Purgatory Iron Works
April 22, 2008 11:00 PM   Subscribe

The folks at Purgatory Iron Works are making a series of 10-minute how-to videos for beginning blacksmiths. Current introductory topics include anvils, building a forge (part 2), and making charcoal (part 2); if there are topics you'd particularly like to see, the host is taking requests.
posted by Upton O'Good (18 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Can I has katana-making videoz plz? A la Japan Steel. Or Hattori Hanz┼Ź.
posted by WalterMitty at 11:41 PM on April 22, 2008

This looks cool. I'll look at it in more depth tomorrow. Thanks.
posted by homunculus at 11:52 PM on April 22, 2008

This is on the very periphery of my interests, in the catagorey of 'wow I like to watch but since I'll never own a forge that's as far as it'll go'....thanks for the post!
posted by cosmonik at 12:07 AM on April 23, 2008

Interesting, and I'll watch as soon as I get home. For those who want to start their own industrial revolution, there is also Dave Gingery's Make your own metalworking shop from scrap.
posted by Harald74 at 2:00 AM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

I have 3 or 4 of the Gingery books and have started making a lathe, but it isn't coming along very quickly. I think he's been superseded by other methods that get to a similar endpoint more quickly. Also, mini-lathes and mills are cheaper than they used to be, though saving money isn't the entire point of building your own.
posted by DU at 4:46 AM on April 23, 2008

This is an excellent idea and makes me want to really piss off my wife by buying an anvil and building a forge in my shed.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:21 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Finally, a DIY guide to my fallback post-apocalypse profession (after brewing), Thanks!
posted by mollweide at 7:10 AM on April 23, 2008

When I used to make knives, I had to learn some basic blacksmithing, and it's a really neat feeling to start with a hunk of useless scrap, and through sweat and effort, end up with something you can be proud of and show off to people.

I would strongly encourage anyone to try it at least once.
posted by quin at 8:14 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I got to use an honest-to-godot coal forge, hammer and anvil once.

It was a small shack with the forge in it, a half-circle of anvils surrounding that and various and sundry hammers, tongs and pliers hanging from pegs on the wall. Our "assignment" was to make a very simple S-hook for hanging...things. To be clear, this is about the most trivial task you can think of. The smith went over what we'd be doing about three times, like we were dumb, incoherent highschool students with the collective attention span of a goldfish.

Which, all things considered, was probably optimistic. First you take a bar stock of iron about 2' long by a half-inch square. You stick it in the forge like so until it gets just past red into orange, like this. Then you pull it out, put it on the anvil and take your hammer and carefully strike down and out like this to draw the end of the bar out and make it thinner. When the metal cools to a dull-red you have to put it back in the forge and start again.

And sure enough, that's what we did. But that's not two percent of what happened.

First of all the forge is hot. The room containing the forge is hot. Not summer-day, I need some lemonade hot either, more like could someone turn the broiler off please hot. And you're wearing a leather apron, known for its ability to keep the body cool. The sweat pours off you like that scene from Airplane.

You bring your stick of metal to the forge and bring it up to temperature. Once that sucker starts glowing dull red you're instantly eight years old again. By the time it gets to the bright orange forging temperature you've regressed to staring at it and saying insightful, poetic things like "that is so cool." Finally you take it in tongs and bring it over to your anvil. You lift the hammer, which because you're a scrawny little bitch takes effort, and bring it down on the metal just like you were shown, except awkwardly.

And the iron bar, the fundamental building block of modern society, the bones of the earth, bends. I don't have another way of describing it besides spiritual. I don't know if it's the simplicity of the task, the difficulty of actually doing it (that hammer is fucking heavy) the amazement that you're using fire to move metal or just the heat exhaustion but I have rarely felt as alive as I did beating on that little bit of metal.

The simple S-hook took us five hours. None of us could lift our arms at the end, but we didnt want to stop. It was amazing.
posted by Skorgu at 8:16 AM on April 23, 2008 [11 favorites]

This is wonderful.

My best friend, who has been involved in various flavors of SCA amusement for nigh unto decades, took a job one summer working at a historical park, and developed a deep and abiding interest in metalworking. So he decided to build his own backyard forge, in Maryland.

Cut to a visit from me and my wife one year, the same year he finally achieved his intended vision of the backyard forge. It's late fall (November), the leaves are down, it's freezing outside, and he says "bundle up, we're going to go have some fun". So out we go into the backyard.

There is a giant stump in the backyard. It has a genuine no-shit piece of railroad track nailed to it. It is a deeply impressive thing, like found art on steroids. He says "this is my redneck anvil". He starts pulling things out of his basement. Hammers. BIG hammers. Buckets. Lengths of laundry ventilation hose. A fan. All sorts of chunks and lengths of waste steel. And, last but not least, tongs that he has forged himself in the backyard on his redneck anvil, that actually work.

This is like the apotheosis of every single dream you have when you're a kid, when you just know you're going to build a working airplane from the scrap lumber in your garage, only when you built the "working airplane", it never turned out the right way, and was too heavy, which you discovered when you drove it off the roof and found that gravity is often more powerful than ambition. When that happens, you don't exactly lose the total conviction that you can make something amazing out of nothing, but it takes a denting.

The tongs reaffirm that conviction, in every way. They actually work. He made them. HE MADE THEM AND THEY ACTUALLY WORK. I immediately desire, more than anything in the world, to make something of metal. Anything. If Catherine Zeta-Jones were to walk up at this moment, take off her clothes, and say to me "take me, I am entirely yours," I would look at her and say "I'm sorry, but I'll have to call you back after the AWESOME," because I am beside myself.

I remain outwardly calm, but inside I am 11 years old and entirely willing to believe in magic.

Brian starts connecting things and explaining what he's doing and how it works, and I don't catch more than half of it, but his backyard forge makes this incredible sound when it starts up, like an SR-71 taking off, and he says "okay, we've got a few minutes here" and starts showing me some of the tools and suchlike that he's made out of the steel in front of us. Not just tongs but hammers and rudimentary locks and brackets and recognizable flowers.

The forge is ready. Brian sticks some steel into the maw of the vacuum-cleaner-with-an-attitude he's built, and pulls out some gloves that make the ones I used to use as a firefighter look like underachievers. He picks up a hammer that looks like it's been around since the American Revolution.

He pulls out the length of steel he's been heating. It is, literally, glowing. I can feel the heat from it on my face from a few feet away. He lays it on the redneck anvil, and brings the hammer down upon it, and sparks fly. The sound echoes in the quiet neighborhood. It is utterly primal, and, with the sparks and the banging and the general incredibleness, it's like being in a commercial for the Marines. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. KRANG.

He says "that's how you know it's cooled off", and sticks it back in the forge. He talks a little about the history of metalworking and, elegantly, draws a line from antiquity to us. He's Vulcan, and Mr. Wizard, and every awesome teacher you've ever had. I want to be him when I grow up.

He peers at the forge, and says "you get the basic idea, so what should we make?" In the moment, I decide that I'm going to make an "M", for my wife. And I get to hold the steel, feeling its amazing heat go right through the giant glove, and hammer, and gradually, something that started as a factory-punched length of steel gets blackened and turned and molded and reworked, hammer marks all over it, thinned out, stretched and manipulated. After a couple of hours, I have made an "M". It is recognizable as such. We quench it, and steam envelops us. We stink of sweat and fire and exertion and we are steaming in the cold.

It is one of the happiest moments of my life.

Right now, from where I'm sitting, I can see the "M", sitting on my wife's dresser. It's a terrifically ugly thing, owing more to arts-and-crafts pottery than any elegance in metalworking. But, by God, I made it. Every hammer blow. And when I look at it, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment: in a tiny way, I took metal and made it do my bidding.

This is best friendship, I say to people. This. And I value it more than I can possibly convey in words. Lucky? You're damn right. I have the best best friend in the world.
posted by scrump at 8:30 AM on April 23, 2008 [75 favorites]

"I'm sorry, but I'll have to call you back after the AWESOME,"

That's is a damn close to perfect description.

posted by quin at 8:36 AM on April 23, 2008

that's is
posted by quin at 8:37 AM on April 23, 2008

Finally, a DIY guide to my fallback post-apocalypse profession (after brewing), Thanks!

Be a little careful there; Hephaetus and Vulcan are almost universally depicted as lame, and there are claims to the effect that this was a reflection of a historical practice of maiming blacksmiths because they were so valuable rulers wanted to be certain they wouldn't run off to greener pastures.
posted by jamjam at 9:34 AM on April 23, 2008

Hephaetus and Vulcan are almost universally depicted as lame

This would make a good post on it's own, though Hephaestus and Vulcan aren't 100% independent variables so it would need more proof than just them.
posted by DU at 10:02 AM on April 23, 2008

Weyland/Volund would also count, for starters.
posted by casarkos at 10:10 AM on April 23, 2008

Thanks for posting this...
posted by drezdn at 3:35 PM on April 23, 2008

Scrum really hit the nail on the head, as it were.

I'm a part-time blacksmith, and I have to say it's one of the most fun things I've ever done.

You can spend less if you scrounge, but a basic set-up is a maybe few hundred dollars if you get a harbor freight 110# anvil, a few hammers and two or three sets of tongs and a coal forge.

If anyone is interested in blacksmithing you should check out the Artist-Blacksmith Association of North America (ABANA www.abana.org). There are chapters in every state. I think all of them have yearly meetings, too. Also, the Society for Creative Anachronism (sca.org) has blacksmiths and metalworkers of various types. It's kind of an odd hobby, and there aren't a lot of people blacksmithing, but its a great group of people and a lot of fun. There are all sorts of people into ijt -- from rich to poor, artists to engineers. Blacksmiths made almost all the tools the other crafts and trades used, so there are specialty blacksmiths of all sorts -- Civil War, cowboy, nautical/age of sail, roman, middle age, locksmiths, cutlers, tinsmiths, etc...
posted by webnrrd2k at 4:29 PM on April 23, 2008

Everything about this is awesome.
posted by penduluum at 10:02 PM on April 23, 2008

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