Tool Boxes

Someone once said the most important tools to the blacksmith in order of importance, hammer, anvil, forge, vise, tongs. By and large it's tough to throw your anvil, forge, and/or vise into your tool box and go to work. So I'll limit this discussion to basic hand tools and an occassional semi-weird tool that does something strange and special. One of the first things you need to figure out is what is your tool box for. If you're a "forge-bound" blacksmith who does all of his/her work in the smithy, then you'll have a number of tool boxes each containing an assortment of tools of the same general type (i.e., hammers, tongs, etc.). If you're an eternal student, like me, then you've got a half dozen (or more) tool bags of different sizes, shapes, configuration, etc. Going to blacksmith association meetings/workshops requires one group of tools, while going to class, for whatever reason, seems to require a completly different set of tools. It's mainly smaller and lighter since I have to carry it a farther distance and since the school has a bunch of tools that I can use so taking my own is oriented toward the tools like hammer and tongs since I need to get used to them, and the schools tongs really suck.

My current favorite tool carriers Canvas tool bucket from Harbor Freight 5 gallon bucket, Bucket Boss, parts storage seat

I've gone through any number of tool carriers over the years. Currently my two top ones are the canvas bucket which I use when I just need a few tools and some metal, like at workshops. It's got pockets on the inside to store punches and chisels along with whatever small stuff I'm using that day. It has plenty of room for a hammer, pair of tongs, eye/ear/hand protection. I also keep a small container of bees wax in the bottom just in case. The 5 gallon bucket allows me to carry enough tools, etc. for when I'm leaving home to attend a conference/workshop. It stays in the truck and I use the canvas bucket to carry what I need from the truck to class. It's got a "Bucket Boss" placed on it to provide pockets both inside the bucket and outside. Sitting on top is a Husky storage seat organizer with little compartments for rivets, tape measure, markers, silver pencils, etc. That way they're handy and I don't have to dig them out of the bottom of the bucket. Plus, I have a handy seat to rest my weary bones.

I know this is very unmanly, but ... one advantage of the canvas tool carriers is that periodically I throw them into the washing machine, with my jeans, to get them a little cleaner.

There are any number of times when
you'll just want to take a few tools and
don't want to lug a big bag. In those cases
I like the Harbor Freight canvas riggers bag.

Harbor Freight foldable hand truck makes
carrying your tool kit bearable if you have
any distance to walk (My wife got it for me
to save my back).

My next experiment will be this Klein
tool bag. I like it because it has lots of
thin slots to separate and carry my
myriad of punches, hardys, chisels, etc.
Hammer won't be a problem fitting in
but tongs probably will be.

Basic Tools

Hammer - A standard hardware store blacksmith's cross peen, weight 1-3/4 lb. (25oz.) to 3 pounds (800 - 1500g) is a good place to start. Don't make the mistake of starting with too big a hammer. You will tire quickly and become frustrated as well as possibly hurting yourself. If you are small or slight of build you might even want to try something less than 2 pounds (1000g). If you are under age 18 you probably need a light hammer. Look for an 800 gram (28 oz.) hammer. Under age 14 you probably want a 600-700 gram (24 oz.) hammer. 28 oz. or 800 gram hammers are very popular among experianced smiths. Ball peen, engineer's and rivet hammers are also satisfactory. DO NOT try to substitute a claw hammer. DO try to work with a variety of hammer shapes and sizes to figure out what's best for you.

Tongs - Tried making my own once. Now I buy them from a blacksmith supply shop or online at eBay. Long handled Channel-Lock pliers can substitute and so can Vise-Grips, but only in an emergency. Generally speaking, their handles are too short to keep you from burning your hands (but I know you'll try anyway, I did). Did you know that Vise-Grips were invented by a blacksmith trying to make better blacksmith's tongs?

This spring at the California Blacksmiths Association Spring Conference I spent a lot of time (and a little money) learning more about making tongs. We started with so-called "quick tongs" which are cut from a pattern and then adapted to their final form by heating and manipulating. I got one pair almost "semi-perfect" until I got distracted and they burned up (main reason I hate coal forges). I got another pair almost done, just not with the final adjustments that you have to make to fit them to their intended purpose. I ended up buying a number of blanks to bring home and see what I can do on my gas forge. I've also bought several pairs of quick tongs from Ken's Custom Iron Store. I've made one of the pair for miniture railroad spikes and they work fantastically well. This might be a way to start your tong collection without having to go through a lot of trial and error.

While I was recently in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the New Mexico Artist Blacksmiths Association Spring Conference I fell in love with a pair of tongs in Helmet's Iron To Live With Blacksmith Studio. They worked great for picking up small objects from the forge and putting them on the presses. They were bolt-head bent-tip style and basically just had a flattened rivet joint and drawn-out tips. Here are some pictures of them.

NOTE: Vise-Grips actually make lousy tongs except for very small work OR odd billets and should only be used until you get a couple of pairs or REAL tongs. Real tongs don't require tongs to make, except perhaps installing the rivet if you heat it in the forge. There are instructions for making tongs by several methods available via Google.

Chisels, punches, and fullers oh my! I carry three basic chisels: hot cut, cold, and veining. I also have several punches (including some character punches) as well as hand hardies. I have a really neat compass, but I rarely carry it. I also consider a hand vise as an essential tool. It saves my fingers when I clean up some metal on my bench grinder wire wheels. And last, but not least, a drift. I found one at my favorite used tool store that has increased graduations every inch or so that works for me.

My basic tools set also includes a tape measure with a magnet on the back for sticking it wherever it'll be handy when needed, a mechanical silver pencil (and refills), a selection of rivets, a plastic container of bee's wax, and some tong clips. Eye, ear, and hand protection are also mandatory items in my kit. Finally, I toss in a welders hat and rag for wiping things (a do-rag does double duty).

    Gee Mom, look what else I've found!

"We all do better when we all do better."
       - Paul Wellstone, US Senator from Minnesota (1944-2002)

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