Blacksmithing is up there with some of the oldest continuous trades in the world. For thousands of years, humankind has been forging metal, bending it to their will, to create advantages for themselves. The art and craft of blacksmithing has also played an important role in our progress through the last few thousand years. As the art of manipulating metal has been passed down from generation to generation, it should come as no surprise that many of the techniques and skills that blacksmiths have always shared would still be alive and well today.
Here at Borderland Rustic Hardware, we are proud to do our part to support the traditional methods and practices involving blacksmithing.
Unlike the processes that you find behind the mass-produced metalwork that fills the walls at the local home improvement stores, our artisans follow the traditional blacksmithing path. Each piece that we create is unique and bears the maker’s personal touch. There are many obvious benefits that come from handmade metalwork, and one of the first that everyone notices is how authentically ‘Old World’ each piece of hardware is.
Our smiths are experts in their craft and create any type of hardware or decorative piece that you may require. The artisans who produce our metalwork create pieces that fit the precise requirements of our customers, but it is easy to see that each piece is created individually and by hand.
The tools and equipment that we use to craft our metalwork are mostly traditional. The same pincers, plyers, punches, and anvils are present in our shop that you would find in any forge throughout history. Where we have modernized has not affected the traditional methods and processes.
For example, we fire our metal in furnaces that maintain a more predictable and constant heat than one can achieve from a bed of coals. The ability to have more control over the heat source not only gives us the opportunity to produce our wares faster, but the results are more predictable, and our hardware ends up being even stronger. These are certainly good features to have in a workshop.
The main tools that we use are intended for particular aspects of the process. Whether that means heating, holding, hitting, tempering, or cooling the metal, there are tools in use today that have always had a place in a blacksmith’s shop. Here are a some of the tools that we use and why we use them.
The forge is arguably the most important tool in our shop, although the same could be argued for all the core elements. Each works together to form an orchestral effect. Still, without the ability to heat our metals, there would be no shaping or hardening of it.
Forges come in different formats, and many of our smiths have a personal preference. Some use propane-heating forges while others use coal as a heat source. According to our blacksmiths, coal takes a little more work to get right, but it burns hotter and heats faster. Propane, on the other hand, provides a cleaner burn and more control.
Oxy-acetylene torches can also be used to heat metal quickly and most of our smiths have a torch on hand for intricate work that requires more precision.
Another essential set of tools in our shops are the devices that we use to hold the metal we are working with. There are various tools to fulfill this need and each has its own special place in our shop.
Our smiths use the same basic tongs and pliers that have always been used. Modern clamps and vises, on the other hand are better than their historical counterparts as they do a better job at clamping and holding heavy pieces of metal. So, in our shops, you will see a combination of classic tongs and specialized clamps meant for producing accurate works.
In addition to the tools, we use to hold our steel, we also use several specialized tools to help with punching holes through hot steel, creating unique textures and finishes, and more.
If there was any one piece of a blacksmiths equipment that was known the world over, it would be the anvil. Our artisans use the same anvils their ancestors used and for god reason: they do a create job at providing a place to hammer hot metal for hours on end.
As with the forges that are used by our smiths, anvil choice is often one of personal preference and it is not uncommon to see anvils of slightly different sizes and shapes from one workshop to another.
As our blacksmiths use traditional methods for creating the hardware available here at Borderland Rustic Hardware, the processes that we use are the same as those from the past.
Depending on the piece of hardware we are making, we will begin by selecting the appropriate piece of metal to start with. Steel comes in many shapes and sizes and making the choice between a square rod or a round rod, or one that is ¼ inch or ½ inch, can make a big difference in the workflow.
Once the perfect piece of steel is selected for the job, we heat the metal in the forge. The metal gets red-hot and will stay that way for a short duration while we work on shaping it.
Once the metal is sufficiently heated, it is time to begin shaping it. The process of shaping hot metal is reminiscent of shaping anything else that is pliable – clay comes to mind. The biggest difference, of course, is that metal takes a good deal more work to get to the shape you are looking for.
When we are making flat pieces that have decorative edges and flourishes on them, the process of shaping the metal follows a certain workflow that helps us achieve the desired result. The same is true for our clavos, gate handles, and everything else that we produce.
One thing that each piece of hardware has in common is that the hardware we produce is a result of a long process of continual strikes from a hammer (or other specialized tool). By holding the hot metal and striking it in specific ways, we are able to create many unique shapes and designs. Some of the techniques that we use to create our shapes are peining, upsetting, and drawing out.
Once the metal has been forged into the desired shapes, we let our work cool in preparation for the next step.
Finishing metal work comes in many different forms. The finishing styles that our smiths use for our hardware creates a variety of unique looks. The finishing that we most often use for our hardware here at Borderland Rustic Hardware is ‘black’, ‘sealed’, ‘oil rubbed bronze’, ‘rusted’, and ‘sealed rusted’.
One of the most widely used methods for coating metal is to have it powder coated. At Borderland Rustic Hardware we take it one step further by having our hardware zinc coated before we apply the power coating. This helps to ensure that our hardware is more rust resistant than most other decorative hardware.
We use a range of techniques to finish the hardware we have available. Be sure to check the available finishes when ordering to ensure that you are getting the look that you want.