10 Steps to Smithing Nouveau-Style Tongs
Not only is blacksmithing awesome, it has become both a foundation and a cliche within the industry of fantasy novels. We can likely thank Robert Jordan and the Wheel of Time series for permanently burning it into the minds of thousands of readers. Not that I’m complaining, because, as I’ve said, blacksmithing is awesome, but it is one of those skills that can be easy to write wrong without a little experience.
As you may or may not know, I engage in vigorous bouts of blacksmithing. I feel it would be a stretch to say I am a Blacksmith, as I don’t have a forge and am inconsistent with my training, but pounding the crap out of glowing metal is surprisingly therapeutic… Oh, and you sometimes make things in the process. In the spirit of mutual development, I thought I’d walk you guys through the process of smithing a pair of tongs.
This is not a substitute for getting some hands-on training with your local smith, but I’m hoping this guide will help you understand how the metal can be moved, the steps taken, and just how cool blacksmithing really is.
On to the Tongs!
This is a pair of tongs that I made working with local smith and CBA (California Blacksmith Association) member, Mike Mumford. Mike has given me permission to recreate the lesson and share it with you. This article is simplified to show the process, not as a complete instructional guide for fellow smiths. If you want that, feel free to contact me and we’ll get you all set up to make your own.
This particular style of tongs is an adapted design of bolt-tongs, so named for their ability to hold a bolt below the head while allowing work on the remaining stock.
This is a style of tongs that is based on an idea from Jake James – arranging the pivot area of the tongs so that when the stock bottoms out against the pivot area, the jaws are not forced apart.
Enough background. Let’s get to it.
Step 1: Gather materials
These instructions are designed for using two pieces of 18″ long, 1/2″ round stock. There is nothing stopping you from using square or larger diameter stock. It will change some of the calculations, so make sure to check with someone first.
As you work, perform each following step on both of the pieces. Taking the time to compare pieces with each step will lead to a better pair of tongs.
Step 2: Make punch marks 3 1/2″ and 5″ from the end
Simple enough, just make sure you are using a punch and hammer chosen for cold work. Tools need to be treated differently to work with hot metal and you don’t want to damage your good tools by using them incorrectly.
Step 3: Make right angle bends at the marks
Do your best to keep your punch marks centered in each bend. Tweak as necessary to get this right.
Step 4: Draw out and flatten the jaws
Draw out the jaw (first bend to the end) to roughly 4″ long by 3/16″ thick.
Then widen further flatten the last 3/4″ to roughly 1/8″ thick. This portion is what will hold your material in place while using the tongs. Later we will modify this section to match a specific type of stock material.
This width of this area is limited by the size of stock you are designing it for. If you are going to hold 1/4″ square stock, the jaws cannot be wider than 1/2″ at the end of this step or they will not close properly.
Step 5: Draw out the pivot corner
This can be a tricky step to get right. You want to work on the second corner of your piece. Take this area down to about 1/4″ thick, pushing the material away from the bend.
Make sure you only hammer on what will be the outside of the pivot area. You want the inside surface (mating surface) of your tongs to be as smooth as possible.
It may seem a little counter-intuitive, but you want both of your pieces to be completely identical, not mirrored to one another. Trust me on this. At the very end, one will be flipped upside down, making it a perfect match for the other half. If you forget this, or talk yourself out of it, no biggie… that just means you will be halfway to making two sets of tongs.
Step 6: Punch a 1/4″ hole for the rivet and drill to 3/8″
A simple process. Use your hot-punch to dig through the center of your drawn-out section. Then widen this hole to roughly 1/4″. Because we have power tools, go ahead and take this to the drill and widen slightly to about 3/8″. This will preserve most of the material around the hole while still giving you a clean cut, minimizing future binding on the rivet.
Notes on Punching/Drifting vs Drilling: When you drill through a piece of material, you are cutting away all material from where the hole once was. This is useful if your piece already has the exact dimensions you want, you need a smooth hole, and you don’t mind material loss. Punching and drifting hot material is a little different. While you tend to lose a tiny bit of material from the punching process (how much is entirely dependent on the punch you use), most of it is pushed outward by the widening tool. Drifting is exactly the same, focusing on spreading the hole without cutting away any material.
Step 7:Shape the jaws
Remember back in Step 3 when we talked about the size of stock your tongs will hold? This is where we start the shaping process.
As mentioned before, these tongs will be designed for a piece of 1/4″ square stock. There are lots of ways to do this. The simplest is to take your heated jaws, place in a swage block, center a piece of the desired stock along the center-line, and hammer the jaws into shape.
Step 8:Set the rivet
When I did this with Mike, we used a blowtorch to heat the rivet and hammered it flat with a ball-peen hammer. There are other ways to complete this step, but this is the easiest way I have ever done.
Once the rivet is set, make sure to work the reins (handles) back in forth to loosen the joint. If you don’t the two pieces may end up “frozen” together and require lots of force to work with. Blacksmithing is hard enough; you want your tools to work with you, not against you.
Congratulations! You have now made a pair of tongs. What was once two, is now one. What was disparate is now unified.
Too bad they aren’t functional, but hey, that’s the next step.
Step 9:Tweak, align, and shape the jaws
I know it looks like you are mostly done at this point, and you are, but these last two steps easily be the most time consuming of the entire process. Most of this comes down to tweaking little bits of the tongs over and over to get things just right. Symmetry is had to accomplish by hand, and everyone has their own preferences. It’s really a war between your patience and your desire for perfection.
This step can be broken down into four not so simple parts.
9a: curve jaws outward
9b: bend jaws back to make them meet and match
9c reset the v-bit in jaws
This is exactly what you did back in Step 7. You just need to reset the shape after all the work you have done on the rest of the tongs.
9d adjust reins (handles)
This can be completed fastest by using a torch to heat the places you need to bend. Adjust as needed so that, when holding stock material, the reins are parallel and comfortable in your hand.
This is a critical step. Getting hand cramps because of ill suited tongs is not a good time… Trust me.
Step 10: Trim, clean, and use.
If the reins are too long, now is the time to cut them down. Get them to whatever length you want, but remember that longer handles keep your precious digits further from the flames. Also, larger, heavier tongs, will absorb the shock better from your hammer blows, transmitting less into your hand and arm. And the more mass you have, the longer you will be able to work before the handles get to hot to, well, to handle.
Back to the power tools!
Take a wire brush, sand paper, or whatever tools you prefer and start scrapping of that nasty slag on the outside of your masterpiece. Polish it up as much as you want, but do not place a finish on the tongs! Remember, these tongs will be going in and out of the fire, holding glowing metal pieces, and generally being thermally abused. You don’t want a layer of acrylic or something that will vaporize into noxious vapors while you work.
You’ve Done It!
You now have a pair of functional smithing tongs that you made all by yourself. Feels good, doesn’t it?
I hope you found this interesting. It’s been a blast sharing this with you. If you liked this be sure to let me know and I can do more of the same. If you have any questions about the process, want help finding a blacksmith to work with, or just want to talk shop, make sure to leave a comment below or send me an email. I’d be happy to help however I can. Oh, and if you have a friend dabbling in the incredible art of blacksmithing, send this post their way.
Until next time, Rowenson out.