A post-apocalyptic smith will not necessarily be a replica of the Master Smith of 1776. There will be gaps in his knowledge that only experience not presently available can fill. Many modern smiths do not, for example, know how to make files or shoe horses. They will, however, have a wealth of knowledge and materials that would amaze our 18th century Master Smith. They may have Templesticks, a power hammer, modern steels that are air-hardened. They'll understand some science and engineering that their forebears never heard of. They will find, unfortunately in many cases, that they'll have to go back to hand tools rather than electrically powered machines. They will find that they cannot order propane, coal, steel, acetylene, oxygen, or other items now commonly ordered by phone or on line. They'll have to make do... something most smiths have had to learn even in these times.
The blacksmith of old was the original Angus MacGyver, and had to be at least as inventive as that television character. Who do you think made the first Swiss Army Knife anyway? The post-apocalyptic smith will have to be even more inventive than his forefathers.
The answer to the basic question (why to learn smithing in the first place) is fairly self-evident to a "born" smith, someone who wants to learn it just for the sake of learning it; he does it because he can and he needs no further justification for it. Anyone else, particularly those reading these words on Miles' site, might need some additional motivation. He might ask, "How will learning to do blacksmithing help me survive the end times, or any other disaster?"
Well, life in a post-Apocalyptic world will not be easy. The things we have all become accustomed to, like toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, dry-cell batteries, state-of-the-automotive-art Maybach automobiles (if one is extremely weathy!), and telecommunications will all either be gone completely or sharply reduced in availability. We will have to find substitutes or trade for what we want.
I like honey, for example, but I absolutely HATE bees (You wondered why I didn't buy the bee book, Miles?). After a nuclear war or some natural or supernatural disaster, I won't be able to go to Aldi's or Sam's to buy honey. I'll have to raise the bees myself, trade other goods and services, rob a beekeeper, or do without honey. If I thought that I could control my nerves well enough to actually open an active hive and rob the bees of their labor, I might consider learning how to raise the little venomous flying thorns myself, but I don't think I could do that... hey, even Superman has a weakness! This leaves brigandage and trade. One is costly, one is risky and immoral. I would choose to trade.
Trade what? Well, the beekeeper probably isn't a blacksmith, and like me, he can't go to Fleet Farm to buy tools that he needs to ply his trade. He, like everyone else will need to find other sources for axes, shovels, hoes, picks, wedges, hooks, and a thousand other tools. I need a quart of honey, he needs... say, a boot scraper for outside his front door to keep the mud out of the house (no electricity for the vacuum cleaner and he probably has other things for his wife to do than wear herself out sweeping up dried mud). Or maybe he needs a hook to hang his lantern on when the sun goes down. Possibly he might need a spring for his shotgun to keep the bears out of his hives. He might want something nobody ever heard of, like, for instance a 'skeeter chaser (pictured at left). Mosquitoes and other insect vectors spread more disease than all the sneezes in the world.
Virtually any essential tool can be made by a skilled blacksmith using only the basic tools of hammer, forge, and anvil. You need a fish-hook? Can do! How 'bout a horse shoe? No problem at all! It might pay to remember that gasoline not being available will make horses extremely popular all of a sudden... which will make farriers quite sought after.
A word about farriers... a good farrier, which is a blacksmith who specializes in horse shoeing and related enterprises is worth at least his weight in gold. He must be part blacksmith, part veterinarian, and it doesn't hurt to know something about wainwrightry and harness mending. A farrier can do most simple blacksmithing tasks, though he may not be up to things like hardening and tempering knife blades or making a file from scratch. A blacksmith who is not trained in working with horses should not attempt to shoe a horse. He could end up crippling a valuable animal... and the owner might then become upset enough to find a new place to shove the smith's hammer... after first heating the head to red heat in the forge!
Any steel tool can be repaired and/or refurbished by a competent blacksmith. Many a modern smith makes a fair amount of his living from refurbishing plow points, or at least he did ten or fifteen years ago. Picks, axes, shovels, mattocks, broadaxes, froes, adzes, hoes, and other hand tools do break and wear out. They'll be needed, quite probably, within the time span addressed by other areas of Miles' site. Many essential tools will be broken and need repair... probably more repairs will be needed than new tools, though this will depend upon many issues as yet unknown.
This is not to say that trade is the only reason to get into this kind of work. Indeed, most farmers would still find basic smithing skills useful, even in the age of electric arc welders. I was able to persuade a modern dairy farmer to part with his grandfather's forge only with great persistence and the promise that I would see to any future blacksmithing needs he might have. I've since straightened a wagon tongue and a steel lever, and repaired "obsolete" farm machinery, among other things.
The three basic tools of the smith (hammer, forge and anvil) can and must be supplemented by a whole bunch of other tools, but every one of those tools from a drill bit to a rotary forge blower can be made with the three basic ones. The most commonly used hand tool in my shop is a two pound cross-peen hammer.
The two on the bottom in the illustration at left are cross-peen hammers. The astute observer will note that one has a longer handle on it. Both weigh the same, but the longer handle gives the smith more leverage and allows for a more forceful hit. I use this one for rough work like squaring round stock. The shorter handled hammer is used for finishing points, bending, and welding of light stock.
Most smiths use a heavier hammer than two pounds, but they are usually in better shape than I, work with heavier iron, and have a much larger anvil than I do. I sometimes use the 4 pounder for heavier stock, but not often. I don’t think I would crack my anvil face, but I don’t especially want to find out.
Almost any hammer will work for smithing... even that little 10 oz hammer your wife uses to hang pictures in the living room, though to do any significant amount of work, you'd have to do quite a bit of hammering with something that light. It is best to get a hammer in the two to five pound range at a minimum for general blacksmithing, but even better to have an assortment of hammers in different weights and configurations. Brass, and lead hammers do have their uses in blacksmithing, as do wooden mallets, but in a pinch they can be done without. I find them useful for adjusting work clamped to a drill press table and straightening out bends that find their way into longitudinal twists.
An anvil, at least a quality anvil, is one of the more difficult items to find these days. My own anvil, pictured at left, is a relatively small and light model made in China and sold at Fleet Farm (on clearance) more than twenty years ago. It is a traditional one in that the body of the anvil is made of wrought iron and the face of tool steel welded onto the body. It has served me well for some twenty odd years and will likely last another twenty. Unlike most modern anvils, my anvil rings just like the old ones did. Modern anvils are almost all made of cast steel, thus they do not ring. This is not as bad as some smiths will tell you.
The old London pattern anvil or slight variations thereof, is the most common anvil in public perception. This is the anvil that commonly gets dropped on the heads of cartoon characters from great heights. It has a horn, a face, a pritchel hole, and a hardy hole near the heal of the anvil.
A common variant is the farrier's anvil, which is generally lighter in weight, and has a longer and more tapered horn. Other designs may have two horns or other design variations. They can weigh anywhere from a thousand pounds or more in the case of a shop that does steam locomotive repair or traditional anchor making, to a few ounces for a jeweler's anvil. If you can afford to buy an anvil, get one that weighs at least 150 pounds or so... heavier is better, but if you are trying to bug out of town with your family in a '91 Ford Escort, a 500 pound anvil in the back will almost certainly overload the suspension, not to mention the back of the smith who has to lift it.
I have found that my 50 pounder is heavy enough for most small household hardware like hooks, trivets, fireplace tools, etc. It is also easy to move around my garage. Would I trade it for 150 pounder, though? Absolutely!
If you have to improvise an anvil, a section of railroad track will work, as will a section of steel I-beam. Almost any kind of heavy steel will work. Cast iron, like an engine block does not make a very good anvil. Cast iron is brittle and will shatter upon impact with a hammer. Probably the first anvil was simply a large rock, and while a piece of granite is not my favorite anvil, I have been able to use it for some purposes.
The anvil at right is made from a section of railroad track and has served Miles for quite some time. An anvil like this one does have limitations, especially when working with very heavy stock, but you can use it for a surprising number of things. Most common tool repairs can easily be handled with this anvil.
An important consideration with this type of anvil, or any light weight anvil is the fact that it will soak up heat from the hot iron being worked on its surface. When I am working with any stock larger than half an inch in diameter, I generally put my anvil in the slack tub for a few minutes after every two hours or so. As a rule of thumb, if it becomes too hot to touch, it is too hot!
The anvil is mounted traditionally by spiking it to a heavy wooden post sunk into the floor a fair distance with the face of the anvil about knuckle-height to the smith. If you want it lower, be my guest, I suspect that chiropractors will still be plying their trade in the foreseeable future. I mount mine on a box made of 2x12 stock held together with long carriage bolts and filled with concrete capped by another piece of wood. This is a fairly stable support and can be moved... with difficulty, as it weighs more than the anvil.
Instead of being spiked, my anvil simply rests in a rectangular recess sized to fit its base. This allows me to remove the anvil and move it separate from the base. Other smiths use a steel frame support and some chain the anvil down. This, they tell me, keeps the anvil from ringing as loudly. To each their own.
You also need a forge.
The forge can be as simple as a fire built on the ground with a "trench tuyer" and three "slaves" using their lungs and a long tube each one in sequence to provide a forced draft as it was done in times past. Now, slaves, by nature are not very good workers, being unwilling ones... not that I blame them. Volunteers fail as well, as they require food, shelter, and other human needs just like the slaves do... but in a pinch, a group of men with a good sense of rhythm can serve in this fashion for a time. There are better ways, however.
The forced draft is essential. Naturally aspirated fires simply do not provide enough heat to work iron and steel unless they are quite large. This can be done, as, I have been told, the traditional Japanese swordsmiths do, but a large fire consumes proportionately large amounts of fuel and the immense heat from such a fire makes it difficult to approach the iron being worked.
Almost everyone even in these modern times is familiar with the common fireplace bellows. This small bellows is called a "single-acting" bellows, because it can only provide a forced draft when being pumped in one direction.
The double-chambered or great bellows is similar in operation, but it has two chambers and can provide a steady draft by virtue of the design allowing for draft production while being pumped in either direction. While a pair of single-acting bellows can be used in tandem, a double-chambered bellows is preferred. The size of the bellows depends upon the size of the forge, which in turn is dependent upon the size of the metal to be worked.
Probably the best compromise package is either a modern or an antique forge with a hand-cranked rotary “squirrel-cage” blower to provide draft. The rotary blower was invented around 1850 and has pretty much supplanted the bellows due in part to its compact size relative to the bellows it replaced.
My own forge is one of these. It was built by the Buffalo Forge Company of Buffalo, NY, probably in the early 1900's. It is made of heavy cast-iron and provides useful heat for most things I need it for. I obtained it from a friend and when I picked it up, the blower was froze up from rust and lack of use. Some of the parts were bent from where it had been crushed against the back wall of a shed by a trailer carelessly backed into it. I've since restored it to working condition with minimal expense.
This is what you want, if you can possibly find one. The modern ones are available from several sources, and the old ones can sometimes be found at farm auctions.
If you cannot locate or cannot afford a forge... all is not lost. The first forges were made from scratch. Forges can be made from masonry, or iron and steel. I've made forges constructed out of brick held in a wooden box with a piece of black iron pipe as a tuyer... the tube providing the draft to the fire. Never use galvanized pipe for any forge part that will get hot... unless you would like to experience lead poisoning first-hand. I've also used brake drums for the "duck's nest". Brake drums work fairly well, being made of cast iron. Anyone capable of performing basic smithing operations should be well-able to engineer his own forge... and there are numerous sources available for those not able to design their own.
It is often helpful to have a "blacksmith's helper"... a support that is the same height as the edge of the forge. It is useful to have such a device adjustable to account for variations in the level of the floor as well as the angle one wishes the work to be held in the fire. At right can be seen an improvised helper, a saw-horse. There are iron helpers, but for light work, a wooden support is more than sufficient.
Another item that is needed is some kind of container for quenching steel and supplying water for cokification of the coal, or containing the fire in the case of a charcoal forge. This is called the slack tub, and is essential. I use an old whiskey barrel sawed in half, as can be seen in the photograph, but any kind of bucket or tub will work so long as it is water-tight and relatively heat resistant.
In addition to the slack tub, you also might want a container of oil and/or brine. Not all steels can be effectively hardened in a simple water bath. There are, for example, oil-hardening steels. Caution: plastic buckets and the like do not make good slack tubs, especially when containing oil. They will melt and possibly cause a large oil spill in your driveway.
A forge traditionally burns coal or charcoal, though they can be designed to burn various petroleum products, alcohol, wood, coke, natural gas, wood gas, and propane. If it will burn, you can probably design a forge to burn it... though some fuels are more preferred than others. Probably the most useful fuels for a post-apocalyptic smith are the traditional ones; coal and charcoal. Most of the others, natural gas, propane, etc. will not be available in any reliable quantity.
Coal suitable for smithing is not at all easy to come by commercially any longer. I used to buy it from a local coal supplier, but now they only supply stoker coal, which is a high-sulfur product in very large granulation. It can be used, but it doesn't work well at all. Smithing coal can be ordered in fifty pound bags, but be prepared to pay for shipping... coal is heavy. Coke, which is what you convert the coal into when you burn it in a forge, can be burned as well... if you can find it. The best coal (or coke) for smithing has a very high percentage of carbon, and a low percentage of sulfur and other impurities.
The "shelf life" of coal, coke or charcoal is in the millions of years... much longer than you need to store it, and it can be stored out in the weather with no problems. Unless you live in an area where you can "strip mine" it on your own land however, you can't make it yourself, so get a few hundred pounds in storage against the time when you can't order it any longer... more if you plan to "hire out" your services to the neighbors.
"Shot coke" is a petroleum product, and does not work well for smithing due to an extremely high sulfur content... take in a lung full of the fumes from that stuff some day. After you have finished your coughing spell, you'll understand with a great wealth of detail why you don't want to use it if you can possibly avoid it.
Charcoal is pretty much the antithesis of coal in many ways. It is almost pure carbon, with no sulfur or anything else to make the thick black smoke that characterizes a coal fire. It is readily available at many distribution points. It can even be made on-site if one has a ready supply of wood. It is relatively light in weight. It is not without problems, however.
First, the forge must be designed with a much deeper bowl than a coal forge in order to produce useful heat. A coal forge can burn charcoal, but it must be modified a bit. When I burn charcoal in my own forge, I generally stack a few rows of bricks around the periphery to improvise a deeper bowl. Alternatively, one can simply mound it up over the top of the fire.
The best charcoal is "natural lump" charcoal, which looks like blackened tree branches, or in one case I saw, blackened hardwood flooring scraps. Conventional charcoal briquettes intended for outdoor cooking have some problems... the binder in this product will break down if exposed to excessive moisture, and I have heard that it will produce toxic fumes under a draft. I question this claim, but I cannot refute it, so use charcoal briquettes for smithing at your own risk.
Probably the biggest drawback for charcoal is that it burns up much faster than coal does. A hundred pounds of coal will be enough to supply my own forge for the entire Summer, a hundred pounds of charcoal will be gone in a month or two.
Should you wish, you can make your own charcoal. Alex Bealer's book contains some references to the subject as it was done historically, and is done today. Not all that much has changed in the basic process. Charcoalers build fires in piles of wood that are partially buried in the earth. They open drafts up to let varying amounts of air in to the fire from time to time until the charcoal is done, and then they smother the fire. This is a very simplistic version of what they actually do, however. Most of us would not have need for such large amounts of charcoal as is commonly made this way, however. Charcoal making is as much art as science... kinda like blacksmithing... and those who make it develop an expertise that is difficult to impart to others who have not spent time in the woods sleeping under a tarp and tending fires.
My neighbor Seffe tells me of long hard hours spent in making charcoal under his father’s tutelage as a boy growing up in Mexico. He also tells me that the pay for the finished product was minimal at best. This is, unfortunately (or fortunately, if one is buying rather than selling) common in the history of charcoal making.
The basic process is simple; one burns wood under carefully controlled conditions to burn off the wood gas and moisture among other things, and leave behind the almost pure carbon that is charcoal. Hardwood makes the best charcoal, but any wood can be used.
Making small batches is labor-intensive, but not impossible to accomplish. One way is to simply build a fire on the ground, wait for the flames to die down, (an indication that most of the wood gas has been burned off), and douse it with water. This will leave charcoal in the ashes that can be gathered up and put to use in a forge.
Another way that I have found effective is to build a fire in a commonly available Weber charcoal grill with hardwood. Let the fire get going pretty well and then put the lid on the grill and close up the vents. The Weber design is almost perfect for small scale charcoal production. It pretty much duplicates with modern air vents and steel, what the traditional charcoal makers do with dirt. Your first batch of charcoal will probably have quite a bit of wood left in it. No problem, leave the wood for the next batch... or simply use it as it is in the forge. You can convert it to charcoal much as coal is coked in the forge, though you probably do not want excessive amounts of wood in your forge. It produces tars, creosote, smoke, etc. that are tough on the smith's eyes, not to mention his lungs.
The first tool that a smith needs to construct, assuming he has a hammer, working forge, and an anvil, is a pair of tongs. Tongs are a tool used to handle small pieces of iron in the forge. In a pinch, a pair of ViseGrips will work, though the short handles on them limit their utility somewhat. A piece of iron can be worked without tongs, provided it is long enough that the smith can hold onto one end of it without burning himself when the other end is at red heat. Eighteen to twenty-four inches or more is about right. This should give you some idea of how long to make the tongs.
My first and second sets of tongs are not pretty. They are crude and ugly. I made them myself, though, and I still use them from time to time. These days, though, I seldom admit to having made something that ugly!
If you wish, you can order tongs already made. This is perhaps not a bad idea for the neophyte who is short of time... which we all may be. However, making a pair of tongs is a good exercise and by the time the apprentice has finished a pair of tongs, he will have learned a good deal and will... perhaps... be ready to tackle the project he made the tongs for in the first place.
The tongs at left are horse shoe tongs... or that is my belief. With so many tools, it is not at all uncommon to find one in a shop that you never saw before. Most often the smith who used the tool in question is long dead, so you cannot ask him outside of consulting a medium... something I definitely DO NOT recommend. These are used, as near as I can tell, to handle horse shoes in a forge. The cupped jaws allow for the cleats to be held firmly.
There are a plethora of other tools that can be either made or ordered. None of them are essential, but all of them are useful. They include hardies, specialized hammers, clamps, nail-headers, vises, drills, punches, and so many others that I could not possibly list them all here.
About vises.... a five dollar vise with a clamp to attaching it to a work bench is unsuitable for blacksmithing. Your vise needs to be large, heavy, and firmly fastened to a work bench. It it can be swiveled in several dimensions, so much the better, but it must be sturdy and able to take pounding as you may be using it quite heavily.
Should you be so very fortunate as to find a leg vise... get down on your knees and thank God profusely. I only recently acquired one myself, and this after actively searching for twenty years. Even if you find a damaged one that can be repaired... you have a prize beyond price.
A leg vise has an extension on the stationary jaw that goes to the floor, thus it is supported right from the floor and is much sturdier than any bench mounted vise. When something is clamped in this vise and is hammered on, the force of the blows is not wasted on the flexing of the bench, it is rather, applied to the work being hammered.
Traditionally, a leg vise's leg is set upon something like a white oak post buried a fair distance into the ground, though this is not my favorite. My own smithy needs to be portable, so I prefer something on the order of a wedge plate or other support base that can be picked up and moved along with the rest of the shop. A plumbing flange and nipple of the appropriate size makes a tolerable adjustable "foot" for the leg. A concrete floor with a steel plate supporting the vise leg is pretty hard to beat, but if you don't have concrete, improvise something else... a large rock, a post, a steel plate, etc.
I got this vise (shown "as found" in the photo at right) from a farmer's work bench in Abrams, WI. The present owner of thefarm had little use for it after his father's death, so it stood idle. When I came to remove the vise, it hadn't been used in some twenty to thirty years, and neither had the blowtorch in the ice cream bucket on the bench. The leg was buried in the dirt floor with the rotted remains of a wooden post under it.
Most smiths buy some of their tools and make others. Necessity being the mother of invention, smiths often make tools that they will only use one time for some specific purpose. They do this primarily because they can.
The one "tool" that a neophyte smith simply cannot do without is a good set of books detailing smithing operations, properties of metals, and any other subjects that might be thought useful. Wainwrightry, harness making, and automobile mechanics come to mind. Yes, smiths can repair automobiles... who do you think made and repaired the first ones?
Two books I have found to be extremely informative are The Complete Modern Blacksmith, by Alexander G. Weygers, and The Art of Blacksmithing by Alex W. Bealer. Both have a wealth of information in the form of prose as well as diagrams. Remember, even if I manage to expand this article such that it becomes more of an e-book than a web article, it won't be available when the Internet is gone... unless somebody saves the entire document and puts it out on a packet radio server.
Another tool that can be useful is either a gasoline or kerosene blow torch. It used to be a commonly available tool, but today is found more often in antique shops, having been replaced in the working world by propane torch. Both the old and the new torches are shown at left. Please excuse the workbench clutter.
You might not be able to use it once the gasoline is gone, but until that time, it will be quite useful for tempering steel tools, soldering (you'll need an old-fashioned soldering iron that has to be heated up by the torch), etc.. Be careful with this tool... and make very certain it is in workable condition before you do something as foolish as actually igniting it. NEVER attempt to add pressure to a burning blow-torch. If the check valve fails and sprays gasoline out through the pump stem... it will ignite with no way to shut off the fuel supply. It is difficult to get one to actually explode, but if it does, you don't want to be near it. A good rule of thumb is to always have a full bucket of water around to pour on the torch if something... unexpected... should happen. I cannot stress enough that these torches, while quite useful, are dangerous in the extreme and as they are all fifty year old antiques now, may not be in the safest condition.
Get a good tap and die set. The one shown at left is a high-end set by Sears in their Craftsman line. They make several different sets in different price ranges. This one contains a set of Easy Outs. I have personally found Easy Outs to often be ineffective in removing broken bolts, but the alternatives are definitely to be avoided. Photo courtesy of Sears.
There will come a time when you will need to either tap a hole in something or thread a rod for some reason. Trust me, you do not want to attempt to cut threads by hand with a file. It can be done, but is extremely time intensive and has a large scrap ratio. Cutting internal threads by hand involves first making a tap, which is done by first cutting threads on a rod of annealed/normalized tool steel, then tapering the threads at the end and cutting flutes into it. If this sounds impossible to you it probably is, though it has been done. Making taps and dies is not nearly so difficult if one has a properly equipped metal lathe. More on this topic later.
By now you may have come up with another question; if I can't buy a shovel at Fleet Farm, where can I order a half-ton of half-inch square mild steel? The answer is, unfortunately, that a post-apocalyptic smith may not be able to order anything.
Where, then, can he get metal to ply his trade with? Good question! Probably the first thing any competent post-apocalyptic smith would do is to secure a good supply of raw material, mostly mild steel, but various types of tool steels might also be put into "stock", as well as a few other metals, i.e.: brass for brazing, lead and tin for soldering, maybe some copper tubing and other materials. He might also procure for himself some old recycled wrought iron or Swedish iron. Preferably, he'd do this ahead of time, before the waste products hit the fan.
He'd load his stock, tools, forge, anvil, weapons, reloading equipment, ammunition, food, water, other assorted supplies and his family, carefully into an old school bus he bought and bug out to parts unknown. (An old school bus makes a very good bug-out vehicle because of its large cargo capacity, high road-clearance, and the nearly bullet-proof sides). But suppose he did not plan well enough and was caught unawares. (Remember, not even Jesus knows the hour!) Photo courtesy of www.usedschoolbusses.com.
Well, look around you. There are all kinds of things in the average garage or machine shed that won't have much use in a post-apocalyptic world. A gas or electric lawn mower, for example. The blade is high-carbon steel, suitable for making knives, machetes, cleavers, hoes, mattocks, splitting froes, etc. How 'bout that old side rake? Well, you might be able to use it as is, but the rake tines are also high carbon steel that can be used for many things.
The most useful source of base material however, may be that very school bus that got you out to Gramma's farm in the first place. (Trust me; at four to ten miles per gallon, you won't be driving it around all that much after the original trip!) You can jack the body up and remove the drive train, wheels and suspension. Leave the body intact as it makes a very good instant shelter and eventually a good place to store things that need to be out of the weather. After you finish dismantling the drive train and suspension, you will have hundreds of pounds of springs, shafting, and nuts & bolts. Much of this will be good quality high-carbon steel.
In a post-apocalyptic world, a common ordinary junk-yard is considerably more valuable than a gold mine. You have at your fingertips, an almost inexhaustible supply of various grades of iron and steel bar stock. You have tons of sheet steel, which, as any smith who has attempted to draw a bar down to a thin sheet will tell you, is unbelievably precious. You have wire, and generators, hundreds of radios that probably still work, gears and transmissions, air-conditioning compressors, batteries... that can be used as is or broken up for scrap lead which has a whole 'nother application... as projectiles.
If you are a competent smith and wish to ply that trade in the post-apocalyptic world, try to locate yourself near a country junk yard. You will enrich yourself immeasurably not only for your own projects, but if you can lay claim to that junk yard somehow, you can supply other smiths with base materials as well... in exchange for other goods and services, of course.
It is possible for a knowledgeable smith to make his own iron and steel. This is not to be undertaken lightly, however. Alex Bealer address this topic in the second chapter of his book. Depending upon what exactly is wanted, different methods were and are used.
One method of making wrought iron involves distributing small pieces of cast iron in a furnace filled with charcoal. The charcoal is then ignited and the fire fanned to a very high heat. This will burn the extra carbon out of the cast iron and leave pure iron and slag behind. This material will collect in the form of a "bloom" in the bottom of the furnace, where it can be dragged out and worked with hammers to form various sized rods of wrought iron stock.
This will not be an easy task to accomplish, and anyone attempting it should first consult a doctor to make certain of his own sanity before proceeding. The final product of this venture however may be well worth the effort.
Actual wrought iron is virtually unavailable today. It hasn't been made in any form for quite some time, and after about 1900, wrought iron bar stock was pretty much replaced by mild steel. Most smiths hated the stuff, but short of making their own wrought iron, a daunting task, they had to use mild steel where they had used wrought iron. The advantages of wrought iron may almost be worth the effort, however. It is far easier to weld than any steel, one cannot burn it at any temperature... it will melt first. It is much more resistant to rust than mild steel. This is the stuff from which you want to make hooks that will be used outdoors.
There are still a few sources for wrought iron. It is expensive, but it might be worth stocking a few hundred pounds for certain purposes... if one has the money. Swedish iron is very much like wrought iron, but has less slag content and is more expensive. It, too, is available in limited quantities.
Stainless steel is interesting material to work with. It cannot be welded in a forge. It retains heat well and it can be used to forge implements that are virtually indestructible as far as rust is concerned. If you really try hard, you can get it to rust, but it won't be an easy task. There are different grades of stainless steel. The most rust resistant is not magnetic and is generally softer. Surgical steels, some cookware, and other food grade machinery is made of this stuff.
Other tools might be desirable. In the way of power tools, a trip-hammer or power hammer will save many hours of hammering if it can be adapted to wind, water, steam or other post-apocalyptic power supply. Another machine that will be greatly useful is a metal lathe... preferably a large one with as many accessories as possible. Most of them will be electric, but there are ways to supply limited electricity in a post-apocalyptic world.
Traditional machines that are useful include treadle grinding wheels and post drills, which are a kind of old-fashioned drill press with a hand crank. Time was when every farm in the country had both of these items in a shed somewhere and often they can still be found there, covered with rust and with wooden parts rotted to nothing.
The post drill at right was missing a few parts, covered with accumulated grime, and not very well mounted to the wall of this work shop when I first laid eyes on it. I was able to place it back into service with relatively little effort. Currently it is "in trust" to me, pending its return to the farmer who owns it. As he normally borrows my electric drill press when he needs it, his post drill may be in my garage for some time to come.
Keep your electric tools; drills, saws, grinders, etc. You can still use them as I type this. I know this because I am using a computer to type it on. For a while... possibly a long while... electricity will continue to be available and electric tools are of immense value in speeding the construction of a home, if one needs to be built, a smithy, sheds, greenhouses, and other structures and/or projects. There are also ways of producing post-apocalyptic electricity for your power tools addressed in other areas of Miles’ site.
I have made much mention and emphasis on post-apocalyptic issues in this article. As I was writing this for Miles, I thought this appropriate, but the principals can and perhaps should be applied outside of a post-apocalyptic scenario as well. By definition, the apocalypse is at a time no one knows. It will come as a "thief in the night." How then can one prepare?
First, trust God. Second, don't worry. If you are able to get prepared in time for the coming changes, so much the better. If you get killed in the first nuclear exchange, you have nothing to worry about anyway... not that it would do you any good at that point.
Living "off the grid" is, in fact, its own reward. Slavery was never actually abolished, you know. Only the form of it was changed. We are all still slaves in many ways. We have to work for a "master" in order to make money in order to pay for our living expenses. We have to take rudeness, unpleasant working conditions, and other nastiness as a matter of course. We never seem to get out of the rut we have dug for ourselves. This is by design... and started early in the last century. It is a difficult cycle to break, but break it we can, if we really want to.
The best way to cope with a post-apocalyptic world is to start living in the way you would have to live then as soon as possible. On the day the bombs fall, an Amish farmer will likely look at the distant mushroom clouds, shrug his shoulders, perhaps mutter "Gott in Himmel!", say a prayer, then urge the horse on to the farm yard. He probably won't be milking cows much longer for a living due to the changes in the economic system, but otherwise, he has plenty of Kerosene and appliances that use them. He won't miss the electricity as he doesn't use it, and he won't care about the EMP that fried all the radio and television stations. His life, and the lives of his family will probably go on. He may have problems he might not otherwise have had, but the basic living skills are already there and he is an expert.
We should all become experts... while there is still time, and the best way is to simply go out and do it.
Chapter II, Learning the Art
K, so you've managed to beg, borrow, purchase or steal (just an expression... you wanna try to steal my blacksmith shop... by all means go ahead and try!) all the required tools to set up a smithy. Congratulations, you're ready to become an apprentice. An apprentice is one step above an idiot, and even that only by virtue of the fact that he has decided he wants to be a blacksmith.
The absolute best way to learn the smithing trade is to find a Master Smith who is willing to undergo the many headaches associated with training such an individual who wishes to learn... or at least thinks he wishes to learn. Many modern apprentices quickly discover that blacksmithing is not an easy way to make a living, nor is it a simple task to learn. As an apprentice, you will find yourself doing all sorts of things that will make you think that the Master Smith training you is in fact Satan himself... especially the first week. You will become familiar with a great wealth of detail exactly what the phrase "hands on training" means... and each one of your blisters will remind you every day of that first week.
It might help to understand the Master Smith's reasoning. Most Master Smiths have been at this for quite some time. They have the muscles, the callouses, the scars, and, most importantly, the experience to prove it. They've also trained, or attempted to train a modern apprentice or two... often to their eventual regret. If you want to be trained as a blacksmith... be prepared to pay for the privilege. A Master Smith's time is valuable.
The smith will invest a good deal of time in training an apprentice, much of this training is accomplished in that first week. The apprentice will learn to build and tend a fire, the names of tools... which he will be fetching constantly. He'll learn the meaning of the phrase "black heat", at some point. He'll also find out in that week of Hell whether or not he really wants to be a blacksmith or not. The Master Smith will find this out as well... and he normally has no patience for slow learners. You will get yelled at as an apprentice. This is something most modern schools do not teach their students, which is a sad thing. You're an apprentice, so get used to it. Figure the first week is one of testing... if you pass, great. You pass by not quitting. Most young apprentices give up and quit. This is a sad commentary on our youth, but it is often true nevertheless.
By the end of the first week, you will have learned a great deal... but don't get cocky... you're still just a newly-trained apprentice with excrement for brains, as far as the Master Smith is concerned. Over the next few months and years... if you make it through the first week... your knowledge and skill will increase such that you may become a journeyman. The exact point at which this occurs is difficult to determine. On the day that the smith gives you some payment for your work, you have officially become a journeyman. You can permit yourself exactly one and one half seconds of pride in this... then get back to work. Time is money... or what passes for money in the post-apocalyptic world.
I have been doing this on and off for nigh onto twenty years. I do not consider myself a Master Smith. In fact, I probably am not much of a journeyman, in real terms. The gaps in my knowledge are too great to be of any real use to a Master Smith other than as a half-trained apprentice. I call myself a "shade tree blacksmith", or "hobby smith". Even this is a bit pretentious of me.
Most modern smiths will never achieve that exalted title of "Master Smith", though quite a few will claim it. If you ever reach a point where there is nothing else to learn, some apprentice will teach you something new and you'll realize that you really have not mastered your craft yet. When you have reached a point where you know more than half of the things you need to know as a blacksmith, perhaps then you can call yourself a "Master Smith". It is always better to wait until another Master Smith tells you this, though. He can see not only how much you have learned, but also how much you have yet to learn and so he is a better judge of your progression.
An important maxim: "A Master Smith is always learning... if he ever stops learning, get a shovel, for he has expired."
There are a few schools that teach blacksmithing, though not as many as there used to be. If you've got the time, the money, and the inclination, go for it! Plan on learning much more than just blacksmithing, however, and also plan on having gaps in your education that a true apprenticeship would not leave you with. You'll learn technical math, for example, but you probably won't learn how to use a coal forge. You'll learn how to weld with various types of electric and gas welders, but you may not learn how to weld in a forge. Yes... you can weld iron and steel in a traditional forge. How do you think welds were made before the oxy-acetylene welding torch was invented?
The third way to learn blacksmithing is the least satisfactory, but probably the most widely practiced these days. It is learning by doing. This is the way I learned.
About twenty years ago, I ran across a book in the public library called "The Art of Blacksmithing", by Alex W. Bealer. I found it fascinating. I read it cover to cover and renewed it for an extra month. My first forge was an iron box that had previously been soldered together and used metal window screen for a grate and an electric hair-drier to provide draft. This did not work very well, as one might imagine.
I built a second forge out of metal pipe, wood, and brick held up on a metal frame. While more satisfactory than the first, it still left much to be desired, and I built a progression of other forges, each more or less superior to the previous model over the next several years.
My first anvil was a section of railroad track, which worked quite well, all things considered. My second was an actual London pattern anvil, but it had been made of cast iron, and it broke when I hammered on it. My third and final anvil is the one I use now.
I made my first pair of tongs using some scrap iron I found in the garage. They are not pretty, about what you'd expect from an untrained apprentice, but I still have them today and I still use them. After reading Alex's book, most of my learning came from my own experimentation and from watching other smiths work. I am still learning, and I hope I never stop learning.
If you find yourself in the final category of learning methods, take heart, for you are in very good company indeed. The first blacksmith did not have Alex's book. He did not have a steel hammer, a forge, or a steel anvil. He learned much as you will, by personal experimentation. We don't know that man's first name.... but we know his last name; Smith, or Schmidt, or Schmitt, or Smit, or any of a number of other variations depending upon the nationality of the individual. Next time you are introduced to a Mr. Smith, shake his hand with a bit of pride, for you are meeting someone descended from a Very Important Person.
Many a post-apocalyptic smith will quite probably fit into this final category as well. Most probably he hasn't had the opportunity to prepare himself for life in the post-apocalyptic world... like many of the rest of us. He'll learn blacksmithing because the blade on his hoe is worn out or broken, and he'll probably ruin his first attempts to repair anything. If he is persistent, he'll learn however.
Chapter III, Basic Forging Operations
K, so now you have either completed some course of study or read a few books on the subject. If you are very smart indeed, you have now realized how much you have to learn and have either abandoned all hope of ever joining the ranks of even the "shade tree blacksmiths", or you think you are ready to start working iron. If you are still reading this, perhaps you are in the final group. If you are not very smart, continue to read as even you may glean something from this... hey, even I learned how to do it, nicht wahr?
The first thing you need to do is go out and get yourself some moleskins, Bandaids, and tincture of iodine. Unless you are a professional carpenter, mason, or other tradesman who works with his hands, you are going to have blisters. It usually takes me a couple of weeks in the Spring to develop callouses on my hands such that I no longer get blisters from hammering. No pain, no gain.
I have assumed that the reader has been able to obtain a forge somehow. The ways and means of building forges is beyond the scope of this article. Look in your blacksmithing books for examples. There are many on line articles on the subject as well.
Excuse me, I have to go and stir the beans for the chili. OK, I'm back again.
Fire management is a basic skill acquired early by an apprentice that does not enjoy getting yelled at constantly. You want the forge fire to be centered over the grate so you start the fire by packing coal around a four-by-four block placed over it. You pack the coal, which should be wet and finely ground almost to a powder, to a depth of six inches or so.
Start the fire with wood shavings and small pieces of wood in a sort of tepee fire lay down in the hole formed by the four-by-four, which should now be removed. Try to avoid using Kerosene to start your forge fire... Kerosene will be sought after in the post-apocalyptic world for other purposes, such as lighting, heating, and cooking. Learn to start a fire with birch bark, wood shavings, and pine sticks... known as tinder and kindling. Popsicle sticks work great if you can get them. You can use the ubiquitous Bic butane lighter for igniting your tinder, but you will find that a wooden match works better, if you have a good supply of them. They are cheap now, but they won't be when the supply runs out, so stock up.
When the tinder catches fire, go ahead and start providing a draft from the rotary blower, bellows, or whatever provides your draft. This should be done very slowly at first and gradually building up as the kindling starts. You then push the coal toward the center of the forge and increase the draft. By now the fire should be "roaring". It will produce quite a bit of black smoke as the tar and other impurities are burned off leaving "coke", which is almost pure carbon, behind. Coke is what you want to use to heat your iron, and you will continually be producing it as you work.
Within a few moments, your fire will be ready to work.
Probably the first basic smithing operation that everyone learns is called "drawing out". No, this does not involve a pencil, triangle and T-square, though the related field of mechanical drawing would not be a bad sideline to have at your disposal. Some day you might be called upon to make a steam engine from a set of 1875 blueprints.
Drawing out is the process of forming work by hammering it on the face of the anvil while it is at red heat, in a "plastic" state. A length of iron bar stock is thus made longer and thinner by this process. You heat a section of the bar and work it, flipping it ninety degrees after a few blows have been landed, to repeat the process again.
To sort of "get the hang of it", you might want to get yourself some oil clay commonly available at any art supply store... or any other fairly stiff putty-like material. Roll the clay out into a long piece of round "stock" and let it cool for a while in the refrigerator. Take it out and try to work it with a toy plastic hammer. You can use your regular anvil, or the kitchen table, if the female half of the household will allow it. This will give you a rough idea of how iron behaves in a plastic state without burning any coal.
When you flip the work, allow your hammer to fall to the anvil surface and rebound for one stroke. Don't actually apply any force to the blow, just let it fall from its own weight. This allows your arm to get a short rest and also helps to remove the scale, that dark material that flakes off the hot iron as you hammer it. It also causes the anvil to ring. Take your choice of the reasons to hit the anvil while the work is being flipped. Any one of them is just OK... and all smiths do this for one reason or another... the reason varying with the smith.
A good first project for a new smith is a "rake". A rake is a tool used by the blacksmith, or quite likely the apprentice, to move lumps of coal, or other objects around in the forge. It is a rod of metal with a short flattened bend on the working end, and an elongated loop on the handle end. It needs to be long enough so that you can handle it without burning yourself on it. About 24 inches length overall is about right. Some smiths actually use something more akin to a garden rake with small tines, but I have found my simple rake to be quite sufficient.
The use of this tool gave rise to the phrase "raking over the coals", meaning to make someone uncomfortable.
Another good project is a fireplace poker... which can double as the forge rake, for those short of iron stock.
You'll note that the finished work will be black in color. This is where the term "blacksmith" comes from. Iron as it was traditionally worked, was called "the black metal". "Smith" comes from the verb "smite", as in to smite the black metal. Hence: blacksmith.
Another catch phrase even in modern culture is "to strike while the iron is hot", meaning to take advantage of a transient condition of opportunity. Iron is normally worked at "red heat". So... what does that mean exactly?
Well, in theory, Iron can be worked at any temperature, and in some applications, medieval armor, for example, is worked cold. There are problems with cold working bar stock however. First and foremost, you will quickly run out of energy trying to forge cold bar stock. Second, if you do manage to work it while cold, you will end up with a piece of iron that is so work hardened and loaded with internal stresses, that it will likely break at the first application you put it to. This is especially important when forging something like a sword or other knife blade.
So strike while the iron is hot. It may have occurred to you by now that you have to work quickly. If it has, you are correct in your presumption.
Heat is traditionally gaged by color, and the proper forging heat will vary with the type of material being worked. Most mild steel, used for 90% of the work most smiths do, works best at a bright yellow-orange to a red-orange color. When it gets to a dull red color, it has cooled too much and must be reheated for further working. Forging temperature is not nearly as critical as that of welding or hardening and tempering. If you get it so hot, that sparks fly out of the forge, you have gotten it too hot. This is what is termed "white heat", and is the temperature used for welding. You can burn your work like this and if you do, you will have to discard that piece of metal and start over. The smaller the work becomes, the more critical this is because smaller work heats up much faster.
A word about "black heat". Recently forged iron holds its temperature for quite a while after it is taken out of the fire. One will obviously be careful about picking up a piece of work that is still glowing red, but an inexperienced individual might simply grab onto a piece of black iron laying on the anvil. That piece of iron can be hot enough to make a piece of wood burst into flame. Think what it could do to your hand. Good rule of thumb: when you are visiting another smith's shop, don't touch anything unless he hands it to you... if it didn't burn his hands, it won't burn yours either.
An experienced smith upon reaching for a piece of iron for which he is unsure of the temperature, will invariably hold his hand over it first to see if he can feel any heat, then he will touch it quickly and pull his hand away... perhaps a few times... before picking it up. If the iron is very hot, it will sear the nerve endings so fast that there is no time for the pain to get to the brain. The nerve endings a little further up the network will fire before they die though... but not fast enough to keep you from blistering your hand. If you are fortunate, your skin and the flesh beneath will not stick to the metal when you scream and pull your hand away.
Iron works HOT. Never forget that.
You'll gradually lengthen and thin the bar to the required specifications and end (hopefully) with a square piece of bar stock that has some hammer texture, a black surface, and is the proper length for the required usage. Try to avoid getting it into a trapezoidal shape... unless you are actually trying to do that. Hint: if you end up with a trapezoidal cross section... claim you wanted it that way! Once a bar has gotten started in a trapezoidal shape, it requires a good deal of effort to correct. Keep your blows square to each other.
A point is formed by gradually tapering the work down. You can make it as gradual or as abrupt as you wish. I start tapering my storage hooks about three inches from the end and bring 'em to a fairly sharp point. This is not necessary, and it may be desirable to avoid sharp hooks, especially when they are destined to be placed where someone might injure himself on it. Hint: don't hang wall hooks at eye level if it can be avoided.
Bending can be accomplished in any one of several ways. It seems fairly straight-forward, but it can be the most frustrating experience a new smith can have, perhaps because it seems so simple. That pointed end of the anvil is called the "horn", and one of the primary uses it has is for bending the iron being worked. It can be used with light blows close to the pivot point to make for a gradual curve, or further from the pivot point to produce a more abrupt bend. Bending on the horn is not as easy as one might think. I will just about guarantee that your first bend will be misaligned. Don't panic, you can flatten it out on the anvil's face to correct your mistake.
The elongated loop for the handle of your rake is normally forged on the horn. Figure that you need about two inches more than the length of the loop you plan to make. Measure that distance... about a hand's breadth... from the end and add three inches for the bend and mark it with a piece of soapstone. Heat the area just beyond the mark and then make your bend either over the horn or by simply bending it with tongs. You can either make a teardrop shaped loop or a "square handle". If you wish to do the teardrop handle, you need to put a scarf on the end of the rod before you make the U bend. If you want a square handle, just bend the rod until it becomes parallel to itself and then heat the end of it and bend the rod until it touches itself. You can weld this joint... and it is fairly easy to do if you have a teardrop shape and have properly scarfed the end of the rod. This is not necessary, however.
At this point, you should have a fairly usable rake and are ready to move on to other things.
What other things? The sky is the limit!
Drawing out is probably the most common forging operation, but it is not the only one. A second operation is called "upsetting". While drawing out thins and lengthens the work stock, upsetting does the opposite; it shortens and thickens the stock.
There are various techniques for upsetting. One of the most interesting is to simply heat the end of the rod you want to upset and then drop it onto a hard surface such that it hits longitudinally. The momentum of the rod itself supplies the force of the blow. This can be repeated as many times as necessary to achieve the desired thickness. This method is rather difficult to control however. You will often find that the work will bend as well as being upset.
Other methods involve hammering on the heated end of the workpiece to facilitate upsetting, and bracing the heated end against the anvil face and hammering the other end. These both work to some extent, but also suffer from a tendency to bend the work.
The Complete Modern Blacksmith has an excellent section on upsetting. There are techniques there for correcting the above mentioned bends. The use of an upsetting matrix, also shown in this book, greatly reduces the tendency to bend the work while upsetting.
Why would you want to upset a piece of work in the first place? Well, for things like wall hooks, as I make them, you wouldn't. Likewise for many other implements. But suppose you wanted to make a bolt with a head on it? I suppose that you could forge the shaft and the head separately, but handling such a small piece as a bolt head... and especially at welding heat, is almost an exercise in frustration. Even if you somehow manage it as a new smith, quite possibly the weld will be imperfect and will break when torque is applied to it. Much better to upset the head from the shaft in an upsetting matrix and then refine the shoulder with a header plate. Once this is accomplished, one can forge the square or hexagonal bolt head. I would highly suggest the square bolt head for beginners... they are much easier to do. Carriage bolts are made similarly, but with a square-holed header plate.
Fullering is a specialized form of drawing out. It involves the use of a tool that looks like a chisel with a rounded over working surface. To use it, one simply places the working surface over the workpiece and hammers it into the metal. This will make a (hopefully) shallow impression on the work, thinning it and lengthening it, but not appreciably increasing the width. This is repeated for the entire length of the workpiece. The finishing operation involves forging the high spots down to the level of the impression, thus forming... perhaps... a blank for a knife blade or similar implement. Fullering can also be done with the peen of a hammer... so long as it is not too sharp. Another type of fuller fits into the hardy hole of the anvil and the metal is placed on top of it and struck with the hammer.
I have never found fullering to be all that useful... but then, I don't normally make knives from round or square bar stock. Still, it is an available technique.
Twists are formed by holding one end of a workpiece that has been heated and twisting the other end of it. You either need an apprentice, or you need to get creative. If the implement to have the twist applied to it has a bend in it as a forge rake or wall hook, one can put the bend into the pritchel hole or hardy hole of the anvil and twist the other end. If it does not have such a bend, you need something like a vise to hold it.
I have a metal work table (rummage sale $5.00) that has a few holes drilled in it that I sometimes use for twisting. This method has the advantage of having the relatively true work surface to use as a gage to avoid unwanted bends in the section getting the twist as I can keep the workpiece relatively parallel to the table top. You also may need some kind of gripping tool to apply twists for some applications. Tongs will work, but I have a couple of old-fashioned monkey-wrenches (photo at left) that work quite well for this. The jaws can be adjusted to fit the metal and then used without fear of having the work twist out of the grip. I've seen one of these wrenches with another piece of metal welded onto it to form an adjustable "T" handle. I haven't tried that yet, but it should work rather well as you would have more control over the workpiece, not to mention added leverage.
Bends will sometimes manifest themselves in a twist. They can be dealt with. You can't really correct them very well on an anvil with a hammer in the way you would a bend developed while drawing out as you will cause flats to form on the twisted section. I usually correct them by laying a small piece of plywood on the anvil and then using a brass hammer to correct the bend against the plywood. The plywood will burn, but it and the brass hammer are usually soft enough to avoid flats and hard enough to allow for the bend correction. Another technique I have found useful is a wooden mallet and a large section of a tree trunk or stump. This makes for much smoke, but never produces any flats on the twist. It also does not leave any brass residue on the work.
I have placed a short Windows Media clip here that demonstrates a few techniques. Video quality could be better, but it does serve to show drawing out, twisting, and correcting a bend in a twist.
Most twists, such as those put in a fireplace poker's handle, are purely decorative. Whether or not the post-apocalyptic smith would utilize his limited resources of time and coal to produce such things would depend upon circumstances. I suspect that most smiths would still do some decorative work on their products... decorative work tends to fetch a higher price in the market place.
Market considerations will still be important in the post-apocalyptic world... though the relative values of things will likely be skewed from where they are now. In some places a bride's dowry is still commonly paid to the new husband by the bride's family. In the post-apocalyptic world, surviving women may be a bit scarce... conditions being harsh. If you want a healthy young wife, for example, (this is assuming, of course, that you are not an ornery old man such as myself, but rather a youngster intent on starting a family) you may end up having to pay her father. It is easier to make twenty decorative pieces than it is to make forty plain ones in exchange for the hand of the same woman. If she is beautiful and/or exotic, you might have to pay even more, further enhancing the added value of your labor.
My solution would be to court her older sister, who might not be as pretty, but probably is smarter and possibly not as flaky... and maybe only have to produce ten decorative items. If she is a widow with kids (a definite possibility in this kind of world), so much the better! Older children are infinitely useful around a smithy!
Some twists are not decorative, however, but are actually one of the basic simple machines known as the screw. Certainly you can make lag bolts and wood screws by twisting appropriately shaped bits of metal. You might also find yourself needing to make a drill bit for your post drill, or even a brace bit for the local carpenter's brace.
Twists for drill bits need to be more true than a decorative twist. You need some kind of guide. A piece of half-inch pipe the appropriate length will provide a good guide for twisting a metal strap sized a little smaller than the inside diameter of the pipe. You would then insert the workpiece and twist it the appropriate number of times. For a six-inch bit, you will probably twist it six times. Drill bits do wear out. They also break. You will have to replace them somehow. Start with decorative twists... the techniques are similar.
Metal can be cut by various methods. You can use a chisel, a hardy, a bar-cutter, a hack-saw, a set of bolt cutters, or even a hand ax. If at all possible, get yourself some bolt-cutters and/or a stock cutter before the bombs fall. These items are infinitely useful and save an unbelievable amount of labor and coal.
A hardy is one of a variety of anvil tools that fits into the hardy hole (catchy name, nicht wahr?). It is a sort of inverted chisel that sits fixed in the anvil. One uses it by placing a heated workpiece over it and striking it lightly with the hammer. You do this, typically four times, rotating the workpiece 90 degrees between blows and finish it off by breaking the almost cut through bar with your tongs. If you have a good sturdy hardy, you can do this cold, but it is quite a bit of work and wears out the hardy.
Using a hardy to cut bar stock takes a bit of practice. If you hit too hard, you may cut through in one stroke and impact the hardy with your hammer face possibly marring both the hardy and the hammer face. A brass hammer is a good tool to use when cutting small stock on a hardy.
A chisel is used in pretty much the same way, excepting that it is held above the work and struck directly with the hammer. This is done on the edge of the anvil over the area known as the "table", just forward of the edge of the face before the horn. This area is softer than the face. In modern times with anvils scarce and expensive, one normally covers the table with a thickness of soft metal, aluminum, brass, or soft iron. This avoids marring the surface. Never try this directly over the face of the anvil. This is a hardened work surface and will damage your chisel... if you are fortunate. If you are not so fortunate, your chisel will damage your anvil face. Its kind of an irresistible force vs. immovable object kind of dilemma.
Another kind of chisel-like implement is called a “hot set”. A hot set is a chisel or punch that has a perpendicular handle on it. This allows one to keep one's hand clear of the hot metal.
All in all, a hardy is superior to any chisel or hot set for most applications involving heated metal. Cold chisels are often useful for some tasks where it would not be convenient to heat the work being cut. Typically this will be when it is necessary to remove a bolt from a piece of antique farm machinery and the nut is rusted tight and rounded over. Chiseling it off may be the only alternative if your acetylene torch is out of fuel.
To avoid all the extra effort, expenses, and risks associated with the use of hardies and chisels for cutting metal, use your bar-cutter or bolt-cutters. Learn to use the hardy, however; one of these days somebody may steal your bolt-cutters and you'll have to go back to the old ways... unless you really want to start using a hack saw.
These constitute most of the common methods of forging iron and steel. There are others, however, they are pretty much just variations of the above operations. If you master the above techniques, you will be well on your way to becoming a fair-to-middlin' post-apocalyptic smith. There are more things to learn however, so after you feed the rabbits or the goats, finish driving the sand point, dig the latrine pit, and shoot the weasel that's been pestering the chickens, come on back and read on.
Chapter IV, Welding, Brazing and Soldering
ll smiths eventually have to weld something... and most of us do not especially enjoy the experience. It requires exceptional skill, good quality coal or charcoal, and often no small measure of Divine assistance. Call it luck if you wish... I don't believe in luck. If you get a good weld the first time you attempt it, God was standing over you supervising your work. There is simply no other explanation... it is that improbable.
I will not address welding with modern apparatus like oxy-acetylene, electric arc, etc. I do not know the first thing about these techniques... don't even know how to light a torch. If you own one of these things, good for you, you probably have taken a course somewhere on modern welding. If you haven't ... you'd be well advised to do so before you kill yourself and a few by-standers.
In any case, the supply of pressurized oxygen and acetylene will be sharply curtailed in the event of a major disaster. If you have such a torch, lay in some supplies if you intend to use it. Don't waste money on an electric arc welder in preparation for a disaster. They require a fairly high tech base to remain usable. Welding rods and high voltage electricity are going to be in short supply.
In times past, there were welding apparatuses (apparatii?) that utilized calcium carbide and water to produce a chemical reaction that liberated acetylene gas. If you can get one of those units in working condition, grab it, but not if you don't know how to use it. Acetylene gas can still be made with the same calcium carbide/water reaction. Oxygen can be made through electrolysis of water. If a method can be devised for getting the gases into your welding tanks, oxy-acetylene welding could still be a viable welding technique in the post-apocalyptic world. This will not be easy, however, and if you do not know how to facilitate this kind of production and storage, do not attempt it. The production of oxygen and acetylene, not to mention hydrogen as a by product, is extremely dangerous as all these gases are explosive.
Forge-welding is a process as old as blacksmithing. Indeed, traditional wrought iron has been "folded" several times before it ever gets to the smithy. The word "wrought" means "worked", and making it involves a good deal of work... much of which is welding. Folding, that type of welding used in the manufacture of wrought iron is just exactly that; one folds the metal being welded in half, heats it to welding heat and forges it into one solid mass.
This is not as simple as it sounds, however. Traditional wrought iron is the easiest by far to weld as the danger of burning the metal is all but eliminated. It welds so easily that a flux is often not needed. Wrought iron, though, is probably not the material the post-apocalyptic smith will be working with.
The simplest weld to make is a common lap weld, and the simplest variation is one in which the piece to be welded is a ring or chain link. The reason that this is fairly simple is that both ends of the weld are composed of the same material as they are in fact two ends of the same piece of metal. Thus the welding temperature will be the same. It is much more difficult to weld two different types of steel together because they have to be heated to different temperatures simultaneously. This is often not as critical as it might be thought, however.
To begin, take a piece of bar stock, draw it out to the required thickness and length and then put a "scarf" on each end. This is a tapered section. Make one scarf "up" and one "down" such that they will fit together. Forge the link so that the two scarfs are almost touching and then dip the area to be welded into the flux.
Flux is something to keep oxygen and other impurities away from the metal surfaces to be joined. Various substances have been used. Japanese sword smiths used a flux made from charcoal ashes, others have used sand, ground glass, iron filings, and other things. Often smiths are a bit secretive about what they use as a flux. I am not, I use borax. You can get borax from chemical supply companies and possibly at a welding supply store... but I just use the familiar Twenty Mule-Team Borax available as a product to wash clothes with. You can get it in pretty much any grocery store. Again, Borax will not be available in a post-apocalyptic world. Stock up now and keep it someplace dry. It has a long shelf life.
Once the scarfed joints have been well-coated with flux, get your rake and rake out the clinkers from your fire. Clinkers are impurities that are within the coal and collect at the grate in the bottom of your forge. They are multi-colored and when they fall to the floor, they make a metallic "clink" sound... hence "clinkers". If you do not do this, you will not be able to make a successful weld in that fire. If you are using charcoal, don't worry about clinkers, they don't exist.
It's an old joke for a smith visiting another smith's forge to drop a bit of copper down into the forge when the "home" smith is not looking. Until the bit of copper has been found and removed, that smith will not be able to make successful welds. This is not funny. It wastes resources, time, and effort that will all be in short supply in the post apocalyptic world. A smith who plays this trick on another smith owes him a day's labor and/or the use of his wife for a period of time to be negotiated between the victim of the prank and the wife in question. If she decides that she likes the new smith better, she may stay... at her option, not her husband's. In other words... don't play this kind of trick unless you are willing to assume the risk of the consequences. There most assuredly will be consequences.
Rake the coals back into the center, place the workpiece back into the fire, way down deep where the fire is the hottest and start fanning the fire. Judging welding temperature requires experience, and you will probably burn some iron before you have gotten the hang of it. Welding heat is described as "white heat", though this is a misnomer.
First of all, welding heat will vary with the composition of the steel. Generally, high carbon steels will weld at a lower temperature than mild steels, and if you heat it too hot, it will burn. This is most critical with small workpieces... or thin ones. Knife blades forged of folded stock are extremely difficult to make if you actually have to do the folding.
Also, "white heat" really isn't white. It is, at best, an off white color, more yellowish. White heat as applied to forging operations is about the color of a "cold blast" lantern flame. A Dietz Blizzard and Little Wizard are both examples of cold blast lanterns. This is the proper color/temperature to weld most mild steels, Swedish iron and wrought iron. High carbon steels such as are used in the manufacture of automobile springs generally weld at a yellowish temperature. Take a look at a "hot blast" lantern flame for a fairly close example of this color. A Dietz Monarch is an example of a hot blast lantern.
Be careful not to burn the work.
When in doubt as to welding temperature, take a thin rod... say 1/8th inch or so in diameter and slowly push it down to the piece being welded. If it sticks to the workpiece, you have reached welding temperature. If you are welding a large piece, you need not work especially fast as a large workpiece holds its temperature fairly well... a small piece needs to be welded quite quickly.
Be careful not to burn the work.
Judging temperature by color is almost a lost art. It is easier to do in a dark area, which is one of the reasons that smithies tend to be dark and gloomy places. If you are forging out of doors, which you may be doing at least initially, a hood for the forge helps quite a bit. All rivet forges had hoods, but many forges commonly used on farms did not have them. Hoods are made of sheet metal, have a large opening for fire tending and placing work inside, and are tapered to form a short smoke stack. If you are indoors, this stack needs to go to a chimney... though if indoors, you probably don't need the hood in the first place, just good ventilation.
The obvious fire hazard in using a forge indoors cannot be overstated, and if your neighbors see smoke coming from the eaves of your garage, they will call the fire department. I know this from experience. The fire chief who responded was very polite, but he was not amused.
When your workpiece has reached welding heat, take it out of the forge quickly and hit it with the hammer. This blow must be quick, hard, and accurate. It needs to both spray the flux out of the joint and join the molten metal together in one or at very most two or three blows. Hammer it together and examine it. Hopefully the lap will be aligned properly. If it has been misaligned, you can try to dress it by forging it on the horn or the face of the anvil... after it has cooled to red heat. If the weld holds under this kind of stress, it will hold whatever stress you are making it to withstand... if it does not hold up, it was never welded in the first place and you must start over.
Be careful not to burn the work.
Should you have need to weld two separate pieces into one piece, you will have need of either a hold-down of some kind, or a well-trained apprentice. This most difficult of tasks is something I have never managed... though I only attempted it one time. Even more difficult is trying to weld, say a high carbon steel blade onto the edge of an ax head. This is seldom done these days as we have good quality high carbon steel available in quantity at affordable prices. Today one would make the entire ax head out of high carbon steel and not just the edge. In times past it was common to weld blades into ax heads, hammer faces onto hammer heads, and even high carbon edges onto scissors and shears.
Pray to God you never have to do this kind of work! The technique involves placing both items into the forge in such a way as both reach their respective welding temperatures at the same time. When this happens, you have to lay the blade into the scarf made for it and quickly weld it into place. It can be done, and has been done, but the men who can do it are truly Master Smiths indeed.
Forge (or "pressure") welding is not without difficulties and risks. Risks of fire and injury can be minimized by making sure that all flammable material and all personnel are far enough away from the smith to avoid the molten metal and flux that will be violently expelled in the welding process. Take this seriously. Medical help will be in short supply, so avoid risk of injury whenever possible.
Welding is a type of cohesion, and is especially strong. Less strong, though somewhat easier to do are brazing and soldering. Both of these methods of joining metal are classed as adhesion. As such, they are not as strong as welding.
Brazing involves heating the steel to the proper temperature and then joining two pieces together with melted, or initially powdered, brass. Brazing requires a fairly high temperature, but not as high as is required for welding. It is done in the forge. If something needs to be brazed... normally this will be some item made of cast iron which cannot be welded... it is best to use modern methods if at all possible. Forge brazing is chancy at best, and unless the item being repaired is small, say fixing a broken handle on a Lodge 6 1/2" skillet, your chances of success will be limited.
To braze, you must first clean both surfaces to be joined. You can do this with a common wire brush. Next, heat both surfaces, apply flux and some brass filings (spelter), and after placing the workpieces to be joined in the forge, heat until the brass melts. Then tap the end of the smaller of the two pieces such that the melted brass on both pieces is joined together. Obviously, both pieces must be carefully supported such that they align well. Once they are joined together, let the fire die down so that the brass will harden and (hopefully) the two pieces will be joined together.
In times past it was (allegedly) fairly common to braze items like broken saw blades, due to the difficulty in welding such thin metal. I have never met a smith who could demonstrate this to my satisfaction with traditional methods.
Soldering is fairly simple and straightforward. First, as with brazing, you must make certain the surfaces to be joined are clean. You melt a lead alloy and use it to stick two pieces of metal together. Steel can be soldered, but it is difficult to do properly, and even when done properly is not very strong. When steel is soldered, it is normally thin sheet steel. The metal traditionally joined in this manner is copper, though brass will also submit well to soldering.
Aluminum cannot be soldered or brazed... it must be welded, and a blacksmith cannot weld aluminum with traditional methods. It can be cast, though my only attempt at casting aluminum... didn't work out too well. Never attempt to heat magnesium. It looks like aluminum, but is stronger and lighter. It also burns with a fire that cannot be extinguished. If the “aluminum” you are trying to melt in a crucible catches fire, take it out of the forge and get away from it until it burns out. It wasn't aluminum.
By traditional methods, one would heat an old-fashioned soldering iron up either in a forge or with a blow torch, and use it to heat the items being joined and the solder. You can apply the torch flames directly to the material being joined, and you may have to if you are joining items that are large... like sections of a copper roof being repaired in cold weather (be careful not to burn the wood underneath the copper). You would also use solder to fit copper pipe and tubing together. Silver solder is the stuff to use these days, as there are laws forbidding the use of lead solder for this purpose.
Soldering also takes much skill and practice and is not really the bailiwick of the blacksmith, though he should be at least somewhat familiar with the process. A post-apocalyptic smith might be called upon to repair nearly anything, and a short-wave vacuum tube radio cannot be repaired with a forge and a hammer.
Metal can also be joined by other methods. Mechanical fastening, is probably the oldest method, next to welding. Riveting and/or bradding are both methods of mechanical fastening. One does this by placing rivets or brads through holes in both pieces to be joined and rounding over the end or ends. Only the rivet needs to be heated... and even this is not an absolute requirement. If the rivet is soft enough and small enough to be worked cold, one can mushroom the end with no problems... at least for light work where extremely tight fitting is not necessary.
For heavier work using large rivets, the rivet must be heated to a working temperature, placed, and be mushroomed over before it can cool. As it cools, it shrinks, further tightening the joint. Hull plates on older ships like the HMS Titanic were riveted, so a properly fitted and riveted workpiece is capable of great precision and strength. Quite possibly the Titanic's rivets failed due to their not meeting specs... but this is conjecture. There are ships still floating that date from the Titanic's day and have riveted hulls. I have done some riveting, with mostly small rivets. Probably the most common use for a rivet that a blacksmith will encounter is the pivot for his tongs. A rivet works well there.
There are special forges, special hammers, special anvils, and other tools for riveting. If you plan to build an ark out of iron. Perhaps you might have need of such items. Since an ark will not be needed for survival in the post-apocalyptic world, you might consider something else as an extra tool. I have found that a simple hammer, anvil, and forge will suffice for most riveting jobs.
Pop rivets are different from traditional rivets, though they operate in somewhat the same way. Pop rivets require a special tool called a Pop riveter. They have the advantage in that they can be done "blind" with no access to the other side of the surfaces being joined, however, they are not especially strong. Use them to assemble sheet steel to be put under light loads. If you need to build an armored vehicle to combat the armed mobs besieging you and your neighbors... use heavier steel and traditional rivets or bolts.
Other items used for mechanical fastening include nuts & bolts, nails, screws... in an almost endless variety of sizes, shapes, materials, and types. Get yourself a good supply of mechanical fasteners. One can make mechanical fasteners, but nothing is more tedious than spending a day with a nail header and a bunch of nail rods making nails in the traditional way.
If you have need for a decorative rose-head nail on occasion, get yourself a nail-header, and make these rare items up as needed. Otherwise, get yourself a twenty-five pound box of nails in various sizes and a selection of screws, bolts, rivets, washers, nuts, lock nuts, and other common hardware before the giant mushrooms start growing on the horizon. Your time will be better spent getting Grampa's old steam-tractor up and chugging than it will in making nails and rivets.
There are some modern adhesives that are truly amazing in their capabilities. One of the most common is any variation of epoxy... and there are specialized epoxies for many purposes. Polyurethane glues like Elmer's Probond and Gorilla Glue are also amazing. None of these will handle heat well, though, so use them where appropriate. There are also adhesives used in aircraft manufacture not generally available to the public. Some of these are heat resistant. If you have a source of the stuff used for repairing U2 airframes, you probably know more about such substances than I do. Needless to say, such materials will be rare in the post-apocalyptic era. Stock up if you think you will need them.
Chapter V, Heat Treating
uch about the subject of heat treating is misunderstood by most people... and even some otherwise fairly skilled smiths are a bit weak in this area. It is a confusing subject.
There are basically four types of heat treatment; hardening, tempering, normalizing, and annealing. There are any number of ways to accomplish each one, however, and the effectiveness of the method varies with the type of metal being worked, not to mention the skill and the effort of the smith.
Practically speaking, these kinds of treatment are only useful when dealing with some kind of high-carbon or tool steel. Metals other than ferrous metals can also be annealed, though the technique varies quite a bit from what is common with steel. Annealing brass cartridge cases is one common application for this process.
Hardening is just exactly what it sounds like, treating the metal in such a manner that it reaches it's maximum level of hardness. Tempering is reducing that level somewhat to enhance other properties. Annealing is the process of treating the metal such that when cooled, it is as soft as it can be made without re-heating it. Normalizing is done differently, but the result is similar to annealing.
Of course everyone knows that the proper way to harden steel is to heat it red hot and then to plunge it into water. A sword blade thus treated will be virtually indestructible; flexible as a whip and so hard that it can chop through a machine gun barrel without marring the blade in the slightest. Right? Well... not quite.
There are... problems with this method... especially when dealing with the more modern alloys. Some of these alloys are amazing in their capabilities. Their properties and heat treatment requirements may also be quite exotic. Air hardening steel, for example, should not be quenched in water, brine, or oil. It has very specific requirements to achieve desirable properties. None of those involve conventional quenching.
If you can get the steel, you can get a data sheet on it, and if one is going to be playing with such magical stuff, one had better be well informed. Otherwise, stick to conventional materials that you know how to work with. For most practical projects, simple high carbon steel will suffice for the most demanding tool requirements.
The adamant of Greek and Roman mythology is neither needed nor desired for simple hand tools. The forging of weapons, particularly edged weapons is a whole 'nother kind of smithing, however, and those who forge weapons and armor are often very interested in new alloys.
Hardenability is dependent upon many factors, but the most important one is carbon content. If it does not have enough carbon in it, it cannot effectively be hardened by heating and quenching. There is a substance known as "superquench", which supposedly allows even mild steel to be hardened. I have my doubts about this. I don't know much about superquench, having never used it. There are several different formulas, most involving the use of lye as an ingredient. There are other formulas however, that use other ingredients, though most of these ingredients will be in short supply in the post-apocalyptic era. If you need to harden it, make it from high-carbon steel. You'll need such lye as you can make for soap production eventually.
To harden steel, heat it red hot and quench it. It really is that simple. Now, what exactly is "red heat", and what do I quench the steel in? Good question, apprentice, you are learning!
The proper hardening temperature for any given steel will vary depending upon carbon content, and also other things alloyed to it like molybdenum, chromium, arsenic, potassium, etc. Carbon content is by far the most important factor having to do with the composition of the steel, however. If you have a data sheet on the steel you are working with, you will know the proper hardening temperature. Matching that temperature with a specific color that you may not be familiar with in a primitive forge, however, is another matter entirely.
Most often in the post-apocalyptic era, you will not be able to get specific alloys with nicely defined properties detailed in a data sheet. You're gonna be after junk-yard steel... which is a whole 'nother subject entirely that I'll go into in a later chapter.
In general, a ferrous metal has reached its hardening temperature when it loses its magnetic properties. In other words, when the metal being hardened no longer sticks to a magnet, it is at the proper temperature for hardening. This temperature is fairly critical, so when it is reached, take a good look at it and try to remember the color. A mechanic's pick-up tool, a magnet on a telescoping metal rod works well to test the metal being heated. You need not actually touch the metal... just feel for the pull of the magnet. When it ceases, you have reached "red heat" for the purposes of hardening.
Most high carbon steels can be quenched in either oil or water. Tool steels sometimes get a little temperamental about what they like to be quenched in. I ran across a crow-bar once the metal of which would crack when quenched in water. If you get a piece of metal like that, quench it in oil. Used motor oil will do unless the work has to be used in food preparation. Transmission fluid, vegetable oil, or any other kind will work. You have to submerge the entire work when you do this as the oil will burst into flame when touching the hot steel.
Exactly what to quench the work in depends upon the level of hardness desired, the requirements of the material you are quenching, and the availability of quenching media. If you don't have any oil, you can't quench oil-hardening steel in it. Hardening can also be accomplished by other methods. A needle can be quenched, for example, by thrusting it into an apple or tomato.
In times past sword blades were hardened by thrusting into human flesh. I do not recommend human beings as a quenching medium. This makes the smith rather unpopular with the friends and relatives of the specific medium in question... to say nothing of the medium himself... who may actually survive the process. Besides, anything alive tends to writhe around when subjected to hot steel, no matter how well restrained and might damage the work in the process. If you must use brine as a quenching medium, and water is in short supply, collect a bucket of urine. It may not smell good, but it will work, as will the blood of a recently butchered animal.
The post-apocalyptic era is not for the squeamish.
In general the faster the steel is cooled, the harder it gets. In order of fastest to slowest, here are common quenching mediums: superquench, brine, water, oil, air. Larger pieces to be quenched such as anvils are frequently quenched by pouring a continuous stream of quenching medium on them... in the case of an anvil, on the working surface, the face. Remember that as the metal cools, it shrinks. Thus, if it is not cooled evenly, it may crack. Keep it moving when you quench it, and if it has specific quench media requirements, follow them.
Once quenched, the artifact is hard. It is not very tough, however, it is brittle. It may in fact be as brittle as glass. It is rather disconcerting to see a piece of steel shatter into shards... not to mention potentially dangerous. If you harden and temper your work in separate steps, be careful with recently hardened steel.
There is a process known generally as "case hardening". Case hardening is not the same as conventional hardening in a heat treatment sense. To case harden something, one packs it into a container of any one of several carboniferous compounds marketed under different trade names. One such trade name is Caseknit. The container is then heated to a very high temperature and kept that way for a period of time. The carbon from the compound then migrates to and is absorbed by the artifact. In this way, an artifact made of mild steel can have the outer surface rendered much harder than the rest of the metal.
There are a few applications for which this is desirable for one reason or another, but most smiths do not have the facilities or the inclination to do case hardening. It really is quite time-consuming and troublesome.
A variation of case hardening is color case hardening. Color case hardening produces a hardened surface in addition to a random color pattern as is commonly seen on Colt Single Action Army revolver frames, Shiloh Sharps rifle receivers, and similar applications. Color case hardening is somewhat more difficult to do than conventional case hardening... and the practitioners of this process guard their secrets well. For post-apocalyptic operations, this is not especially important and there are other things that should take priority to the smith's time.
The way to do case hardening effectively is to wait until you have a number of articles to case harden and then do them all in one batch. You'll need a very hot fire and it will need to be kept going for an entire day or more to properly case harden the work. In the post-apocalyptic era, this will be a difficult thing to manage effectively. If someone is running a steam plant nearby for local electricity generation or some other reason, the way to proceed is to wrap your package in clay, plaster, or cement, let it harden, and then put it into the firebox of the steam plant. Just leave it there until the plant is shut down, then go retrieve your package, break the covering, and quench the case-hardened artifact.
Color case hardening is very much dependent upon the quenching process, though, depending upon who you ask, there are other factors such as inclusion of animal hooves, leather, etc. in the hardening compound. The quench media can be water or any of a number of other materials. I have heard that acids are commonly used. I do not recommend this... it is dangerous to quench hot metal in any substance, adding acid to the equation, which may liberate hydrogen upon the addition of iron, strikes me as a bit foolhardy. Other methods involve a rising column of bubbles in the quench media. Supposedly the bubbles in the quench material rising to the surface are what cause the color pattern.
If you want to try case hardening, be careful. Use safety goggles, acid proof clothing if you want to try acid, do not breathe the fumes, and good luck to you.
Most often the product obtained by case-hardening is simply not worth the effort needed in a post-apocalyptic world, but if one really wants something casehardened for some unfathomable reason, with much experimentation, it can be done.
Normalizing metal is done by heating to hardening heat and then allowing it to air-cool. By this method, the metal is rendered relatively soft. You would do this if you wanted to file, grind, engrave, polish or do some other cold machining of the artifact before hardening and tempering.
Annealing is done for the same reasons as normalizing; to make the metal soft. The difference is that with annealing, the metal is cooled very slowly. If you have facilities to do so, you can cool it over several days. Some smiths use Vermiculite, asbestos, or other insulating materials.
When I want to anneal something, I wait until I am almost done for the day, then heat the artifact up until a magnet will no longer stick to it, bury it in the coke and let the fire go out, covering my forge with an old Weber grill cover. It will take several hours to cool and the metal is rendered soft enough for most cold machining operations.
Typically one forges the work, normalizes or anneals it, performs any necessary cold machining operations, hardens it and finally tempers it. There are ways and means of hardening and tempering in one operation. A chisel, for example, can be shaped by forging, have a blade rough ground on it after normalizing, and be hardened and tempered in one operation. I'll detail these techniques at the end of this chapter.
After the workpiece has been hardened, one then must temper it. In some cases, this must be done immediately, as certain alloys will develop longitudinal cracks if it is not quickly tempered.
Drawing/tempering is that part of smithing that is extremely critical. If you want to produce usable tools in your smithy, you must become an expert at this. There is an almost endless variety of techniques to produce properly hardened and tempered working surfaces. No one method is best for every smith or every application. Springs are probably the most challenging heat treatment task for any smith, and as might be expected, there have been many tricks developed over the years.
When an artifact has been hardened homogeneously, that is to say that it was heated to hardening temperature and then entirely quenched, tempering is a second step in the heat treatment process. The exact procedure will vary a bit depending upon the application. Making a tool bit for a metal lathe for example requires the bit to be brought into a state of homogeneous temper throughout the entire artifact. This can be a tricky process, and is best accomplished by using a kiln equipped with a pyrometer. You may not have such a luxury however, in the post-apocalyptic era.
If you do not, you will have to experiment until you have your technique down to a science. One way to homogeneously temper an object is to build a small kiln of sorts over the top of the forge with firebrick. After the interior of the kiln has been heated one can place the artifact to be tempered inside the kiln and watch it carefully for color, pulling it out quickly when it reaches the proper color/temperature and quench it.
Relatively few tools, however, require homogeneous tempering. Most are made hard at the working surface, leaving the rest of the tool relatively soft. A cold-chisel is a good example. This tool must have a sharp edge that retains its shape even as it is used to cut iron and steel. The other end of the tool, however, must take repeated hammer blows. It cannot be rendered overly hard or it may shatter when struck. This is why when one sees a cold-chisel that has been used a bit, the cutting edge may be sharp, but the other end is battered and mushroomed over with steel that has been deformed by hammer blows. One must often dress such a tool on a grinder in order to avoid having bits of metal fly off under use.
There are a number of ways to temper a tool such as this. The way I first learned it was to harden the tool by quenching and then polish it to an almost mirror sheen. This can be done with a wire brush, a fine grindstone, or a whetstone. At this point, you've (hopefully) got a very hard and brittle tool... be careful not to drop it on a hard surface, it may shatter like glass.
Now, the tool must be slowly heated from the striking end. As you watch it , you will notice color bands forming on the surface of the tool. The color bands represent different levels of hardness. The hardest color band is a light straw color and the softest a dark blue color. The color bands will slowly march down the length of the tool until the reach the cutting surface. Now it must be quickly cooled by quenching before the edge can become too soft. Quench it cutting edge first to arrest the process immediately, then slowly submerge the rest of the tool.
Heating the tool can be done in the forge, and in the case of a cold chisel, this will work fine. One can also use a blow torch for this purpose, and this is one of the best tools available for that purpose. There is danger in getting a tool overly heated on the striking end because if it gets red hot, and is subsequently quenched, it will again become hardened, necessitating a repeat of the process. It should be noted that a fire hot enough to bring the work to red heat is not necessary.
The heat source need not be a fire. In the case of a knife blade, for example, tempering may be accomplished by bringing the back of the knife very close to or actually in contact with a red hot piece of steel. This will afford better control of the process.
Variations of this type of tempering process are called drawing. In order to be certain that the tempering is done evenly, the process may be repeated. This may be termed double-drawing or triple-drawing. Normally you will see high-quality wood chisels and such that are double or triple drawn. Screw drivers and such are normally only drawn once.
If this sounds unnecessarily complex and time consuming, there are other options, though the process of drawing a tool to the proper temper is probably the most common and useful method for most tools. One method for tempering a small lock spring I have read about involves hardening it in oil, and then dipping into sawdust. The sawdust will adhere to the oil and coat the spring. The next step is to hold the spring over the forge until it catches fire, allowing all the oil and sawdust to burn off. This supposedly gives a spring that is perfectly tempered.
In my experience, nothing is ever that simple. The methods that work will vary greatly depending upon the size of the spring, the quenching medium used, and most importantly, the composition of the steel. You can try this if you need to replace a spring in the lock of a muzzle-loading firearm or something, and if it works with a particular alloy, take note of it. If it doesn't work, you will have to try other methods.
Tempering small parts in the post apocalyptic era will have modern smiths tearing their beards out until they have adapted to the new conditions and learned new techniques.
Take a good look at your text books on the techniques of drawing and tempering steel. Learn these chapters. Practice the techniques while you can still get steel relatively cheaply. Currently, most general blacksmiths make their living by wrought iron work. Tools will likely be a more important stock in trade for the post apocalyptic smith.
Not every tool needs to be hardened and tempered. Plow points, for example do need to be hard, but this is less critical in the case of a hand tool like a hoe, which can be made of mild steel and simply quenched when finished. It won't be as durable as a hardened blade, but it doesn't take as much to make, and remember that the first hoe was probably made of wood and/or stone, bronze and/or copper coming later on.
Always remember that in the immediate post-apocalyptic era, resources may well be in short supply. Use high carbon steel for critical tools, not for boot scrapers, nails, and wall hooks. Save stainless steel for items that must be rust-proof for some reason. Depending upon what has caused the situation to be defined as post-apocalyptic, you may be facing shortages that may last a year, seven years, or for the rest of your life.
Chapter VI, Junk-yard Steel
here is an old adage that states; “One man's trash is another man's treasure.” There is much truth in that statement. While in Northern Iraq during the aftermath of the first Persian Gulf War, I frequently saw Kurdish refugees scrounging our trash dump for things we had discarded. A broken tent peg (or sometimes one that was not broken) was perfectly good firewood to cook dinner over. Discarded portions of MRE's were also sought after. Probably the most highly regarded item, though, was the metal tin that our T-rations were shipped in.
After the food they had contained was cooked and served up to the soldiers, they were “junk” to us, and we threw them out with the rest of the trash... until we noticed the refugees “mining” the trash dump for these treasures in particular. At first we were mystified. What in the world did they want with used tins like these? We eventually noticed the tins being stored in and around the refugees' tents. At last, an explanation came forth.
The Kurds had been chased out of their homes with the Iraqi military hot on their heels. They left, typically in the back of a wagon pulled by something like a 1950's era Ford/Ferguson farm tractor with their families, a few blankets, AK47's and ammunition, other weapons, and little else. Some left on foot leading an ass, horse, or other pack animal. I know of one woman who walked sixty miles while in her eighth month of pregnancy. Needless to say, she didn't carry much other than her child. A few thoughtful individuals brought along a wok... which is a very useful cooking utensil that cooked Mid-Eastern flat-bread (in an inverted position) as well as rice and various meat stews.
Most of these refugees, however, had either not thought to take cooking utensils or been too rushed for time to do so. The various NGO's as well as the US military supplied food for the refugees, as well as water and shelter, but nobody had thought to supply cooking utensils in any great numbers. Hence the trash miners.
The T-rat tins were waterproof, did not burn, and most importantly, were available locally. Thus, they became the cooking utensil of choice among the ingenious Kurdish refugees. Eventually, the shortages were addressed and woks were supplied, but for a while there, T-rat tins were all the rage. We had to start saving the tins and passing them out on trash day in order to keep the miners out of the trash.... which was a great source of disease and injury. This way there weren't as many fights over the tins, as ownership was immediately established upon possession. When digging through the trash, there was always the possibility of a “claim jumper” grabbing a tin from the miner's pile.... which could end in bloodshed!
These Kurdish refugees had the right idea in their Time of Trouble... and so in our own post-apocalyptic era, we will likely take a page from their book of wisdom.
A common junk yard filled with automobiles in various states of damage and completeness is a ready source of materials for the post-apocalyptic blacksmith. It should be obvious, though, that not all steel is created equal. Some parts of automobiles are better for some purposes than others.
Springs, either coil springs, or leaf springs, are made of high-carbon steel. They are extremely useful in tool making. Likewise torsion bars. You can harden and temper these steels to fit virtually any common use.
In the case of a coil spring, one can either straighten it out on the anvil and then cut it, or cut it first and then straighten out the sections. Coils springs are to be found in various sizes depending upon their original applications, so you can have stock readily available to form a doctor's scalpel (from an old garage door spring) or a mason's hammer head (from a heavy truck spring).
Leaf springs are infinitely useful for making farm implements such as hoes, pickaxes, adzes, mattocks, knives, scythes, etc. Most of the drawing out has already been done, and it will only need minor shaping to be made into a tool. These steels are fairly common stuff and do not require any special heat treatment to fit them for use in tools. Just harden them in water or oil, temper them as needed, and they'll serve fine.
Internal engine parts are of limited utility. Shafting is normally a high-carbon steel, but a crankshaft or camshaft requires a bit of work to get at, and a good deal of work in shaping it for use in most tools. Poppet valves are interesting things. They are made to retain their shape and hardness even at red heat... hence their use in engines. This will likely cause the smith trouble when he tries to forge them. Some internal engine parts, most notably valve heads, are sometimes filled with sodium. For this reason alone, do not attempt to forge them or to grind them. Sodium will explode under such circumstances, and it is also quite poisonous. If in doubt, assume the worst and let the valves lay in the junk yard... unless you need the valve as a valve. Valve springs are another story, and are good quality high-carbon steel in a small size. Grab 'em if you can get 'em.
Drive shafts from front-wheel drive vehicles (or older RWD Volkswagen/Porche vehicles) are all made of good-quality high-carbon steel. They are already straight, and are of sufficient diameter to be useful for many purposes.
Vehicle frames are most often too large to be all that useful as raw stock for a forge, though they might have other uses. A chassis with wheels on it yet can be fitted with a tongue, a bed, sides, etc., and used for a wagon. to be pulled by animals or a tractor.
Car bodies are a ready source of sheet steel. Cutting the roof out of an old Cadillac will provide the post-apocalyptic smith with a large section that would have taken days to draw out on an anvil, not to mention more coal/charcoal than he likely has available. Sheet steel is incredibly useful stuff. You can make from it spatulas, small shovels, buckets, and other items too numerous to mention.
Probably the most sought after scrounge in the junk yard is tool steel. This you can find in grader blades, bucket teeth, and any kind of farm implement that has some kind of chopper head in it. Grab all you can get of this magical stuff.
Not all vehicles should immediately be carved up for scrap metal, however. If you are so fortunate as to have found an operational Ford Model A or Model T (or similar early car/truck), grab that machine and store it carefully. It will be capable of traversing deeply rutted roads that only a modern SUV could manage.... but it will do it at much greater efficiency. Remember, your public servants have their own problems now and will not be out maintaining the roadways... which will quickly fall into disrepair.
Usable gasoline will be quite valuable for a while after a disaster. I remember a man coming up to me and asking for some one night in Northern Iraq. He had run out of gas with his Land Rover. None of our vehicles ran on gas, only Diesel, so he was in pretty dire straights. We did, however, have a gasoline generator, and while we could not spare him the remaining five gallons we had on hand for it, I was able to accumulate about a half gallon from dredging the last drops out of all the remaining “empty” gas cans. Given a gas-engined Land-Rover's thirst for fuel, I figure he got five or ten miles before he ran out of gas again. Still, he was closer to home than he had been.
Likewise, any vehicle, especially a large vehicle, that runs on Diesel fuel is another type of community treasure. Diesel powered school buses are great for moving refugees and supplies around. Unlike gasoline, Diesel fuel can be store for fairly long periods of time, and most Diesel engines will also run on Kerosene. (Yes, traditional Kerosene lamps and lanterns will burn Diesel fuel, but not very well... too much sulfur content, for one thing. Do this only in an emergency.) It should be noted that most government vehicles run on Diesel or glorified jet fuel. It will likely become the most commonly available petroleum based fuel around.
Don't cannibalize operational vehicles that might have some use if you can avoid it. Even after the gas is all gone, there is such a thing as wood gas, not to mention alcohol, both of which can be manufactured locally if necessary.
A related field within blacksmithing is tin smithing. We have to remember the story of the Kurds in Northern Iraq and their precious T-rat tins. Almost certainly, you will end up with prodigious quantities of tin cans of various sizes and shapes that previously contained tuna, beans, mushrooms, tomato paste, etc.. Don't throw those precious items in whatever passes for the trash! They are extremely valuable items in the post-apocalyptic world.
It might take a day for a skilled blacksmith or tinsmith to make a water-tight, food-grade, fireproof tin if he has to actually draw out the sheet metal. If he has sheet metal available, the time factor is greatly reduced, but when you already have the utensil on hand, why go to any trouble to make another one?
It takes very little effort to attach a handle to a soup can for a tin cup, though it can serve as it is as soon as it is opened and washed out. A tuna can filled with ashes that are soaked with Kerosene, gasoline, or alcohol can make a tolerable camp stove when placed under some kind of support structure for another can that contains something that needs to be heated.
Remember, resources are scarce now, don't waste anything that can be used in some way.
Making one's own iron and steel can be done... but it is extremely labor and fuel intensive. There will likely be quite enough steel around in junk yards and farm fields to supply the needs of most families for several years. If you've got a bunch of cast iron around that is not serving any useful purpose and lots of charcoal, you might try to make some wrought iron, but there are better ways to spend one's time than this.
Actually mining iron (or other metals) is far more trouble than it is worth in the post-apocalyptic era. Don't bother unless you are an experienced mining engineer... and if you are, you don't need this book, you can write your own.
Chapter VII The Smithy
smithy is, in a nutshell, a place for the blacksmith to work. It can be as simple as a shaded area behind the house with a portable forge and anvil or as complex as a full-blown workshop with a permanent masonry forge, several powered machines, and a 500 pound anvil.
In general, you want some place that is out of the wind a bit... grampa's workshop might be just the ticket. Then again, it might not. While some smithies have wooden floors, most do not. A wooden floor is an obvious fire hazard... put some sheet metal over the top of it where you work with hot metal. If you can manage it, a concrete floor is desirable, but not essential. Traditional smithies have had dirt floors with the anvil stand sunk into the dirt a fair distance. This is better than a wood floor.
Ventilation is extremely important, unless you enjoy breathing noxious gases. Your forge should have a chimney or else be vented other ways. In the Summer months, those warm months when I do all of my own work, a pair of open doors or windows may suffice. If the building has open eaves, you won't have any trouble with smoke... though you might have trouble with wasps and other flying pests.
Unfortunately, one cannot count on things breaking only during the Summer. In my experience working around farms, things most often break during the Winter... and often it will be something like a manure spreader with a full load that cannot be allowed to freeze. Time for another story.
During the first Persian Gulf War, my unit, the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion was billeted in Al Jubail, quite far South of Kuwait City. Before the Iraqis left Kuwait, they set as many of the oil wells on fire as they could. This didn't concern us all that much at first... but after a couple of weeks had gone by, it started to get cold. We could see the sun, through clouds of smoke, but in Saudi Arabia, we had to break out the field jackets where before we'd been running around in T-shirts and shorts when not in uniform.
Yes, those are land mines on the surface of the road and in the sand on either side of the road. The time of day was, if I recall correctly, about 0800 hrs, and the sun can be seen above the horizon in the center of the photograph below. The lighting conditions are accurately portrayed. These photographs were taken with Kodachrome 25 color slide film... if I remember correctly... and it was a difficult task to shoot with it in such dim light.
Later on, when we entered Kuwait City itself, we had to have our headlights on to see to drive, even at noon. Twice a day, we had to wipe tar off the windshield and the headlights. It was even more cold then it had been to the South.
This is my experience with what has been called a mini-nuclear winter by SSG Steven Dutch, a geology professor who deployed with us. Now the effects of that smoke were limited to a local area... and only the oil wells had been set ablaze. For the most part, the largely concrete and masonry structures of Kuwait were intact and unburned.
A real nuclear war would set everything ablaze and hoist it far into the stratosphere. The effects would not be local, they would be global, and while what I experienced was fairly short term, a global nuclear war's winter could last for decades if not longer. Also, while the mean temperature was somewhat lower than normal in the Persian Gulf region, a real nuclear winter would be much more severe.
In other words, you cannot count on warm weather. You will quite likely have to provide your own. Plan on having your smithy closed up from the cold, an overhead draft for your forge, and a supplemental heating system within the smithy. A pot bellied stove will work, as will any other cast-iron stove, or even a barrel stove. An M1945 US military tent stove is not a bad item to have around.
Miles likes Kerosene heaters, and so do I, especially when it is desirable not to send “smoke signals”. Indeed a Kerosene heater is well suited to heating the smithy... but you will eventually run out of Kerosene, and if you have a woodlot, you may not run out of firewood. Also, remember that if you have a lit forge, you are sending smoke signals anyway. Hint: charcoal doesn't make as much smoke as coal does.
Be sure to put a spark arrestor on the chimney... and a metal roof is better than cedar shakes for this application. If it can have a stone foundation a couple of feet above floor level, so much the better. A complete stone or concrete block wall is great, but not necessary.
Other than that, the requirements are fairly simple; enough space to work, room to walk around everything within the smithy (you really don't want to try to chase a red-hot piece of metal you just dropped that is leaning against a wooden wall just out of reach behind the trip hammer), and enough room to store the stock and tools.
If you are going to be working on wagons and/or horses/oxen/mules/asses, you need more room as well as some extra space in a separate building for the animals.
Chapter VIII What Should I Make?
hatever you wish. Perhaps it would be more prudent to suggest things not to attempt. Don't attempt to make any firearms. There are enough of them around as it is, and you don't want a bad weld or a slag inclusion to cause a breech failure. Keep the existing ones in working condition. A good quality rifle or shotgun will last a couple of hundred years. That's longer than you'll need it.
You might be tempted to make a steam engine. Before you go through all that effort, check into the feasibility of adapting an existing engine or other device for that purpose. Steam engines can be quite useful, but they were supplanted because of inefficiency among other reasons. Check other areas of Miles' site for more information on home-grown steam power. Also, you might wish to visit the site of Tiny Power, who make small steam engines and kits, among other things.
Don't waste any effort on iron armor. A standard .30-'06 round will defeat any armor that you could conceivably wear on your body. Just because the bombs have fallen does not mean that you will be facing only mobs with pitchforks and spears. The mobs will be there, but they'll have guns and ammunition.
Don't make swords, battle axes, spears, lances, or other primitive weapons either. Your enemy's deer rifle shoots further than you can launch an arrow or spear. As to swords, well only a fool brings a knife... even a big knife... to a gun fight. After the ammunition runs out it still won't be time for swords, it'll be time to learn how to make black powder and reload your own shells. Hint: muzzle-loading firearms (either flintlocks or percussion), breach-loading percussion rifles and percussion revolvers do not require cartridges.
What will you need? Well, it depends.... if you were smart and laid in a supply of hand tools, farm implements, and the like, when you could still buy them cheaply, you may not need to make anything, at least initially. Set up your smithy and just wait for something to break or wear out.
Almost certainly, you will be without electricity within a short time after the bombs fall. The grid will go down from a massive EMP, and it will take everything that is plugged into it down as well. Assuming the authorities get right on it, it will be months if not years before power is restored. They will not bother to get right on it, however. There'll be other things to worry about than restoring power to outlying areas.
First things first, then. You'll need light after the sun goes down. Hopefully, you will have purchased a supply of Kerosene and some lanterns to burn it in. As soon as you get your smithy set up and all the other immediate needs taken care of, you can start making some wall hooks to hang lanterns on (left), and maybe a shepherd's hook or two if you think you will need outside illumination.
I take a certain measure of pride in my hook designs. God gave me more talents than I deserve, and while I frequently misuse my talents, my hook designs are first rate, even if I do say so myself.
I have several variations of wall hooks, but all of them start with a circle that is intended to be hung on a nail. The circle provides a measure of stability in case the hook should be bumped and hanging from one nail is a much simpler installation than other hooks requiring two or more anchored screws to secure. The lower portion of the hook is a fair distance away from the base so as to facilitate less pulling stress on the nail. A hook like this one will hang your lantern perfectly level and securely out of reach for small children.
The shepherd's hook above right differs from conventional shepherd's hooks in that the weight is directed straight down, as opposed to off at a slight tangent. One of my hooks can stand in a bucket of sawdust with even the weight of a Coleman lantern suspended from it. Conventional hooks often fall toward the weight they support when the ground becomes saturated with rain water. Mine remain at the position of attention.
I mention this not so much to brag about my superior design abilities, but rather to point out that it pays to spend a fair amount of time considering before even lighting the forge. Two tools help with this; a drawing pad and pencil, and a length of flexible wire.
Hint: You've got illumination. The folks that are going to be fleeing the cities and maybe some of your neighbors will not be so well off, and they will be drawn to any visible light like moths to a flame.
They'll also eat the food you've got squirreled away like ravenous locusts. Don't advertise your good fortune... inside illumination only unless you really need some light outside at night for a specific purpose. Keep the windows shuttered and only burn one lantern at a time... move it from room to room as needed. If you've got a red globe for it, so much the better... it won't ruin your night vision, and you should keep watch for the first few nights at very least.
If you didn't get your Kerosene and/or lamps and lanterns purchased in time, then you will need candelabra for the candles you will have to make. Candelabra can be as ornate as you wish them to be, but they need not be especially fancy to get the job done. The basic task it must do is hold a candle securely, provide a convenient means to move it around the house, and collect the wax that will melt off of it. Be careful in your execution.... candles are just about the most dangerous thing you will encounter in the post-apocalyptic world. Mrs. O'Leary's cow likely did not kick over a lantern to start the Chicago fire, but more likely a candle. Hot and cold blast lanterns go out when they are upended, candles simply ignite whatever they happen to land on.
Candle lanterns are quite useful. These can be made from sheet steel, and are most easily made from standard steel cans such as the ones your beans are likely stored in. One of these cans punched with plenty of holes around the periphery can provide adequate light at night and still be relatively wind proof. Not a bad idea to provide a means of darkening it suddenly if needed.
There are a few candle lanterns made commercially today... mostly out of Japan and China. Stay away from paper lanterns, not only are they not durable, but they can be fire hazards. There are some that are simply modified traditional cold blast lanterns. Instead of a burner, they have a cup that holds a tea light. Tea lights can be bought cheaply in large quantities. These lanterns will work outside quite well, and are proof against fairly strong wind... but they do not do well in cold weather. The wax will not melt around the periphery of the candle in cold temperatures and thus it will not burn.
Keep lanterns on hooks whenever possible. Any hot or cold blast lantern tends to extinguish itself when overturned... but it will still spill its fuel, which is a rare and valuable resource in the post-apocalyptic era.
Dietz makes the best traditional Kerosene lanterns, though not necessarily the cheapest ones. Dietz for personal use, cheap off-brands for trade.
If you did not bring farm implements, you will need to either secure them or make them. You need at minimum a hoe, a rake, and a shovel. Pioneer tools such as axes, fros, mattocks, and the like may be needed as well for various things. You'll need knives of various types and sizes. Knives are difficult to make. Wait until you become proficient. You're also gonna need some tools for smithing. Make several pairs of tongs, a few hardies, and other anvil tools. A small mandrel is useful to have around
Get busy making some of these tools before you need them. When you do need them, time will be in short supply, if it isn't already. Remember also that it never hurts to practice. A would-be smith who has spent the previous months making hooks and other pieces of hardware has a much better chance of successfully repairing a walking plow than one who has been reading books occasionally while loafing when he has “nothing” to do. Hint: There is always something to do in the smithy.
Chapter IX Other Tools and Machinery
hile one can make most anything with just the basic tools of hammer, forge and anvil, there are a number of machines that make life much easier for the smith. Many of these will be hand tools, like bolt cutters, for example, mentioned in a previous chapter.
This chapter will deal mostly with floor machines. Don't plan to load a bunch of these machines into your school bus two days before the bombs fall. If you are going to have a smithy this well prepared, you had better get it set up immediately if not sooner. These machines are heavy and bulky. There will not be room for all of them in one trip.
A common machine in even fairly early smithies was a trip hammer, or power hammer. This machine replaces an apprentice for some work. It forges metal with a much heavier hammer than a smith would normally wield and can tirelessly deliver many blows per minute exactly on target with exactly the correct amount of force. There are wide variations in the design ranging from hydraulically operated machines to primitive devices that simply use a cogged wheel that alternately lifts and drops a heavy sledge hammer.
Power hammers and trip hammers have probably crippled more smiths than all the horses that have ever lived on the Earth. Keep the floor clear, and don't put your hands near the moving parts. These machines are dangerous.
A swedge block is a block of steel or cast iron with recesses of various sizes and shapes formed into it. It is used to make shapes otherwise difficult to forge, such as triangular bars. I've never found I needed one, and they are heavy and expensive. By an extra anvil instead or a floor mandrel.
The drill press is extremely useful and can save hours. It is much easier and simpler to drill a hole than it is to punch one, and it will be perfect every time. To go along with it, a set of drill bits and at least one extra chuck key.
The post drill is a variation on the drill press. Time was when every farm in the country had a post drill in one of the buildings. The biggest advantage in a post drill is that it is designed to be run with no electricity, using hand cranks for motive power. A feed mechanism using a cogged wheel, cam, and rocker, feeds the quill as the drill bit is rotated.
They normally require a special blacksmith's drill bit, that is to say, a 1/2” shaft drill bit with a flat side machined on it for the lock screw to hold it in the primitive vise. It is possible to convert to a conventional three jaw drill chuck. One needs only a 1/2” arbor that is threaded to accept the new chuck. The shaft can then be chucked into the original chuck. A post drill thus converted can use conventional drill bits.
Post drills are one of the few antique tools that are relatively easy to locate. Be prepared to pay what is asked for a drill in good condition with all the parts, and also to repair a drill that you got cheaply... possibly having to replace some missing parts... perhaps even having to make them from scratch. I would say to generally avoid those that have been converted to electric operation. They were never intended to be used at the high speeds an electric motor can impart, and unless the owner took pains to keep it well lubricated, its bearing surfaces may have suffered.
Lay in a good supply of heavy grease. Slick-50 One Grease works well, and the Teflon content adds to its lubricating ability. Eventually, you may be down to rendered animal fat, but avoid it as long as you can. Most machine tools require some kind of lubricant in normal operation. Cutting oil will also be necessary for some of them. I’ve always liked Marvel Mystery Oil.
A metal lathe is the one machine tool that can completely reproduce itself without any others. You will need a complete set of tooling to go with it including a four jaw independent chuck and a three jaw universal chuck. Get a ball-bearing dead center if possible. When it finally wears out, you can make a solid one. Have a ready supply of tool bits... carbide ones if possible. They will outlast the standard tool steel ones.
Milling machines and shapers are nice to have, but only if you really have a need for them. If you are going to be building a steam locomotive or a triple expansion steam engine, perhaps you could justify the added expense and trouble of setting up either of these machines. Otherwise, leave 'em behind and buy yourself an extra couple years' worth of food and Kerosene.
A modern welder, whether an electric one or a gas one is extremely useful as long as you can get the gas or the electricity it requires to run. When that is gone, you have a really heavy paperweight or an anchor. Learn how to use one of these things before you buy it and use it while you can.
An electric generator is quite useful as long as you have fuel for it. Diesel is the best way to go, but even a gas generator has its uses while fuel is still available. If you intend to power your floor machines with it, you'd be well advised to get one that is large enough. A little Coleman camp generator is not going to cut it.
A stationary engine can be quite useful for a variety of things. If your machines are not direct drive and use pulley systems, a stationary engine can be set up to run them in the absence of electricity. Briggs & Stratton and Tecumseh both make reliable air-cooled engines that would be suitable for such things. Setting them up is beyond the scope of this article, however. Bear in mind that you get more efficiency using the engine directly rather than converting its energy first to electricity and then back again to mechanical energy.
A farm tractor might seem to be the most unlikely requirement for a smithy, but they are infinitely useful machines. They have, among other things, a power take-off unit... sometimes more than one kind of power take-off. You can use these to run your floor machines, to run a generator, if you must have electricity, and to haul coal and charcoal, and also the obvious uses that it was originally designed for. I myself would prefer something small like a Farmall Cub or A, but a Ford 8N or 9N will serve just as well. One of the modern monsters with four-wheel-drive and all the bells and whistles will not long be running in the post apocalyptic world, as there will be nobody able to fix them when they break for one thing, also that extra horsepower requires quite a bit of fuel.
There are “alternative” fuels that can burn in spark ignition engines... alcohol and wood gas are just two of them. A discussion of how to make them is beyond the scope of this article. I seem to say that quite a bit... perhaps I should expand the scope of the article a bit. Nah... maybe later.
A smithy that has all these machines is far beyond what most people would need. This is a blacksmith's dream shop... and having one could be of great benefit to a community if it were able to support and defend it. For most practical purposes... you need only the basics and a few of the luxuries, if you can manage it.
Chapter X The Neighbors
ou are gonna have neighbors, like it or not. So... first the obvious question; how do the neighbors relate to post apocalyptic smithing operations? The fact of the matter is that everything affects everything else. It is said that the wind raised by a bird's wing can eventually become a storm. Well, with the wrong set of neighbors, the storm that a puff of smoke from your forge might initiate could be especially violent... and unfortunately, right next door. So it is that we come to the neighbors.
One of the many things I learned during my time in an Army civil affairs battalion is that in the aftermath of any disaster, whether it is a battle, a famine, or a natural cataclysm of some type, there will be shortages of water, food, fuel, medicine, and/or any one of a number of things. There is one thing that there is never a shortage of, however; refugees.
In the aftermath or even prior to the apocalypse, they are going to come boiling out of the ruins of large cities. Many of them will be useless people who are accustomed to having everything given to them by the sweat of others. They will be most upset when they go to the store and find that not only will their welfare card not work, but that there is nothing in the store to buy even if the card did still work. Unfortunately, many of these individuals will go feral and start simply taking whatever they wish from others. Remember Hurricane Katrina?
Thus, some morning about a week after the mushroom clouds began growing, you will awaken to find a group of former city dwellers encamped in your field with their Coleman tents and SUVs parked right on top of a field of oats that was almost ready to harvest. Count to ten, now, remember that they are likely here because they have nowhere else to go, and they didn't deliberately crush your food supply... to them it was just brown grass.
The first thing to do is assess them as a group. Are they potential allies? Escaped criminals? Did they bring anything useful, or are they truly useless people too stupid to know how to take care of themselves. This initial survey, conducted with firearms at the ready, will determine how to deal with them. If they are not openly hostile, talk to them, in Spanish or broken English if necessary, get an idea of their needs. If they are short of water and you have a well with a hand pump, enlist the aid of some of their young men and get some water distributed. Don't immediately volunteer that you have food or anything else... you'll get a better idea of what they have just by watching them.
Check out their skills as well. Are any of them nurses or doctors? Soldiers or former soldiers? Drug dealers? Legitimate pharmacists? Mechanics? In short, decide quickly whether or not you want them as neighbors. If you do, move them into shelter someplace other than on top of the remains of your unharvested oats. Don't immediately dismiss men in orange uniforms bearing the names of prisons. Not all murderers are bad people... I know a few of 'em I would love to have as a neighbor... especially in this kind of world. Criminals are sometimes useful individuals who made errors in judgment. Just be careful with them. Most of those guys really do belong in the cage.
If you think you'd be better off without them as a group, be polite, but firm. Load them up with as much water as they can carry, give them a gallon of gasoline... the “last” gallon you have... for their vehicle, if in fact they are out of gas, and send them on their way to a refugee collection point. There will usually be radio broadcasts advising where to go for food, shelter, and medical care.
The gallon of gas you give them will buy you their good will, it will get them at least fifteen or twenty miles away from you, and it is less valuable than the ammunition you would have to expend in killing the entire party.
If you have to shoot, you do it quickly, you dig a hole, you keep your mouth shut. This is to be avoided as much as possible. Gunfighters never live long. You cannot stand alone, and the more people in the community, the better the chances of collective survival. Remember, the Chinese may be on the march, or the Russians, or even the Mexicans or Canadians. We will not even discuss local bandits, which are more likely than foreign powers who will have problems of their own.
At the risk of being labeled a racist, I will address the issue of race despite being a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. This is, of course, sacriledge to a liberal, and I am going to be branded a racist no matter what I say. Therefore, I will speak the truth as I see it, shoot straight, and let the chips fall where they may.
Back in the innocent age circa 1975 or so, I tended to believe the prevalent propaganda spewed out by the media that "Black is Beautiful". Somehow, I came to the belief that all Black people were God-fearing men and women who lived in poverty only because White men forced them to live that way. This belief had some truth behind it, but was woefully inaccurate when applied universally.
Upon my inception into the US Army, I was divested of that notion, realizing that Black people were no better than anyone else... and later in life, I came to realize that as a group they tended to be somewhat ignorant and stupid, prone to violence, and often given to immoral behavior. That said, I have to point out that these, or any other generalizations, do not apply to every single individual of the Black race... or any other race, for that matter. Individuals vary with the individual.
The unfortunate fact remains that a majority of violent crime in the United States is commited by people of minority races... Blacks leading the pack, for the most part. I will not get into the reasons for this as those put forth by others are highly debatable, and my premise here is quite inflamatory enough. Suffice it to say that the reasons will end up being many and varied, and probably the biggest problem that Blacks have as a group was systematically engineered by evil White men. No, not the KKK, but rather, liberal Democrats. The institutions they implemented are collectively known generally as social welfare programs and include or have included housing allowance, food stamps, aid to families with dependent children, and others. This "free lunch" program has caused more damage to the poor and/or the Blacks than the KKK leadership could ever have dreamed of. But that's another story...
It does NOT logically follow that because a majority of crime in the United States is done by Blacks, the majority of Blacks are criminals. Most Black people, like most Mexicans, White Anglo-Saxons, Asians, or any other race of people are no more prone to crime and violence than anyone else. It DOES logically follow that a neighborhood full of people who are as a group prone to crime and violence will have high crime rates.
In the post-apocalyptic world, these are important things to consider. You do not want to be living in a Black neighborhood when the caca hits the fan... even if you are Black yourself. Leave before the looting, robbing, raping, burning and killing begins in earnest. If you choose to leave a Black ghetto, however, remember to leave the ghetto behind... don't bring it with you. That is excess baggage you don't need to carry.
Outside of the ghetto, there will be White people. They'll have guns. You will have to get along with them if you want to survive. It has been said that niggers come in all colors, and this is quite true. Nevertheless, having a dark complexion should not be a license to act like a nigger. Institutionalized slavery ended a a century ago and it is no longer an excuse for bad behavior. This is a point to remember.
Now some will wonder why this racist clap-trap is included here. Two reasons. The first reason is a warning to Blacks who choose to flee the inner city and try to survive out in the open air. You will quite probably be tolerated... but only if you behave yourselves. If you start behaving in ways that are considered normal in the inner city ghettoes, your White neighbors are not likely to accept you... and you need to be accepted if you want to live.
Be polite. Leave the ghetto life behind... and make damned certain your children behave as well. If you are driven out, you will have no where else to go.
The second reason is the fact that many rural people have little if any experience living among Blacks and other minorities. I was probably into my teens before I actually saw a Black person... and considerably older before I saw a Mexican. Now I live in an inner city neighborhood in a small city where it is at least as common to hear Spanish spoken on the street as English. My next door neighbors are Mexican and a man across the street is Black.
It should not be a matter of public policy in the post-apocalyptic world to shoot Mexicans or Blacks on sight. Not all Blacks, Mexicans, American Indians, or other minority members are criminals. Neither, however, are they all fine upstanding citizens. Remember, the man in your gun site is an individual, not a group, so be careful not to make your judgement based on group statistics. That man in your site might just be another George Washington Carver... a genius who will be badly needed when it comes time to plant crops again after the worst is over. He could also be, however, another Idi Amin... whom the world could easily do without.
One would hope that we could avoid a race war. This may not be the case, however, so if your skin color becomes your uniform, all bets are off. Civil war is a bloody thing, and hopefully will be of limited duration, but it certainly could happen, and dividing line could easily become one of race. All the more reason to avoid conflicts if at all possible.
Let others fight over the last scraps of food in a grocery store or somebody else's attractive young wife. Sit quietly in your little corner of the world and stay hidden if you can.
The neighbors you have now... before the bombs fall, will be your best bets for allies. You know them, for one thing, or at least you should. If you do not, you should set about rectifying that state of affairs. If you see your neighbor with a tractor buried to the axle, go over with a heavy chain and your own tractor or SUV. If you take care of your neighbors, they will hopefully take care of you some day.
Should you be so fortunate as to have an Amish or Mennonite neighbor, get down on your knees immediately and praise God with a loud voice! Your neighbor is an absolute “rock star” at living off the grid. He'll have horses, oxen, hand tools, harnesses, wagons, stored food and probably Kerosene. He'll also have skills that you don't have. If he is willing to talk to the English at all, he'll talk to his neighbor. It helps if you can speak a bit of German as well. He'll probably speak “Plat Deutsch”, a dialect that is a bit different from the “Hoch Deutsch” taught in American schools, but he'll be able to understand you and will appreciate that you made the effort. When he discovers that his neighbor is a blacksmith, he will likely spread the word to the rest of the Amish.
This is a good thing. When the fuel runs out, you will have been able to negotiate for a good draft horse and a wagon. Possibly even a wife or an apprentice to help you out in the smithy.
After the bombs fall, we'll all be Amish.... whether we like it or not! In the grand scheme of things, though, there are worse things to be.
Chapter XI Weapons
t seems to be a given that any discussion of the end times, or survivalist doctrine in general must contain a section on weapons. So we come to the final chapter and I must weigh in on the subject as well. Having spent the better part of a decade engaged in the selling and servicing of firearms, and more than fifteen years in military service, I am somewhat qualified, though no more so than Miles or many others.
I will not address primitive weapons like the atlatl, boomerang, sling, spear, or bow and arrow. All of these weapons have their place in the post-apocalyptic world. I simply do not have the time or the space to address every aspect of the situation, and so I must eliminate some subjects I would like to cover. Suffice it to say that a man armed with a sling or an atlatl who knows what he is doing is better armed than a man with a battleship who doesn't.
I will point out that primitive weapons tend to be absolutely silent, seldom have laws regarding their use or possession, and are easily made from base materials. If you have a length of cord, a small piece of leather and a rock, you have the makings of a sling and can kill small animals... or giants. A straight peice of wood and a broken piece of glass can become an arrow, quarrel, or spear. A bent piece of wood can be made into a boomerang.
If you choose to carry and use primitive weapons like these in the post-apocalyptic era, practice religiously and God be with you, for everything else is against you.
Much of what I have to say is based on opinion... informed opinion, but opinion nevertheless. "What's the best gun?" in one variation or another, is probably the most commonly asked question at the counter of any gun shop, followed closely by "What's the best cartridge?".
Welllll.... there is no perfect answer to either of them. All guns, from a Brown Bess musket to a Buck Rogers styled directed energy beam weapon have their pros and cons. The use to which the weapon is to be put will have much influence on the choice of weapon. If you are planning to visit Washington state for hunting, stainless steel has a certain advantage.... but bad neighborhoods in Washington DC have needs all their own.
As to cartridge choice, the various 30-'06 class cartridges are so close ballistically as to be almost indistinguishable. Everyone has their favorites. To me, if the cartridge does what it is supposed to do, it's a win, if not, it should be retired. We could eliminate all but ten chamberings and there would still be plenty of choices left.
In point of fact, for survival, one would be better served by a collection of weapons in various chamberings. For breaking through roadblocks escaping from a city, keeping mobs at bay, or similar martial activities, any of the AK-47 variants would be ideal. (A better idea would be a letter of acceptance from a well-known local resident of the community you are trying to enter!) I would personally opt for one chambered in .223 Remington. Others would prefer a 12 gage Remington 870 riot gun. Later on, a rifle in .22 LR might be nice to get game for the evening meal without drawing undue attention. Handguns have their place, but mostly, that place is hanging on the patriarch of the family's hip seldom if ever to be fired. Others have other ideas. To each his own.
What has all this to do with blacksmithing?
In the early days of firearms, it was the blacksmith who made the firearms. It was the blacksmith who repaired them. You will almost certainly be called upon to repair a firearm of some type at one point or another. Most probably it will be one of your own. This is only one area to consider when choosing a weapon.
You'll need to defend yourself and your family. You'll also likely wish to hunt or destroy pests who plague the garden... or plague humans directly. Feral dogs frequently become a problem in devastated areas. PETA be damned! In a war zone, shoot all stray dogs on sight! The danger stray dogs pose to unarmed humans cannot be overstated.
I implore you not to attempt to make a firearm from scratch. Unless you are a gunsmith with a well equipped shop, you will have, at best, a poorly made weapon that will not shoot where it is aimed, and at worst, a bomb waiting to detonate right next to... say... your wife's face. She will not be happy with you, nor will anyone else.
There are also certain repairs not to attempt. Don't do anything with the major parts of a weapon; the bolt, breach, or barrel. Messing with these can get you killed. Find a gunsmith for these kinds of things. You can learn how to drill and tap for scope mounts, though I don't recommend it.
I would suggest that you confine your post-apocalyptic gun repairs to stock replacement, parts replacement, cleaning, and other minor repairs. One can attempt to make some springs, but again stay away from things like firing pin return springs, safety springs, trigger return springs, etc.
Muzzle-loading firearms with traditional exposed hammers, do lend themselves to simple repairs. A broken hammer or trigger-guard can easily be crafted by a skilled smith.
Unless you are a trained gunsmith, avoid major repairs to firearms.
Miles has stated that hunting will be impossible at some point. This is true, though that point will not happen immediately.
In Northern Iraq, we looked high and low for wild animals, but found very few alive. There was a large mongrel dog that helped me guard the camp at night, a fox that was seen at a great distance, and tiny fast-moving lizards. That was it. Everything else had been killed and eaten by the Kurds.
As I write this, the deer population in Wisconsin is bulging. There are herds that wander in among the barracks on Fort McCoy. One would think that they were squirrels in any public park, for all the attention they pay to soldiers who walk among them. One would think that they would provide an excellent food source in any disaster scenario. Correct? Probably not.
In whatever version you choose to believe concerning the extinction of dinosaurs, one thing is clear; the large herbivores were the first to perish. They need foliage to survive... and foliage is always the first food source to fail in any kind of climatic alteration. A nuclear war will cause widespread changes to temperature and available sunlight, as will many other types of disasters.
Even if we discount such a disaster, with the distribution network smashed, how long would one suppose the deer herd will last with a starving population out hunting them? Probably about as long as the park squirrels. Had the Kurds been left much longer, I suspect even the mongrel dog (an unclean animal under Islam) and the lizards would have been eaten.
Hunting will be sharply curtailed at some point, in the post-apocalyptic era, but not completely gone.
In general, cartridge guns should be considered emergency guns. Use them for self-defense only. Those cartridges, even if we allow for reloading, are too precious to waste. As to a choice of cartridge guns, I would suggest avoiding everyone's favorite Colt AR-15 type rifle. It is rugged, it is, contrary to popular belief, fairly reliable, the .223 Remington rounds will be plentiful (or as plentiful as any ammunition), and accuracy is fairly good.
The problem with this weapon is that it requires a fairly high tech base to keep it operational. If you fall and break the butt stock, you have to replace it somehow. You won't be able to order a replacement stock. Thus, the wood-stocked AK-47 in one version or another, which was designed for low tech levels, is infinitely superior in the kind of world I envision.
The best attribute of this weapon is also the worst problem; semi-automatic capability. Untrained individuals tend to use the "spray and pray" approach to war fighting, and they also tend to take risks they probably shouldn't. This is fine when one has a large combat load of ammunition and a truckload waiting at the base camp, not to mention skilled medics. When you have one case of ammo that has to last a decade, and limited medical care, the balance tends to tip toward those who avoid gunfights and guns that require marksmanship and thought before expending a single round.
Shotguns are probably the most versatile weapon out there. You can kill everything from an elephant to a hummingbird with a shotgun loaded with suitable cartridges, and there are a plethora of available cartridges. I have a preference for pump shotguns. My favorite current production gun is the Remington 870, though I much prefer the old Winchester Model '97. I find an exposed hammer to be a comfort rather than a concern.
A .410 bore shotgun has certain advantages in that the report is fairly quiet compared to other gages. Brass cartridges can be formed from old .303 Brittish shells that can be reloaded many times.
I own a Winchester Model 9410 lever-action shotgun, which is pictured at left with an ornery old guy holding it. It has certain tactical advantages that might not be immediately noticed. As a home-defense weapon, it is almost without peer, holding ten rounds of of .38 S&W Special-equivalent ammunition. In an urban environment, it is not likely to penetrate several walls and kill a little old lady down the street walking her dog, yet it will impart lethal wounds up close where most combat shooting is done.
Loaded with 000 buckshot rounds, each shell holds three rounds approximately thirty caliver in diameter. At close range... say out to twenty five or thirty yards or so... I can put three rounds on target faster than a man with a modern selective fire weapon can manage, as I can do it with one shot instead of three. If I need to kill a squirrel or rabbit for lunch, number six or 7 1/2 shot will suffice. If longer range shots are needed for coyote, human beings, or deer, slugs will fit the bill... admittedly in a marginal capacity.
Further, designs like this (lever-actions in general) will be among the last cartridge loading weapons to be rendered illegal simply because there are so many of them out there.
Need I mention that you need at least a 12 gage to kill an elephant?
Shot shells are heavy and fairly expensive. They also have plastic cases that cannot be reloaded just too many times. this needs to be considered at some point.
A .22 LR rifle is great. You can easily stock thousands of shells for it and spend very little money doing so. Everyone has a preference. I like Remington Nylon 66 rifles, though Winchester 9422 lever-actions are pretty nice as well. Ruger 10/22 rifles are pretty hard to beat for a modern production gun. There are many handguns that take the same cartridge.
It goes without saying that one must learn to reload cartridges if one plans to continue to use them. I cannot possibly begin to address that topic though, and since Miles has covered it elsewhere, I'll forgo it entirely.