Thursday, September 27, 2012

How To Blacksmith a Courting Candle

What Are The Steps In Blacksmithing a 1800's Courting Candle?

Hi David

I wonder if you could assist me in explaining what is the best way to make a courting candle holder like they used in the early 1800's? The one I saw looked like it was made of 5/16 round bar with 8 rings and it had a little loop on the top.

Thank You!

Thanks for the courting candle inquiry.
I use to make many of these and of several different styles. I used 1/4 round bar or 1/8th by 1/2 inch flat bar. Both look nice. The 5/16 that you mention will work just a bit more effort.

So my steps

  • Point the end of the bar
  • Make a small curl on the end for decoration
  • Bend tip in a curve over the horn in the direction of the spiral
  • Use a 3/4 or 7/8 diameter rod as a mandrel to wrap the steel around. I got fancy as I was making many of these courting candles and built a jig so that I could have a constant spacing on the spiral with a separation of about 5/16. On the smaller stock sizes this could be bent cold. 5/16 diameter rod I would tend to spiral hot. The curved tip was clamped on top of the mandrel and turned as the straight steel was fed in the bottom. There was a catch arm to cause the bending and a spacing pin to keep everything at the right spacing. If done cold there is significant snap back when you make the final loop.
  • With the round bar I forged a handle on bottom end and looped it around to create a base, then up and folded down to make the handle. Another decorative curl on the handle end of the bar. True everything up on a flat surface. For 1/4 inch round bar I used 60 inches of material. Less for the flat bar.
  • The flat bar courting candle I would fold a piece about 3 inches long back under the main candle stem with two holes drilled in it. This was then screwed to a decorative wood base. Alternatively if you want a carry handle you can fold under 12 inches with the 3 inches the same a s above and the remaining 9 inches bent like the round bar up then back down again to form the handle.
  • The plug that spirals up can be made out of wood dowel or pipe with a pin on the side as a handle that fits through the spaces in the spiral structure. Traditionally these plugs were often made out of thin sheet steel as they only have to support the weight of the candle.
You will have to do a fair bit of fiddling and fitting to get everything to work properly, but once you have your jigs made up you can make these pretty easily. If you are only making 1 or 2 you will still need the mandrel but you can just eye up the spiral and make any adjustments after it is formed.

I hope this helps.

David Robertson 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What is Best Layout For a Blacksmith Shop?

What is best Layout For a Blacksmith Shop?

I have been a member of your site for a while. I have done welding in the past but never blacksmith work. I have accumulated most items over the years but I am going to join our local blacksmith club in Murfreesboro Tennessee to start learning about the trade. 
I am also in the process of drawing up plans for a shop/barn combination I wish to start on within the next year. 
Can you recommend anything on how to layout a shop for blacksmith work? I have seen some people keep the floors dirt and I saw some youtube videos talking about having the forge, anvil and vise in a triangle around where you stand. I just don't want to build the shop and say later that I messed it up. 

Hi Gary
Thanks for the inquiry.
Shop design is a personal thing and each of us have our preferences. Most of us agree that they are never big enough.
So that is my first suggestion build it as big as you can afford.


I prefer concrete as you can keep it relatively clean and you can move heavy equipment around using wheels and rollers.
I don,t like the dirt floors. They kick up too much dust and you can never find a level spot to true up a table. Also if you drop a small nut or bolt it disappears.
For standing on I use a piece of plywood by the anvil. This softens the concrete for standing for long periods.
The concrete also gives you something to anchor to if you don't want things to move.


Again as high as you can afford. I have a small shop with 8.5 foot ceiling and there are many times 10 feet would have been better. Also if you run a gas forge the higher ceilings will allow more of the heat out of the working area of the shop.


At least one door should be wide enough to get equipment in and out easily. A roll up garage door is great. I have a 4 foot wide man door that works pretty well.


230 volts and at least 60 amps. 100 amps would be better but depends on the equipment you will be putting in. If using industrial equipment you may want to think about 500 volts and 3 phase.


Some debate here. I use standard 4 foot florescent lighting. Some people use spot or task lighting. Generally I suggest well lit as opposed to the "dim blacksmith shop lighting". More the key is uniform lighting especially on and around the anvil.

Windows that can open for ventilation.


This is personal. A common mistake is that people will put the forge against a wall or in the corner. You should be able to hold and work on an 8 foot bar. Now it is very rare that we ever work 8 feet but the extra space does come in handy. If you work with a coal forge you will need to factor in a chimney. In this case I would put the back of the forge against the wall with the working sides free on either side. You never know when you may have a friend over that wants to do some work too. 
The triangle is a handy adaption although it is more each major piece of equipment is one point of the geometric form with the anvil in the middle. So forge one point , vise another, layout table another, power hammer another, tool rack another, slack tube another. Again this is personal adaption on your space and work style. If you set something up and hate the work dynamic you can move things around.

Cold working tools such as grinders and sanders and welders, should be nearby but do not have to be in the hot working area.

It doesn't hurt to sketch a couple of scenarios down on paper and see if they may sense.

I hope this helps a bit 
David Robertson

Monday, August 13, 2012

How Strong Do you Have To Be For Blacksmithing?

How Physically Fit Do You Have To Be For Blacksmithing?


I noticed that you have a blog where you answer questions about blacksmithing.  I am hoping you might answer mine as it is something I think other people wonder about as well.

I am thinking of taking a blacksmith class because I appreciate well-made items that are not mass-produced and like the idea of working with metal.  I don't intend to make my living this way but hope to make some basic items, like knives, hooks, etc.  However, I am curious how strong and in-shape one has to be to do this.? Also, realistically, what kinds of skill sets make a good blacksmith?   I am a woman in my 50s, moderately good condition but not an athlete or weightlifter, a bit on the short side.  I know how to use basic tools but have never built anything before.  Would blacksmithing probably be beyond me?  Perhaps you can describe the physical qualities and basic skill sets which make someone a good blacksmith?

Thank you in advance for your reply.


 Hi Tara thanks for your question and I will put it up on the blog as I agree it may be a common question.

How Strong to be a blacksmith

In this modern age strength is less important than stamina and willingness to look at new ways of doing things. I am by no means what people think of as a hulking blacksmith. I explain to my students that it is really about coaxing the metal to shape not muscling it to shape. This means that there are many repeated hammer blows to create the shape desired. The object is to apply the right amount of force at exactly the right spot to move the metal the right amount. Of course bigger bars require more force to move them.

There are a miriad of techniques and tools that help us manipulate the steel. I know a number of women of all ages that do blacksmithing with out any problems. They tend to think more about design and how to work with the steel instead of handling huge bars.

Realistically it is a physical activity and it requires standing for long periods of time. There is movement of the hammer. Usually a 2 lb hammer swung many times in a day but you get to take a rest every time the steel heats. This is almost 50% of the time. Most of the starting projects use small bar and this is easy to manipulate. Larger projects often use multiple small pieces that are later assembled. The final project might be quite heavy but we can use over head cranes and hoists to move things around. If you set up a larger shop power hammers can help manipulate the steel. These are expensive machines but the amount of work that they do is incredible.

Where I would caution a person with blacksmithing is if they have a previous ailment such as carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, or rotator cuff injuries to their dominant side. The smithing can make these conditions flare up.

Skill sets that make a good blacksmith

There are many common skills that serve the blacksmith well and some specialized skills.

  • Be able to look at a problem and figure out a solution given resources at hand
  • Willingness to learn and do a bit of research
  • Learn from your mistakes
  • If you are fighting with a problem being able to stop and look at it from another view point
  • Willingness to experiment
  • Understanding that this endeavor requires practice and lots of it. You usually can be successful with minimal effort but to be really good takes a lot of practice.
  • Some ability to roughly sketch on paper what you want to make helps a great deal. Especially with later complicated projects.
  • Not be afraid of the hot metal. Yes you will get burned. Usually they are minor.
  • Specifically being able to electric weld will help
  • Good hand eye coordination
In short from your description I would say that you would be fine at blacksmithing. Be realistic that it takes time to get good at it but you should have a good degree of success from the beginning.
I hope this helps.

David Robertson
Artist Blacksmith

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Is Arc Weld Forgeable?

Is Arc Weld Forgeable?


Is arc weld forgeable? In other words can you heat a arc weld and change its shape and still maintain the integrity of the weld. I'm talking stick weld using rod for low carbon steal, a36, 1018, 1045
thanks for your help.
Jjim Shaver

Hi Jim
The short answer is yes if it is a good weld to start with.

Now there are some problems. Arc welding tends to create a bit of an undercut right at the edges of the weld. When you forge over top you flatten out the weld but the undercut stays. This can become a crack with successive forgings. It also usually stays visible which I find unsightly and indicates to me that the piece has been electrically welded.

Higher carbon content steel may develop a fracture at the undercut more easily than low carbon mild steel, if it is worked on the cold side. Although high carbon may actually benefit more from the forging process than lower carbon steel especially if it was not preheated when welded.

I would suggest (of course depending on the application) using a rod that doesn't undercut the steel very much. 7014 comes to mind but this depends on the steel and your welder (dc is better than ac) and your welding skills.

Alternatively if you mig or tig weld there is less undercutting and you can forge directly with little issue, both in strength and visibility of the weld.

Of course try a few practice pieces and I recommend forging more on the hot side than the cold side of temperatures and properly prep your welds with V groove and multiple passes as is appropriate for strength. Play with your machine setting until you get the least undercut with the weld.

I hope this helps.
David Robertson
Artist Blacksmith

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Hand Forged Nails

How To Make Hand Forged Nails

Thanks for the black smithing tips. I have been enjoying them. I am a beginner. Right now I am learning to make a nail. Can you tell me what size of a hole you need to hammer the nail through to create the head if you are working with 1/4" round stock? And is the hole a little wider at the opening? I am making my own tool to help form the nail head.

Glad you are starting out. Nail making is a good place to start as it teaches you hammer control and speed.
The nail header is a flat bar which can be mild steel to start, but if you make a lot of nails you may want to use a piece of tool steel such as car leaf spring. It should be fairly thick about 1/2 an inch.

You hot punch a square tapering hole in the bar. For the 1/4 round you mention I would not go bigger than 3/16 square. Now the key is that the hole is smaller at the top and larger at the bottom.

This means that after you draw out the point on the 1/4 round and position it . Make the partial cut so that about 3/8 to 1/2 inch sticking above the heading tool. Then take a good upsetting heat on it (bright yellow) then place in the heading tool and twist off the "handle" then quickly drive straight down into the heading tool.

It is best if you cut from all sides not just one side.

As the nail gets driven down onto the nail header the first thing that happens is that it slides until the sharp edges of the sides grab onto the steel. Once it grabs then the hot metal deforms "upsets" to create the head. Once it is well seated you can use angled hammer strokes to make the rosette head.

When it has cooled a bit a tap on the point or simply turning the heading tool over and tapping on the anvil and it often releases the nail. If the heading tool has the small opening down you are wedging the steel into a socket and it is much harder to get out and it doesn't make a nice shoulder.

If you are just starting you will find bigger nails are easier to make. 5/16 or 3/8 rod size. They hold the heat longer so you don't have to work quite so fast.

David RobertsonLink
Artist Blacksmith

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review of Kevlar Flame Resitant Apron

Review of Kevlar Spark Resistant Apron by Magid Glove and Safety

I have been asked to do a review of a heat resistant apron for use in blacksmithing.

You can see it in the photo. It has full coverage and is quite light material. There are cross over straps that are quite comfortable and easy to adjust for sizing. It is also easy to get into and out of.

I am not a huge fan of the color but in a blacksmith shop that will change.

The traditional leather apron is used to deflect sparks or falling hot metal away from your body. Leather is quite durable and will take a beating. But in cold weather (as you see I am wearing my hat as it was chilly today in the shop) leather stiffens up and you practically have to thaw it out.
With this apron it was soft and pliable all the time. A nice bonus.

So How did I test this apron out? Well I simply stretched the fabric across an opening and secured it with two magnets.

I then heated a 3/8ths square bar about 3 inches long to about 1800 degrees F. See the photo on the left.

I then placed the hot bar on the fabric and watched what happened.

So it turns out that after about 3 seconds the heat transfers through the fabric and scorches the underside. Now this means that if you were inc contact with the hot steel for 3 seconds you probably would get burned.

But after smoking a bit (stinks a bit too) the bar was still well supported after 15 seconds. This means that the fabric was still intact after 15 second direct exposure to 1800 degree heat.

Now in the greater schem of things 3 seconds is a long time to have something hot brush up against you in blacksmithing. 15 seconds is an eternity.

So my feeling is this is a good product for general protection.

You can see the smoke in this photo.

This final photo shows the scorch mark. Not bad for 15 second exposure.