PROSPECT HILL FORGE: The Blacksmithing Classroom

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If you'd rather, you can reach us directly by phone:
Mike - 617 230 9572 or Carl - 781 608 0900


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What kind of coal do you use?

Q. Have you ever used anthracite?

Q. You don't wear gloves, do you ever get burned?

Q. Can you teach me how to make a sword?

Q. What about classes for teens and children?

Q. I see you have a class titled "blacksmithing for women"—does this mean the other classes listed are NOT intended for women?

Q. What should I expect when I come to my first class?

Q. What exactly is the difference between a blacksmith and a metalworker?

Q. I'd like to become a blacksmith, what classes should I take in school?

 

Q. What kind of coal do you use?

A. Blacksmithing coal is a bituminous (soft) coal. Very low sulfur, with enough volatiles to stay lit over a half-hour lunch break. It cokes well when you need it to. A well managed fire gives almost no smoke.

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Q. Have you ever used anthracite (hard coal)?

A. Yes. Hated it. Hard to light. Wouldn't stay lit. One phone call, and it would go out. Doesn't coke at all. Burned really clean though.

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Q. You don't wear gloves, do you ever get burned?

A. Yes, very superficial burns sometimes happen when bits of scale land on my hand (I try to rember to wet my hand before such operations). They're tiny and don't carry much in the way of BTUs so it's over in a small fraction of a second, but they can be a little distracting. The last time I raised a blister with heat was months ago. I was in competition and working a little bit too fast.

"Strike while the iron is hot" certainly, but there is such a thing as going too fast.

I find I'm willing to put up with the minor burns now and then to retain the dexterity of the bare hand. I do use a glove every now and then, but it's rare.
- Carl

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Q. Can you teach me how to make a sword?

A. Technically, yes. It may, however, take years.
Jock Dempsey wrote an excellent answer to this question.
and while we're at it, Cracked.com very nearly did some journalism on the subject. (There are many mistakes in details, but the gist is pretty good.)
Also, we're not set up for making swords; our forges aren't long enough to heat an entire full-length blade for the heat-treating stage of the process. Consider taking our Nothing But Knives class instead; you have to start somewhere.

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Q. What about classes for teens and children?

A. Our policy on minors:
For students under 18 we ask that a parent be present for at least the first class meeting.
We are not prepared to enroll students under 13 at this time, but we are happy to talk to parents of pre-teens to discuss future possibilities.
Unless the class is specifically billed as a 'teen' class, the pacing of the instruction will be geared to adult and near-adult size, strength, and co-ordination... and we only ease up a little for the teens.

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Q. I see you have a class titled "Blacksmithing for Women"—does this mean the other classes listed are NOT intended for women?

A. Not at all. Anybody is welcome in any class so long as they can follow instructions and stay safe.
About 30% of our students are female, and the female 'success' rate is similar to the male 'success' rate.
Smithing is easier if you have a fair bit of strength and/or stamina, but if you lack that, a decent understanding of the physics of swinging a hammer can stand you in good stead. And we try to teach that.

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Q. What should I expect when I come to my first class?

A. First we'll deal with paperwork, which consists of having you read and sign our waiver (HTML or PDF if you'd like to print, sign, and bring it and save a little time.).
Then we'll set you up with an apron and eye and ear protection.
There's a brief safety review,
then a demonstration of the project for the class,
after that you get to start forging, but expect interruptions now and again for demonstrations and tips on technique and procedure.
When we're done, the protective gear gets stowed and all who have time are welcome to hang out for a bit.

You will get dirty,
you will sweat,
you may get a blister,
you may end up sore the next day,
you will have made something... it will be a truely physical experience.

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Q. What exactly is the difference between a blacksmith and a metalworker? In my High School I took metal shop and I welded ... and did other things too. I was curious if these were used in blacksmithing or if blacksmithing was just the heating the metal and bending/pounding it.
(OK, not that 'frequent' but I thought it worth answering anyway)

A. 'Metalworker' describes anyone who works with metal, be it copper, silver, gold, platinum, lead, or iron, and it matters not _how_ they work it. They might machine it, cast it, weld it, forge it, extrude it...

Strictly speaking, a blacksmith is one who works the black metal (iron) by smiting (hitting) it. The blacksmith takes advantage of the fact that iron becomes plastic when hot and forms it to his will in that state. Most blacksmiths use modern welding equipment (mig, tig, stick, OA) at some point in their regular work, but most of them wouldn't call that part of it 'blacksmithing' per se, even though the overall job is.

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Q. I'd like to become a blacksmith, what classes should I take in school?

A. As a blacksmith, you'll want your metalworking vocabulary to be broad, you'll want to be able to weld and cut with the torch, forge, cast, use machine tools.... My recommendation is to expose yourself to as many of the different ways of working metal as you can, be it through art school or trade school or adult education places like Prospect Hill Forge.

Take an Introduction to Material Science class at least. Having an understanding of what's going on inside the metal is important.

Take classes that will help you learn to think in three dimensions.

Work with clay, work with wire, any material that you push around as opposed to removing parts or sticking parts together.

It will help immeasurably for you to learn to draw, both creative/expressive and technical.

I have found the study of calligraphy to be extremely helpful.

- Carl

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