Adventures in Blacksmithing: Day 6

I have come to realize that most of my blacksmithing occurs in a vacuum. Once again, Mike is out of town for work, and I have the insatiable urge to heat and shape metal. C’est la vie. It does provide me with cool pictures to text him.

So last week, I told you that tapering and I were not getting along. With all of my tapers (though some worse than others), the stock was flaking and breaking. And at times, it was all out crumbling beneath my hammer. Well, practice makes perfect, as long as you are adjusting your practice. So I decided to act on some information I found last week and try to improve my tapering.

Step one – set up. Step two – start fire.

I am pleased to report that today’s fire was my most successful start to date. Of course, I used newspaper, but I also broke up a little branch off of last Christmas’ tree and threw it into the mix. While of course the sparking and the flames that climbed out of the forge box were a quite exciting, they were also successful in starting my charcoal fire quickly and because it burned so hot, establishing it didn’t take long either. Good start to what turned into a great day.

Cranking up the air supply to the forge fire
Cranking up the air supply to the forge fire

So last week, I determined after some reading that I was probably not getting my stock hot enough to taper it. This week, after the fire was established, I cranked the air supply up and just let the stock hang out for a while.

Metal Heating
Metal heating…almost there…

Newbie Blacksmiths, take it from another newbie who had to learn the hard way, you are not getting your stock hot enough. Put it in the fire and let go. I know you really want to pull it right out and start whacking on it. I do too. It’s hard to be patient and wait, but the truth is, blacksmithing is a lot like Thai Chi. Speed is your enemy. Time and precision are your allies. Take a deep breath, and let the process unfold naturally.

Today for the first time, I brought my stock to a bright orange glow before forging, and it truly made all the difference. Just look at the tapers I did today in comparison to the ones I did last week. The difference is striking…no pun intended…well, no, actually it is intended. Because the metal was much more malleable at the higher temperature, I didn’t have to strike as hard. I had better control over the hammer, and I was actually able to draw the metal out rather than just beat it into submission and eventual demise. I also learned that even rolling of the stock while I forged the taper made it smooth and surprisingly even.

Tapers - getting better
Tapers – last week’s on left, this week’s on right

In addition to tapers today, I made a hook. I started with a taper, which I flattened, cut the piece to size with Mike’s grinder (yes, my cut tool has still not been fitted to my anvil), and flattened the rest. Then, all that remained was a few bends. The tongs were much easier to manipulate today, perhaps because I was so focused on the temperature of the metal that I wasn’t very much concerned with anything else.

Day 6 blacksmithing project: a hook
Day 6 blacksmithing project: a hook

I did get burned once when my coals got super excited and voiced that by popping out of the box, so apparently there was a bit of moisture in there. But I really don’t blame the fire. I got excited too while watching my bright yellow fire burn down to a deep orange when I cut the air supply, the heat absorbing into the glowing, orange stock. Pull it. Brush it. Strike.

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