Header image  
line decor
line decor

Some thoughts about the making of proper tongs for use under the powerhammer.


Goose Jaw Tongs Table of jaw sizing


 These  tongs were the industry standard for many years, and with only a slight variation, in the name of simplicity in manufacturing, still are. It’s the artist blacksmiths who have forgotten how to make good tongs.


Goose Jaw Tongs with Square Stock


 This is what I was taught about tongs by Art Jones, who was the former lead smith at Mare Island Naval shipyard. He made them only slightly differently than I do now. I think those were the first step away from the ones in the chart, and over time they’ve undergone a devolution into what you can buy from the many enthusiastic yet uninformed makers. Those tongs just don’t work very well, especially under the powerhammer and here’s why:

 1. The area in front of the rivet must provide a place for the entire end of the stock to rest against, that is perpendicular to the centerline of the stock. If the jaws angle up from the rivet to the bits, and the corners of the stock rest against part of the jaws, as the rearward force from the blows of the hammer jar the stock repeatedly into them, it will pry the jaws open and the tongs will lose their hold, eventually not fitting the stock at all without adjustment.


Goose Jaw Tongs Comparison


2. The reins must taper from the rivet to the tips. There shouldn’t be a knob or out turn on the ends of the reins. This is so that a ring may be driven up onto the reins to secure the work in them. If you’re using the spring in the reins to hold a ring that you squeeze the reins to put on, when you’re at the hammer and you get a little excited or into your work, and give the reins too much grip, the ring will fall off. Also, reins that are light enough to spring together in order to put a ring on probably aren’t going to hold the stock tightly enough, unless it’s very light stock.


Goose Jaw Tongs Comparison


 Art always used a ring on his tongs, but I was taught that first by Toby Hickman, in whose shop I was lead for several years in the late 90s. Toby reminded us that tongs were just a cool handle for hot stock, and we shouldn’t have to think about holding the material in the handle, we should just be able to use it as a handle. The ring solves that problem, as well as avoiding the fatigue and distraction that naturally accompanies having to constantly squeeze the reins.


 The tongs in the chart additionally, with their overlapping reins, provide a handle that is very similar to an extension of the material you’re holding, as if you had a longer bar that would not conduct heat, and you didn’t need tongs at all.

The rivet is placed in the widest part of the square bend, where the center lines of the rein, the jaw, and a diagonal through the bend converge. This provides the maximum amount of material around the rivet, with the lowest likelihood of failure.

Having no space between the reins behind the rivet prevents injuries that could occur if there were a gap where one’s fingers could go and and some mishap ensue.



 They won’t hang on a bar like other tongs because the bar will open the reins and they’ll look clumsy and get in the way. One solution is to weld short pieces of pipe, or rings to the rack to drop the reins into, which is also an organizational aide. There’s no way to put the convenient but hazardous gap in between the reins behind the rivet without putting the rivet in the wrong place, weakening the integrity of the tool.


Goose Jaw Tongs


 Or by not making the square bend, which also makes for a weaker pair of tongs, even though the style may now be more frequently found in industrial shops.


Goose Jaw TongsGoose Jaw Tongs Comparison


 The misplacement of the rivet and elimination of the square bend are among the very first historical steps in the devolution of the making of tongs. It was done because it’s easier and faster to bend the rivet boss around a pin than it is to make a square corner, and in industry, faster is often considered better, even if you wind up with substandard tongs because of the cut corner.

It should also be noted to follow the incremental increase in the overall bulk and length of the tongs as their capacity increases. The forces at play when forging larger stock increase exponentially, and the tongs must be equipped to tolerate it. The added length also provides leverage that is sometimes necessary as well as distancing the smith from the radiant heat of the work.



 The bits in the forging progression pictures that follow, were made by splitting rectangular stock with a chisel and spreading them open. This is a fine way to do it without a press or hammer but it’s also easy to mess them up by cutting off center or allowing the end of the chisel to drift. The bits are sort of the hardest part of the tongs to get right, so should be done early in the process.

I was taught to draw the reins first so you have a handle for the rest of the work, and it’s easy to hold the rectangle or square that will become the bit, it’s not easy to hold a finished bit to draw out the reins, it’s not easy to draw the reins if there’s already some forming done to the jaw end. It’s also easier to form the bits when the stock is still straight, so I draw the reins out, isolate and forge the jaw shape, then do the bits. I’ve been taking a high heat on the bit end, quickly forging it mostly roundish or octagon shaped, then going straight into a V block and either in the press or hammer, driving a right triangle into it.

Forging process:


Goose Jaw Tongs handle measurementsGoose Jaw Tongs Comparison



Goose Jaw Tongs handle measurements



Goose Jaw Tongs jaws



Goose Jaw Tongs jaws inside



Goose Jaw Tongs jaws in process step 1



Goose Jaw Tongs jaws in process step 2



Goose Jaw Tongs jaws in process step 3



Goose Jaw Tongs jaws in process step 4



Goose Jaw Tongs jaws in process step 5



Goose Jaw Tongs jaws in process step 6


  This is press tooling I made to form the bits. Those male and female v blocks affix to the press platens so they're always in line and centered, this makes short order of forging sturdy bits.

Male & female V-blocks


 I’ve also done them in the hammer with the less than 90 V block I made for making the side set, with the least acute angle of the side set as the top tool. The bits on the next pair were made with the side set to the immediate right of them as the top tool and the v block used to make the side set on the bottom, then finished with a piece of square stock in the same v block.

Variety of tongs



End view of tongs


 Some smiths make really nice bits by doing a little pre forging, and I do too on large ones, but don’t really find it necessary for things under about 1 1/4” square, as long as I’m careful to center the v tools and the stock in them.

shaping the tong ends



In process shaping tong jaws



Tong jaws in v block



V block in use



Tong jaw in v block


  Or like this:

end view of jaws right out of the forge



end view of tong jaw. one side



End view of Jaws together


 Make your tongs out of mild steel. There’s no reason to make them out of any alloy or high or even medium carbon steel. These are designed to stand up to abuse, and if you tweak them being rough or by a mistake, you’d heat them up, fix them, quench them, and get back to work. Quench any of those other materials and they’ll harden and fail, some materials will suffer failure due to work hardening. And they always fail at the worst time, dramatically.


 On additional tooling:

Additional tooling


 I forged those forming tools as a demo during a powerhammer class I was teaching, and the students used them to assist in the finishing of their tongs. None of the tongs I’ve shown you were made with a tool like that, but I do have a set of those for doing production tongs and forming the jaws on the press. The pre forging of the jaw shape is different when I’m doing that, so I can squish the jaw from straight to finished in one shot and don’t have to hammer on the thickness much, which would distort the jaw shape.


  I go from something like this,

Two sides of a pair of tongs


To something like this, in one shot 

Stack of tong sides



 But the preform on the jaw looks like this instead of that straight taper

Illustration of jaw preform



tong side preform image


Illustration of Ton Preform process

  And can be made like this:


Illustration of preform tooling

 or this


 But it’s not worth it if you’re just making tongs for yourself because you have to have different jaw shaping tool sets for every different size

Three pairs of tongs. Variety of sizes



 The only special tools required to make these tongs are the most common at the hammer, a side set, and a round back flatter.

Pair of tongs with preform tooling and v-block tooling



 In order to make the side set, you need an acute v block. I start the side set by making the handle and forging the 76-78 degree included rhombus. Let that cool while heating a big chunk. Drive one of the sharp corners of the rhombus into the hot block. Keep an eye on it and make sure you get it in there straight, so it’s not leaning off to one side. There’s your acute v block for making side sets and tong bits. Now quench it and finish the side set in it.

V-Block Tooling



Back Flatter


 The same technique can be used to make the swedge for the round back flatter. Make it with the thing that’s going to be the flatter, then make the flatter in it.



 Use this power only for good. 🙏

Goose Jaw Tongs on Anvil


 January 20, 2023