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Basic Blacksmithing — How To Forge A Pair Of Blacksmith Tongs

In this video, featuring David Robertson of ArtistBlacksmith.com, we're shown how to forge a pair of blacksmith's tongs. These essential tools should be amongst the first tools you make as a blacksmith. Simple in design, yet extremely useful tools, David takes you through the process of forging tongs that are primarily used for holding small stock. The tongs have vee-grooved jaws and are known as bolt-head tongs.

David uses two lengths of 1/4" by 3/4" flat bar at 13 inches long. The bars are heated in the forge and are then drawn out by hand using the horn of the anvil. A power hammer can also be used if you have access to one. The last four inches, held by the tongs in the video, are left untouched. The bars should now be about 17-1/4" long. The last 4 or 5 inches are now rounded over so that they will form the handles of the tongs.

David then uses a spring fuller to notch both sides of the jaws, which offsets the jaws from the main body of the tongs. A 3/4" paddle is forged 3/4" from the end and a notch applied to both sides, then a taper is added back to where the original longer taper started. According to David, bolt-head tongs are the most useful for artwork because they can hold odd shaped pieces which might stick out from the side of the tongs. A nice even taper around two or three inches long is good. Both pieces should be as close as identical as possible along their lengths.

A bending fork is used to create the "s" shape for the tongs. The first bend is around 120 degrees. The second bend again uses the bending forks and is done in the opposite direction from the first bend. It should be said, however, that both bends could also be done over the horn of the anvil if you do not have access to bending forks. In fact David uses the horn to increase and then refine the curve of the bends. Like the tongs themselves, bending forks and other useful blacksmithing items can be made by the blacksmith themselves, and would have been done in times past. This is where the metalworker has an advantage over some of the other trades as, with only a few basic tools, many more tools and jigs can be made by them -- in turn helping to keep the costs of setting up a workshop down.

Each piece is then held in the blacksmith's vice, leaving an additional 3/8" behind each flattened jaw, so that the jaws can now be twisted 90 degrees. Once twisted, each jaw is then refined and trued-up. As this is done David explains that the steel will want to return to its original untwisted shape, so judicious tapping and hammering is required to stop it from untwisting.

The jaws need to be parallel to the handles before using a swage tool to forge the vee-grooves. A deep groove is not a necessity, but the deeper it is, the more it will grip.

The two pieces are then aligned and a mark is made for centerpunching. David prefers to drill the holes for the rivet, rather than hot punch them, as drilling is a little bit more accurate.

A 1/4" drill bit is used to drill the holes, and a 3/4" long rivet is hammered into place, first using the flat face of the hammer to set it, then the ball pien to crown it over. Open and close the tongs periodically while piening so that they remain flexible and don't lock or cease up.

Once done, check to see if the jaws are in alignment. If they're a long way off then reheat the tongs and true them up. If they're just a little off then straightening them cold should be fine. A beeswax or boiled linseed oil finish can now be applied to help protect the surface of the metalwork from rusting, otherwise just leave the tongs as they are to build up their own protective layer of patina as you use them.

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