Forge #2, with Anvil, Stand, and First Blade Attempts

A while back, I wrote about how I built a homemade forge. That effort didn’t go the best, other than helping me learn a bit about the process of building a forge. After that one, I decided to buy a cheap propane forge in hopes that it’d help me reach and maintain adequate temperatures for forging steel. It took a little assembly and required that I get over the terror that I would somehow blow myself and my house up in the process of learning how to use this new style of valve for the hose that connects to the tank, but I did ultimately manage not to blow anything up. I also bought a 30kg (about 66 pounds) steel anvil, which I thought would be a big improvement over the small flat surface on the cast iron vise I had used previously as a striking surface.

The anvil needed a lot of work in order to be ready to really use. The blue paint on it is applied to help prevent rust while the anvil sits in storage. And boy is it a pain to get rid of. The job did give me a good excuse to buy an angle grinder. Using a combination of grinding, wire brush, and flap wheels for grinding and polishing, I was able to get rid of the paint and polish the horn to a reasonable smoothness. Then I applied some acetone to clean, some Loctite rust neutralizer, and finally a nice coat of WD-40 to finish preparing the anvil. It turned sort of a lovely purple/black color. This is a small anvil, believe it or not. Anvils come in lots of sizes, even into the hundreds of pounds. Even this little one was not exactly cheap, and the bigger you go, the more expensive they tend to be. One day, I’d love to have a bigger anvil of a couple of hundred pounds, but this is a big upgrade already from what I used in my first attempt to move metal. I followed this tutorial to “dress” the anvil.

Once you’ve got an anvil, you need to mount it on a steady, pretty heavy surface. Lots of people use tree stumps. I cut some 8-foot 4x4s to size, then glued together three on a side to give me about 10.5 inches of top surface, which is plenty big for my anvil’s footprint. Then I cut some threaded bar to size, drilled 12 holes all the way through the sides of the stand, and used nuts and washers in countersunk holes to pull the 4x4s together more tightly. I did some chiseling and sanding to get the stand to be fairly level, and then I added thick, shimmed plywood to top and bottom to reduce any wobble. It’s not perfectly level, but it does the trick. I used this tutorial with some slight modifications (and a lot less precision) to make the stand.

I don’t have a proper workshop. Instead, I have a cluttered garage in which I store tools and movable work tables, and then I pull a car out of the garage to make a workspace or just drag all my materials and tools out into the driveway to do my work. Setup and tear-down are annoying.

In the first photo below, you can see that I’ve traced the anvil base on top of the stand and applied some silicone caulk to the parts of the stand that the anvil base will sit on. The intent here is to help dampen the ringing sound of the anvil. That ringing is pretty once or twice, but when you’re striking steel again and again, it becomes pretty unpleasant to listen to. You can also see that I’ve drilled pilot holes for some big bolts to go through. I cut some steel bar stock to approximate size, drilled holes in it, and used the pieces as mounting plates to affix the anvil firmly to the base. It’s pretty solid, and the addition of this metal helps dampen the ringing sound further. I picked this general technique from some tutorial, but I’ve lost the link.

That’s my new setup, which I put together in late January. I’ve forged three things since, and my son has forged two. My first was a really rough blade form that I ground and polished until it looked vaguely like a butter knife. It’s a real ugly duckling, which I’ll document visually here for the sake of showing progress. The rough form doesn’t look too bad, but look at all those hammer marks and scale. And then look how much I ground off to try to smooth those out and sharpen the thing. I didn’t know yet how to add a bevel or how to properly grind (I’m still learning).

For the second, I worked to try to make a better blade form in the forging process rather than in the grinding process. Common wisdom among blade smiths seems to be that you’ll spend a lot more time grinding a blade to shape than you will forging it to shape, so it’s better to get your blade as close to its final shape in the forge as you can before doing any post-forge grinding and shaping work.. So I made a much better blade form on my second try, though it was still very rough and was flat, with no blade tapering. I improved upon that technique in my third try, which I’ll post about separately, but here are a few shots from that second try.

Again, there are lots of hammer marks, and the blade shape is ugly (and the tip poorly done), but it’s a step forward. The third blade I worked on is much closer to being a real, usable knife. Stay tuned for that post.

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