Blacksmithing on a Budget

Become a backyard blacksmith to save money on farm repairs and more.

| May/June 2015

  • A serviceable blacksmith anvil can be as simple as a block of steel.
    Photo by Ryan Ridgway
  • Get creative when it comes to materials for your forge. You can make one from an old brake drum or scrap plate metal.
    Photo by Ryan Ridgway
  • A good medium-weight cross-peen hammer will make the sparks fly.
    Photo by Ryan Ridgway
  • Keep your eyes open for forges like this one at farm auctions and estate sales. Many are still functional despite the years on them.
    Photo by Joan Treis
  • Gritty having a fun time blacksmithing.
    Photo by Brad Anderson

Thousands of years ago, ironworking revolutionized society by making more efficient and longer-lasting tools. While the village blacksmith has been replaced by modern machine shops and welders in the last century, traditional blacksmithing techniques are still relevant in any small-farm repair shop, as it does not require expensive tools. Blacksmithing also provides the opportunity to earn extra income selling forged tools, household items and metal artwork at craft fairs or online.

It is important to realize that blacksmithing is characterized by the way in which metal is shaped; it is in the techniques rather than the tools themselves. To get metal to move and bend, we use heat and tools with varying shapes. Looking around the world, most regions have developed unique anvils, forges and hammers, but they all use the same techniques. Once you understand the methodology of working metal with heat, tools are suddenly everywhere, and you can save both money and time searching for materials when you set up your own shop.

Tools of the trade

Today, regardless of the different hammers and anvils used, the basics of blacksmithing are the same across the world: Heat the metal to make it malleable, and hit it between two hard surfaces. From there, all the other tools that have driven society through the modern ages can be made. All a fully functional blacksmith shop requires is an anvil, forge, vise and hammer. Other tools that make life in the shop easier, but are not required, include files, taps and dies, a welder, cutting torch, drill press, and an angle grinder or bench grinder.

Starting out, you will need to find an anvil, vise and hammer. From there, you can make all your other tools. To avoid breaking the bank, scrap yards, antique stores, farm auctions,, and classified ads will be your best friends, and look beyond traditional tools. You’ll soon develop an eye for picking out tools from unlikely materials — half of an old heat exchanger might be used for the basin of your forge.

The anvil. This is usually where people get into trouble when getting into blacksmithing, believing that they need a London pattern anvil. This classic style with a horn and heel is iconic indeed, but not absolutely necessary for your first anvil. This style of anvil only evolved over the last few hundred years in Western Europe and North America. For thousands of years before that, simple, rectangular blocks of metal were used, and still are today throughout most of the world.

When looking for an anvil, regardless if it’s a London pattern or a block of steel, you need to look at three things. First, it needs to have a 4-by-4-inch flat face. While rectangular or square faces work best for farm anvils, you can use a round hydraulic piston set on its end.

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