Fundamentals of Blacksmithing

11.22.2019 / Tutorials

By Matthew Parkinson

Download Tutorial

Definitions of terms

Drawing –to make a bar longer and thinner

Upsetting- to make a bar shorter and thicker

Scarf- the pre form shape for a forge weld

Off setting (also called setting down)- forming a shoulder in the bar over the edge of the anvil

There are seven steps in making a hook:

Step One – prepare stock

Step Two – draw a point

Step Three – scroll end

Step Four – bend hook

Step Five – draw point

Step Six – set down decorative end

Step Seven – punch hole

Drawing Out

In blacksmithing jargon the term drawing out means to forge the stock longer and thinner. This is the most basic operation and one that almost every blacksmithing project will use. In this case we will be drawing out a point.

When drawing a point always begin by drawing the shortest point you can and then forging out a longer taper from there.  It is quite easy to make a taper longer but almost impossible to shorten one.

To begin, take a forging heat ( a bright red or orange heat). Standing at a 45 deg. angle to the anvil lay the stock across the narrow width of the center of the anvil. Lift the bar so that only the point of the bar is on the anvil (near the far edge of the anvil). Now strike the end of the bar at the same angle that the bar is held from the anvil.  After two or three blows, rotate the stock 90 deg. and repeat until the point is forged in. To lengthen the taper decrease the angle that you are holding the bar and the angle you are striking at, and work the blows up higher on the bar.

Common problems

  • Bar is bending – Increase hammer angle and strike closer to end of bar, or decrease angle that the bar is held on the anvil.
  • Point not centered – Adjust by changing the angle that the bar is held on anvil and push point over with firm hammer blows.
  • Cross section of point not square- This is caused by not rotating the bar a true 90 Deg. Or it can be caused by hammering one facet at an angle. To correct, forge down the high side on the diamond and then re-forge the point at the correct angle.
  • Cold shut (fish mouth)-  A cold shut is when the metal folds over itself during forging forming a crack. A cold shut that occurs at the very end of the bar is called a fish mouth. To correct, cut out the cold shut and re-forge the point. To prevent a cold shut, do not forge one set of facets too thin before rotating and forging the other two facets.  This can also be caused by errant hammer blows peeling off a small section of metal. Fish mouth is caused by either not striking hard enough for the size stock being worked or the incorrect angle used when hammering.


After tapering the end of the bar, take a forging heat. Then set a small amount of the point off the edge of the anvil and gently tap the point down. Next, reverse the bar and roll the material back onto itself with firm blows of the hammer.  To extend the scroll, take another heat and hang the scroll along with a bit of the bar off the edge of the anvil and tap it down. Then roll it back with firm blows of the hammer.

Common problems

  • Scroll has a flat spot – Support the scroll on the anvil so that the flat spot is up and Down, then strike the top of the scroll with the hammer. then roll the scroll on the anvil and gently even out the curve with the hammer.
  • Scroll out of line- Lay scroll flat on anvil and tap the scroll back in line.

Bending a Hook

After forging the taper, then the scroll one the end of the bar, take a forging heat and quickly cool the scroll in the slack tub (but just the scroll).  Then working over the horn of the anvil, bend the hook shape by hammering on the scroll and working the curve around the horn.

Common problems

  • Mangled scroll – Cool the scroll and control the heat. The harder cold steel will not be damaged by the hammer if the area being bent is hot enough.
  • Bar isn’t bending- Striking on the far side of the horn bends the material down. Striking on the near side bends the stock up.  Striking in the middle of the horn will just dent the material.

Decorative Ends

Most traditional ends on forged ironwork are done basically the same way. A bean end , flame tip, spear, or leaf point  only differ in how the end is prepared before setting down and how the material is moved from there.

For a flame or spear point, a short taper is forged on the end of the bar. Next a forging heat is taken and the bar is set on the anvil so that only the very end is on it (just a little past the end of the taper.) Then the end is set down and the offset material is flattened shaping the end. For greater width a pass with a cross peen is used to push more of the material out to the sides.

Common problems 

  • Not getting a hard line on the offset- when offsetting the stock strike with the face of the hammer half on and half off the anvil. Use a hard blow and press down on the stock with your tong hand to keep it from shifting.
  • Narrow end – for greater width strike the edges at a slight angle and then strike the center to spread the width. Or use a cross peen to move the material to the sides. Then flatten out peen marks with the normal hammer face to finish.


Take a forging heat. Locate the punch where you want the hole and strike a hard blow to the punch to set it. Drive the punch 2/3 of the way through the part and then remove the punch. Cool the punch and flip the part over. Locate the hole by the cooler area that should be visible where the punch was driven in. Center the punch on the cool spot and drive it the rest of the way through. Next place the part (with the punch still in place) over the pritchel  (the round hole) in the anvil and drive out the slug.

Common problems

  • Punch is sticking in the hole – this is caused by the end of the punch mushrooming in the hole. To prevent this, cool the punch more often and use a lube when punching (oil, coal dust, grease, etc). To correct, cool and re-sharpen the punch and try again.
  • Punch is jumping around -A sharp punch is one that has square edges and a flat face; it should not be domed, rounded, or pointed on the end, if the punch is not sharp it will not easily bet set.
  • Misshaped hole – the punch was misaligned. To correct, drive the punch in a bit deeper to drift the hole to shape


Upsetting is the reverse of drawing. That is making the bar shorter and wider.

First chamfer (a chamfer is a beveled edge connecting two surfaces) and square the end of the bar to be upset. This can be done with files, a grinder, or with a hammer. The purpose of the chamfer is to help concentrate the energy in the center of the stock. This allows the stock to expand more evenly and much more easily.  Next take a bright yellow heat. Heat just the end of the bar and no more than 1” or so of the stock. Hold the stock vertically over the anvil and strike straight down onto it with the hot end of the bar. Repeat until the desired thickness is obtained. Correct any bending before continuing.

Forge Welding

Forge welding depends on three things to be successful:

  • A perfectly clean joint (no scale or other contaminates)
  • A totally inert atmosphere
  • A complete contact of the mating surfaces

These three things are put in place via the flux and heat. At welding temps the flux will strip away the oxides on the surface and reveal a clean surface below. The flux will also seal off the joint creating an inert atmosphere.  When struck, the metal will push the flux out of the way and come into perfect contact. This kind of welding is also call solid state welding.

To forge weld a scarf must first be forged on the two sides of the joint. The scarf ensures that the flux will be forced out of the joint and not be trapped in the weld.  Next a heat is taken and the joint is wire brushed until cool (this removes much of the scale giving the flux a helping hand). Then the joint is reheated to a dull red and flux is applied to the joint.  In a CLEAN fire (a coal fire with no clinker) the joint is heated to a bright yellow heat and quickly taken to the anvil. Strike the center of the joint with a good blow to set the weld and then work the joint with firm blows until it is to shape or has cooled down to a red heat. If the weld took the whole joint should cool at the same rate. If there are cool spots, these are areas that the weld did not take. Wire brush and reflux any areas that didn’t take. Take another welding heat, then re-weld any areas that didn’t take and then finish forging the area to shape.

Common problems

  • Weld looks good but fails when forging to shape- this is due to flux trapped in the center of the joint. Use a slightly higher heat and reshape the scarf to allow the flux to escape.
  • Weld will not take- this can be caused by many factors.  Most common is a dirty fire and too much air getting to the joint. Other common causes are not enough heat, too much scale in the joint for the flux to deal with (reflux and try again), not enough heat/ heat did not reach center of joint.


Drifting is shaping or expanding the inside of a hole with a tapered tool called a drift. To drift a hole, heat the section to be drifted to a yellow heat and drive in the drift. Support the back of the hole using the hardie (square hole) on the anvil. Or if available, use one of the holes in a swage block. Drive the drift in about half way from one side then knock the drift out.  Reheat the stock and cool the drift. Drive the drift in the rest of the way from the opposite side to complete.  Use oil or grease on the drift to help keep it cool and to ease the drifting process. If the walls of the hole need to thin much to accommodate the drift stretch the walls first  with a hammert and then use the drift to reshape the hole. If the drift is used to stretch the hole the material will stretch from the thinnest spot and never even out.

Common problems

  • Drift sticking in hole- Hammer lightly on the sides of the bar to loosen the drift.
  • Hole off center – This caused by an uneven amount of material around the hole. Small adjustments can be made by forging the thicker side thinner with the drift in place.

Making a Fire Poker

Begin by bending a 6-7” section over the anvil or in the vice.  Forge this bend into a hard 90 deg corner, then bend the 6- 7” section to form a centered loop over the horn of the anvil. (loop could end up approximately 2” in width.  Cool this side of the bar and heat the other end. Draw a taper about 3” long and down to a 1/8” point (or a little smaller) take another heat higher up and fold the last 4-5” of the bar (including the taper) back onto it’s self. Flux and forge weld the last 1” then draw a short point onto the end or the bar. Take another heat and clamp the point in a vice then bend out the first taper out shape to finish the end of the poker. Twists can be added at this time to decorate the poker this is also useful addition if the point is out of plane with the grip.

The loop on the end of the poker can also be forge welded as shown in previous section.

Blacksmith’s Tongs

Begin with a length of 1/2” square mild steel bar (for larger tongs 5/8”, 3/4”, or 1” bar can be used.). Set down the end for a length of  3/4” or so and draw this to  1/4” thick and 1/2” wide. This section will become the jaws of the tongs. For box jaw tongs, use the cross peen to spread the width for the size stock that the tongs will hold. The width should be the size of the stock to be held and an additional 3/16”-1/4” per side to form the box.  For other jaw shapes, more or less material can be set down and drawn out.

Now turn the stock 90˚ and set it down to 1/4” thick in line with the first offset. This will form the joint of the tongs. Be sure to always turn the stock the same direction. I make it a practice to always turn the stock to the right when making tongs. This ensures that I will have a matched pair rather than a pair or singletons. Now turn the stock 90˚ again (the same direction!) and set down again leaving a 3/4” section for the joint. Forming this Z bend will allow the tongs to close with the reins parallel. Repeat these steps again on another section of bar being sure to rotate the stock the same direction as on the first bar.

Once the second bar is forged, trim the rein ends to about 6” long.. Now draw thee reins out to 10-12”. A long tapper to the reins works better allowing the reins to be springy, giving a more secure hold. Easing the edges of the reins by working the corners down will give a more comfortable grip.

Drill a 1/4” hole in the center of the joint section of one side of the tongs. Use the hole to locate were the hole in the second side should be. Mark and drill the second side.

Now assemble the tongs using a 1/4” rivet (1/4” by  3/4’ should work well). Set the rivet tight. Heat the joint section in the forge and move the tongs back and forth to free them. Quench and continue to move the tongs to completely free the joint and give a smooth movement to the finished tongs. Adjust the tongs to fit what ever stock they will hold, by heating the jaws and inserting a scrap piece of the material in the jaws, then clamping the jaws in a vice and pulling the reins apart to a comfortable grip.

From left to right  Half box jaw, wolf jaw, offset  bolt tongs, bolt tongs,  flat jaw.

Recommended Reading:

Knife making reading

  • Wayne Goddard
    • $50 Knife Shop
    • Wonder of Knife Making
  • Jim Hrisoulas
    • The Master Bladesmith
    • The Complete Bladesmith

Blacksmithing reading

  • The new edge of the anvil  by Jack Andrews (available online as free download)
  • The Complete Modern Blacksmith by Alexander Weygers
  • Professional Smithing by Donald Streeter
  • The art of blacksmithing by Alex Bealer


Machinery Handbook – (Pub.) Industrial Press