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The fundamental tools and techniques utilized by the blacksmith to shape metal have not essentially changed for centuries.The metal is heated in the fire and manipulated into form by hammering.

Some of the basic processes and equipment used by the the contemporary artist blacksmith, are illustrated below in the forging of a pair of dragon andirons. Each finished piece starts out as a two foot length of two inch square, mild, steel bar. Except for some slight loss by scaling in the fire, the weight and volume of the metal is unchanged, simply rearranged into a new form.

white hot steel billet

The white hot steel billet is pulled from the propane fired forge. At a temperature above 2000 degrees F, the steel is in a relatively soft and plastic state and can be worked and shaped in ways that belie its normally solid nature.

The tail and body of the dragon had been drawn out to length and allowed to cool providing a convenient way to handle the heavy 30 lb bar. Cotton hot mill gloves protect the hands and eliminate the need for tongs.

The head and neck are forged out under the dies of the hundred pound mechanical power hammer.

Driven by an electric motor, through a heavy flywheel and shock absorbing linkage, the speed and force of the blow is controlled by a foot operated clutch.

This Little Giant hammer was built in 1922. It weighs 3800 lbs and is securely bolted to a 3 ton reinforced concrete foundation block.

head and neck are forged
further refined with a hand hammer

The form is further refined with a hand hammer on the face of the anvil.

The anvil provides a solid mass and a variety of surfaces and edges against which the hot metal is hammered into shape.

This anvil is a 260 lb double horn model from the Czech Republic. The hammer weighs about 3 1/2 lbs. The leather apron provides protection from the heat and dirt of the work.

With the neck securely held in the jaws of the vise, the dragon's mouth is cut open with a handled hot chisel and a 4 lb hand sledge.

During subsequent "heats", the eyes and nostrils are formed with a variety of punches, and the horns are peeled up from the back of the head with a chisel.

The forged steel post vise has a sturdy leg anchored to the floor. Securely fastened to a heavy bench, the vise is designed to withstand the shock of heavy hammer blows and provides an iron grip on the work.

the dragon's mouth is cut open

over the horn of the anvil

Final adjustments to the back of the head and neck are done at a full red heat over the horn of the anvil, with a smaller round faced hammer.

The solid steel bar has been slowly transformed and suddenly comes alive through the magic dance of fire and hammer.

Heated locally in the coal fire, the heavy section at the base of the tail is bent at just the right spot using a fly press.

Manually operated via a handled fly wheel driving a large diameter screw, the fly press exerts a powerful squeeze with excellent control and feel. Various top and bottom tooling enable it to be used to perform a wide variety of cutting, punching, stamping, and forming operations.

The coal forge provides an intense but controlled source of heat. Its open design allows large and awkward shapes to be heated. The fire is regulated by an air blast coming through the bottom of the cast iron firepot. The fuel is a high grade bituminous coal from Pennsylvania or Kentucky.

bent at just the right spot using a fly press
finished pair of dragons

The finished pair of dragons stand alert and ready for mischief.

The legs have been forged from a separate bar and attached with a tenon fitted into a mortise punched through the dragon's chest.


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Photography by Bill Dean, Mary Gropp, Steve Gropp, Martin Taylor

© Salamander Forge, Inc., 2007
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