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