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It is by forging that one becomes a blacksmith. The anvil is like the philosopher's stone, it transforms the raw material into noble metal when the hammer makes it sing. Visit Vulcain with a master ringer!

Ironwork: tips from a blacksmith

Practical tip

  • Make a habit of straightening the metal you are working on before reheating it on the forge.
  • Leaving the forge, the surface of the metal has a crust: calamine. Scratch it with the hammer tip to remove it before beating the iron.
  • In the case of a coal forge, do not push the iron diagonally into the hearth crucible, but flat to obtain a uniform temperature.
  • In a violent shock between two steel tools, one will break.
  • Always insert a flat iron between the anvil and the piece of metal that you want to cut with the slicing hammer.
  • To protect a wrought iron from rust, heat the room slightly and rub it with beeswax on a cloth.
  • Think of safety by equipping you with leather gloves and apron, glasses and earmuffs. Even though blacksmiths are reluctant to wear a helmet that hinders their perception of metal work.

The attraction for wrought iron and ironwork has never been extinguished, even if the echo of work at the anvil disappears in our countryside, where the blacksmith and the Angelus yesterday punctuated the life of the village. In furniture, as well as in decoration but also in protection, the wrought iron and the ironwork of art belong to our daily life.
Two or three forays into Sunday flea markets are enough to bring together the tools needed to learn forging. And to begin with, some tips from a "pro" who has been crowned "Meilleur Ouvrier de France".

Raw materials

Iron (flat, round, square) can be bought from metal traders. You will find the list in the yellow pages of the directory. Rates vary considerably depending on the profile. As an indication, for complete lengths of 6 m, count for a linear meter (TTC): flat iron 30 x 4 mm, 1.43 euros; square of 16 x 16 mm, 2.97 euros; round 16 mm, 2.12 euros.
At a lower price, you can also find interesting falls of new metal in the dumpster of mechanical workshops and boiler companies. Lastly, do not neglect the sites of metal salvagers and scrap dealers, and do not hesitate to discuss prices.

Gas or coal?

For the do-it-yourselfer's workshop, the traditional "campaign" forge is not the best choice. Charged with coal, it requires space and a specific installation (chimney). Easier to implement, easily transportable, without emissions of smoke or gas, small propane gas forges are an interesting and much more practical solution for occasional work in a corner workshop.
Whatever the mode of heating selected, the forge will be flanked by a bucket always full of water. In this one, a "mouillette", a simple piece of fabric attached to the end of a metal rod, plays an important role. In the case of a coal forge, it is used to wet the fuel around the fireplace to circumscribe a small crater where the heat is at its maximum.
The wet cleaner can also cool the metal near the incandescent area to hammer on the anvil. The risk of deformation is thus limited.

The anvil

With the forge, the anvil is the indispensable tool for hot work of metals. Its weight varies according to the use that one makes of it: not less than 120 kg for a professional, while a small anvil of 35 kg will be sufficient for an amateur. The anvil is composed of three parts: a central table as flat as possible, and two bigornes (one at each end): a round horn for the work of rings and volutes, and a square section for folding.
The holes on the table of the anvil are intended to receive the foot of two accessories, a trench to cut the metal and a small locksmith's anvil, the periwinkle, to form the roundings of small diameters.
The anvil is placed on a block of hardwood so that the table is about 75 cm high. Four crampons secure it firmly to its support. By sliding a thick cork washer under each foot of the anvil, you will get a better rebound under the hammer. The anvil should "ring" clear as a bell.

Basic tools

The rack of the blacksmith is full of pliers, hammers, pincers, claws... In practice, the amateur can start his range with a selection of tools that he will complete as he learns. Among the basic essentials include: a hacksaw, a series of files (flat, half-round, round, third-point), a chisel (to cut the metal, split nuts, reduce thickness), a chisel with wide blade (used for chiseling narrow grooves and mid-iron joints), a punch to mark the center of the holes to be drilled, claws for bending round flat or square irons, hammers (riveting hammers). 650 to 850 g for work at the vice, from 1,250 g to 1,500 g for forging), shears to cope with, tongs with nozzles adapted for different metal profiles (flat, square, round...).

Colors

When heated, the iron goes through several colors ranging from dark red to bright white. The color changes provide precise information on the state of the metal. At 800°, it is dark red. No need to work at this temperature, it is more tiring and the iron becomes brittle. At 900°, the color turns to cherry red, but it is around 1000°, when it is light cherry red, that the iron lends itself to forging under the best conditions.
However, for some operations that require to rough the metal (bend a very sharp angle, taper a bar, split chisel or open an eye to the punch), it must force the heat to quickly reach a temperature of 1,100 to 1,200°, which is recognizable in the red-white shade. At the level above (1300°), the metal is close to its melting point. He is then dazzling white and he projects sparks. It is at this temperature that it is possible to weld two pieces together, but this is hardly practiced since the generalization of the arc welding, simpler in its execution.

repress

This is one of the basic operations of wrought iron art. It consists in increasing the section of a bar by "packing" in the direction of the length. The true kernels of volute primer are done this way. The iron must be heated very short (4 to 5 cm) at high temperature, knowing that it represses the most at the place where the heat is maximum. Hence the importance of concentrating the heating in this precise place. If the bar is long, lay it on the table of the anvil, and, holding it with one hand, strike at the end with the hammer. Hold the shorter bars upright, with the incandescent end on the anvil, and apply vigorous hammer blows to the opposite end.
Pushback is a very physical exercise. Also, to avoid unnecessary fatigue, do not delay to put the iron in the fire as soon as the color of the metal darkens.

To flourish an iron

This is one of the great classics of wrought iron. It consists of flaring a fan iron, crushing it by hammering. A style that lends itself particularly well to rustic environments with a detail that makes the difference: these are genuine pieces, not industrial products released from the press.
We begin by laying the iron flat on the birth of the anvil horn. The metal is hammered regularly, always from the back to the front. The goal is to thin it symmetrically in thickness and balance the flare in width. When this operation took shape, the finish is done flat on the table of the anvil.

Forge a tip

The elders held this exercise in high esteem, as the one that best allows you to make the hand and "feel" the material under the hammer. Concrete iron falls are particularly suitable for testing to learn how to direct heat with the hammer.
The tip is sketched on a very short length with a very obtuse angle. At each hammer blow, the bar is turned a quarter of a turn, sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left. These rotations avoid crushing the iron and promote its stretching in length. When the tip has tapered, the tip is stretched flat on the anvil table with hammer blows from the back to the front. This movement moves the heat still stored in the mass of the metal towards the thinnest part, where the cooling is faster.
When the tip has a well square section, it is easy to continue to give it a conical shape. For that, one strikes on the angles, always from the back towards the front, until obtaining an octagonal section. Finally, hammer blows are applied without excessive force on the edges. The bar is turned gently between the fingers until the octagonal section turns into a round section. Two or three well placed hammer blows are then sufficient to center exactly the point in the axis of the bar.

Make a twist

Make a twist

The twist effects are easy to achieve, with flat or square iron. Cut a tube to the length of the twist, with an inside diameter slightly greater than that of the diagonal of the chosen profile. Block the iron in the vice at the place determined for the birth of the twist. Bring the tube to the stop against the vice. Use a "turn-to-left" for the square iron, a vise-grip is enough for the flat iron.

Driving a forge

Driving a forge

The driving of a coal forge is done by playing on the air coming from the turbine, and by organizing the concentration of coal around the home, using the squeegee and the wet wiper.

Hit the end of the bar

Hit the end of the bar

The first stage of repression: the end of the metal bar, heated for a short length, is struck with the hammer, applying the strokes in the alignment of the piece.

Hit the metal

Hit the metal

The bar resting on the angle of the anvil table, the blacksmith strikes the metal flat on all four sides, just behind the bulge. This operation makes it possible to obtain the desired length.

Forge the core of the volute

Forge the core of the volute

The core of the volute is forged on the tip of the anvil horn. This exercise consists in obtaining a perfect rounding on the inner and outer parts of the volute at the approach of the core.

Correct twisting

Correct twisting

The lacrosse movement is well underway. Hammer blows applied alternately on the two songs aim gradually to correct the twisting of the bar brought by the previous operation.

Thin a flat iron

Thin a flat iron

Thinning a flat iron begins with a slight "disgorging" on the end of the horn. The mass of metal remaining the same, the hammer blows carried back and forth are intended to stretch the iron.

Galber the double scrolls

Galber the double scrolls

Once thinned and bent, the metal is placed on a template to take the shape of a volute. It is only held at its end by a forceps. The double volutes are curved on templates, identical or not.

Control the harmony of the roundings

Control the harmony of the roundings

The control is appreciated by the eye, which judges the harmony of the roundings.

Correct the scrolls

Correct the scrolls

On the table of the metal workbench, the volutes are rectified one by one to put them flat by small blows applied with precision.

Machine a chamfer

Machine a chamfer

The scrolls are positioned back to back, on both sides of a square. A vice grip holds them in a flange whose branches are folded down with a hammer. A chamfer is machined at the junction to allow welding.

Form a peak

Form a peak

To form a tip, the metal is stretched by hammering on the anvil table. As with any thin piece, the movement of the hammer is from the back to the front to "push" the heat.

Get a smooth tip

Get a smooth tip

By alternately striking the opposite angles of this square section, we will obtain an octagonal cone, then a smooth tip by printing a rotational movement to the bar with the left hand.

Cut thick metal

Cut thick metal

With help to handle the heavy "hammer in front", it is possible to cut thick metal, more easily hot than cold. An iron plate is interposed between the workpiece and the anvil.

To form a hinge

To form a hinge

The iron was split at the end to form a monumental hinge with a double horn end of the most beautiful effect. The thickness of the metal was retained, the thinner part was worn across the width.


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