2016 March 4 Tools, Metal & Shop
In the article on "mini-blacksmithing", you may have seen mention of these tongs.
Accomplished smiths make their own tongs. However if you're a beginner like me, it might make sense to get a ready-made set.
Though I'm not a beginner to making the crude, simple stuff, real blacksmithing calls for extra tools and techniques that I'm still just learning. It would take me longer to hunt up the right scrap metal and learn to make tongs than it would take to buy a decent pair ready-made. If that sounds familiar, then this article's for you!
So let's see what we've got here.
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Who Needs Tongs?
With all the talk about anvils and hammers, it's easy to forget the importance of holding the work steady.
If you're straightening bent nails, or making a masonry nail into a square awl or something, you could probably get by with a pair of locking pliers. That's what I use for that sort of thing, anyway.
Eventually, though, you'll probably want to make something out of larger stock.
Every blacksmith needs at least one good pair of tongs. And as I said in that other article, hoof nippers are not blacksmith tongs. They are sometimes pressed into use (perhaps as hot-cutters), but they're no good for holding bar stock (etc). In other words, you need a real pair of blacksmith tongs.
Like many people nowadays, I've been searching for something to replace USA brands that are no longer "made in USA". Up until recently, I hadn't known about a brand called Gedore. They make high-quality wrenches and other mechanics' tools. They're made in Germany since 1919, but the name isn't as familiar to us in the USA. After all, for generations we had so many USA brands from which we could once choose.
Gedore actually make thousands of products, including blacksmith tongs and hammers.
As you would expect, the build quality is superb. Three things the Germans have always been really good at: chemistry, metallurgy, and optics.
German-made blacksmith tongs are not cheap, but then again they're also not cheap. Good tools like this are always worth it. If you can buy only one, it makes sense to get the most versatile.
This is why I would choose "wolf jaw" tongs. If there's one universal type of tongs in blacksmithing, it's these. The wolf's jaw design can hold round stock, square stock, polygonal stock, whatever. It can hold the piece in-line with the tongs, or at a 90-degree angle, which I find to be extremely useful.
They can even hold flat bar stock, if you need 'em to.
The jaws have a diamond-shaped opening when they're closed. It's too large to hold square nails, but it measures just right for quarter-inch square stock, or larger.
A great benefit of the 500mm size: you're farther away from whatever "field expedient" forge you might be using. These tend to waste a lot of heat. That makes shorter tongs kind of useless. (If that sounds familiar, consider this ready-made forge.) However, 400mm tongs would probably work OK, too.
A piece of half-inch round stock falls down into the coals, under a burning log: where is it? This is where I'd actually use a pair of fireplace tongs; but then again, it's faster to get the steel right into the actual tongs you're going to use. Then it's still at a workable heat when you get it to the anvil. (I tried to do this when taking the photos for this article. The piece cooled more than I wanted, but that's because (A.) the heat source was less than ideal, and (B.) I also had to work the camera.)
It's possible to get into blacksmithing "on the cheap", but I wouldn't skimp on a pair of tongs. When you're working with hot steel, it's incredibly important to hold that piece of metal securely. Cheap junk that's not the right tool is only going to make it dangerous. This I know from personal experience.
Vise Grips work well enough for the smallest stuff-- making things out of nails or 1/4" stock-- but if you get serious, you'll need something with longer handles, and jaws that were designed for the particular task.
It's possible to scrounge up a lot of the tools you'll need for metalworking, but it's tougher to do that with blacksmith tongs. And often when you do, it'll be some specialized type that's no good for all-around use. If you want "the right tool right now", it makes sense to order a set of wolf's jaw tongs and be done with it.
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