Many of you probably think of a smithy as dark, very smoky, with a huge bellows and coal forge, and a burly blacksmith pounding away on an anvil.
That may have been true at one point in time, and it still is in several places, but the modern bladesmith, though still using the same techniques, has slightly different tools. Here’s a list of some of the more essential tools, along with the version of those tools used in the 1800s, and also what I currently use.
Forge, or heating source. Modern smiths normally use propane forges; which is basically a rounded tubular cavity and a torch blowing in from the top or side. The rounded sides swirl the flame and keep it in the forge, and so heats up the steel very quickly.In the 1800’s a coal forge was used. Many modern smiths use coal as well, but most have switched to a propane forge because of the ease and the smell. A coal forge consisted of a type of basin, filled with coal, but with a hole in the bottom for an air source. Through this hole air is pumped which increases the heat of the flame. I myself use a propane forge, which I made from a soup can, plaster of paris, sand, and a propane torch. I’m currently making a bigger one from a paint can.
Anvil: a surface to pound on. The anvil is said to be the only tool a blacksmith cannot make himself. The anvil has not changed in hundreds of years. Normally it is forged out with huge machines, or specially cast the heat treated. I myself have been hunting desperately for a good one. What I use for a substitute currently is an old sledgehammer head. Many smiths who cannot find or are too cheap to buy a commercial one (seriously, a good anvil will average $500-$700) use small sections of railroad track, as they are both hard and strong. Seriously though, any of you who are local, lemme know if you have an anvil your great grandfather left to you or something. *sigh* I wish I lived in the 80’s; according to the movies made then, anvils fell on people regularly.
- Hammer. Like the anvil, this has not changed much at all since the 1800s.I will say though that a common tool used by most of the modern professional (rich) smiths, is a Power
Hammer. I’s basically a huge hydraulic-powered machine that you hold the steel in, while it goes BANGBANGBANGBANG. It’s normally operated by a foot petal. As for actual manual hammers, the most used style of hammer consists of one side the the head flat, and either round, octagon, or square, and the opposite side of the hammer a small protruding ball (as in picture A) or a sort of wedge (B or C). Lucky old me, I got a hammer type C at a flea market a month ago, and just a few days ago managed to get type A that was
hand forged by a blacksmith from an antique shop, for only five bucks! Really these two types of hammer are all that are needed.
- A Grinder. This HAS changed quite a lot from the 1800s. Normally in that time, the bevels (the slope of the blade from the spine to the edge) were done with a
hammer. Because of this, the edges were normally not very straight and were pretty uneven. If grinding were to be done, a grinding wheel would be used (right).
Modern smiths use a motor-powered system, normally a Belt Grinder. A belt grinder is powered by a motor, and pulls an abrasive belt over a series of wheels, sort of like a escalator, albeit an escalator at a couple thousand RPM. Now MY grinder is what I call, “Ingenious” and “redneck”. I use an angle grinder held upright in a vise. Nice and secure, I use a face mask and heavy duty gloves to hold my workpiece. I’m hoping to upgrade once I get the money, but for now, it does the job.
- Tongs. These have not changed practically at all from the 1800s. Because it’s just supposed
to hold things, the quality does not have to be a big factor. Most smiths make their own tongs, so they can specifically fit things to their own preferences. I’m currently working on a pair myself, but until then, I’m using a large pair of pliers. They’re basically the same thing.
So there you have it: The basic tools of a bladesmith. Past, Present, and Me. It does look pretty simple and easy to get these (excepting the anvil AUGH!!), but remember, what makes a good knife is not the tools, it’s the skill and knowledge of the smith. Thanks for reading.