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Pricing for a new smith

Leon W. Ham

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Hello everyone, this is my first time posting on the forums.

I'm 19, and I've been seriously considering taking up the hammer and tongs for some time now.

I live in Maine, if that helps with any answers.


I was hoping someone could give me an idea of an overall price-range for all of the starting equipment I would need.

According to the guide I read here, the starting equipment I will need includes:


"For a bladesmith the minimal requirements would be:


- forge (gas / coal / charcoal)

- anvil

- hammer

- steel

- files

- and some basic tools like a small drill press, measurement-equipment, basic metalworking tools"


For a forge, I'm thinking of starting out with gas.

How much is a good sized can of propane gas going to set me back, and how long will it last me?

How much will the materials cost me for making the forge itself?

I already know where I'm going to be buying InsWool, there is a site that sells it up to 2,400 for only $4 a foot.


For the Anvil, I'm going to be looking for something used.

I've been browsing E-bay, and I've found a couple of old 100+ pounders, but they are pock-marked.

Can I expect the markings to complicate work?


Starting out, I'm going super cheap on the steel.

There are plenty of railroads out of commission around here, and I can likely get scraps from some of the steel mills, so I wont worry about pricing that just yet.


Lastly, what would be a good, relatively cheap drill press that will do what it needs to with little trouble?



Sorry for the lengthy post, and I don't expect anyone to answer every question, just some tips and pointers so I can figure out what kind of money I'll be paying to finally be able to take part in this trade.

It's been calling to me for too long.

-Upon the plains of hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions, whom when on the dawn of victory paused to rest, and there resting died-

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My first suggustion (especially if you want to keep this cheap to start with) is to find ABANA's site (ABANA = Artist Blacksmith Assn of North America) and look for a local chapter.


Some way of holding the hot steel is also needed (tongs, pliers).


I don't use gas so can't help you there.


Any defect in the anvil surface can be imparted on your work, but may or may not complecate the process, particularlly since you will likely have problems with hammer control when starting. But you don't need an anvil to start, any large chunk of steel will sork and some have started with the head of a large sledge hammer.


If you want to do the heat treat yourself, start with a simple carbon steel (something between 1060 to 1095).


The drill press (or any power tool) isn't a requirement. Several of my first knives were made with a hand drill ).



Having watched government for some time, it has become obvious that our government is no longer for the people. If the current trend continues, it won't be long untill armed rebellion is required.

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First critical piece of equiptment is reference material. I'm very partial to Wayne Goddard's books "The Wonder of Knife Making" and "The $50 Knifeshop". It will answere a lot of questions on getting started. A real good video that shows how simple you can keep it is from the Woodsmaster series by Ron Hood, volume #9. Go to www.survival.com or you can Google Tim Lively, he put out a real good DVD. A lot of the answeres to your questions can be found in these sources.


You don't need a fancy European style anvil, a chunk of steel anchored in a bucket of cement, ala Tim Lively, can be used. A 25lb bench anvil is not as good as a 250lb anvil but knives and swords have been made on much smaller for centuries. I kills me to read people badmouthing small bench anvils and then go on to give directions for building a railroad track anvil. Don't get me wrong, bigger is better but it's not essential. One word of advice though, stay away from cast iron anvils. Actually these things are not really anvils at all, they're anvil shaped objects, also known as ASO's. They will not stand up to forging even if the add states that they are industrial grade. Wrought iron anvils are another matter, but they haven't been made in, I'd immagine, about 100 years but you do see them on the market occasionally, often they have a steel face welded to them.


Hammers can be gotten about anywhere, with exceptions. A mom-and-pop hardware store has machinist hammers in 2 and 3 pound weights which are good starting weights and I've seen smiths with plain ball peen hammers in about the same weights. You only need two tongs to get started. I'd recommend V-bolt tongs. The jaws, viewed from the end form a V. They are good for holding both round and flat stock. I prefer them over wolf jaw or fire tongs but you'll eventually develope your own tastes.


You'll need something like a 5 gallon metal or wood bucket to use as a slack tub. The purpose of it is to cool over heated tools and burned parts of your anatomy in. Also makes a good fire extinguisher for burning hats and other articles of cloathing. Seriously, you shouldn't have a fire going without a full slack tub.


I made my quench tank from paint cans epoxied end to end. Bit of advice though, don't cut the bottom out of the bottom can :rolleyes: . I use vegetable oil for quenching but you can find all sorts of recipes. Brine can also be used for some of the simplers steels and the W steels but few recommend it but some love it.


I was given this piece of advise when I first contemplated my first forge. A forge is nothing but a hole in the ground with an air supply and a fire in it; all else is just elevation. A little over simplystic but still a good thing to keep in mind. A picture is worth a thousand words so go to www.elliscustomknifeworks.com and click in the forge gallery for some example of gas forges. How much gas they take will depend on the design, how well they're insulated and how effecient your burner is. Charcoal, or any solid fuel forge, is probably cheaper to make and more flexable but they're dirtier and probably a little trickier to use.


Too much for me to go into in one setting. Please do yourself, and us, a favor and do a little homework. It will make things a lot easier on yourself and it's a lot easier to give help to someone who has some idea of what s/he doesn't know.


Doug Lester


Oh ya, by-the-by Tim Lively has his plans for a $30 anvil on the Tool and Tool Making board if you haven't noticed it already

Edited by Doug Lester

HELP...I'm a twenty year old trapped in the body of an old man!!!

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Thanks, both of you.

From the info you've given me I've already re-worked my idea's completely.

I was thinking too big to start, a bit too enthusiastic.


The cement-bucket-anvil sounds like a fine idea to me, what would you recommend I use as the actual face of the anvil?


As for coal, I'm looking into where to get some, any suggestions?


Keeping to coals heated, is an electric blower really necessary?



Lastly Doug, you said you use vegetable oil for quenching, does that actually work well?

Edited by Leon W. Ham

-Upon the plains of hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions, whom when on the dawn of victory paused to rest, and there resting died-

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For and anvil face to stick in a bucket of concrete try looking for old sledge hammers at flea markets and garage sales.


As for coal I think your best bet would be to find a local group and see where they get it. Sometimes they buy in bulk and sell at cost to members. Of course natural chunk charcoal will also work and if neighbors are close doesn't tend to bother them as much (if any). I usually make my own but have used Cowboy brand and one other brand (sorry the name escaped me) to good results. I tried Kingsford natural charcoal and found it to be full of biting fireflies (AKA forge fleas).


An electric blower isn't necessary but some way to provide air to the fire is. Bellows work and can be homemade, a hand crank blower works if you can lay your hands on one, an old hair drier works. Iforgeiron.com has a blueprints section with some plans for solid fuel forges. Coal requires more air then charcoal.


And I find vegetable oil to work just fine.



Having watched government for some time, it has become obvious that our government is no longer for the people. If the current trend continues, it won't be long untill armed rebellion is required.

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Ya, I know about planning too big, matter of fact I got the T-shirt to prove it :lol: .


Round 2:


Forging with coal can be done but be sure that you have low sulfur coal or you can contaminate your steel. Also, no one actually forges with coal. It has to be turned into coke first. You could just start out with coke but lump charcoal is more readily available and easier to tend. It has also been used a lot longer than burning rocks,


A hand cranked or eletric blower is a must for any solid fuel forge. The air has to be delivered to the bottom of the fire. This is what increases the temperatur of the fire; it increased the rate of reaction in the combustion of the fuel. It's a bit counter intuitive, but the bottom of a fire in a solid fuel forge is the richest in oxygen, then you have a neutral middle layer, and the top layer is oxygen poor within it's mass. Oxygen promotes scaling, which is something that is nice to avoid. You don't heat steel on top of burning solid fuel. It has to be within the burning mass.


Get good files for shaping the blade. Nicholson Magicut files are great for hogging off steel. You might want to get some second and smooth cut files also. Small needle files are useful for making small holes, such as tang hole and slots in guards. Double cut bastard files are good too if you stick with a good brand. A file card is a must. You will need to clean the filing out of the teeth of the files about every 20-30 strokes or you'll scratch the heck out of your work. You will probably want to get some pillar files to cut plunge lines. These files are single or double cut on the faces and smooth on the sides which are parallel.


Sand paper and/or polishing stones can be used for finishing the surface of the blades. A buffing wheel on a hand drill is useful for buffing, if you want to do it. A regular vice and something for a blade vice is pretty much essential too.


Again let me recommend that you do your homework before you get anything. A little reading ahead of time can save a lot of headaches later. If some of the terms that I have used seem like Greek to you, they won't be after you do a little reading. Google something like "knife making supplies" and check out some of the sites. Several have some great tutorials. There are probably some available here. Copy them to your hard drive and back them up on a disc to save them. That way you don't have to try to remember where that site was, and if the site goes down, you'll still have the tutorial.


Doug Lester

HELP...I'm a twenty year old trapped in the body of an old man!!!

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Thanks, all of this advice is seriously helpful.

I am eventually going to buy a book or three, but for now I'm going to start simple and work at my own pace.

Before I do anything along the lines of forging however, I'm going to start building a nice little workshop out behind my fathers house, can't wait to post up some pictures of that.


As for coal, I've decided I'll probably go with some pre-coked coal, as I don't think I can really coke it myself.

I just thought tonight, how do you guys recommend lighting my coal? Should I just go with some lighting fluid as if I were using charcoal?


I have my forge mostly planned out in my head, one I saw when doing a bit of browsing yesterday.

It's going to be a relatively simple stand with 2 layers of firebricks, the top layer missing a brick in the center as a fire bowl. (do I have to worry about the bricks sucking up heat if I do it this way?)

I'm going to cut a hole in the side of the lower brick to insert a bellows tip.

It doesn't sound like much the way I'm explaining this, but I've thought it through and I think it's going to work well.


I'm going to have a workbench for all of my cold iron work, such as making my tang holes, so it'll be sure to have vices. You had said something about a vice for blades, what exactly is the difference from a normal vice?


Lastly, I'm trying to avoid anything electric in my workshed for numerous reasons.

Therefor I'm hoping I can find a manual hand drill. Will this be hard to locate?


Thanks again for all your help guys, my hobby is really falling in to place thanks to you.

-Upon the plains of hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions, whom when on the dawn of victory paused to rest, and there resting died-

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Location is everything, do you live in a city or the country? New York or Alabama? In Alabama you can go get big stumps about anywhere, work outside year round, Get all your gear second hand at any flea market pretty cheep. In cities its a little bit different, climate matters much though if you need a indoor work space.



If I had any advice it would be go cheaply into it. Save your money for good steel to hammer on, maybe get a nice Japanese style hammer or start with a good set of tongs but stay clear of the fancy stuff like machines till you need it for sure. A decent vice mounted on a stump, A couple files, A ground forge, a piece of railroad track standing up buried into the ground for a anvil, some real basic gear, thats the way to start. Don't worry, you can spend as much money as you want to later on machines.

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There are websites online for blacksmiths that answer a lot of your questions, it just will take some time to explore them fully. I suggest this site: IForgeIron, they even have several tutorials on how to start a fire. Just look under "Blueprints" at the top of the page. Other members here have given you some very good advice, particularly, about finding a local ABANA chapter. I am sure most smiths in your area would be happy to show you anything you wanted to know about the forging process. Good luck and don't forget it's the journey that matters.



“All work is empty save when there is love, for work is love made visible.” Kahlil Gibran

"It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them." - Alfred Adler

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Leon, have you checked out the plans for the Fogg style forge? They are on Don Fogg's site.


I spent a day in Vermont, learning from J. Arthur Loose. At the time, he was teaching bladesmithing for an extremely reasonable rate for the amount you can learn. I highly recommend contacting him or another smith in your area to try to take a few lessons from.


Have you checked out the book by Wayne Goddard "$50 Dollar knife shop" ? It is a goldmine of ideas, especially for the person without a huge budget.


Back to the Fogg forge, it is easy to build following the instructions and mine works very well. You might consider building a design that already known to work, rather than experiment with designing a forge and have something not work. Building the Fogg forge is very valuable experience and will give you a solid understanding of how a forge should run (assuming you don't have any experience).


Alternately, you can google "one brick forge" and find out how to make a small forge for around $40. I got started that way, and it works well, just limited in terms of size blades you can make.

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Thanks for the tips Norris, James.

Unfortunately Norris, at least with my searching, there are no ABANA chapters in Maine. I may have just missed it.

Also I did a search on iforgeiron.com for smith across america, and either there were none posted on that map, or the closest one is in Massachusetts, which is at least 2-3 hours away from me (actually just located a chapter in Maine, but it's of equal distance). Sure, there are horse-smiths all over this state, which I COULD learn from, but I just don't want to search all over the place for one only to find out he thinks my smithing idea is moronic. (This state is FULL of old close-minded people, who like everyone to mind their own business.)

Sadly, the distance I'd have to travel for real teaching is out of the question, I've got to work full time to support my kid and what-such.


James, I searched dfoggknives.com, which I'm assuming is Don Foggs site you referred to, and was unable to locate pictures of his forge.

If you could give me a direct link that would be awesome.

I have yet to do any book reading, but so far I have done quite alot of internet studies. No worries, I'm not jumping into my forge face first, so to speak.

The forge shown on this website is my inspiration http://www.cashenblades.com/Info/Coal/Coal.htm

Mine will be nearly the same, only lacking the centrifugal blower, to be replaced by a bellows, likely to be located where the rotating tuyere is.

Also going to have two layers of bricks to make certain I'm not burning through what will most likely be a wooden surface, or thin metal at best. A mix of both most likely.


AH, questions before I lose myself in my fantasies. First, will a simple hood vent above my coal-fire be acceptable, (assuming there is no wind blowing through my workshop) or will I most likely be required to have metal surrounding my fire to prevent the smoke from going everywhere?


Second, in all of the videos, pictures, and readings I've come across, none of them mention why their steel is already shaped the way they need it, for lack of a better structured question.

What I mean is, if I wished to forge a sword for example, what are the odds that I'm going to have a nice steel rod lying around?

This is of course assuming I can't find good smithing steel already in the shape I need it to be.

In essence, what I'm saying is that with all the hopefully free steel I'm going to have from god knows where, being all these odd shapes, how am I to get them to a proper state at which they can be worked? I don't think I'll be getting my hands on a smelter any time soon, nor do I wish to.


Once again, especially for reading my LONG posts, thank you guys for all your help. I feel I nearly have all the information I need to get started, and even with books aside, I'd like this to be my own learning experience anyway, rather than learning someone elses way of doing things.

I know this is going to be the hardest way of starting out, but I feel it will also be the most rewarding in many ways.

In any case, thank you all.


EDIT- Forgot to ask, am I going to need both regular coal AND coke? If so I can't really understand why, as I'd prefer to just by some coal, pre-coked.

Edited by Leon W. Ham

-Upon the plains of hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions, whom when on the dawn of victory paused to rest, and there resting died-

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EDIT- Forgot to ask, am I going to need both regular coal AND coke?


Coke is what you get when you burn all of the impurities out of coal. It is synonymous with burning wood to make charcoal, in both cases what is left (coke or charcoal) is almost pure carbon. The carbon is the fuel that the smith burns to heat his metal, it doesn't matter if it is in the form of coke or charcoal. The big difference is in the density of the fuel, it will take approximately ten times the volume of charcoal to equal the amount of carbon in coke. Because of this, wood is usually converted into charcoal in a separate process. Coal, on the other hand, is turned into coke right in the blacksmiths forge. When he starts a coal fire a large amount of smoke is produced at the beginning, this is known as "coking up." After about twenty minutes or so the fire will start to burn a lot more cleanly, at this point the coal in the center of the fire has converted to coke and the smith is ready to work. As he works he will add more coal around the edges of the fire and it will coke up there, before being raked into the center to replace the burned up fuel. The steelmaking industry in the US at one time used coke to heat the ores in the steelmaking process. They used such large quantities of coke that it was cheaper to convert coal to coke at the mine before transporting it to the steelmill. Also, if they had burned the coal and converted it to coke during the steelmaking process some of the chemicals released by the burning coal (sulfer for example) could react with the molten metal and contaminate the alloy. Today it is uncommon to find coke for sale. Some people believe that metal forged in a coal/coke fire can absorb sulfur (to the detriment of the steel) and that this is not a suitable fuel for tools like knives. I think this is a myth and not something to really worry about. I only mentioned it in case somebody decided to give you some advice.


Some links for you:

Sam Salvatis Forge

Marcos Forge

Ken Kelleys Forge

Don Fogg Propane Forge Page

Don Fogg Charcoal Forge

How to start a coal fire Jr. Strasil

How to build a coal fire Glen Conner

Side draft forge

Bellows construction

55g drum forge

Charcoal Making

Wheel forge

Anatomy of a Flu

“All work is empty save when there is love, for work is love made visible.” Kahlil Gibran

"It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them." - Alfred Adler

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Ah, some of those links are JUST what I needed, and thank you for clarifying the coal to coke process for me. I believe that was explained to me in a different way and that is where most of my confusion came from, but I can now see the similarities in what you are saying.

I've got some homework now.


-Upon the plains of hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions, whom when on the dawn of victory paused to rest, and there resting died-

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Round 3


I am not a big fan of recycled steel for knifemaking. I think that it makes heat treating more difficult if you don't know what you're starting with. You might want to go to www.elliscustomknifeworks.com and click on the steel for damascus and knife making. That will take you to Kelly Cupples site. His selection of knife steel is limited as to size and type but if you buy over $50 he will ship at no additional charge. Some people don't like them, but I have had good fortune with Admiral Steel. Their carbon steels are well priced and most of their steels suitable for forging can be purchased in 5' lengths. Of course you will have to pay shipping from the Chicago area to Maine.


If you are determined to use mystery metal or you have no other choice, do not purchase large volumes of it until you have a chance to test it. Of course, if it's free, you can't argue with the price. Cut off a small piece and heat it until it will no longer attract a magnet, that should be around bright red or orange depending on the steel and the ambient light conditions, then quench it in warm oil. However, do test with a magnet, don't go just by the color. If a file will bite into it in the hardened state it does not have enough carbon to make a good blade. Also avoid railroad spikes. A lot of people do use them but they are only about 0.3-0.4% carbon (0.5% is minimal and 0.6% would be better, depending on the intended use) and usually have a lot, relatively speaking, of copper in them. The copper makes them though, which means everything to the railroads and the NTSB, at the expence of wear resistance (read edge holding ability) which means nothing to the funtion of railroad spikes. You might also try recycling auto suspention springs which are usually something like 5160 or go to a lawn mower shop and see if they have any worn out mower blades they might let you have. They're usually 1095. If you do want to try high carbon railroad spikes for knife making, test the blade after you quench it with a file and if the file cuts no more than just slightly without really digging in then you might try the blade as quenched. I doubt that the blade will have enough carbon in it to worry about the edge chipping out if it's not tempered.


Doug Lester

Edited by Doug Lester

HELP...I'm a twenty year old trapped in the body of an old man!!!

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