Forged in Fire: How to Start Blacksmithing

A blacksmith heating metal.

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Blacksmithing is the process of fabricating metal objects through forging. The term translates to black metal skilled worker. Black metal refers to iron, which develops a dark fire stain when heated. It’s how people visually distinguish iron from yellowish gold, reddish brown copper and grayish silver, tin, mercury and lead — the other few known metals in the past.

Blacksmiths have been around since the 15th century B.C. These artisans are less popular than they used to be. Still, being a smithy in this day and age can be fulfilling and rewarding. Discover how to start blacksmithing and determine whether it’s worth your while.

Is Blacksmithing a Dying Trade?

Blacksmithing is a dying trade — but not dead. The Industrial Revolution was a significant blow to the profession. Machines began handling ironwork to mass-manufacture metal products, reducing the role of blacksmiths in the community.

Modern-day blacksmiths exist. Most work in machinery, transportation equipment, primary metal and fabricated metal product manufacturing industries. Shows like Forged in Fire, Milwaukee Blacksmith and The Forge have revitalized the public’s interest in the trade.

Do Blacksmiths Make Money?

Modern-day blacksmiths make money as employees and self-employed professionals.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes industrial smithies as metal and plastic machine workers — such as foundry mold and core makers, forging machine setters and pourers and casters. Their median annual wages ranged from $60,800 to $37,050 in 2022.

Moreover, artisanal blacksmiths work for businesses that sell custom metal products, including estate gates, window grilles, fire escapes, stair railings, candelabras and sculptures.

On the other hand, craft smithies are usually hobbyists who forge metal for fun. More experienced ones sell their creations and live off commissions. Farriers — horseshoe makers — are also self-employed.

A farrier creating a horseshoe.

What Are the Basic Blacksmithing Skills?

Bending, drawing, upsetting, shrinking and punching are the basic blacksmithing skills.

  • Bending. It involves manipulating the shape of a piece. You can do it by strategically heating metal sections in the forge, holding down on the anvil horn, and striking it with a hammer until it reaches your desired curve.
  • Drawing. It’s the ability to make the material longer and thinner — uniformly or not. You can achieve this by hammering its both sides on the anvil to extend its length.
  • Upsetting. It’s about making a metal bar thicker, shorter and narrower — the opposite of drawing.
  • Shrinking. It’s the process of compressing metal between the anvil’s flat surface and the hammer’s flat head.
  • Punching. It’s how you make holes in hot metal. It involves softly hammering a punching tool to the intended spot until there’s resistance from the anvil.

Once you learn the fundamentals, you can increase your mastery of blacksmithing by learning other essential techniques to carry out advanced processes. These include forge welding, hitting, cutting, quenching, shaping, tapering, dishing and collaring.

Can You Be a Blacksmith Without a Degree?

Yes, you can be a blacksmith without a degree. You can learn on the job or self-study through free resources. Still, going to school and majoring in metal fabrication, ironworking, welding, industrial technology or applied sciences can give you a leg up in mastering this trade.

How to Start Blacksmithing

Once you learn how to start blacksmithing, you’ll see how easy it is to get started. The most crucial part is familiarizing yourself with the craft. This way, you can debunk any misconceptions and determine how worthwhile it is as a career. Find out what tools and supplies you need and where to source them. Check how much space you need to ply your trade and any permits you must secure to build your workshop.

Once you’re ready to commit to it, follow these steps.

Find a Mentor

Mentorship can be instrumental in streamlining your journey to blacksmithing. An experienced and honest adviser can point you in the right direction, help you set realistic goals, and hold you accountable. Being a mentor can be an honor and a massive ask. Be ready to match your guru’s schedule to make mentorship work.

Attend an Introductory Class

An hour of a blacksmithing 101 class can be worth more than hundreds of hours of YouTube videos. It can teach you the ins and outs of starting a fire in a forge, metallurgy rudiments, safe and effective hammering techniques, workshop construction and more. A structured learning environment will help you grasp new concepts and get answers to pressing questions quickly.

Invest in Proper Equipment

Smithies are only as competent as their tools. Acquire the basics — the forge, hammers, anvil, vises and tongs — and deepen your arsenal over time. As your blacksmithing chops improve, you can create additional items — like chisels, slitters and center punches — to expand your toolset.

Buying everything you need can set you back four figures. However, you can purchase used items to save money.

Set Up Your Forge

Decide on your forge fuel. The most common options are coal and propane. Each has pros and cons, but the most logical choice is the one you can locally source to minimize expenses and replenish your supply when needed.

A blacksmith smelting metal in the forge.

Regarding the actual forge, you can buy a plug-and-play model or build one from scratch. Choosing the latter comes with more risks since one vital design error renders the unit extra hazardous.

Apply What You Learn

Keep practicing until you hone your basic skills. Trust the process and tackle more complicated projects — such as Damascus steel blades and Acanthus leaves — only when you’re technically proficient enough to pull it off without injuring yourself.

A blacksmith creating a hook.

Producing simple but flawless creations — like bottle openers, hooks and tongs — is a terrific confidence booster.

Complete Advanced Courses

After mastering the basics, learn techniques to work more efficiently.
Enhancing your hammer control and forging prowess is the key to crafting more intricate designs while spending fewer resources.

Build Your Network

Use the blacksmithing community to advance your knowledge of the craft, discover new career opportunities, and find clients. Attending conferences and joining local smithy associations can get your foot in the door. Share best practices with fellow blacksmiths online and strive to be a reliable contributor to the hive mind.

The Heat Is On

Learning how to start blacksmithing is exciting, but your enthusiasm may die quickly when progress is slow. Still, forget ahead! It can be a lucrative career at best and a fun hobby at worst. You need an iron will to succeed in this trade, so be patient and never stop learning.

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