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Jeff Lowery

If you could start over...

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Hello all! Long time lurker and first time poster. I have been studying everything I could get my hands on regarding blacksmithing and metalworking over the last two years. I finally have it all figure out (not literally) to where I have the okay from my insurance company as well as from the city I live in to build a separate addition onto my garage for a forge shop. Going to end up being a 15x25 footprint with ground breaking in the spring. FINALLY!

 

So here's my question. If you had to start over, what would you do differently? What tools would you have started out with or what would you have waited on to purchase? What basics skill would you have focused on longer? How would you have set up your shop differently?

 

I have done multiple searches and have not found a thread like this but I apologize if there is one I did not see.

 

Have linked up with ABANA and will be joining, have linked up with The Guild of Metalsmith's for Minnesota and am going to be taking some classes in the spring for basics, intermediate, etc. increasing difficulty as I learn. But there seems to be so much that you pick up on as you go and just wanted to see what you all would do differently.

 

Look forward to hearing your answers. Thanks so much!

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If I could start over, I would have gotten in touch with other smiths sooner. The things you learn from these guys is incredible. Also, I wish I had learned to have good attention to detail, heat treating, and proper proportions much sooner. Five or six years ago I wasn't really thinking about what I would be wanting now, but I don't think I did that bad.

Other than that I can't say that I would change much. The things I am happy that I did are that I didn't have a grinder for years, and had to use files mostly. This taught me good forging skills and proper use of hand tools. Also, I'm really glad that I joined this forum, it's frequented by some of the absolute best smiths in the world. And if you're respectful then they'll give you more advice than you can digest. I'm glad I learned basic blacksmithing and got good at forging blades close to shape instead of relying on a grinder.

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built or buy a better grinder it seems faster to get good at grinding than good at hammering or with good grinding you can hide bad hammering but good hammering wont hide bad grinding and i really didnt have enough or thick enough steel in my first grinder

 

if your going to hammer a lot make/buy a press or hammer to save your shoulder/arm for fine work im really regretting not doing so sooner in the long run the leaf springs i broke down just were not worth what i am going threw now with my arms new steel is cheaper than aiking joints


11980

i would have spent more time in other ppls shops ...every time i was in some ones shop i learned something even if it was a better way to store hammers it was always helpful or even if it was just this guys a jack ass still important to know

 

take a heat treat class at the local college ok i actually did this but its still a good idea

 

a kiln earlier on there not to bad to make these days

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More patience and more steel, lots and lots of steel. I also wish I read more about metallurgy and could heat treat better.

 

Dang, I still need all that now!

 

I really would have liked a nice grinder and an anvil, steel is hard, and wood can be delicate or just tricky so some carving knives would be nice too as well as a few saws.

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I started on the back porch. I would have gotten a dedicated shop first followed by a good grinder, a 150 lb or larger anvil. Learn to make your tools like tongs sooner. As a bladesmith my blacksmithing classes are one of the skills that has helped me tremendously.

 

I joined the American Bladesmith's Society and regularly go to Hammer-Ins and classes. Time I've spent in other members shops and their friendship has helped me greatly.

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I was lucky, I started from day one in a professional shop, so I got some very good instuction from the beginning.

What I would have done differently: Start taking classes earlier: Art, drawing, drafting, and much sooner on exposing myself to the ideas of other professionals. Working in a shop, I thought I was getting all I needed, but I really was only getting one perspective. I now take at least one class a year.

Edited by Gerald Boggs
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I am loving the responses! Believe it or not, I am actually writing this stuff down...lol!

 

I wanted to add that I have picked up and been reading Goddard's book "$50 Knife Shop", Hrisolas' The Complete Bladesmith (really like this one) as well as The Art of the Japanese Sword.

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Another very good book is "Handles and Guards" by Master Smith Joe Keeslar.

 

I consider it a must have in my library. I actually have two of them. One in the shop and another that travels with me. That one stay in my second shop next year in North Carolina.

Edited by GBrackett

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I would have asked myself... "what is my aim?"

What in particular draws you to this?

What you do want to focus on?

Answer those questions, and the rest should fall in line.

-Gabriel

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Being on the road with little decent internet time, I would recommend more than anything else TAKE CLASSES. More than one. From more than one instructor. Everyone does things a little bit differently, but I promise that the fact I started with a basic blacksmithing class from a reputable school put me YEARS ahead of where I would have been if I had tried to go it alone. Yes it is expensive. How many years do you want to spend teaching yourself when a bit of money can take those years off the learning curve, though? In other words, how much is your time worth? Sorry for the short and garbled statements, never know when I will lose net access for a while.

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I would have spent more time learning grinding, definitely. And invested in a bigger grinder.

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I started out doing this when I was very young, about 12. I had no guidance, a few books and enough curiosity to kill every cat in the neighborhood. The problem was that swordsmithing (I was that kid) is what had got me so interested to start with. I went straight to making blades, and developed very little skills outside of drawing out and flattening. My impatience led to me actually avoiding the skills I wasnt proficient in, which only made it worse. Afterall, why would I struggle with making a pair of tongs when I could make two more knives in that amount of time? :)

 

If I could do it again, I would actually lay the groundwork for more general blacksmithing, and learn to walk before I tried to run. Once I mellowed out a bit and realized I enjoyed all smithing, I realized that I was very far behind with all of my other skills and that I had a lot of learning to do (and even more practice).

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I also started messing with forging around age 12, and pretty much taught myself from books and experimentation (It was the pre-internet era! :P ). Figuring out how to make a decent, functional blade literally took me years, struggling though such things as "why are my blades so brittle" (lack of normalization, it turned out) and "what is the narrow face on the back of my hammer for" (lol :lol: ). If I could do it again, I'd definitely try to take a class, or find a mentor to learn the basics.

Edited by Orien M

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I really appreciate your input. I have got a good connection for classes (at least I think they are). http://www.metalsmith.org/education/ is the nearest place where I can get some instruction. I really like the idea of learning how to make my own tools, etc. Then I never have to buy them ^_^

 

What about your smithy set up? Anything you would have done differently regarding space set up or is this personal preference?

 

Thanks so much!

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Jeff, join their organization so you can get first chance to sign-up for the classes. Basic blacksmithing skills are very important. Their stated student/instructor ratio is very good.

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My forge and smithy area were pretty much thrown together back around '07, when I needed a place to make knives, pronto. It's almost humorously crude and simple :lol: ...but works OK for my purposes (I don't do much welding, and tend to make pretty basic, functional stuff). The forge itself is a little bottom-blast, charcoal/wood burning one; If you google "lively forge" you'll find some pics and discussion.

 

If I were building it again, I'd add a valve and second, side-blown firepot (more efficient for welding and general work, I'm told), while keeping the bottom-blown firepot for heat-treating.

 

I have a few power tools in the shop, including an angle grinder, belt sander, drill press, and a bandsaw. All are fairly small and underpowered; bigger, stronger versions would be nice but not really neccesary. I generally prefer to get as far as possible with just fire, hammer and anvil, so my use of the grinder, etc is pretty minimal anyway (these days, it's pretty much limited to grinding edges sharp after heat-treatment).

 

If I could only have one power tool, it would be the angle grinder, believe it or not. I use mine frequently for cutting stock to length, and (less often) for more controlled grinding tasks...I've even ground bevels with it, before I got the belt sander. The flap sander and wire wheel attachments are extremely handy, also.

 

Edited to add: If I were starting over, I'd get a good stock of some known blade steel to work with (a simple, 10XX steel...1085 is nice). I started out making blades from random scrap, old files and so on, and the constant variability made learning heat-treatment extremely tricky. Use a consistent type of steel, and your HT process will be consistent as well. Once you have a handle on the basics, you can always branch out and try different steels later...

Edited by Orien M
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Half of my shop is still outside and in an uninsulated building without temperature control. The other half is in my house :)

The first thing I'd do is build a shop with proper insulation, proper fire control, proper heat and cooling, and its own 220v service. It would also be as big as possible. I never have enough space for machines, tools equipment, materials, etc. They are all over my shop and house. Having a lathe and a vertical mill in your living room is convenient, but not ideal. I'd rather they were in a proper machine shop with an overhead crane, cement floors, proper electrical service.

When I bought my house I knew I would want these things, and I thought the 1.5 car garage out back would be sufficient. NOPE! I should have bought a factory in some unincorporated area. Would have much less trouble in an industrial zone.

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I would recommend Mark Asprey's books on the fundamentals of blacksmithing. http://www.markaspery.com/School_of_Blacksmithing/Book_1.html. These are the best illustrated and complete books of their kind.They are pricey because they are self published but well worth it. I have found that there are people who can do and people who can teach and rarely those who can do both.Mark Asprey is one of these and his books reflect that.

Edited by danpiotte

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I would recommend Mark Asprey's books on the fundamentals of blacksmithing. http://www.markaspery.com/School_of_Blacksmithing/Book_1.html. These are the best illustrated and complete books of their kind.They are pricey because they are self published but well worth it. I have found that there are people who can do and people who can teach and rarely those who can do both.Mark Asprey is one of these and his books reflect that.

Thanks Dan! I printed off the order form and am sending it out!

 

To everyone else that is posting, I honestly cannot tell you how much I appreciate it!

 

Another question...How many of you make your own tools? I have been watching videos of people making tongs, hammers, etc. I would love to do this, but how many people really do and I am assuming it is a good skill to have. Pretty much anything that gets me moving metal would be good, I guess?

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I second picking one steel type with known chemistry and becoming very intimate with its heat treat. I poked around with 1095, 9260, 1070/1080, 1075, W1 and W2 all within the first 2 years and in the end I couldn't heat treat any of them.

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I would put making hammers as an advanced intermediate skill, but tongs are good forging exercise. That said, I have three sets I have made and ten I did not.

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1. Go to gatherings (Ashokan is my favorite) - Kevin Cashen taught me how to forge a hunting knife in 2 hours of direct, one-on-one teaching at the first one. I had spent 2 years on my own, and learned more that night than I had in the previous two years.

2. Buy a GOOD grinder and a hydraulic press asap. I had a hand surgery from cumulative damage from hammering (as a young man I built things so it wasn't only from smithing, but that is what pushed me over the edge). These will change what is possible, let you begin improving your skills in the most efficient way, and save your body.

3. Learn to use files to the best of their ability, followed by chisels and gravers. Don't wait and think that these are things you will get some day. Be deliberate, and focus on making things like fittings and handles with nothing but files for awhile. You will learn much about angles and sculpting that will make you a better grinder, too.

4. Grinding is the most important skill. Bite the bullet, and practice. I suggest making things in 2's or 3's for the first few years, so you can really refine each skill.

5. forge welding, the second most important skill for most of us, is something that you need to practice in one consistent manner until mastered. Then, do things like twisting bars and welding without flux. Don't worry about that until you can make plain random patterns stick essentially every time.

6. Last one, get a heat treatment kiln. I had years of chemistry at my first incarnation as a student, so I wanted to play with heat treatments quickly. If you can't afford one, then use Aldo's 1075 or 1084 (or 1080 from Admiral or Kelly Cupples) exclusively. It is a waste to use anything else, in my opinion. maybe 15N20, especially in combination with the others. Not that you can't do good work with 1095 or W2, or even 80crv2 or 52100 or O1, but the first two require a lot of knowledge and experience (or a kiln and knowledge). The last 3, you won't get the full potential from them without temp control.

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Only a few of my tools are really self-made: one pair of tongs, and some of my small tools like chisels, punches etc. The rest were bought used, but often modified...almost all my hammers are like this, they've been recrowned or reshaped, and new handles put on. In my area I can often find metalworking tools inexpensively at pawnshops and flea markets...usually cheaper than taking the time to make the tool from scratch. I almost never buy anything new if I can help it (just files, sanding belts, and angle grinder wheels, pretty much).

 

Some of my tools were pretty much junk before I got them :P ...my anvil is just a big (5x5x10") mild steel offcut from a welding shop. I also have a mill ball (just a steel ball about 3" diameter, from a machine that crushes ore for mining) in the shop that works great for shaping sheet metal; I made a couple woks, spoons and the like with it. A few other big metal objects with useful curves in them serve as swages or bending forms....the most used is just a piece of RR track turned sideways.

 

A big wooden stump is surprisingly handy, as are wooden mallets. Sometimes you'll want to shape objects without deforming or denting the surfaces, and a wooden work surface makes this fairly easy. A lot of guys here use wooden mallets (aka "thwockers" :lol: ) to pre-bend knife blades, prior to forging the bevels; you can whack the blade right on the edge without chewing it up too badly.

 

I'm not trying to discourage you (or anyone) from spending money on tooling; just saying, with some creativity you can often get a lot done very inexpensively.

Edited by Orien M

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6. Last one, get a heat treatment kiln. I had years of chemistry at my first incarnation as a student, so I wanted to play with heat treatments quickly. If you can't afford one, then use Aldo's 1075 or 1084 (or 1080 from Admiral or Kelly Cupples) exclusively. It is a waste to use anything else, in my opinion. maybe 15N20, especially in combination with the others. Not that you can't do good work with 1095 or W2, or even 80crv2 or 52100 or O1, but the first two require a lot of knowledge and experience (or a kiln and knowledge). The last 3, you won't get the full potential from them without temp control.

 

I was under the impression that 5160 was fairly forgiving in the heat treat process without a kiln. Not so much?

Edited by andrew zimba

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5160 is relatively easy without a kiln except for true annealing, since at blade thickness it likes to air harden a little. I get around that by doing a overly high temper where holes need to go.

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