I’ve recently gotten into blacksmithing and bladesmithing (yes there’s a difference). Now it’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a kid, just something interesting about it. But the more and more I thought of it over the years, I realized it’s a great skill to have as a prepper! Let’s explore some of the advantages of learning at least the basics of forging and smithing.
Blacksmithing Is a Skill, Skills>Items
We’ve discussed why skills are better than goods in the past, but a quick recap is always fun. Skills can’t be lost, broken, worn, or especially, stolen. Sure, they require practice, but the old adage “knowledge is power” seems to ring true. Skills are also far more versatile than any item you can acquire. The most versatile item you can imagine might yield 10, maybe 20 functions?
Blacksmithing alone can yield thousands of functions. The possibilities are endless when it comes to usefulness. Most people think swords and weaponry when it comes to smithing. In reality, any piece of metal you use in your day to day life was forged or cast at some point. Chains, braces, tools, all of it is made by smithing.
What are the benefits of learning Blacksmithing?
Back to the fact that skills can’t be stolen, it is a valuable bartering tool. Your neighbor has an abundance of food, but his door hinge broke or he needs a new chisel for wood working. That’s where you come in. Just like in the days of old, you can barter that skill in exchange for the things you need or can’t get yourself.
Aside from bartering, what of your own goods? Your wood splitting ax has worn out and is at the end of it’s useful life. A mildly-skilled blacksmith can fashion or recycle a new one. It’s not very difficult to imagine a situation in our lives when we needed a tool we didn’t have and just wished we could turn that 5/8 wrench into a 3/4.
How do I get started blacksmithing?
Okay, It sounds intimidating, but it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. When I set up my forge, I think I spent a total of $50 bucks. With a little bit of ingenuity, you can spend just as much. Here’s a basic list of what you need and where you can get it.
Now these can get pricey when looking at a 150lb, London-style anvil, but there’s really no need. You can find hobbyist anvils for $20-$30 or a great alternative, railroad rails. You can find sections of rail that has the same hardness as an anvil face. Below is a pretty good starting anvil you can use to get started
Now this is probably the easiest to improvise piece you can think of. I personally use an air-mattress pump. It provides a continuous, high-volume air flow. The downside is they’re not particularly rugged, so you’re going to want to keep it a distance from the flame. This is a pretty simple fix with a section of piping and some jury rigging. Something like the one below should work perfectly.
Really, you can use anything that will burn. However, the quality of forging will be severely impacted by this. Some folks will just use straight up hardwoods in their forge (Hickory, Oak, etc) . I don’t personally recommend this because even with hickory wood, which has the third highest BTU density, doesn’t get nearly as hot enough and still gives off a lot of impurities that get cooked into the metal.
Naturally, coal, particularly bituminous, is the best fuel for a forge in terms of burn-time, heat, and BTUs. Anthracite does get hotter, but except for “coking”, isn’t ideal. Charcoal is another great alternative to coal and woods, but can be time and resource consuming, but if you live in the middle of the forest, not a bad source of cheap and efficient fuel.
Personally, I was lucky enough to have a friend that owns a saw mill. He has to pay to dump his scraps so we developed the mutually beneficial practice of just giving me the hardwood scraps. He doesn’t pay to dump, I don’t pay for fuel. Now if this isn’t an option and you don’t live up the road from a coal mine, you can always get coal online. You don’t even have to necessarily buy in huge quantities either. The link below is to an Amazon seller that sells in as little as 16lb bags. I’ve even used it personally just to mess around with and it really does work great!
So these are the basics and typically the hardest to find if you don’t know where to look. Hopefully this list helps any would-be blacksmiths save a little bit of time and money. The other basics would obviously include a hammer, though a blacksmith’s hammer is ideal, just about any hammer will do the trick. And lastly, of course, something to hammer on, we’ll get to that in a moment.
Also ideal; a set of blacksmith tongs. However, these can get expensive, not to mention, there’s so many different types. A lot of blacksmiths make their own tongs to fit their current project. Honestly, you’re better off making your own, it’s a great starter project as it teaches you how to draw out the metal, shape it, punch holes and pay attention to scale.
So I have My Forge Set Up, Now What?
Now that you have all the tools you’ll need, it comes down to actually learning the skill. Blacksmithing, I’d classify as one of those skills that’s easy to learn, impossible to master. You can pick up on the basics very quickly but it’s as much an art as it is a science. You’ll always be learning new techniques and expanding on previous ones. You’ll get a more natural feel of how the metal moves under the hammer and eyeballing temperature based on color, etc.
There’s ton’s of communities on social media full of people willing to share experience. You can even find groups on Facebook designed specifically for beginners like this one. There’s also a ton of reading material out there such as those below;
To wrap this all up, blacksmithing is a great skill to have as a prepper because you’ll never be without tools, knives, hardware, etc. It will expand the scope of what you can effectively scavenge (scrap metal will hold a whole new value). And ultimately, give you a valuable bartering tool. I hope this guide helps those who want to get started smithing whether for prepping or for a hobby. Best of luck!