Spark Test to Identify Metal

Often we find ourselves scrounging metal for projects.  If you are making anything you want to hold an edge you need something with some carbon in it.  For decades the quick test was to grind on it and look at the spark pattern to determine what kind of metal it is.  In the September 1959 issues of Popular Mechanics has one of the best write-ups I’ve seen and it even has some good color pictures.

Learning the properties of various types of iron will really help you in any projects you work on.  Low carbon steel will not harden like high carbon steel, but it is tougher and will not crack as easily.  This is why blacksmiths of times past would weld in a piece of high carbon steel for the edge of an axe.  The high carbon steel would harden and hold an edge while the lower carbon steel in the back would hold up to the stresses on the eye and pole of the axe.

The best way to learn this is to grind know types of metal and learn the spark pattern.  If you can’t do that then the article linked to above gives you a good starting point.

Putting Together A Blacksmith Shop

Back in the early 80’s I spent a lot of time in Metal Shop and one of the things I thoroughly enjoyed heating metal up to red-hot and bashing it with a hammer. Now it is 30 years later and I have assembled the pieces to do blacksmithing again.  The hardest item to find is the anvil which is described as “The only item the Blacksmith cannot make himself”.  All other pieces of a blacksmith shop, such as hammers and tongs and even the forge can be made by the Blacksmith.  I let people know I was looking for an anvil and after a couple of years my father-in-law called and let me know he saw an ad for an anvil, tongs, leg vise, hand crank fan and forge.  It even included 400 lbs of coal.  I hauled this collection of stuff from South Carolina to S.E. Michigan and now I have to figure out how to set it up someplace.

I’ve never had a hand crank blower before and am having trouble figuring this one out.  This one says “Canedy Otto Mfg Co – Chicago Heights Ill USA” on one side and “Royal Western Chief H” on the other.  I am uncertain the last time it was used but the handle turns freely.  It also says something like “Keep filled with Oil” so I have to find out how much and what kind of oil.  I’m going to try the forum at and see if I can get some help.



Blacksmith – Setting Up Shop

This next year I’ll be realizing a long time dream and have a blacksmith shop of my very own. Several years ago my father-in-law found someone selling a complete setup with an anvil, post vice, hand crank blower, a forge table and a collection of tongs plus 400 lbs of coal. However I was starting down the path of building my dream house on 10 acres so I had to put the blacksmith shop on hold. Now that I have the house (mostly) done I can start down the path of building my blacksmith shop. I’ll have to do some thinking about what size to make it and how to arrange things. Do I make it just big enough for blacksmithing or go for something bigger? Will I be staying with solid fuel and thus need to deal with the smoke or will I move over to a natural gas feed from the house? I don’t want to fall into analysis paralysis so I’m thinking of starting with a small structure with sheet metal sides, maybe a skid-able structure like Paul Wheaton is so fond of. Continue reading “Blacksmith – Setting Up Shop”

Blacksmith’s Post Vice – If You See One Buy It

While a post or leg vice is not necessary to get started in blacksmithing it is one of those things that is very nice to have. Further of the blacksmiths tools you need the ones you cannot make yourself are the anvil and the post vice. New they are $700 and up plus shipping, on eBay they are $150 and up (again plus shipping) or you can watch Craigslist. There is also the option of asking around as you never know who will have what. I missed out on an anvil from a guy at work where he just wanted it gone, I’m still kicking myself about that. Think about some old-time farmers as they often repaired things themselves in days past and now that they are retired or semi-retired there could be some of this kind of stuff sitting unused.

A massive piece of forged iron
A massive piece of forged iron

What makes a blacksmiths leg vice different is it is designed to take a beating. First of all they are massive, often times 40″ tall and weigh in the 100 lb range. Notice the leg or post that goes all the way to the ground to transfer the force from striking your work down to the ground. Further the screw goes through two eyes forged in the clamping jaws, this isolates the screw from any striking forces applied to the jaws while you force the metal to the shape you want it. When I think what most of us use a vice for I think this is a much better choice than the machinist vice that you normally find for sale in hardware stores. I was fortunate enough to buy what amounts to a full but small blacksmith’s shop after searching for close to a decade and it included this leg vice. I’m not sure how old it is but it is all I can do to lift and carry it. Now that my house is built I can turn my attention to assembling my smithy. Even if you never plan on doing blacksmithing, a leg vice is a good tool for anyone’s homestead. This is also a word of caution, if you have a “regular” vice don’t strike it or something clamped in it very hard as it can really mess up the screw.