to wear is eye protection. Steel at forging temperature oxidizes in the air and forms a flaky substance called scale. The scale is hot. And although it doesn’t usually fly upward too far when you strike hot metal, it’s better to assume that it still might hit you. Thus, you still need to wear safety glasses anyway.
Although you may be tempted to wear gloves, given how you’ll be handling red-hot metal and wielding heavy tools such as hammers, it’s actually better not to in many circumstances. When used properly, a smith’s tools protect them from the heat of what they’re working on. Gloves can often make it more difficult to feel and grip your tools correctly, resulting in poor form and strained muscles from having to hold onto them harder.
Tools and Materials to Become a Home Blacksmith
Every blacksmith has three basic tools: a hammer, a pair of tongs, and an anvil. The hammer and tongs are relatively easy to source. The most difficult tool to find for most beginner smiths is the anvil, but any large piece of heavy-duty metal will do. Most people who are just getting started in the hobby often use pieces of railroad track as an anvil, and they work just fine.
It’s possible to make do with only the most basic tools for beginner projects. You only need more specialized tools once you start getting into the more technical projects that need a higher level of skill and precision. You won’t need power tools such as angle grinders or belt sanders, either, unless you want to get into bladesmithing, which is a related discipline but can be demanding in its own way.
That said, anything that you can do with power tools is also achievable with hand tools and a lot of elbow grease. With enough skill and dedication, you won’t need to buy tools very often. Some blacksmiths forgo buying tools at all; they instead opt to forge their own whenever they need something.
That’s the beauty in blacksmithing. You can shape material as strong as iron into pretty much anything you want. From ornamental ironwork to tools that you can use every day, the sheer number of things you can make for you and your loved ones is endless.