When you picture blacksmithing, you might picture a certain workspace and tools. Many people think of historical blacksmiths even though blacksmithing still takes place today. Modern tools and equipment have made distinct types of techniques available to today’s metalsmiths. Keep reading to learn more about the different types of forging processes, the tools involved with each technique, and some of their applications.
Forging Equipment-Based Processes
Forging types and techniques are dependent on what types of tools the blacksmith has on hand. Any blacksmith can use hammering techniques with just a few simple tools, but more advanced techniques, such as die forging, require industrial-level equipment. Keep reading to learn the basics of equipment-based forging techniques and some of their applications.
Hammer forging is the most traditional form of blacksmithing and one that many professional and hobbyist smiths still practice today. This method requires simple and traditional tools: a hammer and an anvil. These tools have become synonymous with blacksmithing as a craft. They are also affordable, making hammer forging an ideal method for entry-level blacksmiths. However, hammering can also be an advanced process, especially when you consider the endless types of hammers and hammering techniques blacksmiths can learn.
However, some professional smiths and manufacturers have upgraded this process, using modern technology and automation to power the hammering techniques. Examples of these modern hammering techniques include gravity drop and power drop hammers.
- Gravity drop hammers: The hammer ram connects to a belt, chain, board, and piston to create several types of dropping systems. When a smith lifts and drops the hammer, it is accelerated by gravity, providing additional force to the blow.
- Power drop hammers: Power drop hammers feature another force behind the hammering motion, such as steam power, cold air, or hot air pressure. This provides additional force behind the hammering ram’s acceleration and drop, creating stronger hammering motions.
Press forging is another equipment-based blacksmithing process that revolves around using a press. There are two main types of press for forging and manufacturing: the mechanical and the hydraulic presses. This type of equipment works by continuously squeezing the metal down to form a solid shape. Mechanical presses are the more traditional model, as they operate with toggles and hand cranks to produce a standard press. Hydraulic presses are more common in manufacturing applications, though some professional craftsmen may use them as well. Hydraulic presses use pressure to bend and shape material. Many hydraulic presses are automated, which means they use power and programming to perform repeated forging actions.
Outside of the equipment you use for forging, there are other conditions that affect the forging process, such as temperature. The temperature of your working materials can have a significant impact on your forging process and final product. Any blacksmiths interested in forging need to learn how to control the temperature of their workpieces through temperature-based forging methods.
Cold forging is the process of working with a material at room temperature. This method is ideal for soft metals and other materials, such as aluminum, tin, lead, and copper. Because these metals are soft and malleable, they are easy to work with even without influencing their temperature, which is where warm and hot forging would come in. Cold forging is ideal for beginner blacksmiths because it doesn’t require a heat source—all you need is an anvil, hammers, clamps, and soft metals. Beginner smiths can practice hammering and other forging techniques through cold forging.
Warm forging is how blacksmiths start to influence the properties of a metal by heating it. During warm forging, blacksmiths will set their heat source to unique temperatures for unique metals; heating steel is a good example that takes place at 700 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Heating the metal to this temperature allows a smith to work with other metals outside the softer varieties, such as steel and harder alloys. It also promotes higher production rates and stronger materials.
Hot forging involves using elevated temperatures to easily deform metals. Hot forging allows smiths to use the widest variety of materials and shape metals quickly and easily. However, only experienced smiths usually handle hot forging because repeated heat and hammering can weaken the working material. Advanced blacksmiths must use a combination of cold forging and hot forging techniques to strengthen their final pieces.
The die forging process involves placing metal between a custom-shaped die, or impression. Die forging is a common technique in manufacturing, though it can also be useful for blacksmiths creating decorative pieces and stamped materials. If you’re looking for a way to create repeated shapes and patterns, consider the die forging process.
Open-die forging is the process of flattening a piece of metal between two flat dies or surfaces. Some machines will even flip an impression and use the even side to flatten the metal. This creates a rough shape for further forging processes. This technique is commonly used after hot forging a piece of metal so that a smith can easily flatten or shape the material.
Closed-die forging is similar to press forging, as it uses a set of shaped impressions to create a form for the workpiece. This method also uses heated metals that can form to the unique shape of the impression. The two impressions create a cavity that the metal will shape to and form a unique piece. This is a common process in manufacturing, especially for repeatedly creating specific parts. However, it is an advanced method that requires careful control of material temperatures, volumes, and die designs.
Now that you’re more familiar with the different types of forging processes, you can use this knowledge to decide how you want to pursue blacksmithing. If you want to practice the craft in the most traditional sense, all you need is a hammer and an anvil to get started. However, you can also adopt some modern technology and forging techniques to make the process easier. For example, browse our selection of propane forge burner kits at Cast Master Elite to see how modern advancements can make blacksmithing easier and more accessible for anyone, whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional smith.