Learn to Be A Blacksmith – Basic Skills

By Simon Graham | Learning and Lessons

Learn to Be a Blacksmith

You have all tools, furnace, space, and you’re ready to start your first project and learn to be a blacksmith. Blacksmithing requires many diverse skills, but you should start with the basics, and that usually means casting your first project.

Imagine you want to start simple project like casting bronze throwing knives. What are the basic skills you have to know and apply, to work on a simple project like that?

Basic skill and drill to learn to be a blacksmith.

This basic guide will help you learn how to use your beginner’s blacksmithing toolkit, and start making those awesome projects you have had your eye on!

Create Your Mold

Once you have chosen your design, you need to build the mold to cast your project. This will be the first hands-on step when you learn to be a blacksmith and it involves picking up a few crafting skills you will need to finalize your design. Basic wood carving, foam cutting, sanding and polishing skills are very helpful when you are making a casted project. If your design is made using a pre-made mold you can skip the tracing and mold pattern creating steps.

1. Tracing

Some online designs come with ready-made patterns, but if not, you can make one yourself. If you have the overall size and shape of your work, you can draw some full-sized sketches of your project to work from. If your drawings skills are not up to snuff, you can also try to print out a design photo you find online and use that to trace instead. Cut out the trace pattern from a block of foam, using the image as a tracer.

2. Creating the Mold Pattern

You will now need to build the three-dimensional pattern that is needed to make your mold. Foam and wood are typically used when a beginner wants to learn to be a blacksmith because they are cheap and easy to form. If you have an object that is already the required shape, that is even easier.

Foam and wood are flat materials that can be sanded, drilled, and sawn into shape using hand or power tools. If you have never carved or sanded before, its best to start on a practice piece so you can get a feel for how the material can be shaped.

Make a Molt for Casting Metal

Basic skills in learning to be a blacksmith.

Use your paper cut-out to trace the outline onto your material. With a bandsaw, handheld reciprocating saw, or box cutter, you can easily cut out your shape. Foam can also be cut using a hot-wire foam cutter but be sure to wear a mask and have good ventilation due to the fumes that you don’t want to ingest.

After the object is cut to its primary shape, trace the details onto the materials and start to shave away the extra you don’t need. Since you are just starting to learn to be a blacksmith, you might not have a lot of power tools laying around, so its great that foam and wood can both be sanded by hand with just sandpaper. If you do have them available a handheld sander or belt sander is extremely helpful for a quick and smooth pattern. Also, consider sanding bits for a power drill and hand carving tools, so you can easily add details to your design.

Foam patterns will usually be made of one solid piece, but thin wood, such as balsa or basswood, can be glued together to make a 3D pattern. Wood patterns typically need to be made in two halves when creating a full three-dimensional project This will save some sanding time, and is usually less expensive, but will require a little more engineering and some good wood glue to finish.

If you use wooden shapes to make the mold, you will have to remove it from the mold, to leave the empty cast. Foam models can be left inside since the molted metal evaporated it on contact.

3. Making the Mold

Depending on your project, different types of materials can be used to make your molds, including plaster of Paris, sand or clay, and pre-made metal molds. Considering you have just begun to learn to be a blacksmith, and plaster molds can be more difficult to get right, I am just going to focus on sand or clay and metal molds.

Obviously, a pre-made mold is the easiest to use, as it does not need to be shaped, and it will not require any pattern to create your project. Foam patterns can be placed in a sturdy bucket or another five-sided box, and you will need to have additional pieces of foam, that is not a part of your pattern sticking, out of the sand. Pour a layer of sand in the bucket first, place your pattern in, and fill the rest of the way, covering your entire pattern. Since foam evaporates at a low temperature, you will not need to remove the pattern prior to pouring the metal.

Patterns made from wood require a mold box made in two halves, with an opening for pouring. With your pattern on a flat surface, pour the sand or clay into the box, completely covering and packing it down on your design. Repeat this for the other half of your design. Glue the two halves together, using clamps, and screw on a piece of plywood to make a five-sided box. Now you are ready to fire up the furnace!

4. Pouring and Finishing the Project

After the metal is fully melted, its time to pour it from the crucible into the mold. Use your tongs and protective gloves to carefully lift and pour the metal either directly into your mold, or the hole you left in your mold box. You will want to avoid going to fast in this step and missing your mold, but you need to work quickly enough so that you are working with liquefied metal, a tricky skill to manage when you start to learn to be a blacksmith. After a few minutes of setting, open your mold carefully, and remove your object with your tongs. Place the still hot project directly into your bucket of water to cool faster.

Learn to Be a Blacksmith

Learning to be a blacksmith – How to cast metal in a mold.

Casting the metal requires attention, since spilling it might cause accidents. Leave it in the cast a few minutes, then pick it up with your thongs and quench it in water to solidify it. 

5. Filling and Polishing

Once it has cooled down enough, your project is ready for the final sanding and polishing phase. Use metal files and rotary saws to remove any excess pieces and to smooth out the roughest edges. Wire brush drill bits are helpful to polish and smooth down the raw metal. The finished product can be shined with oil rated for whatever type of metal you chose to use.

Most importantly, remember that mistakes can happen, and so long as you learn from them and keep trying, you will be successful in your mission to learn to be a blacksmith!

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