For centuries, the village blacksmith was the local hardware store, contractor, and mechanic all rolled into one. Blacksmiths helped shape their communities through making the hinges, hooks, brackets, and tools their neighbors used every day.
In a twist of irony, blacksmiths helped usher in an age of mass production that almost led to their demise. Yet blacksmithing today is enjoying a resurgence. Our modern society has discovered that no amount of technical perfection can replace the feeling of picking up a hand-forged object and knowing someone’s creativity and effort went into shaping it. Like-minded tinkerers have not only revived the craft, but they’re also taking it in new and exciting directions in maker spaces, art schools, blacksmith associations, online forums, and makeshift home forges.
Traditionalists enjoy the history and culture of the craft, working mostly without modern power tools or electric welders. Artists and sculptors, drawn to the versatility and permanence of steel, explore the design limits of the material. Professional smiths are tasked with balancing an artistic approach with the architectural, functional, and financial constraints of commissioned projects, and often combine traditional and modern techniques. Home smiths usually fall somewhere in between; they make pieces to use or sell, while also dealing with constraints of time, space, funding, and equipment.
Many of these categories overlap. For example, I’ve been a hobbyist in a home forge, an apprentice in a professional shop, a part-time blacksmith working out of a friend’s barn, and the owner of my own shop. In that time, I’ve been asked to make cannons and samurai swords (jobs I sadly turned down), as well as traditional catapults and Nordic runes (jobs I couldn’t refuse).
While we modern blacksmiths may not be making nails for the local carpenter anymore, we continue to serve our communities with the products of our craft. Honoring that tradition, I hope you shape your world with unique pieces for yourself, your friends, your neighbors, and your community to use and enjoy every day. What are you waiting for? Get smithing!
Forged Rack Instructions
These instructions make two differently sized racks to support hanging pots, pans, cups, coats, or keys. Both projects have hangers and rack plates at different distances from the wall to provide you with extra flexibility, depending on what you wish to hang.
With care and patience, someone with only basic tools and equipment can make these racks. These projects represent only one of many ways to do things. Treat these steps as suggestions rather than scripture, and find out what works best for you.
Tools & Materials
- Round-faced hammer
- Drill or punch
- Countersink bit
- Riveting tool
- Monkey tool for 3/8-inch tenons
- Wire brush
Pot Rack Cutting List
- 1/4-by-3-inch flat stock, cut to 32 inches for the mounting plate (1)
- 1/4-by-1-inch flat stock, cut to 131/2inches (1), and to 211/2inches (1) for the two rack plates
- 1/2-inch square stock, cut to 5 inches for the long spacers (2), and to 4 inches for the short spacers (2)
- 1/4-inch round stock for the hooks
Key Rack Cutting List
- 1/4-by-3-inch flat stock, cut to 12 inches for the mounting plate (1)
- 1/4-by-1-inch flat stock, cut to 4 inches (1), and to 7 inches (1) for the two rack plates
- 1/2-inch square stock, cut to 3 inches for the long spacers (2), and to 2 inches for the short spacers (2)
- 1/4-inch round stock for the hooks
Note: All stock should be mild steel.
1. Forge slightly tapered bevels into each corner of the mounting plate using angled hammer blows.
2. Forge a textured bevel around the outside edge of the mounting plate using a large round-faced hammer.
3. Drill or punch one 3/16-inch mounting hole in each corner of the mounting plate. Drill or punch four 3⁄8-inch mortise holes as indicated in the illustration of your choice above; these will be used to attach the rack plates to the mounting plate. Use a countersink bit to make a large bevel on the backside of the mortise holes. Drill out matching mortise holes in each 1-inch flat-stock rack plate.
4. Forge 3/8-inch round tenons on each end of the square stock spacers. For the pot rack, make two spacers with 23⁄4 inches between the tenoned ends for the short rack, and two spacers with 11/2inches between the tenoned ends for the long rack. For the key rack, make two spacers with 13⁄4 inches between the tenoned ends for the short rack, and two spacers with 3⁄4 inches between the tenoned ends for the long rack.
5. Forge a tight taper with a length of 1/4-inch round stock, and curl it into the tip of the hook. Quench the tip and make another, larger curve, about 1/2inch in radius, to complete the hook shape. Cut off the stock at approximately 2-1/2 inches from the tip of the hook. Square off 1 inch and fold that section back into a tight “U” shape to make the hanger for the hook, and hang it over the 1/4-inch flat stock rack. Tighten the back “U” hook to secure it to the rack. Repeat until you’ve made the desired number of hooks for whichever rack you’re making.
6. Fit the tenons on the spacers into the mortise holes on the rack plates and mounting plate. Rivet the rack plates to the mounting plate, and grind the rivets flush on the backside. Wire-brush the piece to finish before hanging.
Tenons fit into mortises (holes); together, they make up a traditional joinery unit. Tenons are created using a number of special tools, such as spring swages or guillotine tools. A simple way to make a tenon without access to such tools is to use the near edge of the anvil and careful full-face blows to isolate and then form the tenon. Finish the tenon with a “monkey tool,” a piece of solid stock with a hole drilled in it, to upset the parent stock slightly and square off the shoulder for a tight fit.
Nicholas Wicks is a writer and blacksmith based in Maine. This project is excerpted from his book The Everyday Blacksmith(Quarto Publishing). The book is a compilation of simple projects contributed by blacksmiths around the world.