People interested in blacksmithing tend to have colorful personalities that are contained within a unique worldview. As such, you will see a tremendous amount of variability in what people wear while smithing.
Some people are very practical, and will wear a long sleeve shirt with hearing + eye protection in addition to boots. Other people will smith as shirtless vikings, cowboys, or in historical gear for reenactment purposes.
The point is, clothing yourself properly for smithing is pretty damn easy. The main goal is to avoiding damaging your hearing, your eyesight, or your skin through cuts and burns.
But regardless of whether you are interested in knife making, farrier work, or general forging, it’s worthwhile knowing the optimal clothing for smith work.
With that said, let’s get started!
Blacksmith Apron For Forging
Blacksmithing aprons are great for protecting your skin from cuts and burns. Most people find this obvious. But one often overlooked advantage of a blacksmith apron is that it protects your shirt. This might seem like a minor thing, but before I got my apron, my work shirts would barely last 4-5 smithing sessions. Now bear in mind, these were long sessions, and who knows, maybe I’m spectacularly sloppy…but the point is that I was going through shirts at an unacceptable rate.
My pre-apron days also sucked in that occasionally small pieces of metal would burn clean through my shirt, ouch!
So which aprons should you get? Forging aprons are simple enough, I would take care to consider two small things that make a big difference over time:
- Straps – neck, cross, waist, etc.
Pockets Or No Pockets For Blacksmithing Aprons?
Pockets are handy for holding tools, pens, etc. There is only one problem: these little suckers have a bad habit of collecting metal shavings and molten iron. It can be hard to pull out still hot shavings that fall into your pockets, you will also have to clean them out, adding to your list of maintenance chores.
I hate cleaning, so I tend to go with the pocketless aprons. You will have to decide for yourself if pockets are worth having or not.
The Neck Strap Problem While Blacksmithing
Welding or forging aprons tend to be quite a bit heavier than your run of the mill apron. Over the course of a few hours this is hardly noticeable, but for longer smithing sessions the neck strap can begin to cramp your neck. If you are smithing in a collarless shirt, they can also dig in to your skin.
The best way around this problem is to make sure you get an apron that has either a waist strap, or a cross strap that goes across your back. This distributes the weight in a more comfortable manner.
To sum it up: don’t get an apron that has just a neck strap.
Best Apron For Blacksmiths
Jeez, I sure write a lot. So which apron should you get?
For an affordable option, I recommend this apron.
It is made of high quality cowhide leather, which provides better protection than the denim aprons (in my opinion of course.) It is 34” from the top edge to the bottom edge, and 23” across the wide part of the apron.
This is a great apron for the price, my only complaint is the straps. I’m a bit of a stickler for straps. This apron only has a one strip waist strap, which doesn’t provide much relieve from your neck unless you tie it really tight around your waist. The straps also seem to me to be a bit flimsy in relation to the cowhide leather.
A little more pricey option is this apron.
According the specification, it is 24” x 42”. Like the apron before it is made with cowhide leather which provides excellent protection. These cowhide pieces are sewn together with a tough fire resistant US Kevlar thread. And, most importantly to me at least, It has a cross strap that goes over my shoulders instead of around my neck.This makes it very comfortable.
Of course it has pockets, but it’s fairly easy to close them up with a bit of tinkering.
Medieval Blacksmith Apron, What Did They Wear?
Medieval Blacksmiths wore leather aprons much as we do today. They most likely wore linen or wool clothes underneath this apron. Which just goes to point out something that I love about blacksmithing: it’s a timeless craft in a world of change.
Blacksmith Boots For Forging
This one is pretty straight forward. Hot metal shavings tend to fall to the floor when blacksmithing. In addition, it’s not unheard for even the most skilled blacksmiths to accidentally drop something while forging. A good pair of steel toed boots will keep your feet from burning and/or breaking.
While I’ll leave the choice of boots up to you, I do recommend you pay attention to the spot where your jeans and your boots connect. Make sure your jeans are long enough to cover the little valleys that form between your boot and your ankle. You do not want a piece of metal falling into the rim of your shoe…ouch
Make sure the entry point to your feet is covered, don’t want it dropping in
Blacksmith Shirts For Forging
What type of fabric is best? This article on clothing safety sums up what I perceive to be the generally accepted wisdom among blacksmiths. Natural fibers are believed to be better than synthetic fibers. This has never been an issue for me, as I tend to wear cotton in the summer and wool in the winter anyways…
But the thinking goes that synthetic fibers tend to puddle up into a gooey mess when they burn. Obviously this is bad when this happens to a shirt that is in contact with your skin. I’m not sure how true this is, but I see it enough on forums that I have never felt the need to test it out myself.
To be brief: wear natural fibers.
Blacksmith Pants For Forging
I usually just wear 100% cotton jeans when blacksmithing. When looking for a pair of jeans you have the same criteria that you would have when looking for a shirt: you want natural fibers. Most denim jeans are 100% cotton, but I would check the tag as sometimes they are synthetic fibers made to look like cotton.
I also want to go over the usefulness of leather leg aprons. When I smith alone, I often find myself holding bar stock between my legs. I’m guessing this is probably not best practice, but it can be difficult holding the stock while punching for example. A good cowhide leg apron lasts much longer than a pair of jeans. I like this pair.
Blacksmith Safety Glasses For Forging
The eyes are a valuable and vulnerable part of our body. They are vulnerable to multiple types of energy, but for blacksmithing we are primarily worried about kinetic energy(projectiles) and electromagnetic energy commonly referred to as radiant energy or light energy.
The blacksmithing community as a whole is generally pretty good about recommending safety glasses to protect your eyes from rogue shards of metal, but I think they are a little too lax on the radiant energy front.
Some people believe that you only need glasses/face-shields that block radiant energy if you are forge welding, because, after all, blacksmiths have been forging for millennia without protection from radiant energy…
I think this is stupid. The “builders” of this world get hurt too much as is. Protect your damn eyesight.
If you are just looking for a cheap pair to get started with, I recommend:these glasses
I should stress that this is only sufficient for forging metal by hand (blacksmithing). If you are welding, or using a grinder, you will want something more substantial than this pair.
I’m not a safety expert, nor do I pretend to be one.If you are ever in doubt, feel free to check out OSHA and ASTM resources.
Blacksmith Gloves For Safety And Protection
To glove or not to glove, that is the question! What are the pro’s and con’s of gloves? What are the best blacksmith gloves for beginners? I will answer these questions and more shortly.
Do I need Gloves For Blacksmithing?
There are only a couple of blacksmithing activities that absolutely require gloves. One that comes to my mind is punching a hole in a piece of a stock. Your hand holding the punch will come very close to the heated stock, this makes a glove absolutely necessary. Gloves can also be useful when working with large project pieces, as they can give off an immense amount of radiant heat.
But for a lot of blacksmithing operations, you really don’t need gloves. In fact, they can be a liability for some operations
The Downside of Blacksmith Gloves
I have two major concerns when it comes to blacksmithing gloves:
Some brands are hard to slip off. This means you can get burnt MORE with gloves than without.
Sweat tends to accumulate under your gloves. If this water begins to retain heat, or even worst, turn to steam, it can really ruin your day.
There is a third worry that is not strictly related to blacksmithing, but related to modern metalworking: gloves tend to get caught in machinery. While this may not be an issue for historical reenactors, the vast majority of people forging also use modern machines to make life easier. So it’s important to keep this in mind.
Best Gloves For Blacksmiths
So if gloves are sometimes necessary, but can also be a liability, what kind should you get?
I recommend staying away from gloves made out of synthetic material for the same reasons we avoid synthetic materials in our shirts.
Some people use a rag like they would an oven mitt, but I think that is too clumsy for punch work. The upside for a rag is that for a lot of operations it can provide your hand with some protection while being very easy to drop if a piece of scale gets on it.
Large welding gloves are a good option. They generally provide good heat protection and are designed so that they are easy to slip off if something goes awry. As a downside they generally offer less finger dexterity and can be a bit clumsy.
I would also try and get a pair of gloves that are neither too short nor too long. A too short glove would be one that ends abruptly at your wrists. With gloves this short, it becomes too easy for pieces of scale to fall inside the glove collar. Too long would be a pair of gloves that go all the way up to your elbow. It’s too hard to quickly get these large gloves off.
A good pair if you’re looking to get started is this one.
I have also heard good things about heat resistant Kevlar gloves. I have never used them myself, but I have been meaning to give them a try as several smiths I know swear by them.
Blacksmith Hearing Protection
I have met so many older men who have tinnitus or severe hearing loss. Your hearing is really pretty fragile, and you should take hearing protection seriously.As far as i’m aware, you really have 3 possibilities when it comes to hearing protection:
- Wax or foam that is shoved into the ear canal
- Ear muffs that block out noise
- Ear muffs that electronically cancel out noise above a certain range.
The first option is tempting because these plugs are easy to use and are dirt cheap. They do have a downside though: they tend to cause the ear canal to get gunked up with wax and foreign debris. I have had to have my ears cleaned at the doctors several times because of this phenomenon. It can be even worse for blacksmiths, as our hands are usually covered in grime and this can get shoved into the ear.
Ear muffs that block out noise are a good option that avoid the dirty ear issue, but they have downsides too. It can be difficult to find a pair of ear muffs that fit your head, especially if you have a big noggin like me. They also tend to slide around if you are sweating – which happens a lot in a forging environment. Still, this is the option I went with.
I don’t have much experience with the third option, but it may be worth looking into if you are interested in that sort of thing.
Remember, a 20$ pair of earmuffs is a helluva lot cheaper than 5000$ hearing aid.
Blacksmith Protective Work Clothing Conclusion
All-in-all, clothing yourself for blacksmithing isn’t rocket science. But anytime you start working with extreme heat you do have think about things a little bit. It’s pretty standard shop safety for the most part. Cloth yourself to avoid burns, keep your hair and beard trimmed or tucked away.
It wouldn’t be a true internet article without an ass covering disclaimer: I’m not a safety expert. You are responsible for your own safety. As with all internet articles, you should assume that the author is an incompetent turd flinging chimpanzee.
Stay safe, happy forging!
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