WELCOME to the anvilfire Guru's Den - V. 3.3

THIS is a forum for questions and answers about blacksmithing and general metalworking. Ask the Guru any reasonable question and he or one of his helpers will answer your question, find someone that can, OR research the question for you.

This is an archive of posts from January 8 - 15, 2008 on the Guru's Den
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I am making a pattern for a swage block. The holes will be made out of various sizes of pipe, triangles out of angle etc. The shapes on the edge will be made similarly. I shall fill in the gaps with a decent cement mix. Then I have found a specialist caster who can use my model to produce a mould to cast the whole thing in sand. My two questions are how much taper should i allow in the holes? Does it have to be a taper? Could I just leave a shoulder? Also how much metal must there be between the holes? The cost of the actual metal is a very small part of the equation so I am happy to use as much as it takes. If it is a success I hope to go on and do some more complicated ones.
   - philip in china - Monday, 01/07/08 23:34:04 EST

Can't tell you how delighted I am to hear of another vise nut in the area. I have scads of mechinist vises that people gave me that survived the big Cerro Grande fire in 2000... but did they? High heat embrittles cast iron. We shall see. Then there is the old Chas. Parker with the missing screw. Gonna bodge up a new one out of Acme for that, and weld an Acme nut into a new hoodgie to catch it. Then there is the humongous old Chas. Parker with severe orthodonture problems gotta be brazed, they do, and that is needing a new swivel base.... So many vises, so little time!! Jaw alignment! What are you doing with these vises, anyway-- collimating lasers?
   Miles Undercut - Tuesday, 01/08/08 00:05:35 EST

Nabiul Hague: To make the 20 Mule Team borax into anhydrous simple put some in a teflon-coating cake pan and heat at about 300F until it turns hard. Leave oven door a bit ajar as you are drawing off the moisture. Bust into pieces then crush back into powder. Repeat cycle until it no longer cakes. Keep in an air-tight container and you may need to redo the oven process every so often.
   Ken Scharabok - Tuesday, 01/08/08 05:54:29 EST

Do this when the good lady is not at home.
   - philip in china - Tuesday, 01/08/08 06:49:51 EST

There is no lady considering that I'm only 18. ;) But my mom would probably be in an uproar.
   Nabiul Haque - Tuesday, 01/08/08 07:32:09 EST

Vise Jaw Alignment: On blacksmith leg vises there is only one point at which the jaws are parallel up and down due to the arc they move through. This point varies depending on the size of the vise. The larger the vise, you assume larger average work and a greater opening at the optimum point. For most work this is between 1/2 and 3/4". If you know the majority of your work will be in a specific size you adjust parallelness at that point.

Most leg vise adjustments should be made in the arm section rater than at the joint. These are the areas that tend to bend in most of these vices. However, some are abused such that the jaws them selves are bent. Bending this center section can be done easily in a press or another large vise. A heavy duty bending wrench or hicky will also work.

Right to left alignment is usually a loose hinge joint. Check for side to side motion. There should be no more than an 1/8" and 1/16" or less is common in a good vice. This needs to be tightened before adjusting right to left. Note that if the joint is loose due to wear the surfaces will be curved and will not tighten without resulting in a sticky or imovable joint. These can be tightened cold if there is simple looseness and may require the whole joint being worked at a high heat if worn curved.

The bodies of these vices are soft wrought iron or mild steel and usually can be straightened cold unless severely bent.

Replacement screws and nut should be made by modern methods. Chasing a thread results in a much better result than fabricating one.
   - guru - Tuesday, 01/08/08 10:17:43 EST

I had a large postvise that was mis-aligned vertically.

If I had a triphammer I would have probably heated the moving leg and drawn it out a tich so that it would like up.

Instead I removed the leg and plugged the hole in it, (hot shrunk and peened a plug, then surfaced it again) and re-drilled it so it was properly aligned.

Not too difficult and as the repair is totally hidden by the side plates it looks good as well. Did that close to 8-10 years ago I reckon.

   Thomas P - Tuesday, 01/08/08 10:40:33 EST

Foundry Patterns: Phillip, These are first made of wood or plastic unless you have the capacity to machine from the solid creating the draft as you go. In general practice metal patterns are made by first making a wood pattern, casting a metal part (often aluminium) then finishing it to the required finish. Since most metal patterns are "boarded" on a match plate (also often aluminium) machining flat and drilling and taping holes for the assembly is part of the process.

Draft varies depending on the process but for iron casting is generally 3/16" per foot and no less than 1/8" per foot is used. You want no more draft than necessary on swage blocks as too much can make the features useless. It is possible to make multi-piece molds that require no draft on the sides but this must be done in accordance to the specific foundry's methods and adds some cost to each casting.

Holes are NOT made in the pattern unless the pattern is thin and the holes of gross shape. Holes are made using cores (separate pieces of sand) that usually have no draft when of simple shape such as cylinders and rectangles. Cores are positioned by "core prints". These are extensions of the pattern.

See iForge demos number 98 and 99 on mold and pattern making.

I also recommend that you find one of the C.W. Ammen books on pattern making and any other available resources on casting.

A good way to start this process is with plaster molds and making plaster or plastic castings. These techniques are used in pattern making so there is no misdirection of education. Use a soap and watter slurry as a parting agent for plaster of Paris.
   - guru - Tuesday, 01/08/08 10:48:11 EST

Swage Block Pattern Design: Phillip, Good block design is high art. Read all my articles on Swageblocks.com and all the comments on the various blocks.

The art is to make a strong indestructible block with nearly uniform thickness throughout with the most useful features and an attractive style overall. It IS art. I have been designing blocks for over 40 years and have not come up with the perfect block. I HAVE come up with some very fine designs only a few of which I have released. Over time I will release more.

Equal thickness throughout the pattern results in a good pouring and low stress casting. If you could make every section between 1" or more depending on the size of the pattern it would be perfect in this respect. However, when you mix different size and shaped holes it is a difficult puzzle to work out and it will never be perfect. But there IS an optimum.

While this sounds like a rectangular grid would be the perfect shape it is not. Having four bars run together into a joint is bad casting practice as it creates a high stress high shrinkage area. A grid with an offset lattice is much stronger (in castings) as it reduces shrink stresses.

Depending on the use of the block you MAY want fairly thick sections between the holes and sides to allow for upsetting and forging heads. This is the difference in a light block and a heavy block. If you intend to do heavy team striking or cast the block from low grade iron then you want a heavy block. If the block is being cast in ductile iron or steel a light pattern will do in almost every case.

Block corners are a matter of concern and the area supporting them should be slightly thicker than the rest of the design spacing. It is common to see a small piece sticking out as a corner. These break off and are thus bad design. Getting the most use of the block without creating weak corners is also a puzzle to work out.

THEN, in the end the features on a custom block should be what YOU want them to be. Most custom blocks do not have holes due to the need for cores. Often (round) holes are drilled rather than cast. Whole blocks can be machined from solid. . .

Commercial blocks need to squeeze as many features as possible into a pattern due to not knowing exactly what the smith will want. It is a guessing game and a matter of efficeincy. Custom blocks only need what the user wants. Yes it is more efficient to use all the block, but it is far more economical use of time to make a simple pattern. A nice useful custom pattern can be made in less time than it has taken me to write these posts this morning.
   - guru - Tuesday, 01/08/08 11:20:26 EST

More on Cores: IF (really huge IF, you can find a top notch custom foundry they will stock extruded round and square core material in many sizes. This is the ideal situation for making swage blocks as you do not need a dozen or so core boxes. Extruded core material is formed like other extruded products then dried and baked. All that is needed is to cut to length and place in the mold which has core prints to match.

While this is ideal, I have asked many foundries about this and they did not have a clue.
   - guru - Tuesday, 01/08/08 11:32:27 EST

More on Cores: IF (really huge IF, you can find a top notch custom foundry they will stock extruded round and square core material in many sizes. This is the ideal situation for making swage blocks as you do not need a dozen or so core boxes. Extruded core material is formed like other extruded products then dried and baked. All that is needed is to cut to length and place in the mold which has core prints to match.

While this is ideal, I have asked many foundries about this and they did not have a clue.
   - guru - Tuesday, 01/08/08 11:32:31 EST

More Clulessness: 30 years ago I recommended to a foundry that they use a Styrofoam pattern for a simple but large cast shape we needed. It was a mystery to them. 15 years later the same foundry would not deal with anything other than Styrofoam for large heavy castings. . . Times change and many places are often behind the curve.

Styrofoam Patterns should be the answer to custom swage block making. Carve the shape, no draft or cores required and cast it. The down side is the original is lost and the surfaces are relatively rough. The up side is low cost, ease to carve and every casting can be different. Find a foundry that will work with you on this and you could be the swage block king. . .
   - guru - Tuesday, 01/08/08 11:41:54 EST

More on that. . . Note that foundries that are not used to the compact mass of a swage block can produce MISERABLE results. Large castings need large risers (almost as much iron in them as the part) in many cases. I would NOT take an investment (Styrofoam) pattern to a foundry that had a lot of work in it unless they had shown they could cast a similar mass item OR that you can provide the correct risers for. This is a learning process that can be expensive and painful.
   - guru - Tuesday, 01/08/08 11:54:49 EST

vise: well the screw is in bad shape and the box even worse so its Acme time. I have a 3" Acme nut. I really think this will be plenty as far as thread engagement goes. The wear on the old screw showed that only a couple of inches worth of teeth bore the load. I would guess that a modern acme screw is better machined, of tougher material (re PTrees comment) and will see comparatively light use in my shop. If it does eventually strip, replacement is easy. We'll see :)

Miles: this is a really heavy well made 5" vise with very clean jaws. I am attaching it to my metal work table where it will become my main vise (table weighs about 1000#)- the little 4" Iron City now sits on a 1" plate in the forge/anvil area. With these two working I can take down my 6" vise and start refurbishing the jaws. The vise is very very solid but the jaws have been abused - mostly ground a away on one side
   adam - Tuesday, 01/08/08 16:55:12 EST

Hello again. I have an old Peter Wright leg vise that had bent legs. I put it in my press and carefully staightened the legs. Everything looks good now, except for two hairline cracks down each leg. I failed to notice this until I was almost finished with the last one, bummer. Anyhow I am wondering if I can weld this with AC/DC stick welder and if so what rod would you suggest. If you would like to see the before photos go to flickr and search "post vise". The vise is on the first page, by Winston-W Smith. Thanks again.
   Jason Mecum - Tuesday, 01/08/08 18:01:26 EST


If they're only hairline cracks, leave them alone. They're not going to materially affect the strangth of the vise, unless you habitually overwork the vise. I've never had good luck with the stick welder and wrought iron. I prefer either the O/A or the TIG torch, myself.
   vicopper - Tuesday, 01/08/08 18:50:44 EST

Jason the rule is to never work wrought iron cold unless it is the highest grades. The silicate inclusions do not bend.

OTOH you could probably forge weld them shut if you are a good forge welder.

Remember that Wrought Iron likes more heat for pretty much every process than mild steel does.

   Thomas P - Tuesday, 01/08/08 19:16:27 EST

adam-- the full resources of Entropy Research stand ready should you need help in this admirable rescue!
   Miles Undercut - Tuesday, 01/08/08 22:09:34 EST

Thanks for all the input on the swage block pattern idea. If I can get a good pattern made I might copy it in something light like resin and then take it to europe with me and get some produced there for the other forge. Regarding that again thanks for all the help on anvil selection. I am just not sure between the UK Vaughans or a Euroanvil. I have asked if I get a warranty with the euro and am awaiting a reply on that.
   - philip in china - Tuesday, 01/08/08 23:32:57 EST

Hairline cracks in W.I. This is common in the long direction of wrought iron and can usually be ignored. If they are crosswise to the length they should be welded up. If they are between parts and pieces they may be just evidence of welds that are open on the surface and not a problem. I prefer using gas to weld WI.

I've had no problem straightening slightly bent wrought iron items. However, if there are kinks then heat should be used. I have also found that some WI vice handles are far too soft and bend under normal use (not abuse). I have at least one that I am going to replace with mild steel.

As with many things in the shop lack of lubrication is hard on a vise. Be sure to lubricate the threads, thrust washers and pivot.
   - guru - Wednesday, 01/09/08 10:34:26 EST

Greetings all,

Been a long time since my last post. Hoping that someone can point me in the right direction. I've built myself a nice little forge outta a brake drum, now I just need to find some coal. Does anyone know of any coal suppliers in the Northern Arizona area ? Specifically anyone that would ship ? Been looking around the internet, but coming up with dead numbers and such.

Any help would be greatly appreciated...


   bruno - Wednesday, 01/09/08 16:15:01 EST

Bruno, National King Mine is a few miles west of Durango, Colorado, near Hesperus, and they have a coking grade coal. Ph 970-385-4528. They will load you up if you drive over there. I would get the "Mine Run" small size, which is very reasonable. Pieh Tool Co. in Camp Verde, AZ, might carry coal.
   Frank Turley - Wednesday, 01/09/08 16:30:16 EST

Pattern materials Again: Wood patterns have been the standard for centuries and still work well. There is ONE thing you must be aware of. When a loose pattern is used it must be pulled from the sand. To do this the foundry forcibly jambs a bar with a large bolt welded to the end into the middle of the pattern, strikes it with a "rapper" and then pulls it out of the sand. This is done every time the pattern is used and results in a big ugly hole in your pattern. To avoid this a threaded rapping plate is embedded into to pattern. The small defect this creates in the mold is cleaned up by the foundry.

When making a loose resin or metal pattern this is absolutely necessary. Again, you should communicate with your foundry on this matters.

It is also helpful to leave a blank space in the center of your design on the top of the pattern for this purpose.

Boarded or match plate patterns avoid this altogether.

   - guru - Thursday, 01/10/08 09:07:54 EST

Slow responses. . . I've been away from my home base and the local connection is miserable. . expect the same for about a month. Sure will be glad to get home.
   - guru - Thursday, 01/10/08 09:13:20 EST

hello to everyone here,

i have been giving the oportunity to do a blacksmithing demenstration for a troop of boyscouts and girlscouts. they have given me an unheard of amount of time (4 hours) i am a fairly proficiant blacksmith and bladesmith. unfortuanatly i have been told that i can do no forgewelding.
my question is...does anyone have any idea or some larger projects that may take a bit more time than jsut the normal demo pieces ("J" hooks "S" hooks animal heads nails) i'm looknig for something that takes a bit longer...but no more than maybe 3 hours
thank you
yes...i am a female smith!!

   - jasmine - Thursday, 01/10/08 10:52:04 EST

I have an old Champion No.400 hand cranked blower. Could anyone tell me what grade of oil is best for the gearbox?
   Gareth - Thursday, 01/10/08 14:54:58 EST

How about making a bunch of things they can actually *use*.
Cooking tripod, roasting forks, big S hooks for the tripod; etc.

How about demonstrating projects that are suitable for the blacksmithing merit badge?

Also if it's a single group, a branding iron with their troop number---I did a cubscout camporee demo once and what they liked best was me taking some heavy, (1/4") rod stock and branding their number on a piece of scrap wood for them to keep---we had a bunch of groups come through that day and so stayed busy.

   Thomas P - Thursday, 01/10/08 15:25:59 EST

Gareth, I use ATF in all my blowers and have good luck, even down to 20F. ATF is available cheap and easy, and has a very good anti-wear package
   ptree - Thursday, 01/10/08 18:45:02 EST

I bought an old blacksmith shop and this shear came with it. He thinks part of it is missing on the righthand side. Something that would push those big gear teeth. If he could find a picture of a whole one he thinks he can manufacture the missing part(s). The shear has no markings. Have you seen one like this? Any suggestions where we might find a picture or diagram? Any help would be appreciated.

Mark Whitman
Attached Images 12-29-07_1459.jpg (52.5 KB, 236 views)
12-29-07_1503.jpg (55.6 KB, 174 views)
   Mark Whitman - Thursday, 01/10/08 20:20:34 EST

Any opionion out there on which is a better rounding (turning) hammer, The cliff carol champion or the Jim Blurton rounding hammer either in the 2 lb weight. Anybody use either? Also has anybody used the picard 3.3ib german cross pein hammer? Thanks Tim
   - Tim - Thursday, 01/10/08 21:00:29 EST

Mark W: The missing part is a mating set of teeth with a pivot hole and a socket for a long lever. The toothed sections are like a small section of a gear, this combined with the long lever gives the force needed to shear the stock. This part could be readily made.
   - Dave Boyer - Thursday, 01/10/08 21:18:53 EST

I am sure that you are familiar with the famous horseshoe beam that is supposedly from the World Trade Center. http://thewebfairy.com/911/h-effect/image/horseshoe_r1_c2.jpg
My first question is, do you know if this beam actually is from the Trade Center? My second question is: What is your best guess as to how this beam got bent like this? I have read much on the web, and almost everything I have read seems to be written by people who don't know the difference between temperature and heat. Obviously a match can raise the temperature of the point of a pin to white hot, while that same match will produce no noticeable change in the temperature of a cast iron frying pan. I would not call myself a blacksmith, although I did take a six-week, five-days-a-week, 6-hours-a-day course in blacksmithing from Harvey Brotman who taught in Lebanon, New Hampshire many years ago.
So, I know that it would take a tremendous amount of heat to raise the temperature of a beam that massive to the point that it could be bent into a smooth horseshoe. And I also know that that heat would have to be distributed throughout the entire length of the curve. It seems to me that to raise the temperature of that beam to a sufficient temperature to bend it into a horseshoe would require a tremendous amount of heat, localized to the beam, and sustained locally to the beam for I don't know how long - but it would seem to me that it would take quite a while as the beam is reported to weigh 8 tons. It also seems to me that the fuel source would have to be continuously replenished as it consumed itself. What are your thoughts on this?
   Selwyn Silberblatt - Friday, 01/11/08 00:07:55 EST

I have been looking how to make a holdfast, none of the books I have say anything about them. So I figured who better to ask than the Guru. I know its a simple concept, but I would rather get it done right once that waste my steel trying to figure it out myself. Thank you for your time.
   Trevor Alderfer - Friday, 01/11/08 00:16:55 EST

Trevor- The Backyard blacksmith is a great book for a hold fast project. That is if you are looking for the type you jam in your pritchel hole.
   - Tim - Friday, 01/11/08 01:50:50 EST

Thanks, Thomas P. It took me a couple of minutes to work out what ATF was, as we have real gearboxes on cars over here.
   Gareth - Friday, 01/11/08 03:08:09 EST

I have to do some welding tomorrow. It can only be done by welding overhead and I am a bit worried about that. I have a stick welder. Can anybody give me some advice. (Don't do it I have already heard).
   - philip in china - Friday, 01/11/08 06:52:36 EST

Does anybody know how hard the face of a Euroanvil is? I was thinking particularly about the big ones which, I suppose, should be the softer ones.
   - philip in china - Friday, 01/11/08 06:55:18 EST

Philip in China: For overhead welding ,set the amps slightly lower than normal,and keep the weld small with a short arc. If you're welding a corner then burn the rod into the top side holding it at around 60'angle.A slight circular weave helps.
   Gareth - Friday, 01/11/08 08:02:05 EST

Holdfast: I made mine out mild steel. I took a piece of round bar, shouldered it and drew a flat strip from the shoulder. Then I forged the shoulder into a right angle (dont get the shoulder too thin because you need material for the upset). Last I put a double curve in the strip.

Tim, hammers: This is like Chevy vs Ford. First rate work gets done with all those hammers. I think the best thing is to stick with one style of hammer and learn to use it really well. Any decently made hammer will do a good job. The main difference between a $30 hammer and a $130 hammer is $100. But smiths get seriously wierd about their hammers and will often spend the money to buy a pretty hammer with a name on it. I have the German hammer and I find it clumsy. I have a Vaughn rounding hammer which I like now that I reground the faces. But I use a Hofi style hammer and Hofi's hammering technique.

There is a fair amount of technique to using the hammer effectively and safely. There is a real risk of repetitive motion injury from hammering if its not done right. Too many smiths just make it up as they go along and end up with arm problems that wont go away. I recently saw an ad on one of the forums where someone is selling his whole shop due to a persistent arm injury. You might consider getting Hofi's DVD and learning his "system". Not that its the only good technique but its the only one that's available as an instructional video.
   adam - Friday, 01/11/08 09:03:04 EST

Selwyn- There is a similar photo in the Forest Service textbook on timber bridges and trusses. It shows a failed H beam draped over a charred but still somewhat intact wood timber. My understanding of why this happens is as follows. Part of what gives structural steel its strength is the stress imparted into the steel during the rolling part of the manufacturing process. This stress stays in the steel as long as the temperature of the steel stays below a critical point. If it does not then the structure of the steel goes thru what metallurgists (and blacksmiths) call a phase change; the steel molecules realign themselves and all that stress related strength goes away very suddenly and the steel turns into a wet noodle. The critical temp. is lower than you may think, I don't remember it off the top of my head but it's way lower than the nice yellow forging temperature you may be thinking of. If the structural steel is loaded when this happens the results can be even more dramatic. A fireman once told me that they don't go into steel framed buildings after they have been burning for a certain length of time because the structural integrity could be compromised even if the fire is under control.
   Jud Yaggy - Friday, 01/11/08 09:25:24 EST

Bent Steel Beams: In the case of items from the World Trade Center the collapsing forces were so great that that there was almost nothing that could withstand the forces, HOT or COLD. Structural steel is very ductile, it can be bent. There was only a very minor part of the debris that was in the hot zone. In the hot zone there were monstrous fabricated beams heavier than anything you will see short of this kind of structure and they gave way as well.

Steel rapidly looses strength from heating and it can be measured at just a few hundred degrees above room temperature. Just above the blue brittle range I think it has less than 50% of its tensile strength. Oddly, the same goes for sub freezing temperatures.. . in this case the steel becomes brittle.

As to the condition after a fire the problem is loss of straightness, cracks and brittleness from the water rather than loss of temper. Many beams once bent out of true are much weaker than when straight. A semi-collapsed structure will have cracks at joints, failed bolts. . .
   - guru - Friday, 01/11/08 10:07:36 EST

Scout Demo: Four hours goes by pretty quick if you have a list of things to do AND explain what you are doing, what tools you use and take questions. You would be surprised at how many kids today have not held a hammer much less used one. . . lots to teach, even to Boy Scouts.
   - guru - Friday, 01/11/08 10:10:54 EST

Well I for one am not insulted by being confused with Ptree; though I do wonder about his taste in hats!

Thomas Powers
   Thomas P - Friday, 01/11/08 11:01:51 EST

Philip in china- For welding over head you can try flipping the tip of the electrode breifly out of the weld pool. This will chill the pool slighty and help prevent it rolling off. As well be sure to set your heat low as burn throught can be easy welding over head. As far as technique goes welding overhead is almost identical to welding flat just keep youstringer beads small. I also find it easier to bend at the knees and "raise" with my knees rather than just pushing up with my arms on the stinger. Another trick. Look at your welding hood. It should have a fitting at the ear locks that allow you to adjust the angle of the hood when it is down.(most hoods when down will point slightly down this allows you to adjust the angle up so you are not craning your neck so much....wear a hat!
   - Tim - Friday, 01/11/08 11:59:41 EST

Adam- Thanks I have tried the czech pattern and did not like the feel. I feel I have good hammering technique I just hate to buy a hammer and find it to have a soft face. I do like the pretty ones thought.
   - Tim - Friday, 01/11/08 12:06:09 EST

Philip in China- Just to add about the flip. You don't want to break the arc. This is an older technique and is more suitable for use with E6010/6011 rods. This is not a recomended technique for use with E7018 rod because of the heavy globular transfer across the arc associated with this rod. You can also try running your machine on AC using an E6011 rod.
   - Tim - Friday, 01/11/08 12:54:52 EST

IM in the process of making me a gas forge I was going to make the door out of 3/8 steel plate do you think that will be thick enough
   Jeremiah Hull - Friday, 01/11/08 18:16:43 EST


I wonder where is Harvey Brotman?? He took my class before he ran his classes. I saw him many years ago when he was resident smith/curator at Cooperstown Museum, New York. He told me that he was color blind, but that he could figure the forge heats by setting his "mental alarm" and by how the metal felt under the hammer blows. Whoa!!


I'm not too hip on the Blurton and Carol hammers, but I've got a couple of beautiful, old Heller Brothers rounding hammers from eBay. You need to be patient. The older, more aesthetic pattern had elongated, concave cheeks, a wonderful look, and is a nice hammer. The later Hellers had round, flat cheeks, and although nice, not as nice as the old pattern. The lengthy cheeks gave a longer gripping surface to the haft.

   Frank Turley - Friday, 01/11/08 18:29:37 EST

The rounding hammer I'm talking about is 120208638626.
   Frank Turley - Friday, 01/11/08 18:38:06 EST

Philip in China-- set up a piece of scrap plate to simulate the task you will face and run some practice beads before you attack the workpiece. Run enough that you feel relaxed about it and the welds start looking good. Athletes practice, dancers rehearse, surgeons make their first incisions on cadavers, etc.-- you can save yourself an awful lot of grinding-out and re-dos by following their example. Wear a leather jacket with the collar buttoned.
   Miles Undercut - Friday, 01/11/08 20:14:55 EST

Frank - If my memory serves me correctly, another one of Harvey's students told me many years ago that Harvey suffered some sort of disease that affected his hands and that he had to give up smithing. I cannot verify this. Harvey was a great teacher.
   Selwyn Silberblatt - Friday, 01/11/08 20:51:19 EST

Jeremiah H: You need something that will hold an insulating material for the forge door. You don't need particularly thick material, but You do need insulation of some sort. What are You insulating the restof the forge with? Build a door that incorporates some of that.
   - Dave Boyer - Friday, 01/11/08 21:25:18 EST

Philip in China-- Also, always try to give yourself some sort of steady rest for your elbow or your hand-- in this case a step ladder if the welding is up high, a sawhorse or a box or something to brace against. Welding out of position is hard enough anywhere without trying to do it overhead totally freehand.
   Miles Undercut - Saturday, 01/12/08 00:22:17 EST

Thanks for all the advice. It was a great help. The job went better than I ever could have hoped and without a single burn or other accident.
   - philip in china - Saturday, 01/12/08 03:18:23 EST

I did a switchboard.com search on Harvey Brotman. One in Lyme, NH and one in Baltimore, MD.
   Ken Scharabok (Poor Boy Blacksmith Tools) - Saturday, 01/12/08 04:03:53 EST

ThomasP, I am not insulted that someone mistook me for you. We both tend to strange hats. Mine I think might be a touch more mechanically creative, but indeed both of us do tend to a strange hat.
I also am a pretty good scrounger, not up to your standard, but close:)
I do draw the line at lederhosen and an aloha shirt.
And Vicopper is still envious of my extremly wonderfull forgeing shoes, know to one and all as the most desirable footwear know to man.
   ptree - Saturday, 01/12/08 09:17:48 EST

Forge Door: Selwyn, Enclosed furnaces of all types generally have shells and doors made of refractory (brick, blanket, block, cast) supported or reinforced by steel frameworks or exterior metal shells. The only exception is the little ports on NC-Tool forges and these are recessed away from the interior but they still burn up. The actual doors on NC's are metal shells with kaowool blanket fill.

A common DIY door is a couple half thick bricks in an angle iron track. They are slid sideways to open using a poker and back the same way. The best forge doors open vertically on parallel arms. These are usually heavy steel framed refractory and the mechanism is counterweighted to let the door move easily. The advantage of the vertical movement is that when the door is cracked open for long work it is at the bottom and less heat escapes. This heats the steel which is lying on the floor better. The disadvantage of these doors is that there is as much work in building them as in the rest of the forge. However it makes a superior door. You get what you put into these things.

Your bare steel door will work for a while but is will get very hot and radiate so much heat that it will be uncomfortable to be near. It will also scale and warp being a mess in a short time. Forges are better off with no door than one of this type.
   - guru - Saturday, 01/12/08 09:36:52 EST

I bought a reliner kit to start and was going to fab up my forge around it. it didn't come with anything to put on the door i geuss I'll try to find some Kwool and build the door out of angle ive been pipe welding and fab welding for years smithing is something i enjoy thank for the advice...
   Jeremiah Hull - Saturday, 01/12/08 12:03:31 EST

Selwyn: I suggest making your rear door opening the size of a standard firebrick (soft type) plus maybe 1/16" in two directions. A standard firebrick can yield four door stoppers, which can be inserted to the depth of the inside insulationn. Does require a shelf.

That's what I use on my day-to-day forge. On the front I have a shelf also. I made a blocker for it out of angle iron with 1" of insulating wool on the inside. Raised on 3/4" x 3/4" x 2" blocks. Never gets put flush against the opening. Purpose is to deflect dragon's breath while still allowing me to slip in small stock under it.
   Ken Scharabok (Poor Boy Blacksmith Tools) - Saturday, 01/12/08 15:30:31 EST

A couple things, first Selwyn didn't ask about forge doors... Jerimiah Hull did. And my second comment has nothing to do with smithing, I'm just getting info, next week I am going to Turkey to do my act for a TV show. Any travel tips from people who may have been through Istanbul? This coming from someone raised on "Midnight Express"
   - Nippulini - Saturday, 01/12/08 20:38:04 EST

What is the best way to clay a forge and what kind of clay do you want to use so it with stands the heat?
   - troy - Saturday, 01/12/08 23:34:52 EST

Reforging hammers. I have a 3 lb double faced engineer's style hammer that I am thinking of forging into a hot cut chisel. I figure other than alot of muscle a good bit of grinding and temping to about 500 degrees. I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on this project.
   Tim - Saturday, 01/12/08 23:54:46 EST

Nippulini- 1st don't try smuggling. but you might look for a travelers picture book. This is basically a book filled with universal pictures and symbols for everything from red cross stations to busses. For directions they include pictures of compasses needles, blocks, roads, etc. If you do not have any fluency in turkish, pictures and a good amount of gesturing can go a long way. I also always try to learn how to say Please, Thank You, How do you say ----?, Help, Don't shoot. Good luck.
   Tim - Sunday, 01/13/08 00:00:30 EST

http://www.amazon.com/Universal-Phrase-Book-Dictionary-International/ http://www.amazon.com/Wordless-Travel-Book-Pictures-Communicate/dp/0898158095/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_b
here is a link to amazon with a type of book I am talking about
   Tim - Sunday, 01/13/08 00:04:15 EST


Turkey is a nice place that's just as easy to get around in as anywhere else in europe. Just remember that if there is a bathroom attendant with a tip tray at a public restroom to toss some coins in the tray. Otherwise common courtesy, respect, and don't be fresh with their women will get you along nicely.
   Robert Cutting - Sunday, 01/13/08 02:01:27 EST

I want to build an air- hammer on my stripped down frame of what was a 100 lb mechanical hammer. It was a "Common Sense" and I just gave up on it. And so with two 1" plates, it will be ready to have a cylinder mounted on it and the plumbing. The head weighs around 125 lbs, everything is massive.I've put a tremendous amount of time and money into rebuilding, reengineering the original hammer and as much as I hated to tear it apart, ultimately I think it was a good move. So I have a frame, the means to attach the dies, the head and ways. I am reasonably sure that I want to build an air hammer and am hoping that I can do it for under 1K. Am I dreaming? Furthermore, I can't afford to make any more mistakes and I need to feel sure about what it is that I am going to build.It has to work. I guess blueprints would be the way to go. I don't want to guess at anything or experiment. I just want a hammer that works, where I have control. It doesn't have to be a Nazel or Ang Yang. As for what I have on hand, the weak link is the ways or gibs. They're massive and adjustable.Though inspite of having been machined they still galled up soon after having been run a little.I am not sure if this a problem or not. I don't have the expertise or time to figure all this out so I either need a good blueprint or someone to help me figure out and spec all this stuff. I can drill the holes, tap, weld and do pipe wrenches etc. but again, I need to know exactly where I am going otherwise I am going to wind up in the same place as I did with the original hammer. This frame is mounted on beams, bolted to the concrete and is waiting for the ram and plumbing/ valving. Any input would be greatly appreciated, I need a hammer to do some jobs so I would like to get on this asap. Worst case scenario is that I sell the hammer in a box ( a big one), as is, to someone who wants a challenge and likes to tinker. I don't do enough blacksmithing to warrant buying a new hammer, though I guess I would be tempted if I had the money.Ilive in Sonoma county (Petaluma) just north of San Francisco. Anybody got some ideas? Thank you and don't pick it up with your hands if it's hot. Edgar My phone is 707 763-9417 edgarharis@sbcglobal.net Keep on hammering!
   Edgar Haris - Sunday, 01/13/08 02:25:46 EST


This is something I've only wished I've done (and I've never been to Turkey), but if you have time, you could try to learn to "read" Turkish. I don't mean actually learn the language, of course, but in a week you should be able to learn the basic pronunciation rules. I doubt you'll have trouble finding folks who speak English. But finding ones who say place names the way we would might be a challenge (grin).
   Mike BR - Sunday, 01/13/08 09:51:26 EST

Yesterday I was working on a pair (first pair) of tongs, and everything was going good until I got to punching the hole. For some reason the punch kind of mushroomed (mores puffed out) on the end. I then reshaped the punch, hardened it and tempered it to a blue (which may have been too soft) and the same thing happened. My question is, was it something I did, or was the metal not hard enough? Also, I was wondering if there was some easy way to keep a drift from getting stuck (this is one that doesn't taper)
   - Hollon - Sunday, 01/13/08 10:17:43 EST

Hollon, When a punch is mushrooming, often the cause is not cooling enough. Normally one hits a couple of licks, pulls the punch and cools the tip. A bit of lube helps here as well. One punches from the first side till a black shape on the opposite side shows the thined location of the othersides punched hole. The the punch is laid over the dark spot and driven thru knocking out a thin slug. This last is done over a hole such as the pritchel hole or a bolster.
I don't other to heat treat punches as they get so hot in use that it draws the treatment anyway, unless useing a hot work tool steel.
To help keep a drift from sticking, again lube. Many use graphite, or coal dust, some antisieze. I reccomend a factory made forge lube if doing much of this work.
Punch lubes are available from a number of sources.
I prefer a punch lube that is diluted with water as it both cools and lubricates. A good industrial lube will make a world of difference, but it still comes down to cooling that punch enough, and not driving it into the cooled metal under the punch once thin enough to mushroom the punch.
   ptree - Sunday, 01/13/08 11:38:58 EST

I guess this is an example of me not knowing how to use my tools then. Thanks for the information.

One last question, If I were to make my own punches, should I use a tool steel, or would mild steel work just as good?
   - Hollon - Sunday, 01/13/08 13:19:40 EST

Guru- How do you get started in your own business? Rather, are there special considerations overall to blacksmithing that might be different from other businesses? Permits, environmental impact (we have tough laws in Washington State), insurance, bonding, Etc. How did you advertise? It would be great to hear some stories from some people who took that step, stopped working for someone else, and started working for themselves. What was it like when you received your first order, commission, etc? How did you get it?
I know this is more of a technical forum but I am sure many of you have taken that first step. Sincerely-Tim
   Tim - Sunday, 01/13/08 13:39:36 EST

Hollon, there are a number of fine hot work tool steels. For a nice easy to find, easy to work with punch material to get started, try an automobile coil spring. These can be forged to shape and used as forged with good success.
I like to cut the spring down the lenght, giving a number of "C"s. I then straighten them out and forge the gentle taper that a hot punch needs.
   ptree - Sunday, 01/13/08 14:32:51 EST

A better steel for hot punches is old VW or Chrysler suspension torsion bars. Just grind to shape; no heat treatment necessary. To straighten coil springs, heat the whole spring and thread it over a piece of pipe in the vice. Grab the end and run backwards.
Hugh McDonald
   Hugh McDonald - Sunday, 01/13/08 21:28:42 EST

Straightening coil springs by Hugh's method works on small diameter springs like garage door springs. However, I don't think the Hulk on steroids could pull a typical 5/8"D car spring straight using that method. Also, for safety, pull transversely of the jaw width so that the clamped, vertical pipe or rod doesn't have the chance of falling over. Use vise grips instead of tongs.
   Frank Turley - Sunday, 01/13/08 21:42:38 EST

In the past to cut a vehicle coil spring into chisel lengths I put a chop saw blade in my (cleaned) tablesaw. Be safety conscious as the sparks come right back at you.
   Ken Scharabok (Poor Boy Blacksmith Tools) - Monday, 01/14/08 08:41:46 EST

Pulling Springs Straight: If you move fast it works surprisingly well. I've done it with full sized 5/8" wire diameter springs. As long as the spring is at a good heat it unwinds easily.

Do not support it over a pipe. Too much friction. Just but it over some convenient bar. Years ago I suggested using a winch on a truck to pull the spring. This will only work on a relatively fast winch. If you have a helper coneect the winch and have them back up. . .
   - guru - Monday, 01/14/08 09:59:08 EST

Getting Started in Business: There are whole libraries of books on this subject. A blacksmithing business is not much different than any small manufacturer.

See our FAQ on "The Law and Blacksmithing".

Advertising and making sales is similar in all businesses. The difference is the scope of your territory and the size of your business. What kind of blacksmithing do you want to do? Make nick-knacks, railings, sculpture? Are you going to sell direct (retail) or through others (wholesale). Almost everyone specializes somewhat and there are different sales channels. This determines where you advertise. If you make small items for the home there are decorator magazines and web sites. If you want to make AND install railings then you need to focus on local ads.

Advertising, of whatever type needs to be continuous and consistent. Budget for it. The reason advertising must be continuous is that if you quit then people often think you have gone out of business. The KNEW they could find you on anvilfire.com but cannot remember your name. . .

The bottom line on making sales is CAN YOU MAKE THE SALE? Are YOU a sales type? IF not then your plan (and budget) needs to include a salesperson. Note that many successful small businesses are family businesses where a couple complements each other and divide the labor.

For print advertising a press release is a key tool. MANY (most) print outlets will run a well written press release with photos such as a new business announcement. Everything from a 250 word announcement to a 2000 word pseudo feature article can be gotten printed FREE when supplied as a press release. In a small local market customize every release sent out to each publisher so that if more than one runs it then they are not identical. What format do you send? ASK the editor or his assistant. Note that if they offer to send out a reporter to do an article on you that it is often a big waste of your time. If you agree, then have a written statement that answeres all possible questions so that they can refer to it and get it right. Otherwise you will be described as running a foundry cast things from molds. . . Same goes for local TV. Most of these places are starving for good interesting articles and LOVE to print things they did not have to pay for. Blow your own horn, it is worth it.

In the 1980's my business got over $30,000 worth of FREE advertisement in one year in the form of press releases. It is worth discussing this with an expert.

Due to container shipping and the internet ALL businesses are global in some respect. Even if your sales are not global your competition IS. This includes all businesses that sell goods and less so for those that provide services.

Being in a global business means you MUST be efficient and your work must be better than the competition. And YES, as a blacksmith you will have both local and international competition. There are off shore suppliers that make everything from towel racks to fully customized railings (not just the components). Much is junk but some is very well made.

If your plan is to be a one-man-band then you need to think about what you do and do not know. To do it ALL includes the paperwork including taxes and licenses, the sales including face to face with the customer AND writing advertising copy and press releases, taking photos of the products, building a web site, sweeping the floor, cleaning the toilet, running all the errands and in your spare time producing the product. It is NOT easy. I have been doing it for many years and as time passes I know more but am less efficient. . by the time you know it all you are too old and tired to make use of it. . .

A very driven individual can be no more productive than 50% (usually less) due to all the above. So your prices and your shop rate MUST reflect this. I keep telling folks they MUST have a $100/hr rate to make $50k a year and they do not believe me. It is an absolute FACT. If you cut that rate enough you are still charging a lot for your work but making ZERO income.

I recently had a discussion about this with my brother who has a Masters degree in art and is a very fine artist. He is now working as a programmer for a defense contractor but it looks like his job may be outsourced to India so he is looking at what he did wrong when he was a starving artist. He KNOWS he did not charge enough for his work. I asked him if in that 6 years of higher education if he ever had a DIY business course? Of course he did not (I already knew the answer). My son is in the same position. A highly ranked school charged him a small fortune for an education but did not include "how to make a living in your field" classes. I personally think it is a crime. If you are going into business on your own there are many things you need to know.

Part of being in business is working the numbers. You start with that 50% productive time. Then figure out how much per hour you must charge to make the income you need to survive AND prosper. To that you add rent, utilities, property taxes. . . machinery costs. You would be surprised at how fast you hit that $100/hr mark. I did that calculation many years ago based on local rents and 1980's utility costs. . . To be MORE productive, to have more time to make sales, design new work. To do this you need HELP. You hire an accountant, a cleaning service (is there a lawn that needs cut as well?). These things ADD to the overall cost and may not free up much time as you must manage these people. You cannot produce but so much so you hire shop help. This increases shop production OLY if and when the worker does not consume too much of your time. Also note that ANY employee will only be 50% as productive as you are. SO, with having more time they may not produce more than you.

There are cheats to working the numbers. These include not applying rent if it is a home based business. But who pays those costs and what happens when you must move and pay rent? You MUST apply rent even if not a current cost. You can also say you are going to work for free or for very a low wage. . . THIS also does not work. There are costs you must pay and if the business does not make you a living based on the numbers then it NEVER will. If you cannot afford food, clothing and transportation then you are a poor employee in your own business. You MUST pay yourself. This is the FIRST advice every professional business counselor will give you. You got it from me FREE.

Basic business rules apply. Do you have the capital (money in the bank) to start your business? Is there a NEED for your business in your location? Will that capital last long enough to establish your business?

Buying In: There are many people that think that as an artist you must give away your work to get started. This is absolutely WRONG. It does NOT work and it is the reason there are so many starving artists and words in the phrase "starving artist" are forever linked. As an artist blacksmith this includes YOU. IF you undervalue your time then your clients will not respect you NOR will they ever pay you more. IF someone cannot afford your rates than YOU cannot afford to deal with them. Good art is expensive and not everyone can afford it. It took me a while to come to the realization that the people I knew, the people in my social circle could not afford my work. From that you then must realize that something MAY seem expensive to YOU because you cannot afford it. But that does not mean the price is too high. It means YOU ARE NOT RICH.

There are some simple rules to dealing with the rich that can afford fine art. #1, They expect you to deliver ON TIME. #2, They are a small group and they all know each other OR are only one or two layers of separation from all the rest of the rich. So if you do not deliver, or if you screw up, then ALL the people that can afford the fine work you provide will not deal with you. You are OUT.

This advice came from one of the most successful blacksmiths I know. His first commissions were HUGE. He was lucky in that he charged plenty for his first work because that let him buy the machinery AND hire help to get the work done on time. Over the years his work has included gates and rails that sold for thousands of dollars per foot. Gates in the six figure range (10k/ft) are common. THIS is what first class architectural ironwork is worth and there are clients that will pay for it.

IF my friend above had "bought in" on his first job he would not have been able to complete the job, much less complete it on time. THAT would probably been the end of his career.

So do the research, work the numbers. Many artists boot strap their way into business with no capital but it is very difficult and requires luck as well. IF you manage to do so then you will need to work the numbers to stay in business.
   - guru - Monday, 01/14/08 11:40:51 EST

Re straightening 5/8" spring, don't arm wrestle the alpha guru!!
   Frank Turley - Monday, 01/14/08 12:06:02 EST

Building Machinery: Edgar, From your description of having rebuilt the hammer and immediately having the remachined guides gall I will be quite blunt, YOU should not be building machinery.

Lack of lubrication in assembly, poor machining or poor adjustment OR all the above may have been the problem. Having a set of someone else's blueprints does not give you the skills of a machinist or millwright. This is a place for micrometers, feeler gauges, dial indicators and LOTs of patience. Folks with skills in assembling precision devices often get away without these tools. They do it with knowledge and a FEEL for what they are doing. Not everyone has these skills.

IF you mount an air cylinder with the same alignment problems or adjustment problems that probably existed above then you will probably have a failure AGAIN.

Many folks equate a power hammer with the primitiveness of a sledge hammer. A power hammer is a machine tool and requires precision and fine adjustment in their construction and assembly. Many require precision in their setup and installation. They may hammer steel but they are NOT a stone club.

I recommend you buy a good running hammer (it does not have to be new), have someone install it and test it for you. Then have them show you how to lubricate it and make adjustments if necessary. Where you live in wine country there is LOTS of work for blacksmiths doing forged work. You either have the work for the hammer or not.
   - guru - Monday, 01/14/08 12:24:49 EST

Frank, I'm not that strong, the springs just un-co