Wednesday, April 23

Ask A Blacksmith with Josh Weston

Josh Weston - Ironwork

For this installment of Ask A Blacksmith, I got in touch with Josh Weston through the Etsy Blacksmiths Team. He was kind enough to answer 7 questions all about his experience as a blacksmith. I think you'll enjoy what he has to say about it.

Blacksmith:

Josh A. Weston | South Carolina |  U.S.A.

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

I’ve been at the hammers for about three years now. I love it. Every time I pick up a hammer and strike a blow I love it even more. I find that I am ever adjusting my schedule so I can get more time in the forge. It speaks to me. Something from long ago seems to course through my veins when I am smithing, something ancient.

I grew up in Pennsylvania hearing wonderful and fantastic stories of my blacksmithing ancestors. One of which was the son of German immigrants in Pittsburgh in the mid 1800s named Clarence Weissenstein. Legend has it that he was the most skilled blacksmith in Hazelwood and could fabricate anything. He was also the man to beat in bareknuckle boxing. He once won a bet that he couldn’t by himself move a wagon that got stuck in the road. He did move it, then went home pissed blood and died. But fortunately for me he had one son. From that son on every man in the family has been some sort of craftsman. We have carpenters, mechanics, machinists, engineers, welders, inventors and once again a blacksmith.

I have been hammering down nails into knives since I was a kid. I didn’t have an anvil back then so I beat up our cement driveway pretty badly. My mom still has a collection of my bizarre creations in her kitchen.

I moved away from Pennsylvania after high school and went to art school in Fort Lauderdale, FL. It was a good choice for me as I make my main living as an advertising/web designer/illustrator. I have found this background to be immensely helpful in the blacksmith craft. I didn’t do much metal work in Florida but I did start up again while I was living in Michigan. I lived on a tree farm in the woods with access to metals and woods and I had re-built my tool collection a little. 

When I restarted my journey I knew I needed to take it slow. I wanted to make swords but knew it took skill that I didn’t. So I took the recommendations of some blacksmith articles like this one from anvil fire and I found myself making swords from wood. I did that for a year and a half before I moved on to making armor. I gathered some discarded railroad spikes and purchased some ball joints to make some forming stakes to bend the metal around. 

I learned how to raise the steel and began making shield bosses, elbow joints, pauldrons and vambraces. I didn’t have a forge so used this time to concentrate on hammer control, hitting the same spot on the anvil over and over while moving the piece slightly to form my desired shape. It was an exercise in patience that I much needed aside from the exercise in arm strength. Then for Christmas in 2011 I got my forge and I’ve been black ever since.

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

I am a part-time blacksmith, but I work from home. This gives me a great advantage as I have no commute to take up bulk chunks of my day. I take the kids to school in the morning and am still able to light the forge around 7:30 am. This gives me an hour and a half in the morning to make some progress before my day job starts. It also allows me to get out and hammer down for around an hour at lunch (though when I did work on site I would take my anvil and form armor in the back of my vehicle in the parking lot during lunch). 

Now with my shop being right in the garage I can just pop down while dinner is being made or whenever I have a few spare minutes and work away. I use quick breaks to sand, grind, polish and do general fit and finish. I try to stay flexible with it and organize projects around how busy my day job is. I would love to be a full-time blacksmith but it’s not in the cards for me right now. I have been fortunate in that the company I work for occasionally gives me some blacksmithing projects like these rail spike knob handles I am making for some  Virgil Kaine Whiskey store displays. The line between my worlds is blurring.

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

My favorite hammers are German patterned crosspein hammers. One is 3.5 lbs and the other is closer to 3 lbs. (not exact as I have ground them down and polished them on occasion). I also rely on a couple hefty ballpein hammers for more detail work, I can swing them suckers fast and more precisely move steel with them.

I use a 100lb Fisher Norris Eagle Anvil I got from an antique store in Ocala, FL. I love it. It’s quiet (by anvil standards) and not too big. Perfect for neighborhood blacksmith. I did have to refinish the face when I got it as it was rusted, pitted and had some edge problems. But it didn’t take long before I had it all nice an ready to roll.

I have a limited tong collection still. I’ve got a pair of farrier’s tongs I have used for flat stock/armoring, a pair of blade tongs and a railroad spike tong I use to make railroad spike axes (I love making these). I have found I like the full size tongs from Kayne and Sons. Their longer tongs have a nice feel to them and are a good price point.

I pick up random bits of metal tools to make punches, fullers and other quick use items for decorations and the more fun bits of forging. That part in the project when it goes from being a lump of steel into whatever it is intended to be, the joy phase.

I use a propane forge. I can get it hot quick and not bother the neighbors with a bunch of black smoke. I live in a community and that would not go over well. The forge let’s me have more flexibility with my work schedule as well, which really maximizes my forge time. I originally chose this forge to be able to fit large odd armor pieces in so it was open on all sides. I had to close it in with fire-bricks when I started getting into blade work so I could keep it hot enough. I’ve been able to keep my forge but now it’s even more flexible per my particular use/project. There may be better forges out there but I have learned to make this work for me.

The truth is, I get by with very little tooling. It’s one of the things I like about the trade. You can do it with a hammer, a fire and a hard surface to bash on (preferably an anvil). My blacksmith friends are always so surprised at what I can do with so few tools. That’s not to say I don’t have an on going wish list though, because I do and I spread it around the family on holidays.

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

This is a tough question. I have really enjoyed quite a few of my projects. 

My top five projects:

  1. Bragi – Viking inspired sword build
  2. Elysium – Roman Gladius
  3. Railroad Spike Axes 
  4. The Brother Knives
  5. Left Handed Dagger

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

I did a lot of reading on online forums. I followed some tutorials from Anvil Forges iForge Iron section. Because I am primarily interested in blade-smithing I am a member at what used to be Don Fogs Bladesmiths Forum. The community there has been educational, inspiring and encouraging in my journey to becoming a bladesmith. They are a really great group of smiths who really want to see the best for every level of smith out there. They will take the time for a newbie like me and help out on every level. If you want to seriously make progress join a forum and make some online blacksmith friends.

I also joined a local blacksmith guild last year, the Philip Simmons Artist Blacksmith Guild. This has basically boosted my skill level ten-fold in less than a year. They have made free classes available to the guild and have meetings every other month with demonstrations. It gives me access to smiths who have been doing this and solving problems their whole lives. I get pro help from the guys who have built most of the iron work in Charleston for he last 60 years, many of them worked with Philip Simmons himself when he was alive. If I have a question, they have the answer. It has also pushed me out of my bladesmithing box. 

After taking a class on forging hooks with them I found I had the skills to make a new products like oyster knives and steak turners. I made a modification with the placement of the bottle opener so I don’t have to weld an additional piece on like the Georgia oyster knife. Joining the guild was one of the best decisions for me as a beginner blacksmith.

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

Quick tips from Weston:

  1. Don’t worry about a big hammer. Condition your arms with smaller hammers and work your way up. It’ll happen.
  2. Control and placement over power. Power will come, there’s nothing worse than getting overly aggressive with your piece and ruining it because you hit too hard in the wrong spot.
  3. If you don’t have a forge, no problem. Work sheet steel and copper. Copper can be easily softened with a $15 propane torch from Home Depot. You can also get copper pipes from Home Depot and cut them open for nice thick stock.
  4. Low budget? Drive around on a Sunday and look for steel on the side of the road. I do this occasionally and find all kinds of good stuff, like this coil spring that I made this knife out of.
  5. Wear a hat if you don’t want to singe all your hair off.

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

I’m online, almost all the time. Even in my forge. Here’s where you can find me:


What do I listen to in my shop?


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A big Thank-You to Weston for taking the time to be a part of the Ask A Blacksmith series. He's offered up some great information for anyone getting started as well as folks who have been forging for a while. 

If you enjoyed this interview please check out my talk with Benton Frisse, leave a comment, and consider answering the 7 questions yourself. All experience levels are welcome.

4 comments:

  1. Awesome article, Terran, and beautiful work Josh! I really like your RR spike axes. Quick question, how do you form your eye? Split and then punch? or drill?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Benton! I use a split and drift. I got my drift from Blacksmiths Depot. It works great. The rail spike axes are fun to make and people love them.

      Terran, thanks for including me!

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  2. Nice, Josh! Great post! That's my brother!

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