Shaping a Grip

Blacksmithing uses two operations to transform mild steel or wrought iron: forging and shaping. Forging is using a hammer and anvil to alter a piece of steel’s dimensions. Shaping is changing the piece’s lines in relationship to the air around it. A line becomes a circle, a spiral, or an abrupt bend. The tools employed in shaping can be as simple as a hammer and anvil or as complex as a series of blacksmith-engineered jigs. This post will be about the shaping involved in transforming a length of forged stock into a grip.

In this photo the ends of the piece of stock have already been forged and the hole punched for the screw before the shaping process begins.

Two work areas are involved. The primary work area is the forge, shown above. The forged pieces before being bent are to the lower right, beside the tongs. In the fire we have two groups of forgings being heated. The group to the left is being heated prior to the first bending and the group to the right is being heated prior to the second bending. Grips that have been through both first and second bending operations are out of the fire, to the upper right of the tongs.

In this photo the HF20 grip is being bent after being heated in the forge. A second bend is required to make the grip.

The other major work area is the vise bench, just a step away from the forge. The vise holds a special jig used for bending the grips. The vise table is used as a cooling surface and to support the metal block used for leveling the grips.

After reheating the stock, the second bend is made and the piece is measured to make sure it is the proper size, 2 5/8 inches long. We try to get the grips close to this size, plus or minus a little. Blacksmithing is not an extremely precise art.

Further heats for the grips are made in a “soaking” fire. This is different from a normal forging fire in that very little air is given to the fire. The aim is to achieve a gradual heat which soaks from outside to inside, producing an even heat throughout the piece. In this case we are using a soaking heat because we have 30 items in the fire at one time.

Coke is placed around and over the grips and they are left to warm slowly. We turn the blower handle only now and again to maintain the fire.

When heated thoroughly, the pieces are removed from the fire one at a time and twisted open using two pairs of pliers. After all the grips are opened, they are placed again in a soaking fire, this time with the forged ends downward for best heating.

Next the grips are taken from the fire one at a time and the forged ends are shaped over a tool held in the vise. We use a hammer to flatten the forged ends against the tool.

The rest of the work is primarily done cold. This is the process of getting the grips to sit properly upright on the forged ends without tipping or wobbling. Here George is leveling the grip by using a small French pattern hammer’s peen to strike a forged end. A master grip is sitting upright to the right of his hands.

We use forge masters and templates for all the production work we do. These provide a comparison. In the case of this grip style, the master grip reminds us how much to open the grip in the step shown earlier. Another template shows to what size the grip ends are to be forged. There will be variation, but we try to keep what we make within fairly narrow boundaries of size and shape.

A final soaking fire is used to reheat the grips before putting the finish on them. The aim of this heat is to create an even layer of scale to take the finish, without blisters or bubbles. For this heat, we first place narrow pieces of 16 gauge mild steel in the fire, to partially block the air coming up from the tuyere. The grips are placed on the steel pieces and covered with coke. They will sit in this reducing fire for about 20 minutes, and be given air only now and again from the blower.


What’s the point of having a house if no one can find it? Yes, that works for J.D. Salinger, but for the average non-recluse, it’s helpful to have house numbers prominently displayed on the exterior of your domicile to facilitate visitors, fill-in FedEx drivers and, of course, 911 responders.

Many people go for a metallic finish, but I find these iron powder coated numbers the perfect contrast for visual distinction. Not simply there for decoration–although we always like stuff to look good–house numbers serve a purpose. Really, how noticeable are numbers in a light finish on a light house? Exactly my point.


These craftsman numbers are stylized to compliment bungalows, tudors and arts & crafts style homes while simple enough in design to work mounted on traditional colonials, modern dwellings– as well as the wide range of design possibilities in between.

A truly American-made product, blacksmith Darryl Chernikovich plasma cuts each handmade piece in his Ohio shop. These numbers are flat and thin, offering a slim profile of the most classic aesthetic, enhancing the functionality yet not detracting from the style of the home. 


Looking for something absolutely unique and extraordinary? Horton Brasses also does custom sizes, fonts, letters, numbers, etc.  Custom house numbers! Made to order! Whatever font you want! Whatever size! Definitely exciting information worthy of many, many exclamation marks! I feel like this post is worthy of PSA-status, saving people time googling “custom house numbers” or “customized house font.” Just email Orion!



What could be cuter than this! Even if you live in the smallest house in the world…even if you live in half a house…Horton Brasses has your number!


In the past, they’ve done custom script address signs with all the letters connected (fancy!), some with a border and some without. Whatever idea you have to distinguish your home or office, Horton Brasses can execute it.

Aside from these house numbers, Darryl is also responsible for Horton Brasses trunk corners  and trunk brackets. It’s not every day that I need trunk hardware, but knowing where I can get a hold of some quality American made corners and brackets really does make me a calmer person. Better than chamomile tea.


Darryl also has an Etsy shop, where he sells designy home decor sculptures as well as jewelry.

Making a Suffolk Latch — The Thumber’s Slot

In the eighteenth century there were two main types of hand forged latches with grips — Suffolk and Norfolk. The Norfolk has a grip attached to a flat plate. The Suffolk latch has an upper and lower decorative cusp with an integral grip in between. We make two styles of Suffolk latches for Horton. One style has the slot for the thumber cut into the upper cusp and the other style has the slot for the thumber cut into the upper portion of the grip. The first style is a larger latch used for exterior doors and the second style is a smaller latch used for interior doors.

Cutting the slot for interior door latches is an interesting bit of hot work and requires the use of a bolster block, a special chisel and a drift.


All the work is done on the anvil as shown here. This photo shows, on the left, the bolster block over the anvil’s hardy hole. The chisel is in position to be driven with a hammer through the hot forging. To the right is a scrap piece of steel to protect the anvil when the slot is cut entirely through.


Cutting the slot takes several heats. We mark out the location of the slot with a cold chisel cut on both sides of the stock for the latch. This gives something to help guide the hot chisel. We heat the metal to a dull red color and use the hot chisel to deepen the cold chisel mark. When the metal is extremely hot, it is hard to see these marks so they must be located solely by feel.

In the photo above the chisel has cut entirely through the stock from both sides after a second heat.


At another high heat the chisel is used to open the slot over the bolster. The bolster has a slot cut into it slightly larger than the one that is to be made. It supports the stock to prevent deformation while tools are being pounded through the slot.


This photo shows the latch’s spread slot. The slot is slightly lopsided which will be fixed during drifting the slot in the next two heats.


The drift is a piece of mild steel that tapers at both ends but is the exact size of the final slot in the middle. This allows the drift to be driven into the hot forging without getting stuck.


The drift is driven into the forging to create the final size for the slot. Its other use is to allow the metal around the slot to be forged without collapsing the slot. It’s at this point that the slot will take its final form.


The finished slot with the drift held to the side. After the latch forging is finished and it has been bent while hot to its final shape, the slot and thumber are drilled for a pin. Then the thumber is riveted into the latch. Those are some of the final steps in making a latch. Between cutting the slot of a Suffolk latch and putting the finish on it, there is much work to do.

The Blacksmith’s Fire

There is a black rock that can catch fire and burn so hot it can make straight rods of steel bloom into latches, hinges, or even roses. That sounds like one of those teasing jokes adults tell kids. How silly.

But true. We use coal, the fuel that became the favorite of 18th century north American blacksmiths, in our shop to heat our forges. There is coal near where we live, but to get Sewell coal we have to hire a driver with a dump truck and go on a six-hour round-trip journey with him along twisting rural two-lane blacktop. The mine is underground in southeastern West Virginia, where the Sewell coal seam is wide. Sewell coal, with its low ash and sulfur content and its superior coking properties, is worth all the trouble it takes to get. Yet, because it is so hard to get and because we hope to make our carbon footprint as small as possible, we are glad that a little coal goes a long way in our forges. We are still using the four tons we bought in 2002.

In our shop, as we heat and hammer the steel, our fires are tools which must be used attentively. Without this attention the lower part of the fire could burn away, make cold spots, clinkers; gooey masses of impurities, and hot spots capable of burning tips off finials in an instant. We must consistently feed the fire, pushing pieces of unburned green coal close to the fire’s edge where they can kindle and become coke. There must always be enough coke when the fire is pushed apart at the end of the day so that there is ample fuel to start the next day’s fire.


Our shop has three forges, each with an anvil and complete set of tools. Each work station is devoted to a specific range of tasks.

Just behind the forge hood is the hand-operated blower used to blow air up through the bottom of the fire.  The air blows into the fire from the bottom of this cast iron firepot through the tuyere, which is connected by pipe to the hand-operated blower.


The firepot has a clinker breaker, shown at center. The border surrounding it is the opening for air.


We use Sewell coal, named for the seam underground where it is mined. It is bituminous coal with low sulfur and ash content. It burns extremely hot and readily forms coke.


Our coal fire is actually a coke fire, the coal we place around the edges becoming the coke that burns with great heat in the center of the fire.


This piece is half coke, half coal.

When all the impurities burn off, the coal has become coke. It is feather light and capable of heating steel to forging temperatures of 1,600 degrees fahrenheit and above.

Coke doesn’t smoke or flame when it burns as coal does.


Each blacksmith has his or her own way to light a fire. Molly starts by emptying the firepot, then filling it with newspaper topped by twigs. During damp winter weather a candle lights it better than a match does.


Once the paper is burning well, we place coke and partially burned, partially coked coal on top of it, all the while turning the blower handle to provide plenty of air.

The smoke and flames are from pieces of fuel that haven’t yet completed the transition from coal to coke.

When the fire looks solid and steady we add some green coal near the edges and start work.

Ikea Budget Kitchen Remodel : Tuscan Style

I am really excited about this post. Traditional style kitchens are not my personal thing, but I do believe I’ve put together a great kitchen evocative of that Tuscan flava’. No, not pecorino and prosciutto but earthy textures, varied metals and warm colors. While this kitchen lacks the extensive corbels and molding found in most American takes on the Tuscan style, this Ikea-based kitchen forgoes the fussiness, letting the eye enjoy the richness of subtle details.

Of course, if you must have corbels and rope molding to build out that hood enclosure, head to Home Depot or Lowe’s to buy some stock trim pieces. You will save loads of money over getting this stuff from a cabinet company. Try to match the paint/stain of the Lidingo doors below. Or take a walk on the Tuscan side and think outside the cabinet box with an olive, burgundy or mustardy paint to make those embellishments pop (“pop” is such an over-used designy word, isn’t it?).

Ready to see what old style charm you can create around stock Ikea cabinets? Here we go…

                           tuscan inspired ikea furniture mixing


This first style board represents the perimeter cabinets, done in a creamy white, more commonly known as Lidingo to the Ikea Vikings. The sienna bordaeux granite really takes this kitchen home to Italy, despite the glaring Frenchness of the name. Iron hues,  sandy swaths and purplish dusky reds–the countryside laid out flat and pressed into stone.

If the Tuscany kitchen had a calling card, it would be etched on a piece of travertine tile. Chosen for it’s calm echo of sienna bordeaux’s color palette, tumbled travertine’s tactility furthers the romantic seduction of Tuscan design.

A weathered copper sink and copper faucet convey warmth, transforming your kitchen into a place not just for food preparation, but informal family gatherings. Yes, all that from a sink! Did you ever imagine?

Elaborately styled antiqued hardware from Horton Brasses is one of those subtle details that won’t go unnoticed. Especially since the creamy cabinetry will stand in such high contrast with the cacao colored hardware. Bold and delicious.

Speaking of delicious, a copper KitchenAid stand mixer is beautiful enough to leave resting on the countertop, just like that pasta dough!

                        tuscan style antique furniture decorations


The island. This is what you’ve wanted. A massive hunk of chocolate brown cabinets topped with granite–again, sienna bordeaux to unify the look. A gathering place. A work station. A vast slab of stone suitable for rolling out raviolis, decorating Christmas cookies, setting out elaborate family buffets.

Lilje dark brown cabinets are your own dark chocolate chunks, adding an unexpected richness from Ikea. Shiny brass hardware from Horton Brasses evokes the traditional look while the wrought iron turns of the island pendant lighting and the decorative fruit urn mixes finishes without competing for attention. Like the bucolic Tuscan lifestyle, there is a natural harmony flowing throughout these kitchen design choices.

Beautifully simple stoneware plates in organic hues and unrefined strokes adds to the relaxed feel of the decor. Formal meets rustic continue to mix as handscraped flooring in a dark stain contributes texture, warmth and instant patinated old world charm to the kitchen.


                        modern style mixed with tuscan decorations


Finally, carefully chosen, understated yet appropriate details impregnate the kitchen with authenticity. More wrought iron is brought in with the ornate wine rack, echoing the style choice of  the island lighting. Small details, such as Horton Brasses’ selection of iron hooks hearkening back to the romantic ideal of village life, make nothing in this space look like an afterthought.

The turned legs of the dining table, the leather and wood composition of the dining chairs and the antiqued copper of the wall mirror reflect simplicity, craftsmanship and a commitment to natural materials without sacrificing artfulness.

A simple valance curtain capped with creamy urchin finials captures this reoccurring diametrical tension of the simple vs. the ornate, which seems to reconcile itself through organic materials and colors, detailed handcrafted ornamentation and formal embellishments coupled with rustic textures.

To complete the Tuscan kitchen look, crisp towels decorated with a traditional Tuscan rooster design can casually lay across the front of the copper sink or hang on a wrought iron hook next to a favorite apron dusted in semolina flour.

Without a doubt, the Tuscan kitchen is a popular trend with endurance. By creating a space that is warm, usable and accommodating to many cooks and bystanders, your Tuscan kitchen will serve as the hearth of the home.


Materials Pictured:

Big Pacific 4″ x 4″ Scabos Travertine Tile / $1 / Lowes

KitchenAid 600 Series 6 Quart Stand Mixer in Copper Pearl /  $338 / Amazon

Sienna Bordeaux Granite

Danze Opulence Pull Out Kitchen Faucet in Copper / $200 /

Premier Copper Products 25″  Hammered Kitchen Single Basin Sink / $650 /

Lidingo Doors + Akurum Cabinets / Ikea

Scroll Fruit Bowl / $20 / Pier 1 Imports

Delicious Salad Plates / $7 / Pier 1 Imports

Barrett Place Mocha Bronze Foyer Pendant Light / $160 / Lamps Plus

Lilje Cabinet Doors + Akurum Cabinet Boxes / Ikea

Virginia Millworks 1/2″ x 5″ Yorktown Plank Handscraped Wood Flooring / $3.69 sq. ft/ Lumber Liquidators

Antiqued Copper Mirror  / $200 / Home Decorators

Ivory Tuscan Rooster Towels (set of 2) / $16 / Williams-Sonoma

Urchin Finials + Iron / $38 / Anthropologie

Ibiza Valance / $25 / Target

Tristan Bi-Cast Leather Fanback Dining Chair (set of 2) / $340 / World Market

Medley Round Hammered Metal Table in Penny Patina Finish / $600/

IMAX Wrought Iron Wine Cabinet / $150 /

New stuff!

Press release:

New: hammered iron knobs

Never content to rest on our laurels-Horton Brasses has more new products! In response to customer requests, we now offer larger, hammered iron knobs. In case you are keeping track-we have now introduced 35 new products since the summer of 2008-!!!-while others are sleeping we are finding new products. This knob is made in England-it has a beautiful hand done wax finish. It matches our hand forged iron hardware perfectly. This knob is, ahem, larger. The biggest size measures 1-1/2” in diameter, the small one is 1-3/16”. We have heard from time to time that our proportions were a little “traditional”. Larger makes a lot of sense considering the scale of hand forged iron in general. Customer input drives us, thanks to all for giving us feedback. In stock at all times; no minimum order; quantity discounts available. Check out the website: BK-8 and BK-10

hand forged iron hammered knobs

Interesting things we can make

There is a first time for everything. We have done custom hand forged iron work for many years now, and in that time we have made a lot of unique items. Most of the time we make strap hinges, latch sets, cane bolts, etc, to fit any number of special applications. From 10 feet tall barn doors to hatchway doors and everything in between. But this is new. We made this very nice box stand for a customer in New Jersey. The stand fits and antique wooden box that they wanted off the floor. The piece is 18-1/2″ square and sits 6″ off the ground. We are quite pleased with the result, and more importantly, the customer is too.
box stand
top view of box stand
close up of corner box stand
close up of legs for box stand

Now the other bits: I am a little sheepish to say, but this morning I got an e-mail, one of the feet came off in shipping. There must have been a void in the weld where it was attached. Suffice to say, it shouldn’t have come off and we will of course fix it immediately. Sometimes welding can be tricky. Second, if you find this interesting, it took 4-1/2 hours to produce and we charge $75.00 per hour for time and materials.