ARTIST BLACKSMITH ASSOCIATION SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Frequently Asked Questions

Blacksmithing

This is a question with a few different answers. You will need some basics, a fire to heat your metal, a hard surface to shape your hot steel, and of course, a hammer. Other items that will make life easier would be a post vice to hold your work when required and a quench bucket of water.The vice used by a blacksmith is called a post vice. It has a leg running from the vice to the floor and allows the smith to clamp work and be able to strike the work without breaking the jaw off the vice. These vices are no longer made new in Australia, but can be sourced from online sales, auctions and antique stores. 

The easiest way to begin is by contacting a blacksmith group in your state and asking questions? You can also search on-line through the various blacksmith forums. Most of them have a section on how to get up and running. You can join your local blacksmith group and go along to their forging days. You will then get some idea on the basic equipment you will need. Most of the states have a blacksmith association who will be only too happy to help you out with advice.

Setting up a forge at home is dependent on the room you have available. You don’t need a huge area, but a 2 meter square floor area is considered the minimum. The forge area should be partially enclosed so that you are not forging in direct daylight, and of course, ventilation is a must. Your forge, should it be gas, coke or charcoal, should have some form of extraction to remove the fumes and dust.
The parts of a basic forge come down to a container to hold the fire, an insulation layer of firebrick or sand to protect the container and a variable supply of air to provide combustion. Air can be supplied by anything, from a hair dryer, vacuum cleaner or dedicated blower. Forges can be made up using light truck brake drums or the brake discs. Or you can fabricate your own forge using 5mm steel plate.

A gas forge can be constructed from disused 9kg gas cylinders and lined with refractory coating and blanket. A burner can be made or purchased on-line and fitted to the cylinder with a gas pressure regulator. There are a lot of plans available on-line for making burners and gas forges.

If you are a one-person operation, you don’t need a lot of space to forge. 2 by 2 meters of floor space should suffice. You should place your equipment in a simple square layout. When facing your forge, have your anvil on your left, your quench bucket on your right and your post vice at your back. This layout is the most efficient way to work. Keep your equipment about a meter apart.
Coke is a by-product of black coal. At the steelworks/colliery, black coal is baked in a sealed oven at high temperatures to drive out the sulphur and gases. The coke is then cooled in water. Coke is cleaner to burn than coal. Coal forges actually produce their own coke while burning, but create sulphurous gas as well.
Coke is getting difficult to purchase. Because the steel industry in Australia is slowly winding down, the coke producers are slowly fading out of the market. In Adelaide, we are lucky to have Onesteel in Whyalla producing coke, however, that company is now under threat of closure as well. In Adelaide, coke can be purchased in various quantities from FARMWELD in Birdwood. ABASA members can purchase coke direct at a reduced price.
A coke forge can be started by using a couple of fire starter blocks and a hand full of charcoal. Once the charcoal if fully alight the coke can be added in small quantities, whilst maintaining a medium strength flow of air.
In the past, blacksmiths used hand-operated bellows. Bellows are not easily available or in large scale use these days. Many beginners start off with a hairdryer or a reverse flow vacuum cleaner. There are various blowers available from vendors. A dedicated positive flow centrifugal blower is the idea blower for running a coke forge if you are willing to make the investment.
Aside from a hammer and anvil, the minimum hand tools suggested would be a punch, a drift, a cold cut chisel, a stiff wire brush. a medium course file and tongs (to hold round and square stock)
ABASA recommend using a 900g Engineers Ball peen hammer to start with. As you develop skills and strength you can upgrade to heavier weights and hammers of different designs.
When you are starting out, an anvil weight of between 75 and 112 pounds should suffice. Of course, a heavier anvil is nice to have, however, they are not as easy to buy. Many people start off with a piece of railway track or steel blocks sourced from a scrap yard or machine shop scrap bin.
Blacksmiths generally make their own tools, but if you are starting out, you can purchase a hammer, cold chisels and punches from a hardware shop. Blacksmith tongs are available from a couple of sources, such as farrier suppliers and companies such as Gameco Gameco has the widest range of tools, including hammers, tongs, gas forges, anvil tools and friendly advice.
If you are forging a piece for indoor use or display, a coating of bee wax can be applied or lanolin spray. An equal part mixture of beeswax, turpentine, linseed oil and japan black drier makes an attractive finish when rubbed or painted on to warmed ironwork. Wrought iron that is to be used outdoors needs to be protected from the elements using either external metal surface paint, galvanizing or cold galvanised coating. To maintain the wrought iron look, a 2 pack clear polyurethane coating may be used.
South Australia has the Artist Blacksmiths Association. In Victoria, there is ABAVic, N.S.W has ABANSW, Western Australia has the B.A.W.A group, Queensland, the ABAQLD group. Tasmania has the Tasmanian Artist Blacksmith Association. There are regional groups in all states as well. Do a search on-line in your state.
Apprentice courses are no longer available in Blacksmithing these days. The last TAFE course was held in 2008. There are a couple of TAFE campus’s holding blacksmith courses interstate. If you live in NSW you may find a course available through TAFE.
The basic class of actions in forging is drawing out, upsetting, bending, twisting, punching and drifting. The first exercise to practice would be the drawing down of a piece of round or square bar. This will give you the feel of moving the hot metal. You could then progress to making a nail or an ‘S’ shaped hook. Once you have mastered the basic manipulations in hot iron there are many small items to make, such as a door knocker, a candle holder or a bottle opener etc.
South Australia is blessed with a range of forges that are operated on a regular basis and open to the public. There are country forges at:
  • Mannum Museum
  • Burra Museums ‘Bon Accord’ Mine
  • Riverton ‘Scholz Park’ Blacksmith and Wheelwright museum
  • Angaston ‘Doddridge Forge’
  • Moonta Mines Blacksmith Forge.
  • Angaston’s forge is open every weekend, with the other forges open at least once a month.

     

    Artist Blacksmiths Association South Australia