by Todd Walker
Read the next two lines and stop. Look around you. Make a mental note of all the useful stuff produced from two resources… wood and metal.
Really, stop reading for a second!
Okay, come back now.
What did you come up with? If you only noted the obvious wooden and metallic items, go deeper. With a little thought, your list should grow exponentially.
The fact is, wood and metal were directly or indirectly responsible for building your house, mailbox, wall clock, sofa, and the electronic device you’re reading from this very moment.
Wood and metal go together like peas and carrots. Metal tools are used to shape wood. But wood creates fire to heat metal for making said tools. And don’t forget about the useful wooden handles attached to metal tools. There’s a relationship between the two resources in which both benefit from the other. In biology, we call this mutualism.
For long-term self-reliance, learning to manipulate and exploit these resources will make you an indispensable asset to both family and community.
Blacksmithing: The Master of All Crafts
Except for harnessing fire, nothing in human history compares to the discovery of metal and its ability to be molded, formed, and poured into useful shapes. Blacksmithing is the only craft that makes their own tools and the tools of other craftsmen.
You don’t have to dial back in time too far to find Bob the Blacksmith being the most prominent tradesman in town. In need of a gate latch? Go see Bob. How about that crack in your froe? Bob can forge weld it and have you back splitting cedar shakes for your roof in no time. Making a hammer for your flint-lock rifle could be done by Bob.
Basic Smithing Tools
To build a functional smithy, you’ll need a few tools. No need to spend a boatload of money to get started either. Shop yard sales, flea markets, scrap yards, farm auctions, estate sales, and antique stores – the highest prices are usually paid at antique stores.
Here are the basic tools needed for beginners like me…
- Anvil ~ A real blacksmithing anvil may be your largest cash outlay. A common man’s anvil can be a section of railroad track or large block of metal – 100 plus pounds mounted to a wooden stump.
- Forge ~ Charcoal, coal, or gas-powered, the forge will heat your steel for shaping and tempering metal. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. A hole in the ground will work. Some sort of blower to increase heat in your coal or charcoal. Blowers are not needed for a propane forge.
- Hammer ~ A 2 to 3 pound hammer to work hot metal. You can add to your hammer collection over time. There are four basic types of hammers for moving metal: straight peen, ball peen, cross peen, and sledge.
- Tongs ~ Long handle pliers used to grip hot steel while hammering.
- Vise ~ A bench vise mounted on a sturdy work bench. I’ve yet to acquire a blacksmithing post vise.
- Files ~ Flat and half-round
- Quench Bucket ~ Container large enough to hold about 5 gallons of water to cool hot metal and for tempering.
- Safety Equipment ~ Eye protection, ear protection, leather boots, natural fiber clothing, welding gloves, fire extinguisher and water bucket/hose, first aid kit.
- Like other crafts, there are almost endless numbers of tools and items you’ll want to acquire as your skill level increases.
Though I’ve always known the importance of this craft historically, my dabbling has only produced a few items. However, after a recent Georgia Bushcraft camping trip, I realized it’s time to get serious about hammering steel.
Stephan Fowler of Fowler Blades spent two hours in the rain demonstrating, in less than optimal conditions, the process of turning a file into a functional cutting tool. The blade was not his best work considering he used a crumbly rock as an anvil, an air mattress pump for a billow, and burning chunks of hardwood on the ground as his forge.
Check out what Stephan produces when he has access to his real forge → here.
And now for the video of Stephan making a knife from a file, in the rain, on a rock anvil…
Your skill level doesn’t have to be superior to be useful for long-term self-reliance. The more you hammer steel and study metallurgy, the better you become.
Blacksmithing in America was hot and heavy during our pioneer days in North America. Not long after the Industrial Revolution, the art of blacksmithing survived only as a specialty craft. Thankfully, the secrets of metallurgy, once guarded in guilds, is being passed on through modern-day blacksmiths. Here are a few resources that I’ve found helpful in connecting with local craftsmen.
- Artist Blacksmith Association of North America. Look for state and local chapters in your area.
- I found the Ocmulgee Blacksmith Guild from the previous site and attended and met local blacksmiths a few years ago.
- Book ~ The Backyard Blacksmith: Traditional Techniques of the Modern Smith
- Book ~ The Complete Modern Blacksmith
- Book ~ Mechanick Exercises: Or the Doctrine of Handy-Works. This is a facsimile reprint of the Third Edition from 1703. Warning… Old English descriptions of metal and wood working.
The craft of woodworking compliments blacksmithing more so than any two trades I know. Developing the skill to make handles for metal tools or mill lumber from a tree to accept the nails you forged on your anvil could one day feed your family in hard times. I’ll bet your master gardener neighbor would be willing to barter food for tools and repairs on her homestead.
If you’re like me, you find yourself dabbling in all sorts of pioneer skills. One skill I’ve become proficient at is carpentry. However, take away my power tools and my skill level drops several notches.
Working wood with pioneer tools is based on the same principles as modern woodworking… with a steeper learning curve and physicality. Don’t abandon your power tools. Here’s my list of basic wood working tools, both modern and pioneer style.
- Hammers ~ A 16 oz. claw hammer and a larger framing hammer (20 oz.) to get you started.
- Saws ~ Circular, chop/miter, table, jig, reciprocating – cordless and corded. Cordless 18v batteries can be charged via solar chargers if the need arises.
- Drills ~ Cordless impact driver and drill, corded drill press, and an assortment of drill bits (wood and metal), screw bits, and socket bit adapters.
- Squares ~ Tri-square, combination, speed square, and carpenter’s square. Used to mark and test angles. Buy metal squares to use with hot metal work. Plastic melts.
- Levels ~ Torpedo, 2 foot, and 4 foot bubble levels keep things plumb.
- Measuring and Marking Devices ~ 25 foot steel tape measure, wooden folding ruler, carpenter’s pencil, chalk line.
- Utility Knife ~ One of my most used tools on my belt.
- Hammers, Mallets, and Mauls.
- Saws ~ Hand saws: crosscut, rip, compass saw, coping, and bucksaw.
- Drills ~ Brace and bit, augers, bits of various sizes.
- Squares ~ Same as listed above; Tri-square, combination, speed square, and carpenter’s square. Used to mark and test angles. Buy metal squares to use with hot metal work. Plastic melts.
- Levels ~ Torpedo, 2 foot, and 4 foot bubble levels keep things plumb and work as straight edges.
- Measuring and Marking Devices ~ 25 foot steel tape measure (roughing work), wooden folding ruler, steel drafting ruler (bench work), pencil, chalk line.
- Smoothing Planes ~ Both long and short. Stanley makes great planes and can be had inexpensively but may need some TLC to make them useable.
- Chisels ~ A variety of sizes kept super sharp… which I’m known not to do.
- Draw Knives ~ Draw knives for roughing wood to shape and spoke shaves for finishing form.
- Shave Horse ~ Holds stock freeing both hands to work wood with a draw knife or spoke shave.
- Froe ~ A simple tool used to split (rive) wood into shingles, boards, and staves.
- Rasp ~ Both flat and half-round. A 4-in-1 rasp is utilitarian.
Notice I didn’t delve into the actual skill sets needed. That would take a long time and lots of bandwidth. However, I do recommend that you begin stockpiling metal and woodworking tools. They may be useful one day.
Oh, and never pass up scrap metal. Collect lawn mower blades, leaf springs, bar stock, round stock, pallet wood, hardware (nails, screws, nuts and bolts), old files, tool steel, sharpening devices, sheet metal, saws, etc., etc.
Real stuff, almost all stuff, can be made from skilled hands with metal and wooden tools. Learning to work these two resources may start as a hobby or pastime but could very well insure your livelihood in hard times.
Did you think of anything that was made without metal and/or wood being directly or indirectly involved in the process? Bet you didn’t.
Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,