TIPS FROM A PRO
Below are some tips to help you flatten out the learning curve. James Helm of Helm Enterprises, Forging Division, episode winner of History Channel’s “Forged in Fire” offers up these tips to success.
Learn as much as you possibly can so you aren’t spending time trying to re-invent basic techniques and technologies. There are a lot of books, videos, forums, and magazines that provide a tremendous amount of information for free or little money, and any number of schools across the country that hold blacksmithing and bladesmithing courses.
Technique will make a big difference in how well you can work. In particular, hammer technique is paramount. There are a lot of bio-mechanics and ergonomics behind it that you might not necessarily think about. If you haven’t spent a lot of time swinging a hammer, ax, or machete in your time, it may take a while to learn it.
If at all possible, learn from someone in-person. There are blacksmith groups all across the country, and many of them have monthly meetings. Some have open forges once a week or a couple of times a month.
If you want to make blades, learn some basic metallurgy— especially proper heat treatment. It’s an incredibly complex subject, but it’s also very important to the performance of your blade. A good-performing heat treatment on simple carbon steels is mostly a matter of paying careful attention and being patient.
Test your work. Test the cutting performance, balance, comparison to similar knives, edge retention, ease of sharpening, abuse tolerance, etc. Use and abuse your knives so you know if they will perform properly.