Wednesday, April 9

Ask A Blacksmith! - 7 Questions With Benton Frisse

Steel Rose - Benton Frisse
I started DIY Blacksmithing as a way to keep track of my experiences as a blacksmith and it's been very rewarding. Folks from around the world come across the site looking for information on how to get started. 

With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful and entertaining to get the perspectives of other blacksmiths. So, today is the first entry in an ongoing series called Ask A Blacksmith: Seven questions all about blacksmithing and how to get started.

The blacksmith I'll be talking to today is a Moderator of the Blacksmithing Community on Google+ and a fellow Indianan. 



Benton Frisse - Evansville, Indiana - United States

How long have you been blacksmithing and what/who got you started?

I've only been hammering and studying what I call extensively for about 2 and a half years. But as with many smiths, my story goes much deeper than that. 

My step dad, Wayne Hall, is a welder/fabricator by trade for 35 years and had been a horse-shoer from about 1977-2008 (and still does it a little here and there for friends). My mom and step dad took me everywhere with them, so I was always around when they would be shoeing horses. Having all of those skills, my step dad started to make some ornamental ironwork stuff for my mother not long after they got married. 

Around 2000, he started accepting commissions for projects like hand rails, ornate sculptures, gates, fences, etc. I was only about 9 years old at the time, and from then on, I would always be running around in the shop, banging around on thing with a hammer, or playing with toys in our shop. 

I got my first start smithing in September of 2002 at the Kunstfest in New Harmony, Indiana. My step dad set up a booth showing all of his work and demonstrating hammering out certain things. 

I remember making a few "S" shaped hooks and I think I beat around on the same horse shoe all weekend. I had made a few little hooks prior to then. I still have the hammer I used that weekend, too. 

I played around with some hammering here and there with Wayne but didn't start pursuing blacksmithing until my sophomore year of college, when I started working with him on some of his bigger projects. 

I started to get into it, and then a friend said "let's make some knives for Fathers Day". That was it, that did it. That's when I was bitten by that bug. I've been obsessed ever since. That was about two years ago. 

Do you forge full time or is blacksmithing more of a hobby?

I suppose if one had to classify my time smithing, it would be part-time. We do side projects, and I smith on a lot of my free time. Right now I work in marketing, but I hope to one day be able to be a full-time smith, especially with this "revival" that we are going through. 

There are a lot of opportunities opening up for amateur smiths these days. I would definitely say that this is a hobby, too, because I enjoy hammering and creating so much. 

Can you say a bit about your hammer, forge (fuel choice, etc.), and tool preferences?

This is my favorite thing to talk about with other smiths. Every time I meet a smith, I always be sure to get their feedback on the products they use. 

Hammers are a big deal because without those, we can't move the metal. My go to hammer choice is a Hofi-Style ergonomic hammer from Big Blu Hammer in North Carolina. They have a lifetime warranty on their hammers, and the way they're designed is to give you more hammer time without wearing out your arm and shoulder so fast. The guys from Big Blu are exceptional to work with, too. 

For all around, I use their #2 cross peen, which is 2.4lbs. It'll do just about anything you want, and I don't tend to upsize unless I'm working with something like 3/8 round or square stock or larger. That size of the Hofi style will draw, fuller, shape, and upset in about any situation. We've got their #4, too, which is 4.6lbs and it is a beast. 

The other hammer that we primarily use is our rounding hammers. We have a 16oz and a 24oz rounding hammer from Diamond. You can pick these up at Centaur Forge for a heck of a price. 

That brand of rounding hammers are the same ones that my step dad used all through horse-shoeing school, and up until 2013 when we replaced them. We got a solid 30  years out of them, and they're not shot either. But, as any smith knows, if you're wanting to get started, any cross peen or ball peen will work just fine as long as it has a clean face. Getting at least one good-sized, good condition hammer is all you need to start

We use a propane-gas forge a lot. We have a gas forge from NC Tool, called "The Whisper Daddy". I prefer to use as many traditional methods as possible, but it's just far more convenient to go fire up the gas forge in less than 30 seconds as opposed to taking 5 minutes or 10 minutes (or longer, let's face it, we've all been there a few times) to light the coal forge, especially if you're only going to be forging for an hour or so. 

I'd much rather use the coal forge, though, when applicable. You get a whole lot more heat control with a coal forge. We've got an old Buffalo forge that we use. It's big enough for bigger pieces of metal, and light enough to transport. We use traditional blacksmith's coal, which we get from up around Odin, Indiana. 

I prefer to use as many traditional methods as possible. I'm not a fan of power tools and part of my drive for blacksmithing is doing things the old way. We do have a Little Giant Power Hammer that's a riot to use, though. Most of our tongs we acquired from estate sales and auctions. 

What projects have you done that you're especially proud of?

Hand Forged Hatchet Benton Frisse
Traditional Hatchet - Frisse
I enjoy all the projects that I'm a part of mainly because whether they're a success or failure, there's always something to learn from each one. 

My happiest project to this day is a simple one that I've done. I made a bearded hatchet out of a railroad spike. Not a single power tool involved. Hammered, shaped, filed, hardened, tempered, sharpened, and carved the handle all by hand. I use it almost every week for firewood purposes. I love that little thing. 

My first knife, I'm pretty proud of that, too. Hammered it out of a jackhammer bit and have put two different handles on it. They both taught me that if you put your mind to something, even if you've never done it before, you can do it. 

What resources helped you when you were just getting into blacksmithing?

Books. Oh so many books. We happened to have a ton of old blacksmithing books. The old ones are the best, because they have knowledge and techniques that may not have been practiced for a long time. You'd be surprised how cheap you can find good, old blacksmithing books on Amazon, at yard sales, auctions, and even free .pdf's of the books online. 

Social media really helped me a lot, and is still helping me today. I had the fortunate opportunity to connect with so many knowledgeable people that were willing to help and offer advice on anything. If see a beautiful piece by someone, and a part of it puzzles you about their technique or how to do something, just ask. 

The worst that will happen is that they won't respond, but I've learned that many people in the smithing community will open up like a book to share the wealth of knowledge that is contained in this trade. Find facebook groups, Google+ groups, forums, websites, Youtube channels, anything. 

What are some tips you can offer people just starting out?

Get the bare necessities and get started. Above I talk about my hammer choices. You don't need a rack full of $100 hammers, a $700 gas forge, and a 350lb anvil from the 1800s to get started. Grab a ball peen from Lowe's or find an old ball peen or cross peen that someone doesn't want. 

There's numerous ways to make a forge, all you have to do is Google search the topic. I've seen people make forges from pushmower bodies, brake drums, or old steel casks lined with fire insulator. 

For an anvil, you can find old ones cheap sometimes on Craigslist or buy some smaller ones from places like Harbor Freight. I've also heard of people having them in their barns for generations and trading things for them (like bottles of booze, old weedeaters, etc). A lot of people also get old sections of railroad tracks.

GET INVOLVED. Connect with people, find your local smith, go to his shop, and just watch. Having people to bounce ideas off of makes all the difference in the world and can potentially save you from some disasters. I am fortunate enough to have my step-dad and other family members who were smiths and knivesmiths, but make those connections and hammer them with as many questions as you can. Soak up every bit of knowledge you can from them. 

Where can we find out more about what you're doing?

You can find myself and Hall Ironworks on facebook (go ahead, Like the page!). You can also find me on Google+ and read about my trials, errors, and so forth on my blog at

Thank you to Benton! Check him out at the links above. He's always doing or posting something interesting. 

If you enjoyed this post, let me know in the comments. If you'd like to answer the 7 questions and be a featured blacksmith, send me a note on Google+. All experience levels are welcome!


  1. Thanks for interviewing me, Terran! Can't wait to see the future installments of this series.

    1. Absolutely Benton. I have some great folks lined up.