by William Parker

The idea is to start out with a piece of scrap metal, make a couple of cuts in it with an angle grinder, and then see if we can’t use a hot fire, a hammer, and an anvil to convert this scrap into something elegant that somebody might like to have in their home or office.  I’ll describe the process behind one piece designed to hold some keys or dog leashes (or kitchen utensils or whatever) but of course each piece is unique, and the process varies depending on the piece. However, in general, the basic techniques are the same, just as an artist will often use the same type of brush to make very different paintings.

First, I’ve got a nice scrap from my friend’s commercial shop. In this photo, you can see that I’ve already made the cuts (the two slits, one of the right and the other on the left, near the top of the piece) with the angle grinder.

Next, into the fire it goes. I use mostly charcoal in my fire because the carbon footprint on that is very low. (The wood is from trees that died naturally or from pruning of healthy trees.) 

The next steps involve moving the metal into position so that I can get to the “arms” with the hammer. For this, I use a triangular tool designed for this purpose (below left).

The next step is to start stretching out one of the arms. I’ll start with one of the short arms first.

Then the other three arms are stretched out. Stretching arms generally requires a large hammer to move the metal a great distance, until all of the arms are fairly stretched out (middle photo). After that, I move to a smaller hammer and work on the fine details of the arms, getting things symmetric and fine at the ends.  The biggest danger here is that the thin parts of the arms will melt very quickly if it is not watched closely and gets too hot in the fire. If one of the arms melts, I have to start over. Several hours into the project, that is no fun. I’ve got a nice photo history of one piece that is much more complex than this one, and it didn’t quite make it past the final few steps. Seven hours with a five pound hammer and no artwork to show for it, but I have the photo history and I did get my exercise that day!  I’ll attach that photo story at the end of this document. For now, let’s keep going with this piece.

The piece has now reached its maximum width and height. Now it’s time to start putting in the curves, which will reduce the overall dimensions substantially and enhance the unique character of this piece. . Putting the curves into the red-hot or orange-hot metal can be done in a number of ways, depending on how thick the metal is. For the thin curves on the end, I like to use some special plier-like tools that I have in the shop. For the bigger curves, the traditional hammer on the curved part of the anvil works best. Since most pieces are unique, it is pointless for me to use a “jig” that makes obtaining the shape easy. Jigs are nice, but they take a long time to make, and they are only worth the trouble if you make a lot of the same thing.

Once I’m happy with the hooks and the overall shape (below, left), then it’s time to sign and date the piece (year = 2011) on the back (below, right). My blacksmithing signature is the “3-Hats” symbol.  At the same time I sign the piece, I make punch marks where the holes for mounting on the wall will be drilled.   

Once it is signed, I drill the holes for hanging, and then paint the piece, resulting in the finishing look (below, left). For this piece, I used a gloss black enamel paint, although I have a number of options available. The number of colors is virtually endless, and often I use a traditional wax coating with no paint at all. Some people prefer the wax coating which shows more of the natural metal, but that is not as durable as enamel paint, especially for outdoor use. Below right is another piece made using the same techniques (but with a much different design) used for hanging kitchen utensils, including a couple of pizza paddles, aprons, and oven gloves.