There are several variations in what blacksmiths call ,“pick up tongs”, but if there is a single characteristic that they all share it is, at least in my experience, that they tend to be “light duty” and light in weight. Pick up tongs are primarily intended to do one specific thing. They are to pick stuff up. Pick your work out of the coal, pull it out of the gas forge, pick it up off the floor when you drop it. That’s pretty much it.
Forging tongs tend to be much heavier in weight. Here is the style I use for 1/2” stock:
They are very strong and very stiff but if you need to pick up a short piece of 3/8” stock from the wood-chip and sawdust floor, they are not the tool of choice. What is, is a light weight, nimble tong that easily adjusts to picking up various sized and shaped hot items from where ever they were left (or dropped).
The importance of dedicated pick up tongs was recently driven home to me in my recent and short lived stint as an instructor in a local artist’s collective. Short lived because I quickly realized that I was too old to spend 8 hours at a stretch in a 114 degree shop. I resigned at the end of my first class. This shop used double ended forced air natural gas forges and the amount of heat they put out each end was astonishing. Because one forge in particular was in serious need of rebuilding (they were in the process putting together it’s replacement), there were numerous strange and difficult to access nooks and crannies for beginner smiths to drop their work into and the shop had nothing suitable for picking their work out of those nooks and crannies with the amount of heat those forges were cranking out. I went home without much hair left on my forearms, as a result. Pick up tongs, with particularly long reins, would have been very much appreciated.
Though I have been smithing for quite a few years now, I tend to avoid making tongs if I can. I am strictly a hand forger (no power hammer) and drawing out reins is an arduous, boring task that I avoid like the plague. The only tongs I have made in the last ten years were from Ken’s Iron quick tong blanks. They are twisted style tong blanks, water jet cut from mild steel plate and are very easy to make up (though I don’t recommend them for heavy work due to some strength limitations inherent in their design). Anyway, to cut to the chase, I teach one young man beginning blacksmithing in private lessons and he recently expressed an interest in learning to make tongs. Not having done so for probably at least 15 years, I thought it best to bone up a bit on the process but the thought of drawing out the size of stock that full strength forging tongs require was a bit daunting. A new set of pick up tongs, suitable for fishing stock out of a really aggressive gas forge seemed like a good compromise. These are the result.
These tongs are twisted type tongs. Information for making twisted tongs is readily available on the web so I won’t bother including the process in this post. These were forged from 1/2” square stock and the finished length is close to 23”, a very good length for pulling stuff in and out of big gas forges. I have started using my own propane forge a little more often lately due to the sort of work I am doing. These will come in very handy. The long length will also be useful for picking stuff off the ground because I won't have to bend over as far using them, good when you have an iffy lower back like I do.