Some Simple Precautions
"There are two kinds of smiths: those who have been burned and those who have yet to be burned."
Blacksmithing is captured for many people by a Norman Rockwell-esque painting of the bare chested village blacksmith working close to his fire with sparks flying. While that makes for a nice image it is probably not the safest way to go about blacksmith work.
If you are considering exploring blacksmith you need to accept that a certain number of minor burns, cuts and scrapes are part of the process. We do need to be concerned with limiting those injuries to minor injuries and protecting ourselves from major injuries.
The most common injuries in the forge are burns, eye injuries, and cuts and scrapes. This is not an exhaustive list. All smiths and potential smiths are encouraged to continually develop their knowledge of safe practises in the workshop.
At a minimum, before pursuing blacksmithing, we recommend the following:
1) An appropriate fire extinguisher for the workplace
2) Some well fitting and comfortable eye protection
3) Close fitting work clothes of natural fiber without turned up cuffs or open topped boots—nothing that could catch a coal or hot piece of metal and hold it near the body
4) A first aid kit with appropriate burn remedies—many basic first aid kits don't have much in the way of burn treatment. (In addition, it may be a good idea to keep one or two aloe vera plants - the gel the leaves contain is excellent for treating burns)
What to Wear
Cotton work clothes, close fitting at neck and sleeves with no cuffs. Pants over boot tops. Clothing in good repair: no frayed edges that could catch a spark and ignite.
A leather apron is handy to spare the clothes (often clothing turns black in color).
Sturdy boots are recommended. Steel toed boots aren't a bad investment, especially if you find yourself getting into smithing more: they spare your toes some if you drop a heavy tool on them. (And a 3 lb. hammer feels plenty heavy dropped from 36" when it hits your toe.)
A hat or other means of restraining hair will also be needed. Hair is quite flammable and many grooming products will make it more so, so save the "preddying up" for after you've washed off the soot and grime. Even those who are blessed with baldness may find that a hat will reduce the incidence of getting nipped by sparks or sunburn.
People with an interest of revived history (reenactors) may want to consider different materials than cotton, since cotton isn't "period" for most reenactors :
- Wool works as well. It is probably less flammable than cotton, but too warm for most people.
- Linen is dicey, especially if there are any unfinished edges to the clothing: an unfinished edge on a linen shirt seems to be a magnet for sparks and catches and smolders easily.
- Leather is also pretty good as it does not burn easily, but it is hot to wear, esp. if you are wearing enough of it to protect.
Do not wear synthetics, even if they are fire retardant. Even if they don't burn, nylon and other synthetic fibers tend to melt and hold enough heat to burn the wearer badly. Kevlar might be an exception to this. One author has seen kevlar shop gloves for metal workers that are designed for the purpose and do not burn or react much with fire.
Next Chapter: Constructing a Down'n'dirty Forge