The Steel is Always Hot

This is an attempt to capture the journey of a group of friends as they travel from clueless novice to novices with a clue in the ancient trade of blacksmithing.


This week, a few of us got a real treat and visited master blacksmith, Tony Swatton, who made Sokka’s space sword for the web series, Man at Arms. Turns out his studio, Sword and the Stone is right up the street from Nickelodeon. Tony was kind enough to show us his amazing workshop and craft us a few small pieces of metal made from one of the chunks of meteorite he used to create the sword. If you haven’t seen the video, it’s well worth watching. His craftsmanship is incredible. The texture detail on the sword blade is amazing and I love the White Lotus emblem on the bottom of the hilt.

(via thefrogman)

Week 14: The End (of the beginning)

May 11th, 2013

The final class of Introduction to Blacksmithing. Well, for most of us. For Caroline, it was the first class of Introduction to Blacksmithing, as she will be taking it in the summer, while the rest of us are already signed up for Intermediate Blacksmithing for the summer semester. For this class, it was any final touchups, work on personal projects, and preparation for THE FINAL EXAM.

Raymond puts the final polish on his stake anvil, while DJ works on his bending fork:
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Allie works on a secret project for herself! Jeremy is preparing to experiment with a pineapple twist design.
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Caroline works on her first assignment: to experiment with a piece of scrap tool steel. Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s been 4 months since our first class where we experimented. Caroline did a much better job than we did that first day… but at a price!

Caroline at work:

Burns this week (oh yeah, bringing it back!): Caroline!

So, THE FINAL EXAM. It’s a nail-making contest. Making nails was one of the apprentice’s chief duties, and it’s tradition for beginners to learn to make nails. We still use nail-making as warm-up, and the final exam is a nail making contest. 10 minutes, starting with cold stock, to make as many nails as possible. Then, the nails must be driven into a board. 1 point per nail driven, 1/2 point for nails bent while driving. Despite having never been taught how and having only learned by watching me practice that morning, Caroline decides to give it a shot as well. Since everyone was frantically making nails, we have no pictures of THE FINAL EXAM. But in the end, there could be only one winner, and that winner was none of us. A guy we don’t talk about much, Mike, managed to drive 6 nails despite their flat tips which spalled large divots of wood off of the board. For that, he won a book on the art of blacksmithing. However, one of us did get second place, and therefore, the trophy of THE FINAL EXAM, which we took home to hang in our shop.


The final score:

  • Mike - 6 points
  • Jeremy - 3 points
  • Mitch - 2 1/3 points (he only gave himself 1/3 since one of his nails barely stayed in the board)
  • Jesse - 1 1/2 points
  • DJ - 1/2 point
  • Caroline - 1/2 point
  • Raymond - 0 points
  • Allie - 0 points

Unfortunately, Raymond’s zest for competition got the best of him, leading him to break 5 perfectly good nails in his excitement, and Allie’s nail header tool failed her, so she was unable to put heads on her nails. Caroline, despite having never been taught to make nails and in fact having never made anything with blacksmithing before, managed to make one perfectly serviceable nail that bent while driving due to her many blisters incurred from her first class day and letting her tie DJ for 5th place.

So, thus ends Spring 2013 Introduction to Blacksmithing. In 3 weeks we’ll be back at work with Intermediate Blacksmithing, and we’ll be joined by our friends Caroline and Ace who will be taking Introduction to Blacksmithing at the same time.


Week 13: The ultimate penultimate class

May 4th, 2013

Today was finishing up bending forks and touchup work on final projects, along with preparation for the final exam. Jeremy is making a new nail header to hopefully perform a little better than the one made early on in the class. Another project that is popular this week are holdfasts or holddowns, a bent bar of metal that you can hammer into the pritchel hole of an anvil to hold your work down for you. It’s handy to have a metal arm hold your piece down when you don’t have a helper standing by with tongs to hold for you.

Also, a helpful reminder from Brookhaven that this is a college class after all: teacher evaluations. Whee!

Here’s some of the later stages of the bending fork creation. After the bottom is folded for fitting in the hardy hole, the top is split. Each split section of the bar is bent back separately and rounded nicely. Once both sections have been rounded, they’re brough back parallel, evened out, then the piece is heated evenly and quenched to hold it solidly. In both of these one split section is bent down off of the anvil to keep it out of the way while the first bar is rounded.
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Later, both bars are rounded out and bent back parallel.

Raymond whipping up a holdfast, while Jeremy finishes up shaping a new nail header:
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Allie finishes up the shaping of her stake anvil head:

Week 12: Surprise project added!

April 27th, 2013

Again, work proceeds on last-minute projects.

Allie, tired of a blistered hand, tries left-handed hammering, and DJ puts a shoulder on his stake anvil. You can do this by setting the piece off of the edge of the anvil and hammering right above the edge; this will cause the part on the anvil to compress, which pushes the part off of the anvil to move down from the hammer-blow.
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Raymond (with TA Phil’s help) tries to untwist the shank on his stake anvil. Sadly, this would ultimately be unsuccessful, the shank would break and require welding to repair. In the meantime, Jeremy finishes up grinding the surface of his stake anvil. (Later, I’d find out that a tiny crack formed in one end, necessitating welding to repair):
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For those who have finished up their stake anvils, an extra assignment is thrown in: a bending or turning fork. A bending fork is a hardy tool with parallel sets of bars, between which you place a piece of stock to be bent. You can then bend the stock around the bars of the tool, like so:image

The bending fork is made in a few easy steps. A piece of square stock is folded in half on one end, then the folded end is folded again to make a section twice the width and depth of the original piece. This will fit the tool into the hardy hole of the anvil. Once the hardy end is finished, the other end (in the case of this size of fork) is split with a chisel. Then each split section is formed into a round bar, then the bars are forced the desired width apart before quenching.

Raymond folding over the hardy end, then using a chisel to split the forked end:
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Fitting the hardy end

Splitting the forked end - Raymond is periodically dipping the chisel in beeswax to cool it. This will keep it from losing its temper.

Week 11: The Beginning of the End of the Beginning

April 20th, 2013

The last month of the introductory class has begun, and everyone works on the projects they have yet to finish.

Jesse puts a shoulder on his stake anvil:

Allie (theoretically) fanning out the end of a chisel:

DJ putting the finishing grind on a chisel after oil quenching:

Raymond is upsetting (shortening and thickening) one end of his stake anvil:

Jeremy drawing out a section of rail-track to a point:

From April 13th:

The spoon I made from scrap sheet steel I found at the shop in Gunther. I drew a shape with soapstone, then cut it out with the beverly shears. I then cold-formed the bowl on a swage block. Next, I rolled the edges of the handle around, like I did when I helped Kelly with his demonstration.

To do: sand the crap off, polish it, and seal it. I’d eat off of it!

From March 9th:

Making square punches

From April 20th:

Jeremy gave up on getting the shaft to fit in a hardy hole, so he drew it out to a spike to pound into a stump.

From March 16th:

Jeremy is trying to get the shaft of the bick to fit into a hardy hole snugly.

Jesse’s attempt to use the power hammer. It worked… okay.

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