The Blacksmith’s Hands – Tongs

We’re right handed so we hold the hammer in that hand. Even though the tongs are held by the left hand, that doesn’t mean that dexterity isn’t needed. During a forging tongs are raised and lowered, shifted right or left, turned slightly or continuously. Like an athlete or a dancer, a blacksmith must hold many things in awareness at the same time. Tongs hold the hot stock and what they do is just as important as what the hammer does.


Forging is impossible to do well if the stock isn’t held well by the tongs chosen. Depending on the size and type of stock or how the tongs are used, a number of different tongs can be used for a specific forging.



For forging and shaping a thumber we use 4 tongs, and another pair is used to manipulate the stock in the fire. From left to right are fire tongs for removing pieces from the fire, a pair of v-tongs to hold the round stock, a pair of ½ inch flat tongs for holding the tail of the thumber during forging of the thumb press, and two tongs for holding and shaping the thumber around a jig.



The stock for thumbers for HF14 Suffolk Latches is 3/8 inches round, 3 ¼ inches long. We use the fire tongs (to the right in this photo) to manipulate this small piece of metal in the fire. The stock is being drawn out of the fire and will be handed off to the waiting v-tongs held in the left hand.



The v-tongs hold round or square stock extremely well. The end that will become the thumb press is held while the tail of the thumber is forged.



The ½ inch flat tongs are used to hold the thumber tail while the thumb press is forged. Tongs for holding flats have a distinctive shape. One jaw has a u-shaped end the width of the flat (in this case ½ inch) and the other jaw has a “pusher” to hold the stock in the “U”.



Thumbers, after forging, are shaped on a simple jig. The tongs to the right hold the thumber to the jig and the tongs on the left (a pair of ¾ inch flat tongs) is used to bend the tail to the shape of the jig. The parts of the jaw of the shaping tongs that are used are the pusher and the base of the other jaw, behind the “U”.




Tongs can be adapted by reshaping the jaws so they can be used for particular tasks. We filed a single groove near the ends of the v-tongs so we can hold grips, like this HF20.