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Thread: Beginner forging tools

  1. #1
    intjonmiller's Avatar
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    Beginner forging tools

    Hello!

    I've been doing woodworking and metalworking (welding/fabrication, machining, and a little casting) for a while. Now I have a nephew who is really anxious to do forging/smithing work. Primarily knives and such (for a sense of scale) at this point. He and his father have acquired an awesome cast iron stove that will work great for a forge after a little modification for controlled airflow, and they have basic fabrication tools (saws, welders, grinders).

    Anyway, we're celebrating his birthday this week so I want to give him metal stock with instruction to decide the designs he wants for his hand tools and we'll make them in my shop. Maybe make a set for me while we're at it; we'll see. I have various bits of 4130/4140, S7, A2, D4, and others for making tools, and plenty of high carbon stock and leaf springs and such that we can use for workpieces.

    But... I don't know much. I've watched plenty of videos of this kind of stuff on youtube over the years, but always as a passing curiosity and not as any sort of study as I do with machining stuff. What I need for now is a list of what tools he needs to get started. A basic set of forging tools for a particularly mature teenager. I have been browsing the relevant categories on here, and I see LOTS of tools that I COULD make, but I'm not sure at this point what we SHOULD make first.

    • A hammer is obviously needed. Perhaps a couple different ones of different weights/sizes? Specific recommendations (again for a teenager) are appreciated.
    • Chisels?
    • Fuller
    • Flatter
    • He has a set of fireplace tools and various old pliers for tongs that should work okay for now. It seems to me like he should get a few thousand hammer swings before he will know what size and style to make. Let me know if you disagree??
    • What else? What are the tools for piercing and opening holes, forking a taper, and other cool tricks I vaguely recall seeing? I don't know which terms to look for, and I don't have time to research it all right now. I want to give him a list of things for him to research and decide how he wants to make them, and we'll make them together.


    He has a disc of (yet unknown to me grade) steel maybe 2" x 8" for an anvil-ish. If it doesn't seem to be a very good grade I have a similar disc of 4140 we can use. Or maybe we'll weld the 4140 on top of the other one after we form it. Don't know yet, but we'll figure that out. It's the hand tools I'm focused on for now.

    Thanks!!!


    - Jon

  2. #2
    Taitius's Avatar
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    Hi, I might be able to help, I've been a hobbyist bladesmith and blacksmith for several years. Obviously the most important tools for getting started are an anvil and hammer, but tongs are almost as essential. It may be possible at first to use long enough pieces of stock that tongs are not needed (this is always the best option when possible), but eventually any new smith learns the limitations of this approach and tongs become necessary. In my experience, nothing is more frustrating (and dangerous) then having inadequate or poorly fitting tongs and it makes the work of learning how to forge doubly difficult. Without proper tongs the metal is difficult to control and is likely to end up flying off in a variety of directions, I have never found pliers of any type adequate to the task. A medium sized set of wolf's jaw tongs is highly recommended for the beginner, making these is probably not a good first project, so buying a pair is well worth it. As far as hammers go, a 2 lbs cross pein hammer like those you can get at any big box home improvement store is adequate to start, the face and pein will have to be dress however in order to make acceptable forging tools. The steel disk you mention should be adequate to produce a workable anvil, however it will need to be firmly anchored to a solid base of considerable weight. To give you an example, I started on a 60 lbs anvil with a wooden base filled with gravel and scrap steel, the combination weighed about 140 lbs and it still jumped around when I used heavy hammer blows. If you have the means to customize the disk it might be worth while to cut it into a square and help the budding smith to mount it upright, such that the 2" thickness is the working surface instead of the flat. A large work surface is not as useful as having a solid mass of steel below the striking surface.

    Beyond a hammer, anvil, and tongs there are not really that many hand tools that are required to begin smithing. Some other tools that are nice to have are a cold chisel, hot chisel, tapered punches of various sizes and shapes, and perhaps a slitting chisel------but to be honest most of these are not used that often for blade making. Blade makers need a good set of files, sand paper and a lot of time or a grinder of some sort, even an angle grinder can be used to rough grind blades. As far as the steel for tools, stick with mild steel for tongs, 4130/40 make acceptable hot punches and chisels (S7 is excellent for this, but forging it is not for beginners, if you machine the tools then go with the S7). A2 and D2 make great knife steels, but they are far too difficult to work for a beginner, good forging steels for entry level knife makers are plain carbon steels like 1075/85/95 and 5160------W1 is my favorite steel for forging knives and it is not too bad for beginners.

  3. #3
    intjonmiller's Avatar
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    What a great, helpful response! Thank you!

    A few points of clarification:

    I have a small machine shop, so I'll be machining tools for him until he's ready to forge his own, so the S7, A2, etc. are no big deal there.

    When you say that the face and pein of the hammer will need to be dressed, how do you mean? I have a chunk of mystery steel I came across today that I think would be perfect for making a couple hammers. It was some sort of ram, so I expect it will work well as long as I can harden it. I'll slice off a piece for a test before we put any work into it.

    I have a mostly completed (just need to build the motor mount and controller enclosure) 2x72 grinder, and I expect he'll end up making one as well.

    I have a few very good files but there many that I'm lacking. Any recommendations for best-bang-for-the-buck new files? Occasionally I find a good, old Nicholson (and their new ones made in Brazil are okay, but their made in Mexico ones aren't much better than Harbor Freight), but I haven't looked around for files yet.

    Thanks for the advice about the tongs. I have a few hundred pounds of A36 steel, mostly flat strap, that we can use to make specific ones when he's ready, but I find your argument for buying the first ones convincing.

    Thanks again!

  4. #4
    Taitius's Avatar
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    Most factory hammers come with a flat face and a relatively sharp pein, but for forging a flat faced hammer is difficult to control and tends to leave an ugly finish due to the edges marring the work. A good forging hammer should have all the edges chamfered and rounded and the face should be crowned. I usually forge with mostly a heavily crowned hammer (or a rounding hammer) of around 2.5-3 lbs and use a lighter hammer with a slight crown to planish the surface smooth. The pein should have a gentle radius of perhaps 1cm or more to avoid putting difficult to remove divots in the work and the pein should also be slightly crowned across its width. Making hammers is not rocket science, but if you have never made one before it might be a little tougher than expected. The balance of a hammer depends on the preferences of the smith, but most people find that having the center of mass just toward the flat face to be the most comfortable, this makes striking with the flat face efficient and the pein side usable. Put the center of mass too much toward the flat face and the hammer feels unbalanced when trying to use the pein. Also, don't forget to make the eye in an hourglass shape otherwise it is pretty much impossible to keep the handle tight. If you plan on making multiple hammers the other type I recommend making is a rounding hammer, between a cross pein and a rounding hammer almost any type of work can be done. Most experienced smiths like hammers with a fairly hard face and pein, but it is safer on your teeth, your anvil, and other tools if your first hammers are a bit on the soft side (there are always a lot of missed strikes when you are first learning and a hard hammer on a hard anvil will rebound high enough to break your nose or knock teeth out of your head).

    As for files, I don't have much in the way of good advice--------I buy used files almost exclusively and there used to be a lot of good brands available, not so much any more... If he will have a decent grinder then the files won't be relied upon as much. A bastard mill, mill, half round, chainsaw files (in a few sizes) and a decent set of needle files is a good start. I don't have any because they are too expensive, but I hear that the Grobet INOX line of files is about the best in the world. The other type of files that I highly recommend for knife makers is a flat and half round dreadnought file, these are great for shaping handle materials like wood, bone, brass, etc...

    If you have any decent amount of S7 around I would use it to make all the hot work tools (chisels, punches, etc), something like H13 is obviously better, but the reasonably high chromium and molybdenum content of S7 makes it the next best thing to a proper hot working steel for blacksmith work.

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    Hi,
    You have gotten some really good tips and advice above. What I would add is what an old blacksmith told me. "What a feller needs is TAA". Time at the anvil is what he was talking about. Not tools or fancy steels. Your young nephew is undoubtedly going to ruin a few pieces of steel as he learns. I would suggest that together you come up with some doable projects. Ways for him to succeed. Some rather simple things that will help him get in the several thousand hammer blows that it will take to teach him how to hit what he wants to hit and sharpen his eye. A cheap Harbor Freight hammer will work just fine to start. He can learn to dress the faces properly and how to see the small things that make for success. Later, after he understands a few things about smithing, he will "know" what he wants "his" hammer to look/feel like. Going to events and hooking up with a blacksmithing association will add immensely to his education and broaden his base. Have fun. I just "touched up/refurbished" a fireplace poker for my daughter that I made for my Mom 57 years ago. This time I put my mark on it. Sometimes things kind of stick with a person.

  6. #6
    Carpenter & blacksmith Philip Davies's Avatar
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    Philip Davies's Tools
    Have you looked at the ABANA website? There's an immense amount of good information there. Two Facebook pages which are very welcoming are International Blacksmithing and British Artist Blacksmiths Association.
    You could make do with a molegrip wrench to start. You can cut hot steel easily with cold chisels. I use an old axe as well to cut off material. I recommend a light ball peeing, 1 &1/2lbs or lighter, because it's the speed of the strike that moves material more efficiently than its weight. A tapered punch is easily made & is used to make & enlarge holes.


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