NO other mechanic will try to turn out such a variety of work with so few tools as the blacksmith, even when the smith has all the tools to be had, he has few in proportion to the work. There are a class of smiths who will be content with almost nothing. These men can tell all about the different kinds of tobacco; they can tell one kind of beer from another in the first sip, and the smell of the whisky bottle is enough for them to decide the character of the contents, but when it comes to tools which belong to their trade, they are not in it. It ought to be a practice with every smith to add some new tool every year. But if they are approached on the subject they will generally say, "Oh, I can get along without that." With them it is not a question of what they need, but what they can get along without.

Some smiths have the Chinaman's nature (stubborn conservatism) to the extent that they will have nothing new, no matter how superior to their old and inferior tools; what they have been used to is the best.

When the hoof shears were a new thing I ordered a pair and handed them to my horse-shoer, he tried them for a few minutes and then threw them on the floor and said, "Yankee humbug." I picked them up and tried them myself, and it took a few days before I got used to them, but then I found that they were a great improvement over the toe knife. I told my horseshoer to use them and after a while he could not get along without them, but would yet have used his toe knife if it had not been for the fact that he was compelled to use them. If it was not for the conservatism by which we are all infected more or less, we would be far more advanced in everything.

The mechanic that has poor tools will in every case be left behind in competition with the man with good tools in proper shape. There are smiths who will take in all kinds of shows and entertainments within fifty miles, but when it comes to tools, oh, how stingy and saving they are. There is no investment which will bring such a good return as first-class tools do to a mechanic. The old maxim, "A mechanic is known by the tools he uses," is true. Many of the tools used in the shop can be made by the smith. If less time is spent in the stores and saloon there will be more time for making tools.

I shall, in this chapter, give a few pointers how to make some of the tools used. I will not spend any time in explanation about the more intricate tools like drill presses and tools of that kind, because no smith has experience or facilities to make tools of this character that will be worth anything. I shall simply give a few hints on the most common tools used, with illustrations that will be a help to new beginners. Before we go any further let me remind you of the golden rule of the mechanic, "A place for everything and everything in its place." Some shops look like a scrap iron shed, the tools strewn all over, and one-tenth of the time is spent in hunting for them. I shall first say a few words about the shop and give a plan. This plan is not meant to be followed minutely, but is simply a hint in that direction.


In building a shop care should be taken in making it convenient and healthy. Most of the shops are built with a high floor. This is very inconvenient when machinery of any kind is taken in for repairs, as well as in taking in a team for shoeing. Around the forge there should be a gravel floor. A plank floor is a great nuisance around the anvil. Every piece cut off hot is to be hunted up and picked up or it will set fire to it. I know there will be some objection to this kind of floor but if you once learn how to keep it you will change your mind. To make this floor take sand and clay with fine gravel, mix with coal dust and place a layer where wanted about four inches thick. This floor, when a little old, will be as hard as iron, provided you sprinkle it every night with water. The dust and soot from the shop will, in time, settle in with it and it will be smooth and hard. It will not catch fire; no cracks for small tools or bolts to fall through: it will not crack like cement or brick floors. If your shop is large then make a platform at each end, and a gravel floor in the center, or at one side, as in figure 1. This floor is cool in summer and warm in winter, as there can be no draft. The shop should have plenty of light, skylights if possible. The soot and dust will, in a short time, make the lightest shop dark. The shop should be whitewashed once a year.

Figure 1

Have plenty of ventilation. Make it one story only if convenient to do so, as an upper story in a blacksmith shop is of very little use. The shop is the place where the smith spends most of his time and he should take just as much care in building it, as a sensible housekeeper does in the construction of her kitchen.


The forge can be made either single or double, square or round. The square is the best as it can be placed up against the wall, and you will then have more room in front of it. The round forge will take more room, if it is placed in the center of the floor there will be no room of any amount on any side and when the doors are open the wind will blow the fire, cinders and smoke into the face of the smith. This is very uncomfortable. The smokestack, if hung over the fire will sometimes be in the way. Of course the hood can be made in halves and one half swung to the side, but it will sometimes be in the way anyhow, and it seldom has any suction to carry away the smoke and cinders.


The anvil should not be too close to the forge, as is often the case in small country shops. Make it six feet from center of fire to center of anvil. The anvil should not be placed on a butcher block with the tools on, but on a timber the same size as the foot of the anvil. Set the timber down in the ground at least three feet. For heavy work the anvil should stand low in order to be able to come down on it with both hammer and sledge with force. When the smith has his hands closed the knuckles of his fingers should touch the face of the anvil and it will be the right height for all-around blacksmithing.


Close to the forge under the water tank or barrel should be a coal box 18 X 24 X 16 inches, this box to be dug down in the ground and so placed that one end will protrude from under the barrel or tank far enough to let a shovel in. This opening can be closed with a lid if the tools are liable to fall into it. In this box keep the coal wet. In figure 1 a plan is given from which you can get an idea of a shop and how to place the tools and different articles needed.


On the right hand of the anvil should be a tool bench or tool table 20 x 20, a little lower than the anvil. Outside, on three sides and level with the table, make a railing of 1 1/4 inch iron, about 1 1/2 inch space between the table and railing, this makes a handy place for tools and near by. Many blacksmiths have no other place than the floor for their tools, but there is no more sense in that than it would be for a carpenter to throw his tools down on the floor all around him. There ought to be "a place for every tool and every tool in its place."

Tool Table


When a lawyer or a minister makes his maiden speech he will always be in a great hurry on account of his excitement. The sentences are cut shorter, broken, and the words are sometimes only half pronounced. After a few years' practice he will be more self-possessed and the speech will be changed from unintelligible phrases to logical oratory. When the carpenter's apprentice first begins to use the saw, he will act the same way—be in a great hurry—he will run the saw at the speed of a scroll saw, but only a few inches of stroke; after some instructions and a few year's practice the saw will be run up and down steady and with strokes the whole length of the blade. When the blacksmith's apprentice begins to use the hammer he acts very much the same way. He will press his elbows against his ribs; lift the hammer only a few inches from the anvil and peck away at the speed of a trip hammer. This will, in most cases, be different in a few years. He will drop the bundle— that is, his elbows will part company with his ribs, the hammer will look over his head, there will be full strokes and regular tune, every blow as good as a dozen of his first ones. Some smiths have the foolish habit of beating on the anvil empty with the hammer, they will strike a few blows on the iron, then a couple of blind beats on the anvil, and so on. This habit has been imported from Europe, free of duty, and that must be the reason why so many blacksmiths enjoy this luxury.


In Europe great importance is laid upon the position taken by the apprentice and the manner he holds the sledge. The sledge is held so that the end of it will be under his right armpit, when the right hand is next to the sledge, and under his left arm when the left hand is nearer the sledge. In this unnatural position it is next to impossible to strike hard and do it for any time. This is another article imported free of duty, but few Americans have been foolish enough to use it. In this country the apprentice will be taught to use the tools in a proper way.

The end of the sledge-handle will be to one side; at the left, if the left hand is at the end of the handle, and at the right if the right hand is at the end of the handle; and be down between his feet when the handle's end must be low. The apprentice should stand directly in front of the anvil.

In swinging, the sledge should describe a circle from the anvil close down to the helper's feet and up over his head and down to the anvil; this is a perpendicular circle blow. Be sure not to give it a horizontal start; that is, with one hand close to the sledge the apprentice starts out either in the direction of the horn or the butt end of the anvil, and then up while both hands should clasp the extreme end of the handle close together the sledge should be dropped down to the feet then up. The hold taken should not be changed, but the hands held in the same place. (See figure 4.)

For ordinary use a nine-pound sledge is heavy enough, a large sledge will give a bump, while a small one will give a quick good blow, it is only occasionally and for special purposes a large sledge is needed, even an eight-pound sledge will do. Try it, and you will be surprised how nice it works.

With these preliminary remarks we shall now begin to make a few tools. We will begin with the blacksmith's tongs. I shall only give an idea how to forge the jaws, and every man that needs to make them

has seen enough of this simple tool to know what kind is needed, and what he has not seen will suggest itself to every sensible smith.

Chapter 1
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© 2000, 2001 by Lynn Waterman