Forge's Fire

14 min read

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ArtisanCraft's avatar
How did you get started doing your blacksmithing?  

I first started in 2004 when I took a smithing class at my university.  I was a history major, and took the class as an elective because it sounded interesting.  Before that I had no experience in blacksmithing, though I had already been making mail for a number of years.  I enjoyed the class and soon afterwards began setting up a forge at home to continue working.  I later took the jewelry making class and advanced metals class before graduating in 2006.  By that time I already had a full smithy and was working as much as possible.
I consider myself an artisan rather than an artist, and I consider blacksmithing more than a hobby, though I’ve never been truly professional.  Many of the things I make are practical expressions of study into the material culture of past times.  I believe it’s very important to understand the practical application of a craft in order to understand the material evidence left by previous generations of smiths, armourers, and jewelers.  Beyond study and the fact that I enjoy blacksmithing immensely, I have sold my goods whenever I can.

Cloak and Mantle by hawkthrower

What other crafts do you do?

I  weave mail, both armour and jewelry, and have done some small work with leather, though that has been limited to footwear and simple sheaths.  I do a good deal of sewing, in the past mainly medieval costume though lately I’ve been making more daily wear clothes for myself and my wife.  The creation of the garment is very satisfying, moving from piece of fabric to finished item.

What tools and equipment do you need to do your craft?

The basics are hammer, tongs, forge, anvil, which are the minimum required to manipulate the iron, but there’s a lot of variety even in the basics.  I have a large number of hammers, all of different shapes and weights for different tasks, though I do have a few favorites for general forging.  The same goes for tongs, all having different jaws to hold different sized and shaped pieces.  I also have tools for cutting, punches, chisels, wrenches for twisting, lots of files and many others that I made as a one-off for some specific task.  I have a few power tools like drills and grinders as well.  Most of this fits in my workshop but some work, such as sanding and drilling, is done in another building.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Most of my work is historically inspired, whether I’m trying to recreate a specific piece, such as Mastermyr Hammer, or just the general form, such as Box Padlock.  Published archaeological reports are a treasure trove for medieval material culture, as well as museums when I can get to them.   I am constantly impressed and inspired by the intricacy, resourcefulness and skill which can be found in medieval and Roman metalwork.

Can you give us a short tutorial on how you shape your metal?

When making something I’ve not done before, I nearly always start by sketching it out.  This can range from a quick scribble to flesh out the shape to a detailed schematic for pieces which are more complicated or require close fitting.  I will then go to the forge, where I will forge the pieces.  I do as much shaping as possible hot with hammer and anvil, which reduces the amount of grinding and filing I will need to do later.  Sometimes this will be all that is necessary, followed by finishing with linseed oil or beeswax.

For more complex pieces, such as the padlocks I’ve made, I’ve had to cut out several pieces and fit them together before assembly.  This requires a great deal of filing and care.  I will use a number of techniques to join pieces, including forge welding, brazing, and riveting, depending on where the joint is and its exact function.

Can you tell us a little about one of your most fascinating pieces “Greathelm”?   

Greathelm by hawkthrower

This piece was my first foray into armour, and I learned a great deal from a book on the subject, ‘Techniques of Medieval Armour Reproduction’ by Brian R. Price.  The helm was a chance to experiment with nearly all stages of armouring (except moving joints), and to try my hand at many of the techniques needed. 

Creating the helm required that I add some new tools to my shop specifically to work with plate, like new cutting tools and stakes to work the plates on.  I then had to pattern the helm, using manila folders as pattern stock.   I used measurements I had gotten from an original helm, which belonged to Edward the Black Prince of Wales (d. 1376) so that it would be true in size to a real helm.  While making the helm I discovered errors in my pattern, however; the top front plate covering the forehead was the third attempt to get the angle right.  It’s a little heavier than the original, being 9.5 pounds compared to around 7 for the original, probably due to thicker plates in the back and larger rivets than the original.

I learned a great deal making this piece, and it sparked an interest in the medieval armourer, so much so that it inspired me to pursue post-graduate study on them, which I am currently working on.

What is involved in making a piece like “Finger gauntlet”?  


The measurement across the knuckles is the most important for a gauntlet, and once the pattern is drafted the cuff and back of the hand (called the metacarpal) is cut out and riveted into a tube.  It is then forged down from each end towards the centre, compressing the plate towards the wrist but leaving the openings the same size.  When the basic shape is achieved it is cleaned up and the embossing between the fingers is done with a chisel. 

The knuckles were press formed from brass on this gauntlet, but the other small finger plates were curled over a bar.  Holes are drilled and the plates are riveted onto a strip of leather.  Each plate corresponds to a specific part of each finger, so it is very important to mark them and keep track of which plate goes where. The ends of each leather are riveted onto a thin metal strip called the knuckle rider that is fitted to the opening for the hand, and this is in turn riveted to the metacarpal so that it moves in and out and reduces the stress on the finger leathers.  A piece of felt is glued to the underside of each finger leather for padding, and then the other end of each leather is sewn onto the glove using sinew. 

In order to preserve the finish on the gauntlet, which was achieved through sanding and an abrasive pad, I used Renaissance Wax, a microcrystalline compound that is used by many museums in the conservation of historic arms and armour.

How complicated was a piece like “Sabatons”?  

Sabatons by hawkthrower

The articulation looks difficult, but wasn’t as difficult as one for an elbow or knee.  The most important thing was to prevent gapping between the lames (the small plates that allow movement).   I first hammered in the central crease over the edge of the anvil, and then bent each lame starting with the toe and working back.  I assembled loosely with bolts to check the articulation before riveting, to insure that everything worked correctly.

The finishing work on the sabatons included the buckles and straps, washers, hinges, and the post closures.  These are all small pieces but only the buckles required heat.  The hinges, buckle tongue and strap, and washers were made from scrap sheet cutoffs from the main plates.  These were all added last to make riveting the articulation easier.

You have many small pieces like “Thor's Hammer pendants”, is there much difference in making such tiny pieces as opposed to larger things?

Thor's Hammer pendants by hawkthrower

I have to be careful not to lose a tiny piece in the fire.  Heat control is also quite different when working small or thin pieces of iron as opposed to large ones.   Tiny pieces lose their heat very quickly, both to the air and into the anvil, so I have to work fast before it loses its heat and has to go back in the fire.

What was involved in creating “Maille shirt” and “Maille dress”

Maille shirt by hawkthrower Maille dress by hawkthrower

These were both very long projects, for different reasons.  I cut all the links myself for the Maille Shirt, and since I was doing it for myself I wasn’t in a hurry to complete it.  For Maille Dress, which was a commission piece, I bought the links pre-cut which I thought would save time, but due to shipping delays this wasn’t the case. 

I began the shirt by creating the upper yoke around the shoulders and starting the sleeves, and once that was fitted I continued on the body tube.  I did most of the weaving with the shirt hanging in front of me, which I found easier to work with, but since it’s steel I had to forge a steel coat hanger for it.  I did the weaving in stages, creating small chains and adding them on.  This broke up the process and added a little variety.

For the dress I started with the upper bodice and created the flared skirt separately, then joined the two.  I fit the bodice to the client by adding or subtracting rings in the weave, but the lower half was an even expansion.  The top half went together very quickly, but the bottom took longer because every few rows the edge got longer and longer.

Do you take your own photos?

I take most of my own photos, except for those of me in garb I’ve made, which my wife takes.   I don’t have any particular setup for my pieces, and I’ve learned a good deal about photographing small items, though I still have a lot to learn.

Do you participate in any shows or exhibitions?

I’ve had booths at some local Renaissance faires and art shows, and also done a couple further afield.  I usually went with a group who did Scottish dancing, and I demoed smithing as part of the setup.   I never expected to make much money from the events, I went because I enjoyed it, it was great fun.   School prevents me from doing it now, unfortunately.

On the business side of events, I found that interest was always high, but certain pieces sold much better than others.  Utensils and brooches always sold well, as did my jewelry, but some pieces didn’t sell as well, despite interest.  I learned what to put out on the table and what not to, though some pieces I kept out anyway as examples of my work, such as the Viking Padlock and the Cube Twist Long Fork.

Do you belong to any organizations and what benefits are there?

I’m a member of MABA, the Michigan Artist Blacksmith Association.  It’s an opportunity to gather and meet with other smiths, and be able to learn from them.  Even though another smith’s techniques may be different from my own, there’s always something to be gained in seeing something done another, maybe better way, or to see something forged in a way I may not have thought of.  It’s also a great place to teach beginners what I know or share things with experienced smiths



I am a Deviant of Many Talents

24/Male/United Kingdom

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My last interview (at least for now)... it's been a great learning experience and great fun!  And give a big welcome to taralynnjane who is taking over this spot :clap: :clap: :clap:

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rarachan's avatar
This is soooooooooooooooooo interesting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I like it very much! :popcorn: