Apprenticeship Session 3

So we had a bit of a break since our last session and expected to finish up the bellows today. However, we didn’t have the rivets we needed so we went through some safety reminders and decided to start working on fire strikers instead. So we started with a piece of 10851085 1085 steel is a hardenable steel steel that used to be part of a tine from a farm rake.

steel rod from a farm rake tine
Steel from a farm rake tine

We started by learning to work as a team with a blacksmith, a fireman, and a striker. When having two people work a piece of steel there’s a “code” that is used to communicate what you’d like to do. Back in the day, smithies were noisy places and if you spent too much time in them you were probably hard of hearing. So they developed a way to let the other person know what they should do. The fireman was an experienced blacksmith and in charge of keeping the fire going and running the blower. The blacksmith took the lead working the steel and handled the steel from the fire to the anvil and directed the working of the piece. After pulling the piece from the forge they would position the piece and begin with the first hammer blow. The striker would then hit in the same location and they would take turns. The blacksmith would communicate that it was time to stop by tapping the anvil with their hammer (it just naturally bounces a bit). And if they wanted to start the team striking again, they would tap the anvil twice with their hammer as a sign for “let’s go”.

So we worked as a team and took our farm rake tine and cut off about 10 or 12 inches and started to flatten it into bar stock. Working as a team it went quite quickly! In addition to pounding it flat, the blacksmith also got to do some clean up work with keeping the edges straight. We wound up with to smaller pieces of “bar stock” and were ready to start tapering out the ends to make a fire striker.

tine pounded into bar stock for the fire striker
Tine pounded into bar stock for the fire striker

The next step was to start tapering down each end. At that point we decided it was time to review some fundamentals and get really good at them, so we set aside our new bar stock and started to practice on some off-the-shelf round stock.

The steps to make a tapered point on round stock

  1. While hammering at an angle, take a couple of blows to make a flat slope.
  2. Turn the piece 90º.
  3. Hammer another flat slope.
  4. Turn back to the first flat slope and repeat.
  5. Continue making sure you have a square at the tip.
  6. Move the hammer back from the tip a bit and continue hammering on the flat slopes.
  7. Once you have a nice tip that’s maybe two hammer-widths long, then hammer on the edges between the flat slopes to make an octagon rather than a square taper.
  8. Continue the octagon shape back the two hammer-widths as well until you now have an octagon taper.
  9. Now that you’ve hammered a round piece of steel into a square and then an octagon, it’s time to hammer it back to round.
  10. Hammer (actually more like tap) on the octagon’s ridges until they are smooth and the piece is round again.
  11. You’re done when there is a nice smooth taper at the end of your piece.

We finished our practice by curling our tapers starting over the edge of the anvil and then working them on the anvil’s face. And lastly, we practiced adding a fuller using the round edge of the anvil and the same 90º striking technique that we used earlier. We ended with something that may not be pretty, but it was a pretty important lesson to review.

finished practice piece
Finished practice piece including taper, curl, and fuller

We also spent a bit of time talking about knife blades we’d been making and reviewing our experiences working with round stock, bar stock, starting with the blade, and starting with the tang. I think after talking it through we discovered we all kind of prefer to work through the various steps in the same order on bar stock.

Steps to forging a blade

  1. Angling one corner of the bar stock into a tip.
  2. Setting the shoulder on the spine side of the blade.
  3. Forging the cutting edge.
  4. Shaping the tang.

Of course that’s a very rough description of how a blade is forged, but it does seem to work the best for all of us.

blade forging steps
Blade forging diagram that probably only makes sense to us