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UPDATED September 17, 2019.
Tongs are hand-tools used by blacksmiths to pick up and hold hot pieces of metal. Tongs are generally made of wrought iron or steel, and are superior to pliars or vise grips for holding hot metal because tongs have large flat smooth jaw surfaces that do not scratch or gawl the workpiece. There are as many different types of tongs as there are blacksmiths that make them, the most common types being plain flat jaw tongs, v-bit or hollow bit tongs, bolt tongs, pick-up tongs, and box jaw tongs. Specialty tongs are designed and forged by the individual blacksmith to hold any other special shapes of hot metal that are commonly handled by that particular smith.
December 19th, 2013. New formatting changes.
Currently there are 3 ways for the blacksmith to acquire tongs. Tongs can be bought new from a blacksmith supply vendor, they can be bought used at sales or auctions or other events, or the blacksmith can forge new tongs. Forging one's own tongs is by far the best option and also the most economical. And when specialty tongs are needed, there is simply no other option because specialty tongs cannot be had unless the blacksmith is able to make them. Described here on this page will be links to sources for purchasing tongs new or used, or most importantly sources of instruction to help the new smith forge their own tongs.
New tongs are available at blacksmith suppliers. Here are just a small sample of the many sources of new tongs:
Centaur Forge http://www.centaurforge.com
Pieh Tool Company http://www.piehtoolco.com
Blacksmith's Depot http://www.blacksmithsdepot.com/
New tongs are priced around $35-65 each. The beginner needs 1 or 2 pairs of tongs to start. Before the beginner blacksmith buys their first tongs, it is helpful to know something about the work they intend to make, then buy 2 pairs of tongs that fit the two sizes of steel stock that the smith will work with most often. For general blacksmithing work, the first two pairs of tongs should be flat tongs. Don't worry about all the special shapes of tongs that are available. Flat tongs have the greatest range of uses. More specialized shapes of tongs can be bought or made later after the smith gets started. Factory made tongs have a limited range of sizes to which they can be adjusted. So choose a tong that needs the least adjustment to fit the intended work. In other words, don't buy a 1-1/2 inch tongs and expect a good fit when adjusting down to fit 1/4 inch flat steel. Buy tongs that are close to the intended size or slightly larger.
Used tongs can be bought at auctions and sales for blacksmith shops that are shutting down or retiring, welding shops, ornamental iron shops, old maintenance shops that rebuilt old machinery, farmers' retirement sales and estate sales, blacksmith club chapter events (follow this link to see a list of local chapters: http://www.abana.org/affiliates/affiliate_list.shtml ), draft horse auctions. Draft horses are shod by blacksmiths using traditional blacksmithing techniques. Draft horse owners often sell excess tooling and equipment at draft horse sales. A great source for sale dates is The Draft Horse Journal: https://www.drafthorsejournal.com . Click the 'Events' link in the navigation bar and then navigate to 'Sale Schedule.' If you cannot find good tongs at these sources, remember that you can always make your own or buy new ones.
What to look for - what to avoid.
Both jaws of the tongs must be present, reject them if one or both jaws is missing.
Arc welding or gas welding the jaw to the rivet boss will not hold. Tongs are subjected to continuous shock and concussion. The joint between jaw and rivet boss must retain its original forged grain structure. Look for an original forged joint. Arc or gas welding or grinding on this joint (grinding indicates previous arc or gas welding) will quickly fail in use- reject if arc or gas welded.
Tong jaws must retain enough of their original mass that they do not deform during light use or become red hot and bend while in contact with hot iron. Look for sufficient mass left in tong jaws that they will hold hot iron without the tips of the tongs quickly becoming red hot while in contact with hot iron. Reject if too thin or too short.
Rivet bosses must be intact. Look for signs of arc or gas welding or grinding (grinding indicates arc or gas welding). This is not so critical as the first three flaws but a welded joint will last long enough for the beginner to forge replacements. If there is any sign of welding on the rivet boss- these are damaged goods. Demand a low price. The beginner may be junking these soon after purchase.
Setting a price goal for purchasing used tongs. Know the price of new tongs before shopping for used tongs. Good new tongs can often be purchased for equal or less money than what some flea market hucksters demand for broken and worn out tongs. The price a smith might pay for used tongs should be based exclusively on his/her cost and convenience in making these tools. The blacksmith can make small tongs for around $5 in materials and fuel, and large tongs can be made for around $10-15. Tongs can be forged by hand in 2-3 hours or less. Using a power hammer will greatly speed up the forging process. Understand that you as a beginner CAN make good tongs, and make them the way you want them made. The seller must compete with the cost and convenience with which the blacksmith is able to make these tools. If the seller wants too much money or is selling worn out or broken tongs, then walk away.
Buyer beware! Broken or worn out tongs are of no use to the blacksmith. Most tongs sold at auctions and flea markets are junk! Even some of the blacksmithing club chapter members can be caught selling junk tools that they bought at auctions like suckers themselves. Don't be swayed by claims like "these tools are the last ones ever made, it's your last chance to get a good deal", there are in fact lots more good new and used tongs around. There are plenty of sources of good tongs, new and used, beginners need only learn how to look for them. Follow the sources on this page and see for yourself. Demand good tools as the terms of your sale. If you're willing to accept garbage, then that is what you get.
Making your own tongs is part of being a blacksmith. It is inexpensive and the new smith CAN learn to do it. Forging tongs CAN be done by beginners despite the hobby smiths' claims to the contrary! This author forged all of the tongs shown in the photo at right - while still a beginner.
Books & videos. There are several books that offer good instructions on the forging of blacksmith tongs. The Blacksmith's Craft http://www.hct.ac.uk/Downloads/craftpublications.html (published previously by CoSIRA and more recently by RDC), Plain and Ornamental Forging by Ernst Schwarzkopf, and Kunstschmiedepraxis by F. Wolf ISBN 3-8712-8021-6. The Blacksmith's Craft and Plain and Ornamental Forging both describe the forging of heavy blacksmith tongs while Kunstschmiedepraxis describes light tongs. Note that the tongs in Kunstschmiedepraxis are forged with the aid of an air hammer. There is also a video showing the forging of light tongs - The Blacksmith's Journal Techniques Volume I. The Blacksmith's Journal website: http://www.blacksmithsjournal.com/ .
My recommendation for beginners that want to make their own tongs: Making your own tongs is really the way to go. I made all my tongs when I was a beginner- starting with heavy tongs as described in The Blacksmith's Craft. My first 40 tongs were made entirely by hand because I didn't have a power hammer. There is an easier solution for new blacksmiths- lightweight tongs made from 5/8" round steel or 5/16" x 1" flat steel. Stronger and more able smiths can start with 3/4" round or 3/8" x 1" flat steel for better results. A power hammer will greatly speed up the process, but it is not necessary because the blacksmith can draw out this lighter material with a hand hammer. The forging technique for light tongs is similar to the heavy tongs shown in The Blacksmith's Craft, but on a smaller scale. Flat tongs are the most used and most needed style of tongs. Other types of tongs- bolt tongs, hollow bits, etc.- can come later after the beginner has a basic set of flat tongs. Sizes of light tongs most commonly needed are 1/4", 5/16", 3/8", 1/2".
Heavy Tongs. For learning to make heavy tongs I recommend the book: The Blacksmith's Craft by The Countryside Agency. This book uses step by step photos and text to guide the new blacksmith through the entire task of forging heavy tongs. Materials used are7/8" square bar for forging the jaw sections and 7/16" round rod for the handles. Order The Blacksmith's Craft from Centaur Forge, and also Artisan North America.
BEST LINK ON THE INTERNET! The Blacksmith's Craft is currently available for free download from Herefordshire College of Technology here: http://www.hct.ac.uk/Downloads/craftpublications.html - Select a book to download and click on its link. The books are broken down into sections or parts so be sure to download all of the parts of each book.
Warning! Borax is NOT a forge welding flux! Do not use borax or any other compound containing borax for forge welding! Borax will prevent a full weld and your tongs will separate at the weld joint. I know because I tried to weld using borax as a flux when I was beginner. That is what all of the 'experienced' smiths told me to do. Forge-welds using borax NEVER seal! Borax welds always show loose edges because the iron was never truly welded together, and twisting or bending will literally pull the borax 'weld' apart. Borax is not a welding flux. I had to remake every pair of tongs that I had made previously with borax. Never again! After switching to EZ-Weld and Cherry Heat, my welds were always completely sealed and as strong as the original material. No amount of bending or twisting would pull them apart again. Anything will work better than borax- even dirt.
EZ-Weld and other forge welding fluxes. EZ-Weld, Climax, Crescent, and Cherry Heat do not contain any borax and can be purchased from Centaur Forge and other blacksmith suppliers. Silver sand (for fluxing wrought iron) is more difficult to find and I don't have a source for it yet. I suspect that sand blasting media might be a source of good clean silver sand.
EZ-Weld is for general welding of mild steel bars. Cherry Heat is for welding dissimilar steels (tool steel to mild steel for example). EZ-Weld and Cherry Heat both have iron filings mixed in with the flux. The purpose of the iron filings is sacrificial- to draw oxygen away from the weld area and lower the scaling of the weld joint surfaces. The iron filings mixed in with EZ-Weld and Cherry Heat will adhere and weld to the iron during forge-welding. In ornamental ironwork the iron filings may present a problem because welds are often made in small items that are difficult or impossible to reach (example- welding leaves together) with a hammer and later require cleaning after work is finished. Climax has a lower iron filings content than either EZ-Weld or Cherry Heat. Crescent is best used in forge welding joints that are difficult to clean after welding and are highly visible in the finished product (example- forge welding leaves or flowers to a central stem). Crescent has no iron filings and results in less cleanup of small weld joints after welding. To use EZ-Weld (also Climax, Crescent, Cherry Heat, silver sand, etc.) heat the iron red and withdraw from the fire and coat the weld area with flux, allow a moment for the flux to heat up and stick to the welding site, put back in the fire. Heat with the weld area facing up until almost at full weld heat, rotate weld area downward and finish heat to welding heat, then take out of fire and rap against anvil to shake off excess debris (the flux will stay attached while debris falls off), then place weld joints together and forge. It is that simple. The Blacksmith's Craft will show you an excellent scarf for forge welding. The cupped shape of the scarf as shown in The Blacksmith's Craft creates a better weld than the blunt scarf used by hobby smiths because the edges of the cupped scarf weld together first- sealing the edges of the weld before the edges have time to cool. The Blacksmith's Craft was written by professional smiths in the days when smiths knew how to fire weld. Follow their advice for the best possible results when forge-welding.
Gaining skill in fire-welding (forge-welding). As the smith gains skill and experience, he/she can coat the weld joints with flux while the iron is still in the fire thus saving time spent heating the iron for welding. A special spoon with a long handle made for this purpose is used for fluxing the iron in the fire while avoiding putting ones hand too near a hot welding fire. Any smith ready to advance his/her skill in forge-welding would do well to seek out former students of the late Francis Whitaker to see this method of fluxing in the fire because this is the method Francis taught.
Latest update: 17 September, 2019.
I intended to publish a page on making tongs more than 5 years ago. Unfortunately my workload has been too high to allow this. This fall I will make another push to produce this new page. On it will be included something like 4 different ways to make blacksmith tongs, step by step photos of each process, and possibly youtube video of each process. Hoping to begin work by fall of 2014. Listed below are books that offer instruction for the new smith to forge their own basic blacksmith's tongs.
This page created on October 1, 2002.