The basic types of metalworking hand tools have remained the same for hundreds of years. Copper was once worked with crude stone hammers, chisels and grindstones. Ore has been smelted in crude clay crucibles to make billets in earlier eras, although today's crucibles are made of more durable materials. Metalworking hand tools have continued to evolve through the Information Age, where they are now computer designed for efficiency and ergonomics.
According to Gypsy Wilburn, 20 year professional blacksmith and metal artist, "The world would come to a screeching halt without metalworking hand tools. Even your electrician or mechanic needs wire cutters and hammers. If you take the base definition, even a can opener is a metal working tool. With proper knowledge and use of metal working hand tools, craftsmen of all types, from the blacksmith to the auto body repairman can do amazingly precise work that is functional, durable, and aesthetically pleasing. Knowing the proper use of and having the correct tool for the job can turn a nightmare into a pleasure."
Always put safety first when selecting and using metalworking hand tools. Be sure to use safety glasses, and heavy leather work gloves. Do not keep lighters or heat vulnerable items in your pockets when working near the forge. Become familiar with the names and proper uses of various metalworking hand tools. Use only the tool that is intended for your purpose.
Metalworking hand tools make it possible to hold, heat, cut, strike, grind, bend and shape metal for your purpose. Working metal by hand is a challenge, but the result is a piece that is one of a kind. Production metalwork, stamped by the thousands, is no match for that of true craftsmen. Most production work can be easily cut, snapped, bent or otherwise rendered useless, while hand made metalwork will last longer, hold together better, and be easier to maintain.
Our throwaway society has convinced many people that as long as something is cheap enough to replace quickly, there is no point to making it durable. This has resulted in unprecedented demand on resources such as clean air and water, as well as making this nation dependent on oil, natural gas, and coal. These wreak havoc on the environment during the extraction process, and again when they are burnt. Learning to appreciate the older virtues of making things to last, blacksmithing and hand metalworking are having a renaissance.
Striking tools such as hammers come in many styles. The heavy sledge accomplishes the task through sheer brute force. The ball peen and cross peen, however, use physics principles such as the wedge to speed the process of flattening and splitting metal. Impact-forming tools are those which you place against the metal to strike with a hammer, such as chisels, punches and stamps. Edge-cutting tools consist of toothed saws, files, drills and scrapers. This group is exemplified by hardened metal teeth or edges that cut into the metal. Abrasives, which use grit to work the metal, include sharpening and grinding stones, polishing compounds and emery cloth. Bending tools generally use force and leverage to bend the metal. They include bending forks and jigs. Gripping tools such as vice grips, tongs and pliers hold metal while it is being worked, whether hot or cold. Hinge cutters such as dykes, wire cutters, sheet metal shears and tin snips are also very necessary in a well-equipped metalworking shop. Power tools such as grinders allow the smith to shape and polish metal with ease.
It is not necessary to have every metalworking hand tool on the market in order to start up your forge and begin making beautiful and useful things. A forge, consisting of a clay brick or fire brick box with openings at each end, a blower, and a heat source such as a propane torch are all that you need to begin working your first project. Have several pairs of tongs of various lengths on hand, as well as crucibles of various sizes, from half cup size to quart size, with long handles. Clay, stone, and glass can all be used for crucibles, as well as household pans and measuring cups, as long as they are all metal and are rated heat resistant to well above the melting point of the metal you intend to work.