It’s essential to have good sets of tongs for blacksmithing so that you can firmly the hold hot metal that you’re working with. You’ll need different sizes and styles to match the thickness and shapes of the metal that you’re using in your projects. A blacksmith can’t have too many pairs of tongs.
We have recently developed a tong-making class for blacksmithing students who’ve taken our Blacksmithing I and II classes. This tutorial shows one approach to making a simple set of tongs. If you have some blacksmithing experience and haven’t yet made tongs, you may want to try this on your own. If you think you might need more help and oversight, then you may want to register for our class, which will teach several methods of tong-making.
Tongs are made of three pieces of metal — two long side pieces that work similar to the side pieces in a pair of scissors and a rivet that holds the side pieces together and allows them to pivot. In each side piece, there are three segments — the jaw, the boss, and the rein. The left and right sides of the tongs are identical in shape. In other words, they’re not mirror images of one another. If you flip one side over, it will fit together and line up perfectly with the other side.
For this project, we will use 1/4″ x 3/4″ x 8″ mild steel. This lightweight stock is easy to work with and will make a lightweight set of tongs that work well for holding light stock. Using slightly thicker 5/16″ x 3/4″ stock would make a very nice set of tongs for general work.
There are different styles of tongs. The set that we’re making here will hold flat and square metal, but you can modify the jaws of your tongs to hold other sizes or shapes of metal.
Mark the Stock with Soapstone
Mark the stock with soapstone, 1 1/4″ from the end to define the jaws and 1″ from that mark to define the boss.
Mark the Stock with a Center Punch
Because the soapstone will not be visible when the steel is hot, also mark the stock with a center punch. When doing this, mark opposite edges as shown in the diagram.
Define the Boss
Using a half-face hammer blow on the far side of the anvil, define the boss by indenting both edges, as shown below. Later we will slit and drift the boss to make a round hole for a rivet that will be the pivot and joinery of the tongs.
Drawing Out, Rounding and Plenishing
Draw out the reins to the desired length by hammering on alternate edges.
As you draw out each section to its finished dimension, complete the work by breaking the corners (hammering the corners so as to round or bevel them) and plenishing (hammering at a lower temperature to smooth the steel and remove any large hammer marks, as shown below).
Compare and Adjust the Length
Hold the two side pieces side-by-side to compare the length. If one is longer than the other, draw out the length until both pieces match.
Twist the Jaw
Clamp a side piece in the vise and make a short 90 degree twist right at the junction between the boss and the jaw, as shown in the sequence of photos below. Repeat with the other side piece. Remember that these pieces should be turned the same direction.
Hammer the Jaw and Boss
Gently hammer the corners of the twist smooth, so that the jaw and the boss are smooth and square.
Mark the Hole for the Rivet
Use a centerpunch to mark the hole for the rivet.
Cutting with the Slitter
Begin to cut the rivet hole using a slitter that is 3% bigger than the size of the rivet you will use. In this case, 3/8″ is the rivet size. The reason for the 3% increase is both to allow for shrinkage that occurs when the steel cools and to enable the rivet to pass through easily. Orient the slitter lengthwise through the boss.
Mark the Hole from the Other Side
When you have cut most of the way through and while you still have a little heat left, flip the piece over, and you will see a shiny spot which is where the slitter will come through. With the slitter, mark the hole in the center of this spot, and on the next heat, cut through from that side.
Drive the Slitter Through
Drive the slitter all the way through to open up the hole.
Round the Hole Using the Drift
Using a drift that is 3% larger than the rivet, drive it through, working from each side alternately.
After Using the Drift
After you have used the drift, the hole will be round, as shown below.
Heating the Rivet
Use a rivet whose length is the combined thickness of both sides of the tongs plus 1 1/2 times the diameter of the rivet. In the fire, first pack the coke so that the rivet won’t fall through, then set the rivet on top. Keep an eye on it so that you don’t lose it or burn it up.
Insert the Rivet
Put the rivet through the hole and hammer it down.
Freeing the Tongs
When you finish setting the tongs, they should be too tight to move. Heat them and work them back and forth while they’re hot in order to free them.
Adjust to Fit the Stock
Adjust the tongs in the vise to fit them to the size of the stock and align the reins.
Work the Tongs While Quenching
Work the tongs while quenching them; otherwise, they will get stuck.
The Finished Tongs
Below is a photo of the finished tongs, ready for use.
If you make a set of tongs from this tutorial, please let us know. We’d like to hear how the project went and whether you ran into any difficulties.