What Does Hand-forged Mean?

I think most of us have a vague idea of what hand-forged means but I thought I’d dive into the topic a bit to shed a little more light on it.

Before I became a blacksmith or had any interest in the trade at all hand-forged just meant expensive. I knew it was an item created by the hand of someone skilled and the cost reflected that.

Now, that’s not wrong but there is more to it.

The Metal

Let’s start at the first stage of hand-forging anything – the materials. Hand-forged items are created from a variety of metals. It could be it steel, stainless steel, bronze, copper, so forth and so on. Almost anything you buy that’s mass produced will be made of an inferior quality metal.

Buying hooks from big box stores is a great example. Most hooks you buy, whether it’s a coat hook or a utility hook, will be made of a thin, hollow metal instead of being solid. This means the hook can’t take stress very well and if overloaded it will crack and snap off. A hand-forged hook by contrast is forged of a solid steel (or whatever metal is being used) and therefore stronger and far more durable than anything store-bought.

Most mass-produced items are thin, sometimes hollow, and lack durability. Something you might expect to be made of steel can in fact be made of aluminum, a much weaker metal. The objective of mass production is to create items that are cheap to buy and easy to find. Using thinner and cheaper metals keeps costs low and profit margins high.

hand-forged small hook rack

When I forge a hook it is forged of solid mild steel. Mild steel is common steel you can find at any of your local steel yards. It’s commonly used for structural fabrication like high rise buildings. Mild steel also used by most welders and metal fabricators for a variety of things, all of which required strength and longevity. Any hook I forge will hold significantly more weight than a store bought equivalent and it will last forever.

I’m not a bladesmith but the same is true of hand-forged knives, axes, and the like. The quality of metal chosen by the bladesmith will be a high quality steel that will hold up under the pressure of its intended job, whether that’s splitting wood with an axe or cutting something with a knife. A bladesmith will also heat treat the items they make to further improve the quality of their items and enhance its durability.

The Quality of Hand-forged

As I said above, mass production is about cost and effecieny. Hand-forged is quite the opposite of that and instead it’s about quality and functionality.

As a blacksmith I’m not turning on a machine and watching it pump out product after product that’s all identical. I’m creating every single item by hand every time I make it. I’m focusing on the quality of what I forge and ensuring it does the job its intended to do and to do it better than anything you buy that’s not hand-forged.

The chosen material I use and my attention to detail is what determines the quality. I want every item I make to last for centuries and that’s my mindset when I start forging an item. I want the fire poker you buy from me to be the last one you ever need to buy.

Yes, you’re going to pay more for my fire poker but it won’t snap on you and it will last your lifetime. Amortize the cost of my fire poker over your life and you can see the value in it. Alternatively you could buy a new fire poker every 4-5 years as the store bought ones wear out.

A hand-forged item will cost you more upfront but saves you money in the long run.

Individuality and Uniqueness

Now we get into the meat of the subject.

Hand-forging is heating up metal and striking it to shape it, bend it, twist it, and form it.

That’s what defines “hand-forged” – that process. Traditionally the metal will be heated in a forge and struck by a hammer on an anvil. Maybe instead of a forge a fire is used. Instead of a hammer a rock is used and in place of an anvil is a scrap piece of steel or maybe a large rock. It’s not the tools that define hand-forged but the process itself.


Because this process is being done by hand that means every single item a blacksmith (or other specialized smiths) forges is distinctly unique – one of a kind. My hammer blows don’t land the same on every item I create. Maybe the metal I cut was a hair longer than the last time I made that particular item. There are a lot of variables in the process of hand-forging; it’s not a controlled environment like a factory.

All this means is that each item is different. I could make 100 of the same grill tongs and each time each one will be a little different. They’ll be consistent but never identical.

Very often the things we blacksmiths forge will show hammer blows. Things may not be 100% smooth because we’re swinging a 2 pound hammer against metal sitting on a 145 pound anvil for example. Hand-forging has that “rustic” look because we leave our items with those “imperfections”.

I don’t see them as imperfections so much as character. I could take everything I forge and sand everything completely smooth to make it a bright shiny metal color but why? If I do that, then it looks like anything you could buy in a store. Better quality for sure but it loses that character you get with hand-forged items; that slightly rough looking black metal.

hand-forged grill tongs

Blacksmiths in today’s time are not the tradespeople they once were. The blacksmith was replaced by manufacturing and is no longer needed. Actually, a farrier (the person who shoes animals) may be the exception to that statement.

The point is that we have become artists in light of no longer being needed. We try and forge items that are not only functional but beautiful to look at. You may not need my grill spatula but you won’t find one that looks like it and lasts as long as the one I forge in any retail store.

Wrapping it Up

The specialness of hand-forging is that every item is one of a kind. Someone is creating something just for you that you won’t get anywhere else. Also, there’s a passion and love for the trade that’s evident in each piece that’s crafted. This is something that manufacturing will never reproduce.

Hopefully I’ve answered the question of what is hand-forging. If this has piqued your interest in blacksmithing any, then check out my article on how to get started blacksmithing. It’s something I never gave a thought to, being a blacksmith, but once I started learning it quickly became a passion of mine.

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