GETTING A GRIP. Bob Schantz says that in order for tongs to give you the firm grip you need in forge work, the jaws should be parallel, gripping the shoe or the piece that you are working on throughout their length.

When Bob Schantz reaches for his tongs, he has certain expectations. First, the jaws of the tongs must be parallel as they grip the work piece. If there is too much room in the front or back of the jaws, then the tongs won’t get the job done correctly. Second, the tongs need to fit comfortably in his hand.

Schantz, the owner of the Spanish Lake Blacksmithing Shop in Foristell, Mo., says it doesn’t take long to get your old set of tongs back to working shape.

Parallel Jaws A Must

When holding a horseshoe or work piece with your tongs, take a look at the position of the jaws. If the jaws are open at the tip and holding the shoe toward the reins, you won’t have a steady grip on the shoe. Take one swing with a hammer on the shoe and it may fly right out of your tongs.

On the flip side, if the tip of the tongs is holding the shoe tightly, but there is a gap in the jaws by the rivet, you won’t have control of the shoe. Swing the hammer again against the shoe and it slides through the tongs, once again making the tongs a useless piece of equipment.

However, when the jaws are parallel and contacting the shoe from front to back, you have complete control of the shoe. This jaw fit allows you to have a secure grasp of the shoe with lighter hand pressure on the reins, which is what you are striving for in your tongs, Schantz says.

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TAPPING TO TIGHTEN. If the jaws of your tongs are not parallel, heat them to a good forging color, then grip a horseshoe in the jaws of the tongs and tap the jaws until they are parallel and evenly contacting the shoe.

To get the jaws parallel, Schantz says you only need to spend a few minutes with the tongs. Heat up the jaws of the tongs to a good forging color. You may need to quench the reins in order to hold them in your hands for the next step. With the jaws still hot, grip a horseshoe with the jaws of the tongs and tap the jaws until they are parallel and evenly contacting the shoe. Once the jaws reach the point where you want them to be, don’t quench them. Instead, let them air cool slowly.

Loosen Up

Sometimes the boss area (where the rivet is) tightens. This makes it more difficult to hold the tongs comfortably in your hand. The tongs become increasingly harder to open to grip your work.

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GETTING LOOSE. If the boss, or rivet area, of your tongs becomes too tight, heat up the rivet in your forge. While that area is red-hot, open and close the tongs repeatedly. This will loosen the rivet.

To loosen the boss area, just heat up the rivet in your forge. While that area is red-hot (again, you may need to cool the reins in order to hold them in your hands), open and close the tongs repeatedly. Do this as many times as you can to loosen the rivet. Once again, don’t quench the area when you’re done. Just let the tongs air cool slowly.

If the rivet area is too loose, hammer it tight. You may do this when the rivet is cold or hot. You cannot make it too tight, since you know that to loosen the rivet you just follow the procedure outlined above.

Tongs that fit the work piece and have a properly fitted rivet allow you to properly and easily hold hot steel while forging it, Schantz concludes.

Michael Austin, a writer who works in St. Louis, Mo., is a former American Farriers Journal associate editor.