Custom Hand forged black iron lion paper weigh

Custom Black Iron

Custom Hand forged black iron lion paper weigh

     Hope everyone had a fun and safe New Year’s! Now that we”re back from our winter break, I wanted to share with you all a recent project we worked on right before we closed down for the holidays. It was for a customer who was looking to have some custom shutter dogs made. Now to be honest, prior to this project I had no idea what a shutter dog was, (as I’m still learning about all the hardware and its use). And if you’re like me and you don’t know or didn’t know, shutter dogs were designed to hold wooden shutters open, but over time have become more of a decorative hardware piece.
     When I was assigned the project, our customer wanted us to sketch out a design based off of his existing logo they had for their law firm. So I was given their business card and I began hand sketching my rendition of their logo. Once I was satisfied with the way it looked, I quickly transferred it over onto Illustrator and passed on the file over to our blacksmiths. Now I have to say that all the credit should go to our very talented blacksmiths, Terry and Darryl. Without them, none of this would of been possible.

The entire process took about 2 weeks to finish, mainly because our blacksmiths work from their shops in Tennessee and Ohio. The finished piece came out amazing and the customer couldn’t be happier. They measure about 3 1/2″ x 3 1/2″. We ended up making two versions of the hardware, one being the actual shutter dogs and the other to use as a paper weight.

So if you’ve enjoyed these shutter dogs as much as I have and you’re looking for something similar feel free to let us know, or if you already have an idea in mind, feel free to tell us about it! We’d be more than happy to help you out with your special project. I know I’ve had a lot of fun working on this project and look forward to working on more.

It’s all about Hand Forged Iron

 Hand forged iron grips and other hardware

Hand forged iron is incredibly desirable among those seeking a look that is both classic and beautiful. Hand forged iron is noted for its strength and durability, as well as its authenticity, but why? Before one can best appreciate the benefits of hand forged iron, one must understand the method of hand forging.

Hand Forged – The process of hand forging any material is both laborious and time consuming. The method began centuries ago in the hands of laboring professionals called blacksmiths. These blacksmiths would take a material like iron and shape it using both heat and force. Through heating the material and delivering fierce blows of varying pressures, the metal was molded into a specific shape. Hand forging is accomplished in the same way today as it was hundreds of years ago. Even though machine-made iron is easier, faster, and cheaper to produce, it does not yield the same results as hand forged iron.

Benefits of Hand Forged Iron – Even today, hand forged iron is stronger and more durable than machine-shaped iron. Since hand forged iron is less porous than iron manipulated by a machine, custom designs and shapes are easier to achieve. Since the smith can keep a watchful eye on the piece as it is molded and shaped, hand forged manipulation makes for a better designed and executed product. Even though hand forged iron is typically more expensive than machine-manipulated iron, many note that the differences are well worth the price.

At Horton Brasses, all iron hardware is hand forged. All pieces are authentic, and many display period appropriate details. Plus, our smiths are not limited by design and are always ready to produce custom made iron hardware when desired. In order to deliver authentic iron hardware to all of our customers, we continue to use the same methods used by early American blacksmiths.


It is a rare thing, but we are having a sale and we are having one right now!   We are discounting our cabinet sized H and HL iron hinges.  These are a fully forged blacksmith made product.  Each one is crafted by hand with a hammer, an anvil, and a coal forge.  Why are we having a sale?  Because we are going to change the design a bit in the near future and we need to move our current inventory.  The price has been marked down approximately 33% per pair.  Check it out here:

Hand Forged H and HL Hinges

One Heat

Small stock heated in the forge cools quickly. This short video shows the shaping of an HF-19 ring grip. The cusps have been forged on each end of the stock and the screw holes punched.

The shaping of a grip is quickly done with the proper heat and tools. We start out with two batches of six grips in the fire. One batch is heating as we work on the other batch.

After the grip is formed it is reheated to pull apart the legs and again to flatten the ends. The final leveling of the grip is done cold before the grips are heated a final time and finish is applied.

What is Wrought Iron?

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, blacksmiths
had a very narrow range of materials to work with under the
hammer. There was wrought iron, wonderfully malleable, and
three types of high carbon steel.

Wrought iron isn’t available to smiths today. What we have
instead is a variety of mild steel alloys. These are tougher than
wrought iron, suitable to more applications in this power-tool
age. What the mild steels have lost is wrought iron’s malleability
under the hammer and its resistance to corrosion.

This is an old hardy tool that Molly uses. The maker forge
welded a piece of steel to the wrought iron body. The seam is
visible in the photograph. Early trades’ tools were often made
of wrought iron with pieces of high carbon steel forge welded
onto it for cutting or other purposes. Today, we’d tend to make
the whole tool out of high carbon steel. In the past the body of
an anvil was wrought iron with a relatively thin piece of tool steel
plate forge welded to it for the working surface. Woodworkers’
tools like chisels, axes, hammers, plane irons, and so forth
were made this way with just a small piece of tool steel for the
working surface or cutting edge.

Smiths 200 years ago had three types of tool steel available.
Blister steel, the least expensive, was made by placing large
bars of wrought iron surrounded by leather scraps in huge kilns
where they were heated to high temperatures. The bars were
crudely case hardened and had a blistered appearance but still
retained a wrought iron core. Shear steel was made by reforging
the blister steel bars into a more homogenous product. Cast
steel was the most expensive steel of its time. It was made by
cutting bars of shear steel into small pieces and melting them in
a crucible. This was a truly homogenous material with wonderful
edge-holding properties for tradespersons’ tools. Often quality
tools of the period are marked “Cast Steel.” Here are a couple of
nineteenth century center bits for woodworkers. One is marked
and still has its temper color.

High carbon steels are much more varied today and have
a range of properties unknown to earlier smiths. For tool
making we use W1 or O1 tool steels – water or oil hardening.
These steels we have to anneal (or normalize) after forging
to return the steel to a soft state. This relaxes the tensions in
the steel caused by forging and prevents breaking when it is
hardened. We harden the steel tool in the fire by heating it to
the temperature at which steel loses its magnetic properties.
Then the tool is plunged into its proper quench – brine for W1,
oil for O1. The tool in this state is too hard and we temper it by
reheating it to a much lower temperature, either in the fire or in
the kitchen oven. About 450 degrees is the proper temperature
to temper a woodworking chisel. For a tool like a cold chisel
used to cut steel, the tool is heated to a higher temperature, one
at which the polished metal turns blue, about 550 degrees.

Wrought iron, unlike modern steels, has a grain, much like
wood. This large forged nut shows the grain. In forging wrought
iron, operations would have to be done in consideration of this.
Holes punched near the end of a bar would be liable to break
out. If the bar is spread first, forming a cusp, a hole punched
on the cusp would be less likely to exceed its boundaries.
Many decorative elements in traditional ironwork also serve a
functional purpose.

Because of the weakness of wrought iron and its easy
workability, a smith formed this washer by wrapping a piece of
iron in a circle and forge welding the ends. The overlap is clearly
visible. Ram’s horn nuts are useful, beautiful, and necessary
adaptations for wrought iron’s weakness.

As blacksmiths today we are having to deal with materials
changing. Mild steel, low carbon and low alloy, is difficult to find.
Instead, steel dealers in our area have products like A36 which
are versatile but tough to hand forge and which have a tendency
to form stress cracks when shaped hot. This means that a
sizeable portion of our raw stock has to be purchased from out-
of-state suppliers.

Even though our craft is an ancient one, it is not static, but
continues to evolve in accord with the world’s changing

A Shop Shaded by Trees

Under the spreading chestnut tree / The village smithy stands

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The blacksmith shop, along with all the other buildings on our
property, is heavily shaded by trees in the summer. We did this
deliberately when we laid out the buildings, orienting them so
we’d have to cut as little as possible.

The shop itself has a large hickory in front, slightly smaller
hickories on the northeast and west corners. Sassafras saplings
ring the building and there’s a small cedar by the door to the
shop addition where George works. The large hickory in front of
the shop is almost 22 inches in diameter. In the fall hickory nuts
hit the shop’s tin roof with a bang.

The canopy provided by the trees surrounding the shop means
that in the summer it is almost fully shaded. Not only our shop,
but our entire yard is in shade. This makes a huge difference in
temperature. In the yard it could be 77 degrees F; in the open,
in our garden, it would be 88 degrees F. Having a coal fire in
the shop addition, even with all the doors open adds an extra
10 degrees of heat in the summer. Because of all the trees the
shop is no hotter than the garden – hot, but not withering.

All the shade in our yard (in some areas only moss and trees
grow) severely restricts the amount of light that reaches our
forges on rainy days in the summer. Our non-electric shop
makes us feel very connected to our brother and sister smiths
who made the original ironwork years ago, particularly on dim
days. Once leaves fall, things brighten up until next spring.
Having everything brighter is one of the benefits that come with
cooler temperatures.

Sassafras trees spring up anywhere they can in our woods.
They’re the first trees to appear in a burned area. They have
variable leaf shapes on the same branch. The mitten shape is
an identifier. When we cut through sassafras roots in building
our shop, the air became scented with a pleasant root beer-like
fragrance. This is a small sapling by the large hickory in front of
the shop.

To the south of the shop is a huge red oak. It’s 41 inches in
diameter. The photo doesn’t at all give a proper idea of its size.
This tree and the woods surrounding it mean that the shop
addition, in spite of all of its windows, is darker in the summer
than the rest of the shop. Other trees growing in our yard are
pine, maple, paw-paw, poplar and white oak. One autumn day
we counted the trees and found there are more than 200!

Summers aren’t getting any cooler and we’re glad to be able to
live and work in the shade of the trees. The birds they host keep
us pleased by their song (our favorite in early summer is the
wood thrush’s). The nuts falling on the tin roof keep us alert in
autumn. The fallen leaves provide as much mulch as our garden
could ever need. And winter’s daylight, though short, is bright.

What’s It?

At gatherings of blacksmiths, a frequent feature is the “What’s It?” display. In this display are tools from old shops, many of which were individually made by smiths to perform specific jobs. Sometimes the tool in the “What’s It?” display is so specialized and idiosyncratic that the smiths at the gathering have a great time trading ideas about how this tool could have worked.

Special tooling is required for almost everything we make in our shop and can range from a jig for braced, driven catches to a die used under a fly press to shape latch keepers. Although our individualized tools may not stump any future gatherings of blacksmiths, they are essential to our accurate reproduction of hardware.

What’s It? Gauges for setting the stop on the blacksmith’s helper tool. The blacksmith’s helper makes the indentations that set off the mass that will be a cusp from the mass that will be the handle when we forge latches. These gauges let us set the stop so that we get the same amount of mass for the cusps and handle every time. We use the gauges pictured in making bean latches and bars. Other gauges are used when we forge heart or ball and spear styles.

What’s It? It’s not hard to guess the purpose of these slot-cutting tools used to cut the slots in latches. The bolster in the middle of the picture supports the red-hot latch as George cuts the slot using the specially-shaped chisel on the left. He drives the drift shown on the right into the slot to make the hole the correct size and to refine it. Successful slot cutting depends largely on the skill of the blacksmith.

What’s It? A design stamp. Most of the forging of bars for Suffolk latches, after initial delineation by the blacksmith’s helper tool, is done without special tooling. The exception is at the end of the forging, when we use this tool to stamp a design element onto the bar near the cusp. To make this tool, we created the desired design on a piece of tool steel. A bar of mild steel was driven, while extremely hot, onto the piece of tool steel, creating a negative impression of the stamp. This bar (on the left in photo) is the tool we’ve used over the years for stamping the design onto each latch bar. The bar seen on the right is the tool-steel master used to stamp the tool when it was made.

What’s It? This tool has two uses. The slot is the same size as the slot in a latch. We insert the drawn-out thumber into the slot to make sure the dimensions are true after we have forged it from short and round to long and rectangular, as you see it in the bottom of the picture. Later in the process, when we’ve shaped the thumb press and given the tail its final curves, the tool is used again. This time the hot thumber is held by the slot while we tweak it with pliers until the thumbpress is aligned with the tail, straight and pleasing.

What’s It? These templates we’ve cut from 20-gauge brass are essential in forging cusps to the right size and shape. George runs a silver pencil around the slightly-undersized contour to draw onto the anvil a shape for comparison when we forge cusps. After the cusps are forged and cool, he again draws the template’s contours, this time directly onto the cusp. He’ll then remove excess material by grinding or filing. Each cusp is the same as each other cusp, but no two are exactly alike.

Our most fundamental specialized tools are our notebooks. Hundreds of decisions are involved in making each item. What size stock do we begin with? What is the sequence of steps? What is the correct heat for this step? What is the most efficient hammer to use? What angle of blows works here? Could a different jig or tool produce better results? Our notebooks help us make products for Horton that have a certain size and shape and are regular in appearance and finish, to match the examples shown in the print catalog and online. Our notebooks allow us to refresh ourselves when we make something we haven’t made for a period of time. As our understanding of the process grows, we revise and add to the knowledge contained in our notebooks.

The page shown here is a part of George’s notes on making a bean Suffolk latch. To see how involved the process can be, see How to Make a Hand-Forged Latch.

Using a Power Hammer

While most of the forge work in the shop is done by hand using a hammer and anvil, we do at times use a power hammer. Ours is used to rough out forgings, the work done in traditional shops by the apprentice, where brute force is more important than precise blows.

Image of Diderot Hammer
Diderot Hammer

Power hammers aren’t new; hammers powered by a water wheel were used in the eighteenth century and earlier. This is part of a plate from Denis Diderot’s Encyclopedie. The hammer is raised by a cog on a shaft and drops when the cog rotates away. The smith has no control of the hammer or the force of the blow.

In the nineteenth century different types and styles of hammers were invented ranging from treadle foot-powered to hammers driven by overhead line shafts. In the twentieth century hammers powered by air compressors were developed. Ours is like that. A smith with this type of hammer has precise control of the number and power of blows according to how they press on a foot control.

In this video Molly is using the power hammer to rough out forgings for the tails of latch thumbers. In an earlier post we described the shaping of completed thumber forgings.

Blacksmith’s Riveting, Brazing and Welding, part 2

In our previous post we talked about how we use mechanical joints, brazing and electrical welding to fasten metal parts together for tools and jigs in the shop. In the work we do for Horton, we use only riveted fastening: we head pins for hinges much like we’d head a rivet, and in making Suffolk latches we rivet the thumber into its slot.

While riveting is perhaps the most common type of fastening in period hardware, other types of connection were also used. We’ll be looking at a lever latch with lock, much like the one mentioned in our post on books. It’s much like the one illustrated in the Sonn and Streeter examples in that post.

This is the back of a German-style lever latch that also included a simple lock. The back plate to this latch is held in place with four nuts.

Each nut has filed decoration, even though this part of the latch would not be seen. The nuts and threaded posts are each individually sized. No nut will fit all the posts.

On the other side of the back plate a spring that holds the bar in place has been riveted.

This is the latch and lock with the back plate removed. There are only a couple of moving parts: the lever and its spring, the tumbler which holds the bar in place (the tumbler spring has broken), and the bar (note the filed decoration at the end, again this was hidden from view). The broken spring for the tumbler would be easy to replace; it is held by a rivet. Studs for the latch spring and tumbler were riveted to the front of the case, as were the two guides for the bar.

The latch handle, as you can see in the above photo, consists of a forging with a handle at one end and, after a ninety-degree bend, a bar that rises in and out of a catch in the doorjamb. The handle’s pivot (where the pencil rests) is a round piece with a square hole (to hold the handle for the other side of the door). The pivot rides in holes cut into the front and back plates of the latch. This pivot is brazed to the handle, in this case using copper instead of brass.

Brazed joints are also found in tools. The vise shown in the post about artifacts has a bit of brazing. In this case, rather than try to tap a thread for the vise screw box (or nut), what they did was wrap a piece of square wire around the vise screw and insert it in the box or nut. The vise screw was carefully removed leaving the wire in place. Brass filings were sprinkled inside and the whole was heated in the fire to braze the wire to the box.

Blacksmith’s Riveting, Brazing and Welding, part 1

There is a great book by Jeannette Lasansky titled “To Draw, Upset and Weld: The Work of the Pennsylania Rural Blacksmith, 1742-1935” that was published 30 years ago.  We’re taking a bit from the title in the next two posts in order to begin to describe how blacksmiths fasten two pieces of metal together.

In our shop we use mechanical connections like nuts and bolts, riveting (such as the thumber riveted into the Suffolk latch), brazing, and welding. We’ve not had a need to forge weld for years in what we make. If we need to weld a part in a tool or jig, we use a MIG welder.

At the top is a Lancashire pattern die plate from the early nineteenth century. Each hole in the plate cuts threads for bolt-like fasteners. We use modern die holders with interchangeable dies for each size thread, like the half-inch dies in the center. At the bottom is a modern tap for cutting threads in a hole for nut-like fasteners. The die plate at one time also had its taps.

This is the back of the spring latch that was shown in a previous post along with a knob. The parts of the spring latch were attached to the back plate by riveting — peening, lightly hammering, the metal protruding from the hole until it no longer fits through the hole and forms a secure fastening. The lever itself is held to the back plate by peening over the edges of the boss; where the pencil is pointing. The brass knob was made of three pieces: thin front and back ovals soldered together and soldered to a turned brass shaft. The knob is held to the long iron shaft by a pin.

An important tool in our shop is the blacksmith helper — a jig holding moveable dies, one of which is struck by a hammer.  We made this helper using nuts and bolts to hold the vertical parts together. These were then brazed to the base in the fire. Brazing is done by heating the iron or steel hot enough so that brass will melt when it comes in contact. Brazing makes a strong joint, much stronger than soldering, almost as strong as welding. This blacksmith helper has been in constant use for over 15 years. We’ll do a post soon on how the blacksmith helper works and the dies we use.

Forge welding was a frequently used way to fasten two pieces of iron or steel together. Forge welding is done by heating the pieces at the same time in the fire to just below melting temperature — about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The pieces are taken from the fire and, on the anvil, hammer forged lightly to join them. Low carbon wrought iron welded easily without burning, unlike higher carbon steels today. This is the bottom of the large pintle shown in a previous post. The pintle and the wrapped joint are easily visible after the weld.

In the eighteenth century and on into the nineteenth, forge welding was used to attach pieces of high carbon steel to low carbon supports. This had several advantages — high carbon steel was very expensive and the lower carbon support was cheap and provided shock resistance. Plane irons and chisels, for instance, would have a small piece of high carbon steel as the cutting edge while the bulk of the iron or chisel was wrought iron. It’s sometimes possible to see in old tools the line where the two metals are welded. The high carbon steel is also more likely to become pitted with rust.

As an aside, steel around 1800 came in three grades: blister, shear, and cast. Blister steel was the cheapest and was produced as bars with a high carbon blistered outside and soft, wrought iron cores. Shear steel was used for agricultural tools and was refined blister steel. Cast steel was made by melting shear steel chunks in a crucible, making the steel uniform. Tools made using cast steel were not cast in molds as some would think. They were forged using the high quality crucible steel.