However, knowing basic blacksmithing and ways to improvise the basics of what you need could be very useful for survival in either urban or rural environments.
Honestly, you can survive many, if not most, situations without a clue about smithing. But, it can be valuable if you know how to do even a little. Or, at least, it’s good to understand how valuable that blacksmith down at the end of your street can be.
There’s no way that I would call myself a blacksmith. Those men and women have real skills and knowledge from years of study and practice.
However, I do know enough to be able to do some basic things, even poorly.
While on an expedition way out in a nearly-undeveloped area of Latin America, the axle in our truck broke. It was only due to the help of a blacksmith in a small village nearby that we were able to get on the road again.
Back at home, we set up a simple blacksmith’s shop and learned a few basics.
My welds are messy, I don’t always “read” the metal right, and I’ve made a couple of blades that would send a real smith to the floor with laughter-but, they’d still cut meat or sever a rope in a pinch.
I’ve heated and welded together pieces of metal with the blows of a hammer, and most of them looked ugly. But, if I’d needed them to keep going, they would have worked.
Whether you find yourself in need of a simple repair or have to make it through a real survival situation, you’ll have an edge if you know a little about smithing.
First, you need to think about materials. Smithing requires metal and, unless you’re pretty impressive and can mine and smelt your own right out of the ground (not too many can do this), you need to get some.
There are many sources. One of the easiest ways to get metal is from an automobile. Just because a car doesn’t run doesn’t mean the many metal parts in it aren’t good. Plus, you’ll find different kinds of metal in a car. Of special interest are the leaf springs, hood support springs, seat springs, rods, and hood braces, but there are many other pieces that might meet your needs.
Improvised Anvil and Tools
If you find yourself away from home, once again improvisation is your friend.
You don’t tend to see anvils in most places so, if you’re caught in a situation where you need one, you can make one from such things as a piece of “I” beam, a heavy piece of channel iron, even just a piece of 1” or 2” plate steel.
They won’t look like a regular anvil, but they’ll do the job of helping you shape the hot metal. I used a piece of “I” beam for a while and, though not as useful as a regular anvil, it worked.
Tip: If you can do this, putting the anvil at the right level will save you work and strains later. Stand up straight with your arms down and hands as fists. You should be able to rest your fist on the top of the anvil. Have the anvil and dip tank close to it so that there isn’t much heat lost when moving from one to another.
Improvising in a tough situation, any other tools available to you will have some use: heavy pliers might need to work as tongs to hold the metal, for example.
A Simple, Prepared Shop
If it’s possible, practical, and safe to keep these items at home, having a “real” anvil, “real” blower, tongs, a wire brush, and some anvil set tools for the hardy hole (the hardy hole is the square hole toward the rear of the anvil into which you can put pieces of metal that are used to cut and shape metal) will take on great importance if you really need them. Another item: a blacksmith’s post vise.
For removing and reshaping pieces of metal from cars, buildings, or other items, having a hacksaw and some blades, a hand drill (if there’s no power, you’ll need a non-electric drill) and bits, files, some cold chisels, and some hammers can be handy.
Just like the basic anvil only needs to be a heavy piece of metal against which you can hammer and shape metal, a forge doesn’t need to be a complicated contraption if you’re improvising. What you need is simply a flow of air going into a chamber of fire.
In different countries around the world, I’ve seen a mud brick oven, the bottom of a 55-gallon drum packed with mud, and even a truck wheel used for this.
What will make the flow of air? A simple bellows, an electric fan, a foot pump, an air compressor and hose…anything that can produce an air current that’s directed under the coals.
Fuel? Coal or charcoal works the best, especially if you’re going to make a weld, but you can use other scrounged items like chunks of hardwood or even dung.
A dip tank is a tank with water used for tempering metal.
The bottom of a waterproof 55-gallon barrel, a washtub, a pool in a rock surface or any other receptacle that can hold water and is big enough will do. Don’t use a plastic container; one slip of hot metal will melt it.
I know this will sound weird, but I’ve been told that the older and more stagnant the water, the better. The reason given: it has less oxygen in it.
Blacksmiths use water, various oils, soap, salt, or mixtures thereof for what they call “brine” in the dip tank for hardening and tempering.
Readers of my survival articles know that I refer to making good choices based on your situation. You want to try to make your situation better, not worse.
If you are trying to survive, you have to weigh your actions. Is climbing that cliff face worth possibly falling and hurting yourself? Is trying that fruit worth getting sick?
The same is true for blacksmithing. You might be improvising equipment, firing up a very hot chamber, and working with very hot metal. Is your situation worth the risk of injury from this? Food for thought.
© 2013 Mark Dorr, All Rights Reserved