Of all of the skills we have listed on the Prepper and Homesteading Skills page, blacksmithing would have been last priority for me. Learning to be a blacksmith was no where on my radar! But when my son came to me and said he was interested in knife making, he said he didn’t want to do it half-assed. He really wanted to learn to be a blacksmith and then use those skills to make knifes. So, I had to become interested. Part of parenting is providing the opportunity for your children to learn what they are interested in.
The problem is that blacksmithing really isn’t a popular skill. When you do a general “blacksmith” search in Google you really don’t get much back that is useful. Everything is related to computer games. Topics like blacksmith poppy, the blacksmith marvel, minecraft blacksmith and witcher 3 journeyman blacksmith come back. All of which mean next to nothing to me.
Luckily my wife (the rock star that she is) was able to find a local blacksmith who does lessons and booked both my son and me for a father-son lesson. She figured that if a 14 year old boy was going to be around a forge that heated metal over 2000 degrees, it was important to have a parent that knew the basics of blacksmithing too. Lee Oates at Bearclaw Knives did the training. At the time he lived in La Porte, TX which is on the opposite side of Houston from where I live, but close enough for weekend classes. He has since moved to Tennessee.
The first class was four hours long and Lee taught both my son and me a lot of basic blacksmith skills and forge safety. He was patient, and a great teacher. I left there with a much higher opinion of blacksmithing, and was honestly pretty excited. Of course my son acted like a typical teenager and said “I told you how cool it was dad! You should see all of the cool YouTube blacksmithing videos out there!!” He was right.
The second class was a one-on-one with my son and Lee. They went over much more advanced techniques, had a lot of hammer and anvil time, and used a blacksmith leg vice to do a lot of twisting techniques. It is really amazing all of the things that can be created with just a few tools and a really hot fire.
A Future in Blacksmithing?
Of course the first thing we wanted to do when we returned home was to set up our own forge. Oddly we found no rules in our HOA agreement about a blacksmith forge. But we already know that none of our neighbors would welcome the noise, and the possible fire risk, of a proper forge. So we had to look for other options. Luckily we found a good organization HABA (Houston Area Blacksmith’s Association). They have regular meetings and really good group of people. Our plan is to work with this group learning from everyone we can. Then set up our own forge when we relocate outside of Houston.
Setting up your own blacksmith shop isn’t very difficult. Well, let’s be honest… I haven’t finished mine yet because I simply don’t have the space. But acquiring the equipment and materials wasn’t difficult. The basics of blacksmithing really haven’t changed much in the last 1000 years. The modern blacksmith has a basic setup that is fairly simple, straightforward, and not all that different from the medieval blacksmith. You need fire, air, water, anvil, hammer, and tongs. Sure, as with any other hobby or trade, there are plenty of extras like vices, power hammers, and belt sanders that make crafting easier and provide opportunity to embellish, but the basics are still very simple.
Just about anything you need for blacksmithing is available new through sites like Centaur Forge and even some of it on Amazon. But another option is buying vintage blacksmith tools. You can find these in antique shops and flea markets. Also they are available on Craigslist and eBay. Of course shipping a 200 pound anvil through the mail is expensive. Certain things you will need will have to be bought local.
There are two types of forges. Gas forges (usually propane) and coke forges. Coke is a form of coal without a lot of the impurities. There are so many plans for homemade blacksmith forges that I am not really going to link to these. Honestly I think saving a little bit of money is not worth the effort. Buying a professional made forge will last longer and be more dependable for the beginner.
I’ve never seen the old-style bellows that were traditionally used at forges available for sale. I’ve only seen them at renaissance fairs and homestead festivals. Instead, I usually I see hand cranked blowers and electric blowers. If you can find a vintage hand cranked blower, you should buy it. They will last forever if you take care of them. Otherwise you can buy new (cheaper made ones) for under $100.
The blacksmith anvil is the most important part of the forge setup. The larger the better. I have seen anvils over 400 pounds in weight, and I’m sure they make them bigger, but a 200 pound anvil is amazing and will handle just about anything you throw at it. This size anvil can be really expensive if you buy it new, so you’ll be better off if you can find a good quality anvil that is used.
Over time you will have a variety of blacksmith hammers. Locksmiths hammers, clipping hammers, cross pein hammers, driving hammers, mallets, rounding hammers and sledge hammers to list a few. You will find that having a few of these in different weights will help too.
Miscellaneous Blacksmith Tools
There are so many other tools that can make forging items easier. Wire brushes, magnets, anvil accessories, twisting tools, cutting/slitting chisels and punches are just a few that come to mind. What is nice is that you don’t need them all when you start. Just buy a little at a time.