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Survival Blacksmithing

John Roman

During the Advanced Standard Class held at Buck Creek, we got to playing around with my forge and anvil. We started out by making a striking tool for starting fires, with a piece of flint for Frank. We made a crooked (bent) knife from an old file. The crooked knife is used for carving items such as wooden bowls.

We went through some of the basic blacksmithing procedures -- how to cut a piece of iron in two, how to draw out, or point a metal rod; punch a square or round hole in a metal rod; how to make a rivet with just a hammer; one of the ways you might prepare a rivet joint where you have to join two rods.

Mainly, we were interested in making simple tools with the basic blacksmith equipment: hammer, tongs, punch, a hardy, a file, forge, anvil, and poker for the fire. We discussed the type of coal you should burn in the forge, how to get a fire going in the forge and keep it going, and knowing when you have a dirty fire. We talked about and demonstrated how to work your fire, coking the raw coal on the outside of the firepot getting it ready to go down in the fire pit where the iron is heated.

In a survival situation you never know what you are going to have to work with. So, I think, it would be a good idea to keep it simple and work with simple tools for the time being.

Tom would like to offer blacksmithing as part of his course or in conjunction with his course. If nothing else, demonstrate some blacksmithing so you can see how to work iron in a forge. Anything to get people back, to the earth or closer to the earth.

It would be difficult to offer a blacksmith course in the short time available during Tom's courses. If we do decide to put a course together, we would only go into making some of the basic tools. You would get an idea of how to work hot metal. It would start you out. The only way to become good is through practice and that takes time. It is a skill you can improve on with practice. You have the basics down.

I have spent a lot of time squaring a piece of round stock and rounding a piece of square stock just to get the feel of the way the hot metal moves.

I've been involved with blacksmithing for 20 years and horseshoeing for 16 years. I learn something new every time I take on a job.. The way I look at blacksmithing, you learn a few basics, then you have to apply them to many different things. No two jobs will be the same or the job could be the same, but you can't find two pieces of iron the same to start the job.

I've worked in some remote places in Alaska where we had to make do with what we had on hand. Under survival conditions, equipment and materials may not always be the best, so you will have to think, improvise, experiment for yourself. What I can show you is what worked for me -- working the fire and the basic tools and what kind of anvil to get is just a start.

From The Tracker magazine, Summer 1982, published by the Tracker School.
For more articles from The Tracker magazine, visit the Tracker Trail website.