Beginning Blacksmithing

Make Extra Cash By Learning to Blacksmith

Beginning Blacksmithing

Reading Time: 6 minutes

By John G. Moore

When I was beginning blacksmithing, some of the best advice on self-reliance I received was given to me by my grandfather while we worked in his blacksmith shop. “Never buy something that you can make,” he told me. “If you don’t know how to make it, you can learn.” He was right. Learning how to make things through blacksmithing not only saves you money, it can also provide a way to make money if you choose to pursue it.

My grandfather’s name was Parmer and he was born in 1918. He learned to be a blacksmith from his father. Through brains and brawn and an anvil, forge, and hammer, he sustained his family’s acreage and built a business in my hometown of Ashdown, Arkansas.

I watched him tackle jobs large and small. He could do everything from make and repair metal straps on an old wagon, to fabricate a tiny part that mended a man’s vintage rifle. He even built what today we would call an ATV — from scratch. Using sheet metal and car parts, he made a vehicle that would haul two people around our family deer camp. He called it his “Mud Buggy.”

Moore’s Blacksmith Shop was the last blacksmith shop still in operation in Little River County when my grandfather died in 1978. It was the end of an era. Decades later, what he taught me would be remembered, enhanced, and bring great value to my wife and me.

beginning-blacksmithing

In the early 2000s, we had lived in East Texas for 20 years. We had a typical house in the city — a split- level on a corner lot in Tyler, Texas. But, our interest in homesteading was beginning to grow.

After reading about those who lived lives of self-reliance, we were bitten by the bug and decided to give it a try. In 2003, we bought a five-acre place in southern Smith County. We now grow much of our own food, power our home and shop with solar, enjoy a stocked pond, and generally try
to be as independent as possible.

I grew up in my grandfather’s shop, but my interest in blacksmithing lay dormant for many years following his death. I hadn’t thought about including blacksmithing into my homesteading adventures, but a gift I received changed that.

Shortly after our move, my father gave me my grandfather’s anvil to put in my shop. I was able to track down his original forge and buy it back from the family of the man who had purchased it at my grandfather’s estate sale.
After inspecting the forge closely, I discovered something I hadn’t noticed as a young man. My grandfather practiced what he preached. He had made the forge himself. The outer metal ring that held the coal in place was from a wagon wheel. The bottom was an old porcelain oil company sign. The blower had been converted from hand-crank to being driven by an electric motor.

beginning-blacksmithing

After reuniting the anvil and forge, I decided to see how much remembered. I knew that I’d also need a hammer, post vice (some call it a leg vice), and tongs. I had the anvil, forge, and post vice. Instead of buying tongs, I remembered what my grandfather had said about making what you need. I couldn’t make a vise, but I had watched him make a set of tongs. I could make them myself.

Before I jumped back into blacksmithing, an opportunity came along. After I mentioned my plans to a friend, he told me that there was a blacksmith
a few miles from where I live whom, through continuing education classes at the junior college, accepted students. I signed up for a week of classes in beginning blacksmithing.

My goal was to see how much knowledge I’d retained, and learn as many new things as I could. It was worth the investment. The first thing the instructor showed me was how to select the right hammer. There are as many hammer preferences as there are blacksmiths. But, the instructor recommended the same hammer my grandfather had used most often — the cross-peen hammer.

The instructor also showed me how to customize the hammer handle for the person using it. You insert and secure the wooden handle, then hold the head of the hammer in the palm of your hand and let the handle rest on the inside of your arm. Make a mark on the wood where the handle meets the bend in your arm and then cut the handle off there using a band saw.

Once you’ve done these steps, throw the hammer and handle into the fire of your coal forge and burn off the varnish. Varnish can cause blisters. A handle that’s been in a low fire just long enough to remove the varnish will retain its integrity.

During my week in beginning blacksmithing class, I relearned the names of the different parts of the anvil and their uses. The additional knowledge helped me to better understand the instructions in books and videos, both of which can be very helpful. I also made my own tongs. Every person who develops an interest in blacksmithing has either a need or an interest. When we moved to our homestead, my nearest neighbor told me that anyone with more than five acres who didn’t own a tractor and know how to weld wasn’t going to fare very well.

beginning-blacksmithing

Taking two pieces of metal, heating them, and then hammering them together is the original way to weld. I use a coal forge because you have better control of the temperature, but good coal can be expensive and hard
to find. Consequently, many people now use propane forges. The latter are more compact and don’t require a ventilation system. However, you have less control over the heat and if it gets too hot, you can melt the metal. When working with any heat/fire source inside of a building, always be aware of flammable materials on the farm.

Blacksmithing is not only helpful on the homestead, it can also be profitable. Some items are simple to make and have very little cost in them. A small key fob made in the shape of a leaf can be sold for $5 or $10, with the stock material costing just a few cents. A used railroad spike can be turned into a knife with a twisted handle and be sold for $30 to $40. A round or square piece of metal costing a couple of dollars can be hammered into a steak turner for the BBQ grill, a fireplace poker, or a wood stove implement and each can sell for $20 or $25.

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You can make and sell these items from your shop or you can acquire a portable set up for the arts and crafts fair circuit. A hand-crank blower is necessary for this enterprise. Some people make their own forge and blower out of anything from a wheelbarrow to a metal box. You can also buy what you need. Small forge and manual blower combinations are available for as little as $150. Of course, you can secure a vintage setup if you prefer.

Since beginning blacksmithing, I’ve given away most of what I’ve done. Hammering items from simple pieces of metal into something useful is gratifying, and people are always glad to receive them. Items made in the blacksmith shop can be passed down for generations. The man who owns the vintage rifle my grandfather repaired half a century ago recently contacted me to express his gratitude and said the gun still fires perfectly.

Working over a forge and anvil is hot, hard work. But, whether you are a do-it-yourselfer or you want to make money, the results you see and the satisfaction you receive make blacksmithing worthy of consideration.

Are you interested in beginning blacksmithing? Perhaps you are already into blacksmithing. We would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Originally published in Countryside Hands-On Homesteading Special issue 2020 and regularly vetted for accuracy. 

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