The Skills of a Blacksmith: vol 2: Mastering the Fundamentals of Leaf-work

By Mark Aspery – Published 2009

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Skills of a Blacksmith vol 2

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Signed copies can be ordered directly from  Mark Apsery’s website.

Philip’s Ranking: 5
Beginner Blacksmith: 2
Advanced Blacksmith: 5
Inspiration: 2
Historical: 0

Video Review: N/A

This is the definitive source for the foundational knowledge of how to forge leaves and the tools required to forge them. 

Because of it’s focus on leaf-work this excellent book will not be for everyone. If you don’t want to forge leaves I’d recommend skipping this book however leaf-work is an essential skill for blacksmiths and has throughout history been a major decorative element of blacksmithing work.  Leaf-work adds grace and elegance to a piece while also juxtaposing the fragility of plants with the permanence of iron. It’s no wonder that it’s such a reoccurring theme throughout blacksmithing history. 

While it’s certainly possible to be a utilitarian blacksmith and never dive into leaf-work most blacksmiths will at some point want to add decorative leaves, flowers, or rushes to their work.  This book using clear instructions and amazing photography will walk you through forging the basic tools and methods to create your own forged leaves. 

Somewhat oddly the chapters aren’t identified in the table of contents which instead shows pages #s for the subchapter titles in the list below.  These are shown in groups of 5 but are not aligned to the chapters in the book.  A minor though somewhat confusing choice. 

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1 – The Diverging ‘V’ & Spring Fuller Tools
    • The Diverging ‘V’ and Spring Fuller Tools
    • Making Spring Fullers
  • Chapter 2 – The Right Angled Chisel
    • The Right Angle Chisel

This first two chapters covers some pretty basic though important tools. The section on spring fullers has broad applicability even outside leaf-work as spring fullers are very useful in forging isolations in work.  The section on creating a right angle chisel will require knowledge of the chisel making process outlined in Vol 1 of the series. 

  • Chapter 3 – The Crimping Stake
    • The Crimping Stake
    • Scroll Starter
    • Solid Snub End
  • Chapter 4 – Three Repoussé Stakes
    • Leafing (Repoussé) Stakes
  • Chapter 5 – The Leafing Stake
    • Leafing Stake

Chapters three through five are focused on three different types of stakes that are used to provide shape and texture to leaves. Each chapter also focuses on stakes that have a different base.

The chapter on creating a crimping stake shows how to design a tool to put “crimps” or waves in leaves but also provides a base for how to create a large number of tall tools that can fit in the hardy hole which any blacksmith will find useful for tools they will want to create on their own.

The Repousse stakes walks through forging three double ended repoussé stakes with 5 unique ends and a blank end left for the reader to customize as needed.  These stakes are all designed to be held in the vise while being used. This will give the smith a basic set of repoussé tools for items with simple repoussé work but anyone wanting to get seriously into the topic will need dedicated books and a wide variety of additional specialized tools. 

Chapter five covers the creation of an “M” shaped stake with two legs that can be used to provide additional shaping of leaves. 

  • Chapter 6 – The General Purpose Leafing & Modeling Hammers
    • General Purpose Leafing Hammer
    • Modeling Hammer
    • Flat Bolster Plate
    • Hammer Eye Bolster Swage
    • Final Hammer Eye Drift

I think this is the only chapter in the three books that covers Apsery’s method of forging hammers which is a pretty standard punch and drift method.  The layout in the chapter is a bit confusing as the book walks through how to forge all the different shaped hammers and then at the end of the chapter goes back and covers the swage and drift you’ll need to do follow the instructions that came before. A minor issue but something to watch for.

What I appreciate the most in this chapter though is the detail Aspery goes into about how to correctly punch and drift the hammer eye as well as how to fix problems such as an off center hole. I’ve taken several hammer making classes in person and those skills are not normally covered so it’s great to see them in this book.

  • Chapter 7 – The Filing Vice
    • Filing Vice

I haven’t forged one of these personally yet but it’s always on my list of tools that I want. The filing vice is a small vice that can fit into a post vice in order to hold delicate material, such as a leaf, so that it can be safely and accurately filed. It’s a complicated little tool but the book has clear instructions that should be easy to follow.

  • Chapter 8 – The Forged & Formed Rose
    • Forged and Formed Rose
  • Chapter 9 – The Welded Collar (Complex Shaped Top And Bottom Tools)
    • Welded Collar
  • Chapter 10 – Making Top Tools
    • Making a Top Tool
    • Rodding a Tool

Page 100 brings us to the first “leaf” if you want to count the petals of a flower as leaves which, from a biological sense, they are.  It also highlights one of the reasons I don’t normally recommend this as one of the first blacksmithing books someone buys. There is a substantial amount of tooling and work you have to create before you can start forging the leaves this book covers.  In fact, to follow all of the directions in chapter 8 you’ll also have to make the tools outlined in chapters 9 & 10 as well.

In this chapter Aspery walks through creating a multipart rose from raw stock.  The directions are solid though I’d probably recommend getting a rose kit from online rather than cutting all the shapes yourself unless you’ve got a fast way to do it. 

Chapters 9 & 10 go into detail on how to create a the tooling to forge a collar onto a round rod which is used at the base of the rose and tooling on how to create that tool if you need to make large numbers of them. 

  • Chapter 11 – Forging With Pipe
    • Forging Bamboo From Pipe
    • Cattails or Bull Rushes
    • Chili Pepper
  • Chapter 12 – Ginkgo Leaves
    • Ginkgo Leaf
  • Chapter 13 – The Cottonwood Leaf & Branch
    • Cottonwood Leaf and Branch
  • Chapter 14 – Two Types of Water Leaves
    • Waters Leaves
    • Waterleaf style ‘A’ (the inside leaf)
    • Water leaf ‘B’ (the outside leaf)
  • Chapter 15 – Water Leaves Applied
    • Another application of the type “b” Water Leaf
  • Chapter 16 – Jack-In-The-Pulpit & Stylized Calla Lilly
    • Calla Lily and the stylized Jack-in-Pulpit
  • Chapter 17 – Stylized Fern Leaf 
    • Stylized Fern Leaf
  • Chapter 18 – The Acanthus Leaf
    • Acanthus Leaf
    • If you need to produce a pattern from an existing leaf or sketch

Chapters 11-18 are where the book really delivers on it’s promise to teach you how to make leaves. A wide variety of vegetal shapes are covered each in sufficient detail that they can be successfully reproduced using the tools forged in the preceding chapters.  While all of the leaves require some skill to craft if you’ve managed to make the tooling to make the leaves none of these chapters should provide any substantial difficulties.

They are all quality projects and any smith should be happy if they can produce them to the skill that Aspery highlights in his book.  I do want to note though that even after working your way through the entire book there will be a lot to learn and there are many ways that a smith can and should take these fundamentals and apply their own style and needs to the work.

All three books in the series are titled “Fundamentals of” and I think that’s very purposeful. Aspery knows that, as wonderful as the books are, he can only provide a foundation for the reader to build upon. This book is your starting point not your end on creating leaves. 

  • Chapter 19 – The Stylized Bird
    • Stylized Bird
  • Chapter 20 – Split Work
    • Split Work

The penultimate chapters cover creating a bird using the same skills required to create leaves and I really appreciate the inclusion of this project as it serves as inspiration for the reader to think about how the skills and tools in this book can be used beyond just the creation of leaf-work.

The final chapter is a brief primer on split work which is frequently used to create branches or other structures that the leaves will be welded to.  It’s a solid final chapter again pushing the smith to take the work beyond just what was covered in the book.

Final Thoughts: 

This is an excellent book that should eventually be in every smiths library however it’s a book that will take dedication and skill to work through.  For a beginning smith they are likely to find it overwhelming and stick it on the bookshelf till later in their career.  If you’ve started to gain some skills and confidence smithing Aspery provides all the instructions needed to produce some beautiful work.