Medieval adventures

Blacksmithing Terms

I (Penda) am not a great fan of needing to know the terms for everything. Blacksmithing does have its own language of sorts, so here are some terms you may want to become familiar with.

Drawing (Drawing Out – make the metal thinner)

This takes a thicker piece of metal and makes it thinner, resulting in the metal becoming longer or wider or both. You basically make a series of dents in the metal, and then flatten it out.

You can draw metal in several ways. Usually, it is a combination of several techniques. Rapid drawing can be done by hammering the metal in increments on the horn or the rounded edge of your anvil. I find using the rounded edge of the anvil is the fastest way. This results in a series of bumps that you hammer flat. You can also draw metal out by using the edge of your hammer and pushing away as you strike. You can draw out a taper by holding the metal at an angle to the anvil face and hammering. Using the fuller side of the hammer is another method.

You can make a fuller tool that will draw it out on both the bottom and top at the same time.

Upsetting (make the metal thicker)

This can be a bit tricky and you may end up bending the bar rather than getting it thicker. You can also anchor the cool side of the item in a vice and hammer the hot side to make it get thicker. You can also use a metal block on the floor and drop the hot end onto it. It is handy to use a block with a semi-sphere hole to keep the piece from bouncing around if you are hammering.

Bending

Just as the name implies. A lot of people think you need a horn to do this, but a circle can easily be made by incrementally hammering the piece while moving it forward on the edge of the anvil. Once you get a semi-circle you can brace and hammer the rest of it into a circle. The horn is usually the faster method for the second step.

Punching

Creates holes through metal. This is different than drilling a hole where metal is lost. Punching pushes a hole through the metal, so nothing is lost.

Twisting

You can make fancy twists in metal by heating it up in the spot to be twisted, placing it in a vice, and using an adjustable wrench on the other side of the hot spot to twist the piece. You can selectively cool spots to get different patterns if you then reverse twist it.

Flattening

Basically just hammering the metal flat. A hammerhead needs to have a rounded edge to make this happen without denting the metal. You can also use a tool called a flatter, but that usually takes two people unless you have a way to hold down your piece on the anvil.

Stamping

You can make up stamps to put patterns into your piece. If you want to do leaf veins you can use a chisel. A blacksmith’s mark is often done with a stamp. Be sure to cool the stamp after each use!

Brushing

You will get a gray/black scale on your piece as you work on it. This can be removed by using a steel brush while the item is still hot. You should see sparks as you brush it. This will improve the look of your finished piece. Some blacksmiths brush often as they work, others (like me) just do it at the end. You may want different sized brushes depending on how curvy the piece is.

Selective Cooling

This is where you use water to cool parts of the piece so you force a bend to happen where you want. Having a metal ladle or pitcher is handy for pouring water over the area to be cooled. Selective cooling is one of Blacksmith’s best-kept secrets. You use selective cooling a lot when making hooks.

Quenching

Remember that if you take a piece of metal that is beyond the critical temperature (no longer magnetic), it will become very hard and very brittle if you quench it. When you finish your piece of work, consider how brittle you want it to be. Don’t quench a hook when it is bright yellow, or you will find it will snap off easily. I usually quench things after they have cooled down to a dull red. If I want to grind or etch them, I just let them cool slowly.

Annealing

The process of slowly cooling down metal so that it can be filed, ground or worked cold. The slower it cools down, the softer it will become. When annealing you want the entire piece to be the same temperature/colour, and then cool it gradually maintaining the same temperature throughout. The molecules in the steel will form a very random structure.

Normalizing

This will remove any area-specific stresses that have occurred as you shaped the piece. The molecules in the steel will form a ‘uniformly random’ structure. An example would be areas that were selectively cooled. Don’t cool it on a cold metal surface, or you will just introduce more stresses. Cooling it in ashes or in a Kao Wool blanket works well. If you were working on a knife, you would hammer out the rough shape and then anneal/normalize, so you could easily grind and polish it to a mirror finish and remove any hard spots that would have occurred from quenching. Then you would harden and temper it.

Hardening

This forces the molecules in the metal to form a very structured pattern. This makes it very hard, but also very brittle. Hardening is done by heating metal up to a bright yellow and then quenching it in water or oil (Canola oil works or professional oil). You can test if your metal is at critical temperature with a magnet. If the magnet doesn’t stick, you are at critical temperature. The metal will be unbelievably hard at this point after quenching, so don’t expect that you will be able to file or grind it. You should have done all that work before you hardened it after the normalizing step! Oil can be used instead of water because it doesn’t cool the metal as rapidly as water does. Very rapid cooling can cause your metal to crack. If using oil be sure to keep the object submerged until it has cooled to avoid flare-ups. A metal container or wood bucket should be used for any kind of cooling

Tempering

To remove the brittleness of hardened metal, you bake it at a constant temperature for several hours. The molecules will end up with a mix of structured and random patterning. If you had polished the metal in advance, you will see an oxidization colour appear on the metal as it tempers. Use a tempering chart to determine what toughness you want to achieve. Let the metal cool slowly after it has baked (just turn the oven off and wait). Tempering is dependent on the type of steel you use and its carbon content. If you have purchased a specific type of steel with known carbon content, refer to its specific tempering chart. If you temper it and don’t get the results you want, temper it again at a different temperature.
Examples:

Knife blades = 350 – 450F / 175 – 230 C = light yellow to yellow