2019 March 2    Metal & Shop  


Making tongs is one of the more difficult projects that a beginner can attempt, so I decided not to try that yet.

So of course, I had to try something even more difficult.  This wasn't a planned project, really;  it just sort of went that way.

It was a real learning experience, though.  So let's see what I learned, and perhaps it will help you, too.

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In This Article

Welding The Old Fashioned Way

Result Not As Hoped

Salvaging The Project

What I Learned


Welding The Old-Fashioned Way

Before there was arc welding or gas welding, blacksmiths used hammer and anvil to fuse iron together.

Let's say you want to make a coal rake, which has (typically) a wide, flat piece of metal at one end.  Normally, that's easy:  flatten the end, bend it to a right angle (or a gooseneck) and there you go.

But let's say you want a larger piece, centered on the end, sort of like a garden hoe. 

There, the best approach is probably to forge-weld or rivet two pieces together. 

In other words, first you make the handle, then you make the coal rake or "garden hoe" portion... then you join them together. 

If you forge weld those pieces together, a proper weld will probably have a visible line, but the metal will not fall apart. 

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Result Not As Hoped...

There's good reason to make a project like this in two separate pieces.  Mainly:  if you mess up, it's less work to make a new piece and weld it on.

But I had an idea.  If I heated up the end of the stock, then folded it over and welded it, it might not be necessary to make two separate pieces.  Instead I could just keep that thicker portion on the end, then later hammer the metal thinner behind that area.

But wait, how about let's make it more ambitious.  Let's fold that piece over and weld it again.  So, instead of a two-layer forge weld, it's a four-layer forge weld. 

As you might expect, it only sort of worked.  By the time I hammered it into the desired configuration, the incomplete forge welds were more than obvious.  And there are probably two or three (or ten) basic rules of blacksmithing that were completely ignored along the way...

Hmmm... not quite the desired result.

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Salvaging The Project

Some people would just scrap a piece like this and start over.  Or, make something entirely different out of it.  Or, they would never get to this stage, because they actually know what they're doing.

Just for fun, I thought I'd try salvaging this.  I wondered if low-fuming bronze could fill the gaps and make something usable.  Even-- possibly-- halfway presentable.

A single one of these torches can get something hot enough for bronze braze, if the workpiece is thin.  Get two of them, and it works much better (and faster).  So I fired 'em up, heated the piece, and watched for melting of the LFB rod (LFB is low-fuming bronze).

With a piece like this where the gaps are full of scale, it's probably a good idea to use extra borax.  (Somewhere about orange heat, molten borax will actually dissolve scale.)  The result of this project was very helpful here.

As for brazing, it seemed that when I got the metal too hot, the molten bronze started to roll off again.  I don't know why that is.  At any rate, after a couple tries I got enough bronze to stick to the iron.  When it cooled, sanding removed lumps of bronze (slowly), although one of them had to be removed with an abrasive cutoff wheel.

The result is just interesting and unusual enough that I think I'll keep it this way, rather than starting over. 

Reminds me of the "dirty pour" technique in painting.

A little brazing practice is helpful now and again.  One thing I re-learned is that brazing is tricky when there are multiple areas near each other.  If you already did part of it, and you get the whole piece back up to the melting point, it's back to square one again.

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What I Learned

Making something like this from one piece of steel is difficult.  That's probably why blacksmiths usually avoid that method.  You put all that work into a project, mess it up late in the build, and now you've got to start all over. 

At some point, a forge weld got worked spirally up into the thin connecting steel, as you might be able to see in that photo. 

As it is, there's already a good chance of messing up a four-layer forge weld, especially as a beginner.  Making that into a one-piece item like this is even more difficult.  That's why in the next attempt I used rivets to attach a separate piece ('nother article). 

Shovels, ladles, anything with a larger piece of steel on the end:  better to make two separate pieces, then rivet them together. 

I also learned (again) that certain features, such as long tapers, add a tremendous amount of extra work to a piece.  With this one it was an opportunity for practice, but it would be different if I were making a piece to sell.  A long taper isn't just twice the amount of heating and hammering;  it could be ten or twenty times the amount, possibly more.  This is how a "simple"-looking project ends up taking two days of shop time. 

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So there you have it:  a project that started out as fail, but I was able to salvage it into something useful and sort of interesting.  With some decorative twists, it doesn't look half bad.  Actually I made a type of decorative twist I had never seen before;  it looks like ancient bricks or something.  More about this in another article, maybe.

By the way, I probably wouldn't use this coal rake in a solid-fuel forge.  Traces of copper and zinc from the bronze could mess up forge welding attempts... as if I need those to be any more difficult than they are!

So anway, this little project was useful for more than just salvaging a failure.  It was also a good way to improve some skills, maybe even learn a new technique (except, of course, forge welding.)

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