Beginners always want to start cheap. Nothing in the blacksmith's trade comes cheap (to the beginner's point of view). Beginners always tell me that they want to spend as little money as possible, yet their expectations are for a grand awakening in the blacksmith's trade. I have received dozens of requests asking for tips and ideas of for setting up a basic blacksmith shop and they always begin with the premise 'I don't want to spend any money.'
What is the cost to set up a good beginning blacksmith shop?
It takes a sizeable chunk of cash to start a shop that is capable of producing ironwork at a profit immediately. $2000-2500 U.S. will give the beginner an excellent start with the best tools. This will allow the new smith to build a good coal forge with large hand cranked blower and new firepot, a good new anvil (cheaper to buy new than used!), a set of new hammers, a good used legvise, a small amount of steel and coal, some good blacksmith books to get started, and construction costs to modify a building to be used for a shop.
Whoa, wait a minute! How much did he say it costs to start up a shop?! That's right! $2000-2500 is what I wrote. Yes I know the hobby smiths on the internet blacksmith forums are going to be in an uproar over how ridiculous they think this figure is. Sure we could try to start a shop with less then $50 and strut around telling all our internet buddies how smart we are. But skimping on tools results in a shop that can't make anything but 'S' hooks and even those wouldn't sell for a profit after we priced in our time and material inputs necessary to produce them. Leave skimping for the nitwits that hang out on internet blacksmith forums.
The blacksmith's trade is very expensive
Investing in good tools to set up our shops allows us to focus on making ironwork and do it comfortably and efficiently. I pay several thousands of dollars a year on tooling and supplies. April of 2003 has already included a new air hammer paid for with profits from the small amount of blacksmith work I made the year before. The upgrades needed to run that new hammer will be paid for with profits from work I am currently making- for another shop that also spends thousands of dollars each year to add new tools and upgrade their own shop. Maintenance costs to operate new hammer will be approximately $5/hour. That's right- push the little green button and it's 5 bucks an hour, and that assumes the hammer will never wear out and need replacement! I haven't got time or money to buy or build junk. It costs money to make money! The blacksmith's craft is very expensive. You might spend a large amount of money from your personal living expenses to support your smithing fun, or you could sell finished ironwork to help pay for your smithing, even if only as a hobby. But pay you will.
There are a some things the new smith can do to reduce this amount of money to start a shop but it means we start with lower efficiency working in our shops. I will discuss some things to reduce setup costs later in this text, but these ideas will still need upgrading later when money allows. So you aren't sure if you will be interested in the craft of the blacksmith enough to invest this amount of money? Then attend some blacksmithing classes and see if you like it.
Been there, done that!
Beginners will bemoan these recommendations after reading the foolish works of other websites, often with the statement "but I'm just a beginner" or "I don't want to spend a lot of money". This is wasted effort. I was once a beginner too! And I remember what it was like. 20-some years ago I was floundering around building junk forges that wouldn't heat the iron well enough to work with. I happened upon a magazine that printed an interview with Francis Whitaker in which he told beginners to buy a firepot instead of wasting time with brake drum forges. After reading the interview I decided to save my money, and soon bought a new firepot and new hand cranked blower and a good new anvil to go with it. My next forge was built of sheet metal and angle iron and though still rather crude in design, it was a success. The thumbnail picture at left shows this forge. Now I recommend the same. Buy a firepot/tuyere for your forge. To see more of this forge click on this link and scroll down the page http://www.beautifuliron.com/steel.htm
Here is the case for using a ready-made cast iron firepot in a bottom blast forge:
Getting past the distractions
So here is my question for you beginners that are still stuck on the brake drum forges; why do you insist on blindly following the advice of somebody else to build a brake drum forge while the people that want you to use a brake drum would not use one themselves? And knowing that you are entering a complex craft, why do you allow yourself to become distracted into using something that the best smiths in the field would not bother using themselves?
Get over it. Spend the money and effort to obtain the best equipment. Focus on moving forward and improving equipment and skills to produce good ironwork. Setting up the best equipment available will benefit the workshop with greater comfort, speed, convenience, project variety and volume, and profit. In other words; spend a little more money- make a lot more money.
Updated March 15, 2006.
Page created November 24th, 2003.