Finding Tools

I'm fresh from my intro blacksmithing course at Peters Valley (http:// www.petersvalley.org/2007%20Workshops/blacksmithing2007_wrkshpschd.htm)
and the smithy bug has bitten deep. Thanks to the news group, I'll shop around for a tiny farrier's forge (figure I'll only be beating on rebar and whatever scraps I can find plus I'm in a tight neighborhood with plenty of nosy/whiny neighbors) and I can probably get a good section of train rail for a starter anvil. What I want to know is, does anyone have a good source for new/used tools? And if so, what tools should a beginner have? After taking the class, I figure that a bare minimum is a good hammer, tongs, a vice and a hardie. Any thoughts/suggestions are welcome.
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[Editor's Note: This series of articles is designed to tell a story, that I hope will be interesting, it is about how one person learned the craft of blacksmithing, namely, me. You don't have to have fancy tools to start to learn this craft, but a little knowledge and a little scrounging can get you started. After the events described in this story occurred, I was a confirmed blacksmithing addict. Hopefully, the series of articles will provide some insight for new and aspiring blacksmiths and some chuckles for the old timers.] I was interested in gunsmithing or gunmaking, especially the muzzle loading style of guns from my teenage years and read every book I could lay my hands on concerning this craft. When I left the service in 1954, I moved to Denver, Colorado to attend the Colorado School of Trades Gunsmithing Course. It took about one and one half years of night school, six hours a night, five nights a week to realize that I was never going to be good enough to make a living at gunsmithing. I lacked the artistic traits needed to succeed at this craft in the high-end gunmaking where one could earn a living. I discovered that most gunsmiths had a job to support their work as gunsmiths or a wife with a full time job to support them. So, I went back to school for a few more years. It was almost 20 years before I could again look at making guns. This time it was muzzleloading guns from kits. I became actively involved in the muzzle loading hobby, joined a club, and began attending rendezvous. I made a few muzzle loading rifles and pistols, but was still not happy with my capabilities. The guns were ok, they just didn't have the finesse of guns made by more skillful craftsmen. I began to see stuff made by blacksmiths and this intrigued me. I knew nothing about blacksmithing, except remembering my father taking a piece of broken farm machinery to the local blacksmith to have it repaired. I never did see the fellow work. I kept talking about blacksmithing until my wife, a frequent visitor to the library, picked up a book at the library on blacksmithing: "The Art of Blacksmithing" by Alex Bealer. I read it cover to cover, but it had to go back to the library at the end of two weeks. My wife kept checking out the book by Bealer from the library for me, until she became tired of it and purchased me my own copy. I have no idea how many times I read this book, some parts a dozen or more times. I had a nice flintlock rifle and wanted a vent pick that was forged to add to my kit. I couldn't find a nice forged one anyplace. I now knew a little bit about blacksmithing, perhaps I could make one, but had no tools. That was the beginning of my blacksmithing, about late 1975 I think. I would make a vent pick for my rifle. I started to scrounge up tools from the garage. I turned up an old tractor wheel weight, a pair of vice grips, a small ball pien hammer, a machinist vise, and a propane torch. I needed some iron (or steel) to use as stock. There was a wire hanger at hand. I had used them as welding rod when I was going to gunsmiths school so why wouldn't it work as forging material. Now, I was all set, I had read the book, gathered some tools and reality was at hand. I wanted the vent pick to be made from square stock. So, first, I heated a short section of the wire with the torch and hammered it square using the wheel weight as an anvil. I squared quite a bit of that stock before it began to look square and fairly even. At least the stock was cheap, I wasn't wasting expensive steel. Actually, what I was doing was one of the basic blacksmithing tasks, making round stock square. Next, I needed to draw it to a taper. This wasted a bit more stock. Now, I finally had a piece of steel that had been made square and then tapered to a point. I now, cut it off with a pair of wire cutters and drew a shorter taper on the other end and put a little curl at the tip by hammering lightly on the tip while it was red hot. Perhaps by accident or knowledge gained from the book, it looked pretty good. Now, I heated it a little ways down from the tip and hammered lightly over the edge of the wheel weight. Slowly, with light taps the end curled over until the little curl touched the main part of the stock. I had a loop at one end to attach this thing to my possibles bag strap. It looked almost like a campfire iron that I had seen at rendezvous, except that the campfire iron had a twist in its shank. Again I heated a section of the square section a little way from where the curl touched the shaft, clamped the other end in the vise with the hot section just sticking out. I grabbed the loop with the vice grips and gave the thing a full turn. Wow! This was great and I was hooked. This little story describes how I began to learn the blacksmithing process. In coming issues, I hope to lead you through the search path that I went through to gather information needed to learn how to do the various blacksmithing processes and hopefully describe the amount of practice needed to accomplish them.
Fred Holder
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Sorry, I forgot to tell you where that article came from. It was published in the November 2002 issue of Blacksmith's Gazette. There were a total of 10 articles on How I learned to blacksmith.
Fred Holder <http://www.fholder.com
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Save Ferrous! wrote:

Instead of shopping around, why not build a small gas forge?
For a cut off hardie, I use a section of old chevy spring welded fast and dirty to the side of a section of square that fits the hardie hole. Sharpen it from one side only, and you can cut off to leave a square(ish) shoulder, rather than having to rework the face. Cheap and disposable.
Different strokes for different folks. I like to use a couple different hammers, for different things. I like a lighter hammer, and dislike spending a great deal of time swinging a 4 pound hammerhead around. I like doing lighter work, too. Once you figure out what length hammer handle you are comfortable with, cut the rest off. Saves listening to the sexual intellectuals that will tell you that you are supposed to grip it way out at the end and such. Put the end where works for you. Keep a couple spare handle blanks around for when you feel the need to change it up, too. Depending on what you do, you may wish a fair number of hammers. I watched one guy doing demo's with a five pound cross peen hammer. He was terrible, but insisted that you could not possibly do good work with any lighter. :-/
A couple decent sets of tongs will cover a lot of ground. No need to go nuts, but at least one set of flat and one set of round jawed ones will do almost everything I feel like doing. A shitty pair of garage sale vice grips works wonders. Modifying the jaws is allowed too. :-)
A cheap bench vise on a solid mount is far better than no vise. Replace the serrated jaws with some flat ones or grind down the faces so that they will grip without leaving honking great marks on the work. Make a couple twisting wrenches, or weld a handle onto a old crescent wrench to be able to use two handed. For that matter an old crescent wrench without an added handle will do a lot, too.
A wooden hammer or a rawhide one (smelly) is good for beating twisted sections into line, without leaving hanner marks on the edges.
Don't get tied in knots if you cannot find a huge anvil. You are going to be building smaller work anyways. Get as good an anvil as you can, but don't obsess about it. Use what you can get, it's better than not having one. You could treat yourself to a new cast steel one from Harbour Freight, if they still sell them.
Get the Centaur Forge catalog, if only to have some prices to show the insurance company if the stuff is ripped off. (Does anyone actually pay that much?)
A couple full lenght sticks of,say, 1/4, or 3/8 square stock are pretty cheap. A hacksaw is all you need to cut them up for to fit them into the trunk of a car, or to cart them home on a bus. Buy them from a steel suplier, if you can find one that will sell in small quantities, rather than paying the rates the hardware stores sell the stuff for.
Borax from the grocery store is a pretty good welding flux. Anhydrous is better, but harder to get. You can burn the water out of regular borax and crush it up, but that cuts into the smithing time. :-)
Garage sales and flea markets. Remember that good smithing tools do not have to start out as tools meant for smithing.
Some thoughts, anyways.
It's supposed to be fun! If it becomes unfun, why would you be doing it?
Cheers Trevor Jones
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Thanks for the advice, Fred and Trevor. I realize that blacksmithing doesn't need to be a Williamsburg-grade reproduction of the village smithy. Most of the major tools can be cobbled together from various sources, but it seemed to me that tongs would be especially hard to find a suitable replacement for. Vise grips seem way too short to be useful, especially since I'll be working with short pieces of what- have-you.
Trevor, I really do like the idea of building my own forge (it appeals to the computer-modding geek in me), but where to find plans, materials and the like? Most of my home built projects are pedestrian at best and I don't want the thing raining chunks of hot metal all over the backyard. I've never heard of things like Kawool until I joined this group. Dick Sargent, my instructor at Peters Valley, told me about a guy who builds his own small forges (4" by 4" by 9"). This seems more than suitable for a weekend galoot like me.
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Save Ferrous! wrote:

Vice grips work really well as tongs, when you keep in mind to leave a tail on your work that can hang outside the fire. You don't have to have your work in the center of the forge, in order for it to become hot enough to be worked. I tend to wear a glove on my "holding" hand, mainly to cut down on the number of times I have to regrow the hair on my knuckles. :-)
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of different forge and burner ideas out there. The smallest I have seen was a hollowed out soft firebrick with a Bernzomatic propane torch aimed in through the side. I have seem burners made from pipe as small as a fat pencil, right up to 2 inch iron pipe.
Bean can forge
Ron Reill's forge and burner page
Castable refractory
mini mongo burner
Fire any of those phrases into Google and you will learn a fair bit.
A forge can be as simple or as complicated as you feel the need to be. I have seen good working forges made from a burner stuck into a gap in the side of some stacked up firebricks (simple) to a minor nightmare (for the average guy without a TIG welder) made of stainless steel and high tech ceramic board refractory, that recovered a great deal of heat from the exhaust air (recuperative forge plans, from ABANA) Check your phone book for "refractory" in the yellow pages. I have built two out of castable lightweight 2800 degF castable. It's a little like cement to work with, with slightly less water involved.
Two companies that I have dealt with are Clayburn Refractories, and Inproheat. Both have lots of outlets, there are others. The phone book, from the nearest decent sized city, should list a couple different dealers, if there is any industry at all in the city.
Don't get tied in knots worrying about getting the "Nth" degree of efficiency out of the forge and burner. Life is too short, unless you want a hobby building better and better burners.
Cheers Trevor Jones
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Here is a place that I like for beginners, He is a godsend for beginning smiths. http://stores.ebay.com/Poor-Boy-Blacksmith-Tools
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trahern wrote:

Its the hank-crank blower or bellows that i am finding hardest to find myself. I can made the shell (I have welding gear) I can get fire bricks but a blower seems hard to come by.
UK based blacksmith supplies seem a little scarce.
Steve
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Steve Pointer wrote:

Supplies are scarce in Oz too, anvils are a nightmare to purchase (well good ones anyway).
I found it really difficult to find an air source, I even went as far as making my own single action bellows, although it works I wont do that again unless I'm paid to.
I couldn't get a vacuum with a blow function, and trying to modify a cheap vacuum to blow instead of suck made a vacuum with more powerful suction... centrifugal fans are funny like that, no matter which way the motor goes the fan still sucked (literally and figuratively).
I found a hand blower in a store and I burnt it out quickly. I then managed to find a decent blower off Ebay, and it cost me a fair amount for what it was. Both electric.
The breakthrough came when I found a device called a dust extractor, basically a large volume vacuum cleaner, a quick modification to the supplied hose, adapting it to go on the out as opposed to the in and a very good blower which shifts a large volume of air, that I control with a slide valve :-)
Regards Charles
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Chilla wrote:

Thanks for that, sounds like your efforts mirror what my next steps would have been, good to benefit from your experience and to be able to skip a few steps. :)
I will look for a dust extractor.
I will continue to look for an hand crank blower as well, as I am wondering how easy or hard they would be to start knocking them out.
Curious to know what happened to the companies like Champion?
Thanks Again
--
Steve

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On Sat, 26 May 2007 12:09:15 +1000, Chilla

I could be off-base here, considering I haven't looked at hand-crank blowers much, (I was fortunate enough to have a list member here give me an electric one when I building my forge) but if I were looking to make one, and had the capacity to make a shell as noted above, I would be on the lookout for one of two things, both of which are relatively common.
The first would be a blower unit from a forced air heater (the one I am thinking about is from a camper; luckily, I've never had to take a home unit apart)- it doesn't have to run, and that might even be a bonus if you're looking to make a hand crank. The second would be an old blower from a gas powered hot water heater. Both of these have a squirrel-cage style blower that could be easily adapted to manual use minimal effort by simply welding or bolting a handle to the center.
They pull air in in the center, and spit it out through a hole in the side of the case- when I've looked at the hand operated blowers, it appears that most have a gear system that maximizes the speed of the fan, but a simple inefficient one could be just a crank right on the axle. A slightly more useful one could be rigged up by using some old pulleys and a belt. Put a large pulley on the crank, and a small one on the squirrel cage axle, and you're ready to go.
Neither would be as elegant as a manufactured blower, or as easy as an electric, but if you have no other options, it's a simple thing to try. With a bit of luck, a local HVAC shop might have an old blower assembly laying around that they'd give you for little or nothing.
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Prometheus wrote:

I know a friendly plumber so the gas powered hot water heater might be the way to go. I am thinking that old bike in my shed might have a limited future as well!
--
Steve

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Steve, try this link: http://www.baba.org.uk/links.html#tools its from the British Artist Blacksmith Association. I downloaded their newsletter once, and if I remember correctly it had ads for tools, both secondhand and new.
A cheap blower is a far away as your nearest dumped car or wrecking yard. There is a 12volt air blower under the dash that will run from a battery or perhaps a battery charger. Just look at different cars till you find one that suits your needs with minimal modification. Regards Rusty_iron Brisbane, Oz.

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yep, though it'll need to be slowed down and throttled, given the amount of air car blowers move.
There is one complication. Fewer and fewer cars have separate blowers anymore. Nowadays most HVAC systems are contained in one great plastic molding. The centrifugal blower scroll is molded into the housing and the motor and blower wheel simply sticks in through a hole.
Two other sources of air that I've used with great success for a variety of metalworking fires, including melting iron, are the shop vac and the leaf blower. The key to both of these is to run them on a rheostat (a light dimmer will do) at half speed or less. This ensures longevity and reduces the noise. Slowing the motor is strictly for noise and wear reduction. An inlet throttle vane is still required to control the air flow.
Check out my neon shop's homemade ribbon burner
http://www.neon-john.com/Neon/Shop_equip/Ribbon/Ribbon.htm
Second image down the page, for another solution.
One other comment. Regenerative blowers
http://www.neon-john.com/Neon/Misc/Regen_blower/Regen_home.htm
were used on mainframe tape drive air columns and therefore are fairly plentiful on the surplus market. I've picked up several IBM-branded units and paid no more than $30. These blowers generate both high volume and high pressure. Mine is capable of a tad over 2 PSI (not inches of water!) at several hundred CFM. The IBM ones are significantly smaller than the one being overhauled in the photo above. The one in the photo has a 2 HP motor and is capable of supplying air for a whole neon shop full of fires. It should be able to supply several forges, especially if a venturi structure is employed to entrain some ambient air. As long as the mufflers on the inlet and outlet are intact, this type of blower is almost silent. Let the mufflers get crufted up, however, and it sounds like a high powered siren.
John
--
John De Armond
See my website for my current email address
  Click to see the full signature.
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Cool. :) I never even knew those things existed. Although it seems obvious as anything now. :)
Alvin in AZ
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Steve, try this link: http://www.baba.org.uk/links.html#tools its from the British Artist Blacksmith Association. I downloaded their newsletter once, and if I remember correctly it had ads for tools, both secondhand and new.
A cheap blower is a far away as your nearest dumped car or wrecking yard. There is a 12volt air blower under the dash that will run from a battery or perhaps a battery charger. Just look at different cars till you find one that suits your needs with minimal modification. Regards Rusty_iron Brisbane, Oz.

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I extend the grip of my vise grips that I use in forging. Take a 4 inch circle made from 3/8 inch round, forge it into a flattened oval. Weld one end to the adjusting knob of the vise grip. This is now a handle.You can still adjust the jaw tension and your hand is further from the heat. Or you can use a single link from a big chain and attach it to the knob.
Rob

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Gday Ferrous,
Get a copy of Randy McDaniel's book/DVD "A Blacksmithing Primer" and look up Quickie tongs. 2 lengths of flat stock, say 1/2", drill a hole through both and put a bolt in the hole, then one heat and a single twist CLOCKWISE 1/4 turn and you have simple tongs. Look it up, easy and it gets you started.
Look up "Brake Drum forge" on the net. Simple and built from plumbing fittings and scrap. Cheap and easy.
Best thing is for you to tell us what tools you have? Welder? Cutoff saw? Angle grinder? hand tools?, hand drill? Drill press? ETC. what you have or have access too, will dictate what you can make with out too much forging to start with.
What you really need is a forge of some sort, something for an anvil - your rail will work fine to start with -, a hammer and tongs/vice grips/large pliers. You can make other stuff as you need it and you learn. Go to http:www.iforgeiron.com and look at the blueprints, there are about 500 howto articles there. Pick something simple and try it, make a simple tool for yourself - say a center punch or scriber - use scrap steel so the cost is low.
You have the hardest part under your belt with the course you did, the rest is just practice and learning. Welcome to this great and fun art.
Regards Rusty_iron, Brisbane, Oz.
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I have my own angle grinder and plenty of drills. My greatest asset is my next door neighbor, a retired metal shop teacher, and he's often more than willing to teach me things. He has a drill press and a bench grinder and pretty much has given me free reign of his shop (although I don't want to step on the old gent's toes too much). He already has helped me on a few projects, including a beat up pair of tin snips that I was ready to forge into some tongs (they're working snips now). But for 50 cents a pair, who could argue with me?.
Once I get the basic tools in hand, I'd be more than happy to make additional tools as needed. I really need to know what's the bare minimum you could get by on. Do you need only one hammer or several? Will a single pair of tongs get you by? Is an anvil better than making your own out of rail (or the stacked welding ideas discussed in another post)?
To put it another way, we'll go with the proverbial "desert island" question: if you were stuck on a desert island, what tools would you want? Let's just assume that the forge fuel of choice (coal, gas, charcoal, etc.) as well as workable materials are available on the island (keeps the forge geek comments to a minimum).
SF!
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GReat Ferrous, you can cut and drill that makes lots of tools easy to make, or at least prep the raw materials for them.

That my friend is a personal thing, each smith has his or her own opinion. Me, I own at least 20 hammers, how many do I use most of the time? 3. A 32oz ball pein(if Im reading the side correctly, its a bit dinged) A 3lb cross pein and a short handled hand sledge, weight i don't remember. I have a friend who uses just one hammer unless he needs a sledge. I must have about 40 pair of tongs, most I have collected, some I have made Most of them, your guess is as good as mine as to their intended use. Lots of other stuff, most of it gets used only occasionally.
You can have as much or as little to start with as you like. There is no exact "Right" answer (Oh I know I'm going to get flamed for this :- D ) for every one. Start where you are with what you have now. I have seen people start with a carpenters hammer and a block of wood for an anvil - horrid to use but they started. A single pair of tongs will get you started, so will a pair of vice grips or pliers, I use maybe 10 pair regularly, but when I started I had just 2 pair and had to make do with that. Flat jaw and bolt tongs I find are the most useful for me. Any lump of steel will get you started, a length of rail, the fork from a forklift, an old tractor part, start with what you can find, then get something better when it comes along. Just start, then make it up as you go along. If you wait till you have everything, or what someone tells you is the bare minimum, you may never get started. Remember you need forge, hammer, something to pound on, and tongs/pliers/vicegrips (if you want to hold something short and hot or you could just work on lengths of bar). You MUST have, that is ***MUST HAVE*** safety glasses. everything else, well you are lucky if you have it, otherwise get it when you need it.
Thats my opinion, it suits me, but not everyone. The big question is - How much do you want to start and how long do you want to wait???
Have fun, Regards Rusty_iron, Brisbane Oz.
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