Making a pair of blacksmith’s tongs.
Order of operations
Making the tongs:
- first set (bit)
- second set (hinge plate)
- third set (reins)
- drawing out the reins
- Punching the rivet hole
- Making a rivet
My starting material is:
2 pieces of 12mm square mild steel 175mm long for the tongs
1 piece of 6mm round mild steel about 30mm long for the rivet
Extra tools required
Rivet making plate (optional) (basically a plate or something with a 6mm hole in) (see the section on making a rivet for details)
In the videos I’m working both tongs at the same time. I find this helps to make the tongs almost identical which results in a much better pair of tongs. I also don’t bother brushing off the scale, I’m not bothered about a really smooth finish and it’ll only slow me down.
Making the tongs
Making the tongs: first set (bit)
The first set (to flatten out the bit – the part of the tongs which grip the object you’re holding in the tongs) is done on the near side of the anvil at an angle of about 30 degrees. Use a bright orange heat to make the first hit really bite in and then you can push the piece into the anvil to hold it in place but watch out for the work jumping between strikes. The depth for the set is half the width of the material. After the first few strikes have defined the set, use the rest of the heat to shape the bit.
Making the tongs: second set (hinge plate)
From the position of the first set, rotate so that the side that was on top is now on the left and turn the tong clockwise by 45 degrees (so if the bit end was pointing at 12 o’clock on a clockface then it’s now facing a point between 1 and 2) and place it on the far side of the anvil so that the edge of the anvil sits exactly in the corner where the bit joins the hinge plate (halfway across the material). This should be very accurate to make a good fit on the finished tongs.
Use at least a bright orange heat and wallop it. Work the whole hinge plate area until it is just over 1/2 of the thickness of the original material (don’t go too thin or the tongs will be weak).
Making the tongs: third set (reins)
The third set is the opposite way up to the first set and on the other side of the anvil to make the hinge plate. Don’t go past half the width of the material. Aim for about 2/3 thinkness when you’re done and this can be tapered along the length of the tongs to give a really nice strong rein (handle).
It’s hard to see what’s going on in this shot, the video gives a better idea:
Making the tongs: drawing out the reins
draw out the reins as a rectangular section. Taper slightly towards the end but leave plenty of material near the hinge plate to keep them strong (a little bend in the reins feels good but too much and the tongs will be unusable.
Near the end in the video notice that I use the length of one tong to make a mark on the anvil using welder’s chalk to show the length of the tong (from the left edge of the top anvil surface to the chalk mark). This makes it much easier to get the tongs the same length.
Knock off the corners on the edge of the side of the reins that will contact your hand; think about this one – it’s easy to get the wrong side. This will make the tongs much more confortable to hold.
See the last section for a video of making the sets for the tongs and drawing out the reins.
Riveting: punching the rivet hole
I’ll cover punching in an article at length at some point but here’s the basic idea:
1. Use a punch to make an imprint most of the way through the material (at a bright orange heat)
2. At a lower heat (dull red or below) punch from the other side.
A small metal disc should shear off and punch out of the hole. You’ll need to do this at low heat or else it’ll stretch at the edges rather than shearing.
For tongs I find it is easiest to do the first part in the same position as the second set so that you can flip the tongs over onto the flat side to do the second part.
Get it hot again and use the punch over the pritchel hole to widen it to the right size. Don’t make it much too big. Test it with the piece you’ll use for the rivet (and don’t forget that if it’s hot then the hole will shrink slightly as it cools).
Riveting: Making a rivet
It’s quite difficult to not drop the rivet in the fire and lose it. I tend to keep it held in the tongs at all times and quench the tongs a lot. Get the 6mm round piece really hot (yellow). Quench to leave about 8mm hot. Upset it (hit it – so the bottom end gets thicker). Hold it in small tongs so that the hot end rests on the anvil and the cold end up.
Turning it as you work will make an even rivet head otherwise I find mine tend to be pushed over to one side – they still work but look shit.
The cold end will have deformed slightly and will be wider so work it back to 6mm or just under.
Take a new heat and put it into the rivet making plate if you’ve got one and give it a few good hits, turning it as you do, to make a wider rivet head with a sharp shoulder.
My riveting tool is made from round bar upset at the end and a hole punched.
Get the rivet really hot on the other end from the rivet head you just made (quench the rest if need be). Pop it through the tongs, put it on the anvil with the already formed head down and whack the unriveted side hard. Turn as you hit to hit evenly from different directions to get an even head (same as making the rivet).
The rivet will be completely seized. Get the whole tong head hot (orange) and quench the handles. Hold the handles and work them to and fro until they move freely.
This is also a good time to use the heat to adjust to a particular size of stock – put a flat piece of stock between the bits, put the tongs on the anvil and hammer until the bits grip nicely.