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Some questions about the basics of getting started

Posted: Tue Jun 13, 2017 9:01 am
by ZachC
I have been looking around and reading a lot lately but am wondering if others could give some imput on what a few questions I still have.

First: What is the minimal starting equipment?
I have the following list compiled so far
  • Anvil
  • Hammer
  • Forge
  • Fuel for the forge
  • Safety Glasses
  • Welder's Gloves (for heat protection)
  • Metal to work
  • Basic set of punches
  • Cutoff Hardy
  • Basic set of files
  • Square Ruler
  • Chalk
Some nice to haves would be a Post Leg Vice, a bench or hand grinder and a welder (I like oxy/acetylene, but a MIG could work). Is there anything else that would be beneficial for very entry level blacksmithing?

Second: What fuel for the forge?
I haven't really seen anything definitive that indicates one fuel is far superior to another, mostly that it's just preference/cost. But Propane, Natural Gas, Coal, Other? What are the benefits of one over another (heat up time, fuel consumption, rough costs per hour, affect on the metal to be worked)?

Third: Does anyone here actually have a hobby shop setup in a residential area and what is the roughly minimum size of the shop?
I know I have more than enough room for it in my yard, and I've read over the other post that talked about noise/fire ordinances and appeasing neighbors from time to time, but haven't really been able to determine if it's possible. I'm also not sure how big it would need to be and whether it's possible to setup a temporary shed with linchpins to reassemble at a later time. We are likely to be moving in the next 5 years and I don't want to put up a permanent structure at this residence (if I were to put one up).

Fourth: Any other tips or info that could be offered for a beginner outside of going to Guild meetings, classes, events and what not?

Re: Some questions about the basics of getting started

Posted: Wed Jun 14, 2017 10:38 am
by Jim Dunning
In looking through your list my first choice would be to replace the welder's gloves with leather work gloves. While the welder's gloves are the safest (i.e., you can shake them off if needed) they are cumbersome and cause a beginner to have a lose of feeling for their tools and work implements. I prefer a heightened sense of feel and just pay more attention to what I'm doing. The punches, cut-off hardy, files, and square ruler weren't some of the first tools I acquired. As far as a ruler 10 years later I still use an 8 or 12 foot metal rule with a magnet replacing the standard belt hook. The magnet comes in handy to fix the ruler where it's handiest. I'd start with a punch/drift that would allow you to punch a hole and drift it. I'd leave eye punches, etc. until you actually have a need for them. Start off buying what you can afford. If you get really into it later and need better tools, get them then. To this day, I haunt used tool stores and blacksmith gathering's tailgate sales for what I want.

My first welder would be oxy/acetylene because I find I use it much more to heating metal for bending than actual welding. Welding two pieces together I use, in order of preference, my TIG and then my MIG. By the way, do you know how to weld? If not, I'd sign up for some classes at my local community college. When I first started out I was using a MIG like it was a hot glue gun and making a horrible mess of things.

As far a forges go, I stick with propane. Coal has a tremendous learning curve to fire management and if you're not paying strict attention you'll burn up your work because it gets so hot. Propane is more forgiving, I've gotten distracted on numerous occasions only to look back and there was my metal sitting at a yellow heat waiting for me, whereas with coal I've blinked twice and it was "sparkler time" and two hours of work was ruined. As you get better you can always switch to coal if you want to.

My shop is outdoors and the first part was 10x10. As my needs grow, so does the area allotted to it. There was the roughly 6x6 area for spray painting and powder coat painting. There's the 6x6x6 shed for storing tools, welders, hammers, clamps, plasma cutter, etc. There's a stretch of sidewalk about 15' long where I park my forge and sand blasting booth and another area for storing spray paints, cut-off saw, powder paint oven, and so forth. So I'd say start with a 10x10 area but have room for expansion.

I've got a lot of information on these and other subjects on my website:

Jim Dunning

Re: Some questions about the basics of getting started

Posted: Wed Jun 14, 2017 2:53 pm
by ZachC
Thanks Jim! As for the gloves, that makes sense to me, I had just read somewhere about the welder gloves.

I wouldn't say I'm a professional welder, or even a practiced welder, but I do recall what I learned back in a metals class I took during high school. So it might take a few tries to get back into it, but after a couple tries, if I'm not doing well, I'd jump into a class for a refresher.

Also, the punch/drift recommendation is great.

Re: Some questions about the basics of getting started

Posted: Wed Jun 21, 2017 8:55 am
by Martin Pansch
Hi Zach, welcome to the craft.

Jim had a good response, not a lot to add but a few opinions.

Forge fuels: I wrote a somewhat lengthy post about different forge fuels a while ago (though I neglected Induction Forges). See if this link works, if not I'll copy and paste the text: ... f=119&t=11

Gloves: Try not to get in the habit of forging with gloves on, certainly not with the hammer hand. Forge most casual forging gloves can be more of a liability than protection. There are instances, like large forgings, forge welding, etc where they might prove helpful. Other non-forging tasks, like hot rasping or handling sharp cut steel before grinding off the burr, that benefit from having gloves on.

Safety gear: Good to see you list that. Glasses, ear protection, non-melty cloths, gloves as needed. Probably the most essential stuff for any kind of making, at least if you want to continue to do it past your first oops.

Academically, the minimum you need to get started is hammer, anvil, and heat, usually provided by a forge. Philosophically I would put knowledge up there too as that will guide you in deciding what you "need" and what is just "nice to have" among the other tools. With knowledge a lot of tools you can make, some you can get around needing, and the others you'll be better armed to purchase without buyers remorse. Get knowledge by taking classes, reading books, watching demos, asking questions, hanging out with other smiths. Some YouTube videos are good, some not so much.

As far as physical tools on your list that you will want sooner rather than later and can't make yourself is a good leg vise (aka post vise). It is in your "nice to have" list but when I think of the stuff I work on a lot of things would be pretty tough to accomplish without a good leg vise. Twisting, hot rasping, filing, cold chiseling, some shoulder work, etc would be pretty tough to accomplish at all, let alone as well, without a leg vise.

Take care and good luck.


Re: Some questions about the basics of getting started

Posted: Thu Jun 22, 2017 7:03 am
by ZachC
Thanks Martin. The write up on the fuel types was informative.

As for the gloves, I hadn't really planned to wear them on my hammer hand because I know it would give me less grip and control overall, but they would be more used if welding/forge welding, grinding etc.

I put the post vice as a nice to have for now only because I am hoping to spend time getting good at doing more basic things like making tongs and other tools to "fill out the shop". But you do make a good point about filing, perhaps a smaller bench vice would be sufficient for the time being though.

I don't really have plans of ever doing an LARGE work, maybe a decorative 3 step railing or an animal sculpture, but those would be many pieces that I would weld together to complete. Eventually I want to try some bladesmithing too so I'm thinking of planning to have a medium sized forge that's fully open on both sides and just controlling the openings with bricks as needed. A natural gas setup would be nice from a convenience perspective (never run out of fuel) but at the sacrifice of mobility of course.

For a gas forge (propane) what size bottle do you typically use and how many burners? I feel like a 40# bottle isn't going to be enough, but possibly hooking up 2 of those could be. Otherwise I'd probably end up investing in a 100# bottle just so it's somewhat easier to move since we likely won't be staying in our house for the long haul.

Re: Some questions about the basics of getting started

Posted: Thu Jun 22, 2017 8:52 am
by Martin Pansch
A bench vise will do what you need for filing. I wouldn't hammer on steel in one though. Most aren't sturdy enough to take that without breaking. That is what the leg on a leg vise is for, transferring the force to the ground.

The tank size needed for a propane forge is really determined by how hungry the forge is. Others have written about it more in depth but it boils down to the bigger the propane tank volume the more gas you can draw off in a given time without freezing it up. The sweet little one-burner forges Jim Moenck makes I could probably run on a 20-pound tank for a several hours before it started to frost up and slows the flow of gas to the forge. I typically run mine of either a 40# or 100# tank at home. In the colder months the 40# starts to frost up towards the bottom of the tank. Only reason I really use the 100# is that I got it for free and the price per pound of propane is a tiny bit cheaper the larger the tank is, at least where I get it filled.

If you are going to buy a gas forge the manufacturer will likely have recommendations on what size tank to run it off of. For the big multi-burner ones a 100# or ganged smaller tanks are probably necessary.

Good luck.