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What I've Learned from a Month of Blacksmithing

It's easier than it looks. But also not.

There aren't as many sparks as the movies might have you believe.  Also, much fewer swords, because swords are incredibly arduous to make, not to mention useless if you're a beginner blacksmith, because it will not turn out right.

Thankfully, I figured this out before I started, and instead chose to make my first blade out of rebar, a simple little knife.

I didn't do that right, either, but it came out sharp enough to cut things and sturdy enough to stab things, cardboard boxes and the like.

I tried again, with a longer piece of rebar, this time angle grinding the ribs and rust away.  This one turned out far better; it was actually shaped like a knife, to an extent.

But now I'm out of rebar.  So what have I learned?  Well, a few things.

First, you don't have to have a fancy furnace, a shiny five-hundred pound anvil, and a vast array of specialized hammers.  For my forge, I propped a wheel drum I got from my local scrapyard for three bucks on top of a couple of stumps, and stuck a hair dryer beneath it.  My anvil is a boulder in the yard, and while I could have used a simple claw hammer, a little bit of homework told me that such hammers are soft and will crack after a while.  So I went out and invested in a couple of ballpein hammers.  Well worth it.

Second, proper height in your tools is important.  My forge only comes up to just below my knees, and my "anvil" doesn't quite reach my hip.  And after just a few projects, my back still hurts.

Third, it's easier than it looks.  Sort of.  What is helpful for me—as well as many people in my area—is that I was raised with a lot of metalworking in my blood, and just handwork in general.  My grandpa on my dad's side was a phone line technician and a gunsmith (but really, for his neighborhood, he was a handyman, able to use any tool and piece together just about any mechanical or electrical system, from music boxes and radios to engines and, well, guns).  My grandpa on my mom's side was a thoroughbred cowboy who never slept more than six hours, breeding and selling all sorts of stock 'till he died in his late seventies, who built his house from scratch.

But it goes deeper than that.

So I already sort of knew how to work with metal.  But I can't imagine it can be that difficult even if your grandparents were stockbrokers and you've never seen a workshop.

It takes a certain ability to remove expectations from your head, really, as with many things.  And that's difficult, because this expectations are what inspired you to try blacksmithing in the first place!   Or at least, such was the case for me.

This, naturally, can be somewhat discouraging.  But sometimes there remains a certain resolve, if you've started for the right reasons.  It's not all about the sparks and the swords and the masculinity after all, but maybe more about the ability to make a thing, a useful thing, and simply to be more self-sufficient.

But of course, you'll learn what it's really about, all on your own, and all for yourself.  The sparks are still very cool, and the masculinity (according to me) is still there.

Really, just get a piece of metal, heat it 'til it's red, and beat it into the shape you want.  Pay attention, take mental notes, learn what weights of hammers work best for you, what length tongs, what types of metal do what things, and you'll figure it out. 

My Second Rebar Knife, the Forging Process on Video

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