Blacksmith practice.

Anyone whos ever tried their hand at it will tell you Blacksmithing takes lots of practice. Lots of practice takes lots of time and energy. Here is a handy short cut that will help save on both. This technic will allow you to explore ideas and perfect your plan before you start burning coal and calories. Modeling clay responds to pressure in much the same way as hot steel. It can be drawn out, pounched, twisted, fullered etc between your fingers from the comfort of your arm chair. Over the corse of an evening you can emulate the sequince of events in a forging dozens of times. When the time comes to light the fire and do it for real you can move with confidence.

For this demo we will run through a dragon head final. This isnt as hard as it looks. It requires a couple special tools that are easy to make, and will give your project lots of bang for your buck. When the time came for me to forge my first head in steel, Id been through all the motions dozens of times in clay. I had my plan down and whipped through that first forging like a pro.

This project is done in 3/4 square hot roll.

Here you can see I have cut out what will become the horns. I leave about 1 1/2 inchs in front to form the head. So start by forming your clay into a 3/4 bar. ( I did not have enough clay to get into the horns so this will just be the head)

Step 1 is to make a small fuller on the tip of the bar. This will later help seperate the nosterals and give them more definition.

Next we need to forge down the tip of the bar. When viewed from the end you should be left with a slightly trianglular cross section with the narrowest point at the chin.

With this complete next use a quick tapered pounch to make the nosterals.

Now its time to fuller. Im using a guillotine tool for this with 1/2 radius dies. If you dont have one, get one, they are darn handy. Otherwise get some one to hold for you and use a traditional top and bottom fuller. In clay your fingers are fullers.


Be very carful here so as not to knock the tops down on your nosterals.

Now your ready to create the eye sockets. For this I use a my thumb in clay and an old ball peen hammer in steel. Please note the hammer I use for this has been normalized and re heat treated to soften the struck face. Never hit a striking tool with another.

Now for the eyes. For this I have made a punch from 3/8, softened, drilled and rounded then re hardened. Set your eyes high and wide in the sockets.

When punching in the eyes, make your first strike hard and positive. Be very carful not to let your punch jump and move between strikes. Doing so will chew up the sockets and ruin the effect.

Now we have th basic head complete. To go a step further we reach back to our 2nd step. We did this to set the nosterals up, a by product is giving us more mass to play with on the chin. With some carful fuller work you can then pull a goattee down from this mass.

Once the mass is moving we can then get at it with a hammer over the tip of the horn to finish.

Or just move right on to the horns. Lift them up, divide them and draw them out. Leave as much mass as possible at the base. Otherwise horns are best done free form. Have fun with them.

Lastly cut the mouth with a hack saw or angle grinder.

The key to practicing with clay is  to limit what you do with it to things you can duplicate with hot steel. It is very easy to lose sight of this and start using your fingers to create effects you could never repeat in the smithy. Clay will always be "hot" for this reason your clay forgings will never quite match their steel counterparts. Corners will never be as sharp and over all if will have a smoother, rounder apperance. None the less its a great way to practice and an excellent way to estimate how much mass you need to start with to end up were you intend to. Another fun trick with clay is with damascus pattern devlopment. Use two different colors of clay. Fold them over and over to end up with a damascus. From there it can be punched and formed to create different patterns. But this is maybe for another day.

With that, have fun, be safe and hammer on. I hope some of you can make use of this and justify my rainy day spent on the computer.