When you’re just starting out as a blacksmith, it can be difficult to differentiate some of the common metals. Some blacksmithing metals are strong enough to be utilized in construction, which can make them harder to work with on a small scale. At the same time, some can be quite fragile and brittle, which means they require a certain level of experience to work with. If you’re interested in learning more about the different metals, read on for a comparison of the common metals used in blacksmithing.
Different Types of Steel
You’ll find that each type of steel offers various advantages and disadvantages. Blacksmiths will often try as many varieties of steel products as they can to find the one that works best with their forge.
Carbon steel is the most common variety of steel for manufacturing and smithing purposes alike. Carbon steels can range in their carbon composition. For example, low- to mild-carbon steels possess about 0.30% carbon, while high-carbon steels have over 0.61% carbon content. Due to these impurities and high-carbon content, high-carbon steels can be some of the hardest to forge and are also very brittle. However, they are still a popular choice for forging where strength is concerned. Because of their variety, these forms of steel are suitable for forging a variety of items.
Alloy steel is a combination of elements that enhance the basic properties of the steel structure, such as its strength, resistance, and ductility. When compared to carbon steel, alloy steel possesses a makeup that gives it increased strength, resistance, formability, and more, which makes this variety of steel easier to work with during the forging process. However, it may require special heating treatments in the process, and it can become brittle after working with it. Because of its added elements, this steel is also more expensive to work with.
Stainless steel has one major benefit over the stronger varieties of carbon steel—its resistance to corrosion. Another benefit of stainless steel is that it can actually be strengthened by the forging process. This steel has a forging temperature ranging from 1700 degrees Fahrenheit to 2100 degrees Fahrenheit. This means it can withstand elevated temperatures, but it still makes a great forging contender, especially as it strengthens during the process. However, this may make it difficult to work with for beginner blacksmiths, which is something to consider.
Scrap steel is an easily accessible type of steel, which makes it a great option for beginner blacksmiths looking for practice materials. Steel is a main component of many manufacturing processes, but this means producing lots of scrap steel. Fortunately, steel is recyclable, and the process is very sustainable compared to other disposal processes. What’s better is that the strength and physical properties of the steel aren’t affected by the recycling process. However, the quality of these pieces can vary greatly depending on the metal sorting process, which means scrap metal isn’t as consistent as some of the other types of steel. Many blacksmiths and forging veterans recommend shopping locally for scrap metal and steel. Local scrap metal yards or auto parts yards will offer scrap metal for a reasonable price.
Wrought iron is an iron alloy that contains a very low carbon content. This type of metal is quite popular in decorative blacksmithing pieces for its texture and the fibrous slag inclusions that make it up. Because it has a very low carbon content, it doesn’t possess many impurities, unlike the high carbon steel varieties. This purity makes it accessible for both veteran blacksmiths and beginners alike, and it’s popular in many forges. It also supports reheating and reshaping due to its malleability. There are many techniques for working with wrought iron as well, such as etching, engraving, embossing, and more, which all add to its decorative qualities.
The most decorative pieces of all come from precious metals. The use of precious metals is quite common in jewelry making and smelting, which is a related process in blacksmithing. Some of the most common precious metals in jewelry smelting and smithing are gold, silver, platinum, iridium, and copper, amongst others. The most important thing to consider when working with precious metals is their melting points. The temperatures at which these metals start to melt and become malleable can vary wildly from metal to metal. Even platinum itself, which can be either pure or possess some iridium, has a range of melting points. Consider each when working with an individual metal.
Best Tools To Use With These Metals
No matter which types of metal you choose to work with at your own forge, you need to have the right equipment to support it. If this list has inspired you to try forging with several types of metals, you’ll need individual crucibles for each type. Mixing different types of metals in the same crucible can lead to structural instability in your blacksmithing creations, which can cause injury or accidents if you’re not careful. Also, remember to pair the right furnace with the right materials listed above. Each of these metals has different heating requirements, which some forges are more accustomed to reaching than others. For example, a gas forge can burn consistently at about 3000 degrees Fahrenheit, which will support even some of the most heat-resistant materials.
We hope this comparison of the common metals used in blacksmithing has helped give you a better idea of the varied materials blacksmiths utilize and why. Each metal has different benefits to a smithing situation and project. The knowledge of when to use which metal in a certain project will come with time. It’s also helpful to reach out to local blacksmiths in your community to understand what materials they work with and where they acquire them. If you’re just starting out on your blacksmithing journey and need a blacksmith furnace to get you set up, browse our selection here at Cast Master Elite. We carry furnaces, forges, crucibles, and everything you need.