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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 April 1 - 7, 2010 on the Guru's Den
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Also, landscaping ties may look like regular RR. ties, but are just for looks. You can usually smell the wood to see what it is....oak,hickory,and pine especially give off a seperate aroma.
   Mike T. - Wednesday, 03/31/10 19:27:43 EDT

I inherited a bunch of used old RR-ties not too long ago. They were to be used for landscaping timbers. They were almost too heavy for one man to handle, very splintery and the checks were full of gravel, fine gravel dust and who knows what else. There were also occasional pieces of metal AND most had distinct twists to them.

To use them the way they were intended meant drilling holes through that gravely dirty checked mess. It also meant sawing them off through the same. After moving and examining a few of them I gave them away.

Our alternative was to use dry stack landscaping blocks. While they are not cheap their installation was relatively easy and the results quite attractive. They could make nice curving walls that followed the terrain.

Prior to actually dealing with the used ties I had often thought they would be a good way to landscape. . . Maybe, but not for me. . .
   - guru - Thursday, 04/01/10 01:20:56 EDT

Jason, along with what the Guru said, I have a friend that is a very good silversmith that specializes in very high relief belt buckles.
He may be willing to take a look at what you have but, I can't speak to his schedual.
Click on my underlined name to e-mail me and I'll pass you along.
   merl - Thursday, 04/01/10 02:57:38 EDT

Kelly, be aware that old RR ties are treated with creasote and if you get a sliver while handeling them it could kill you if not treated.(so I'm told)
   - merl - Thursday, 04/01/10 03:03:13 EDT

Herro, am wandering Chinese smith. Arways vely happy to obrige my fliend Jock. As gulu said maybe I can help you Dave but don't expect me to plonounce wandering traveller in any lecognisable form.

Am vely vely heavily infruenced by celeblated and honourable smith in a school in Sichuan.

Jock, better derete this contlibution before starts war between our nations.
   Wondering Chinese man - Thursday, 04/01/10 05:36:00 EDT

Guru, For our house in the tropics we used about 1,500 old tires for retaining walls. Packed each one with dirt and backfilled behind. Planted ground cover and plants/trees in them and you never saw them again.
   Carver Jake - Thursday, 04/01/10 11:21:52 EDT

I just recently started blacksmithing (7 months) ago. I bought a complete shop from the 1880-90s and I have a good size Buffalo Forge 38x42 and if the book from 1914 is close it is a model 00S. I was wondering if there needed to be fire brick or clay put in around the tuyere. I do not want to ruin 120+ years of history because I didn't know or ask someone. Any information you can provide me would be much appriciated.

Thanks, Glenn Owen
   Glenn Owen - Thursday, 04/01/10 12:18:43 EDT

WRT used railroad ties, I bought a bunch to redo a retaining wall back around 1992. I don't remember any of the issues discussed above with them (i.e. loaded with gravel, too warped, etc.) It did take 2 men to move them, and I hired a friend of a friend to help with building the wall, which was about 2 foot tall and 60 foot long. I'd do some things differently if I were doing it today, but it's still there and still in good condition 18 years from when I built it.
   - Gavainh - Thursday, 04/01/10 12:35:24 EDT

Glenn, This is a very early style forge and is also listed in the 1896 catalog. The problem with these flat bottomed forges is that the heat and fire is difficult to control. While I generally do not recommend claying forges this one would benefit from raising the floor with bricks (about 2-1/2" to 4") and forming a "fire pot" around the tuyere. Fire pots are usually about 5 to 6" across at the bottom and a foot or 14" across at the top depending on how deep they are.

The sloping sides of the fire pot help feed the fuel to the center of the fire and reduce the spread of the fire in the reserve coal bed.

While these forges are heavy enough to not have a clayed bottom they are often ruined by having too big a fire with fresh fuel in the bottom of the forge.

Note that heavy rust is often the most damaging thing to these forges. Coal ash contains sulfur compounds and other things that rapidly increase corrosion. Leaving a forge outdoors with coal ash in it is the worst thing you can do. If stored out doors they need to be emptied and thoroughly cleaned.
   - guru - Thursday, 04/01/10 12:43:52 EDT

Dave; I have used one like that; terrible compared to the upperchamber accumulator version! You have to pump it continually compared to the "fill and coast" and there is a stoppage of air at switch over.

I agree my double lunged bellows wouldn't do a whole heat on it's accumulator; but I found the time it could coast very helpful as I could take a drink or switch hammers/tongs, etc and still keep the fire rising.

   Thomas P - Thursday, 04/01/10 13:00:30 EDT

Creosote and Splinters: Creosote is a long term carcinogen usualy found in the air and in ground water, not a rapid toxin. While dirty splinters can carry tetanus and other infections they will not kill you via creosote. However, the splintery hard wood splinters are like barbs and you might THINK it is going to kill you pulling one out.

Used Ties: There are probably all varieties of used ties. Those I had were probably from an old siding that had not been maintained for a long time then pulled up. The ties were not rotted but were very rough.

Some of the new machinery that removes and replaces ties use a drop hammer device to give the ties a double karate chop and break them into three splintered pieces. . . It was a scary operation to watch. No used ties to re-use.

We used to have a tie manufacturer in our local village. They used a variety of species of wood, white oak, red oak, black oak, shag bark hickory, ash. . and called them all "oak" for the purpose. Besides ties they also provided rail roads with all the timbers used for bridges and log walls. When they ran the creosote processing you could smell it miles away. . . You could buy new ties from them if needed for just a little more than used ones go for.

At one time I considered building a log cabin shop using their sawn oak timbers (untreated). They were available from 12x12s down to 6x8 ties. The cost was comparable to using common framing lumber and sheathing at the time. However, the labor would be much higher due to the weight of the timbers. Would have been a stout building. . .
   - guru - Thursday, 04/01/10 13:17:24 EDT

I'm writing an article on natural, old-school finishes on steel. Anyone out there know of anyone using beeswax and beeswax mixed with linseed oil or turpentine? I'm also interested in talking with anyone doing natural oxidation patina finishes.

   coondogger - Thursday, 04/01/10 13:56:18 EDT

Guru, Thanks for the information and the speedy response. I do have a new firepot and tuyere but was hesitant to install it because I would have to modify the forge a little and it will have to be firebricked to support the firepot sticking up. With what you told me that is exactly what it needed. Thank you again for your help.

Thanks, Glenn
   Glenn Owen - Thursday, 04/01/10 13:58:55 EDT

Coondogger, I made a can of beeswax/turps mixture and used the same can for decades. The odd thing was that the vapors from the mixture caused corrosion and rust INSIDE the can. . . But that took about 10 years.

The problem with beeswax is it is sticky and stays sticky. It also wears off rapidly so it is not a good long term finish. In most cases it just slows the oxidation of the scale finish.

When you mix linseed oil with the wax and solvent you are making a soft varnish. Waxes added to oil should be hard waxes like carabuna wax. Beeswax is added in very small quantites to maintain flexibility. However, as soon as you go this route you have become a paint formulator as oil, plus hard wax, plus solvent equals varnish. If you want durable varnish recipes they have been around in artists formulae since the 1400's but were greatly improved in the 1700's and on into the 20th century.

Many of the amateur finishes can be found in professional formulations that have been carefully tested and often use ingredients that are difficult for the individual to obtain.

I found one web site selling "natural" linseed oil paint with great claims that is never failed and had a life of 50 to 100 years. . . Real BS. Linseed oil paint takes years to fully dry by oxidation and all the time it is drying tension is building up until it cracks.

The problem with oil finishes (varnishes) without pigment is the solids (often lead) was the secret to a long lasting finish. For many years waxes were used to make hard clear finishes and then these were replaced by nitro celulose and then acrylics.

Try this:

Timeline results for history of oil paint, boiled linseed oil

The only natural finish for iron is rust.
   - guru - Thursday, 04/01/10 14:30:57 EDT

i am so far over 16 i quit counting. ia am a raw inexperienced smith. i tried to make a pair of tongs after repeated heatings i tried to straighten the jaws, and you can probably see this coming. they shattered. i know that part of my problem is that i have to reheat many times, but dont know what to do. i have an atmospheric forge. i really want to be somewhat of a smith but i am flondering. help

   paul - Thursday, 04/01/10 14:39:31 EDT

As a finish I sometimes just rub a candle on the warm steel. It looks natural and is cheap and easy. For indoor sculptures it is great.
   philip in china - Thursday, 04/01/10 14:55:25 EDT

Paul, Making tongs should not require long soaking heats which is what decarbonizes steel and makes it brittle. But working too cold and getting piched places or folds, called "cold shuts" can both cause problems.

The other problem MIGHT be the type of steel you are using. RR-spikes, rebar, springs. . . are all high enough carbon that if you quench them from a red heat they will be very brittle and likely to break. Low carbon "mild steel" is best for tongs OR slightly higher then mild steel is OK.

Starting with the right size steel helps a lot. 1/2" (13mm) square will make small tongs, 5/8" (16mm) general poupose tongs, 3/8" x 1" will make nice heavy duty tongs.

Goose Jaw or Bolt type tongs are some of the handiest tongs and the jaws are easier to make than the typical type with a step offset. If you start with flat stock most of the forging is simple, and the rest is mostly bending. Drawings in a few minutes. . .
   - guru - Thursday, 04/01/10 16:20:30 EDT

Steps in making Goose Jaw and V-bit tongs - click for larger
Making Goose Jaw Tongs

Typical Tongs Dimension Chart from Machinery's Handbook
   - guru - Thursday, 04/01/10 17:22:27 EDT

C-Dogger; did you look at what Theophilus suggested in Divers Arts, it was written around 1120 AD so I hop that is old style enough for you!

   Thomas P - Thursday, 04/01/10 17:27:27 EDT

TONGS: Rule #1, Except for side offset tongs the parts the are the same, no right and left handed. I prefer to make my offset tongs straight and complete the bend to one side after assembly.

Goosejaw tongs and Bolt tongs are some of the handiest tongs there are. While the V-bit jaws can be a bit tricky to make pretty they are not too difficult. V-bits can hold round, square or rectangular stock. The Goose Jaw lets there be a bolt head or a bend in the stock.

To make the bend a vise helps but it can be done on the corner of the anvil. The shapes are easiest to make in swages but can also be bent rough and then fitted to the size bar you are making them for.

There are many instructions for making the V-bit by splitting but I find it easier start as above, then slightly draw out the two sides. You can either taper the sides OR leave a ridge in the center.

The Goose neck should be forged so that it is a little thicker than the original material and then dressed round and smooth. The smooth round can then be twisted without creating weak places in the neck. If the neck is slightly flattened from the side or made oval it will be stronger in the clamping direction.

Drawing out the reins seems like a lot of work but it is really not as bad as it seems. Use a fuller or the round of the anvil horn to increase the stock movement. This is also the time to pick up the heaviest hammer you are comfortable with. A 5 or 6 pound hand sledge will speed the initial roughing then you can change back to your normal hammer weight.

If you have a swage block or bottom swages you can forge the grip area of the tongs to a near half round. This lightens the tongs and makes comfortable grip.

Every blacksmith should make a few of his own tongs or as many as he can. But for the labor involved it is cheaper to buy good tongs than to make them. On the other hand, there is nothing like the pride in being able to say "I make my own tools".
   - guru - Thursday, 04/01/10 17:54:26 EDT

Some of the larger tongs we forge we start with 1-1/8" round mild steel cut at 19" long. Our reins lengths finish at 30" and the 1-1/8” round gets drawn out and tapered down to ½” round. I couldn't swing a 5 or 6 pound hand sledge to do the drawing out on these tongs. Even with a use of a power hammer I’ve often given some thoughts of starting with thinner material and then upsetting the bit ends to minimize the drawing out process. The tongs we make are too large the effectively upset material without using an upsetter or forging machine. If we used an upsetter we’d need at least a 1-1/4” machine but a 1-1/4” upsetter will not give us enough gather without multiple die changes. To get the thickness we’d need with one gather I’d estimate we’d need at least a 4” upsetter. That’s a huge machine that takes up a lot of shop space and weighs in at over 68,000 pounds. The only efficient way is to draw out tongs. For smaller and shorter tongs on a limited production a hand sledge without a power hammer for some is the only option. No matter making tongs can be labor intensive especially if you have to use a 5 or 6 pound sledge for even a short length of time.
   Bruce Wallace - Thursday, 04/01/10 22:26:15 EDT

if you are still looking for bellow deigns look at "The Art Of Blacksmithing" by ALex W. Bealer
   Adam Grillot - Thursday, 04/01/10 23:50:14 EDT

All that drawing out was the reason for the classical method of making tongs was to make the bits then weld on reins. I've had enough old tongs fail at the weld that I prefer one piece tongs. But if you are good at forge welding it is a lot less work than drawing out large stock into small. Of course this technique was also used primarilly in the wrought iron era when lots of small forge welds were made every day.

There are also folks that make tongs using flat bar cut at a 45 degree angle and arc weld on round stock reins. Pretty ugly but it works
   - guru - Thursday, 04/01/10 23:53:59 EDT

Bruce Wallace, I have no experience with a 1" upsetter, but plenty with a 4". We forged 1.38" 1045H axles 3 shifts a day in one. A 4" is a hoss for a small shop, and the other issue is the foundation and periferals.
If I were makeing production large tongs I would be tempted to start with the stock size needed for the bits and hinge area, and roll reduce the reins. Rolls take little Hp, room or expensive tooling.
   ptree - Friday, 04/02/10 07:53:46 EDT

Jock, you might remember this one. I think you and I went back and forth a few times trying to figure out a fix to this problem. About 10 years ago I got a call to repair some 56”and 62” tongs for a local company. The tongs were used for picking parts that fell off a rack out of a hot dip galvanizing tank. The tongs appeared to have been traditionally made with welded reins. Well, I made the necessary repairs and forge welded back on the old reins.
A few days later, I got a phone call that the tongs were broken. I went back out to the facility to pick up the tongs at no charge because I figured I did something wrong. The tongs were broken behind and in front of the welds. Anyway, I figured I’d use the old bits this time with new reins and I forge welded and arc welded them together this time. I’ll admit they were pretty ugly but I thought it would work.
A few days later I got another phone call that the tongs were broken again. I went back to pick up the tongs at no charge. This time the shop foreman told me he couldn’t understand why the tongs were breaking. The 25 plus years he worked there - they never broke a pair before. I baffled him with science and convinced him the old tongs must be breaking due to metal fatigue and they needed new tongs.
At the time, I only had a 50 pound Little Giant Hammer. I didn’t want to draw out 56” and 62” reins by hand or on my Little Giant so I elected to weld on the reins. I figured the tongs won’t see any hard use because they were only used to pick up small parts, so I forge welded on the reins. I didn’t think it would be a problem. A few days after we delivered the new tongs I got a phone call because the 4 pairs we made were already broken. The shop foreman couldn’t understand how new tongs broke so quickly and how the old tongs they had for over 25 years broke all of a sudden. I went back and forth at least 6 or 7 times arc welding and forge welding thinking I was doing something wrong and about ready to give up. I finally figured out it wasn’t the welds that were failing because the tongs never broke at the welds.
It turns out a recently hired employee was taking the tongs and leaving them in the hot dip tank to heat them up and the quenching them in cold water. After he’d quench them, he’d bang them on the side of the dip tank and break the tongs. Once all the tongs were broken it would shut down the process and he’d get the day off. The way the company found out was they used video surveillance to watch the employee. I fixed their tongs and made new ones again. I haven’t heard anything from them since! I have to give credit to the person who was breaking the tongs - he knew enough about metallurgy to get a few days off! As a result, he was fired so got lots of days off to think about what he had done.
   Bruce Wallace - Friday, 04/02/10 09:17:29 EDT

ptree, a 4" upsetter is out of the question for our shop. A 1-1/2” or 2” would be nice for some of the other work we do. My helper and I have been kicking around the idea of building a hydraulic bulldozer. We even got so far as to doing the planning and even making drawings. But in the mean time, we made a custom die to do some short upsetting with one of our power hammers.

Talk about a “HOSS”, I’ve seen a 5” and 9”upsetter in a shop that was closing. I was directed to the shop to see what was described to me as their little hammer. The little hammer turned out to be at least a 2,500 pound Niles, Bement, Pond. Both upsetters were sold and being dismantled for shipping to Korea. I thought the 5” was huge but the 9” was bigger than my house. I found out it took about a month and a half to rig out the 9” upsetter at a cost of $250,000. Before both machines were to be shipped to Korea, they were being sent back to the original manufacturer for rebuilding. The estimated cost to rebuild the 9” was $1,000,000.

We make most of our larger tongs using the champion method. The most efficient way we’ve found with the equipment we have is lots of drawing out using power hammers. I’ve also given some thought to using rolls but it kind of seems like cheating with a lot less noise without all the banging. Our hammers make pretty quick work of drawing out 30” reins in two heats. I’ll admit rolls would be a good choice but it would take a lot of the fun out of what we do….making noise and pis_ing off the neighbors.
   Bruce Wallace - Friday, 04/02/10 10:33:48 EDT

Bruce Wallace, I worked in an axle forge shop. We used 4" to bump up the ends for splines, and we used a little 6" for make the little flanges. We had two 8", two 9" and a 10". I got the job of building the foundation for a additional 9" when the first guy got canned. To build the foundation we had to remove an old 4" foundation. That yeilded enough broken concrete that it filled a 27,000 gallon water pit for an old cooling tower that was in the line of travel for the new 9" to come into the shop. All that broken concrete and a couple of yards of flowable fill got the tank filled and able to support the incoming frame. The frame only went almost 600,000#. Came in on a 250' long truck.
There was a cute little 1" on the surplus record. They only go about 32,000# and don't have to have a foundation I was told. National used to take a "Table Top" 1" to shows.
The 10" would take a 7' long, about 6" diameter billet and make a 22" flange about 3" thick at the rim in 5 hits.The resulting axle was about 4' long
   ptree - Friday, 04/02/10 13:35:48 EDT

On another forum, talk of fire torches (for performers) came up. I make nice ones (http://greatnippulini.com/sideshow.html) of mild steel. On this particular forum, folks are saying they use aluminum, I explained about the thermal conductivity of aluminum and how it may not be the best material. Now I am getting arguments that I am wrong/right.

Lurk here: http://tinyurl.com/ydy6873
   - Nippulini - Friday, 04/02/10 14:04:20 EDT

Nip, You are ABSOLUTELY right. Aluminium conducts heat very well and the whole will become very hot in a short time. However, time is the key factor. Most flame shows are pretty short so folks may not have noticed. The movement through the air (twirling) may also be cooling the items as well.

The worst burn I ever had in my life was the result of using an aluminum bar for a poker when I was a kid. . .

When forging high conductivity metals such as Al, Ti, Cu, Brass you ALWAYS use tongs because you cannot get away with bare handed handing even a long bar. One moment it is cool, the next it is nearly the same temperature along its entire length.

By the way, Stainless conducts heat slower than carbon steel so it is even better than plain steel in this regard.
   - guru - Friday, 04/02/10 14:17:18 EDT

Nip, This is one that comes under my "Gotta-way with it factor". Scale these things up like the Hawaiian torch dancers and I suspect you would have a big problem.

They also make a point of the burning solvent. As these things evaporate they take heat with them (even while burning). So there is that in the cooling column along with short time, twirling and so on.

Folks often make things out of soft Al wire because it is cheap and easy to bend or form compared to stainless. I'd take your stainless any day!
   - guru - Friday, 04/02/10 14:26:05 EDT

If I'm not mistaken, titanium has a thermal conductivity in the same range as stainless steel. Of course, whether you can afford a piece long enough to hold without tongs might be a different question.
   Mike BR - Friday, 04/02/10 18:13:42 EDT

I may have been mistaken on the Ti. Should have looked it up.
   - guru - Friday, 04/02/10 18:40:42 EDT

I am a weekend blacksmith with about 15 years of experience at the forge and would like to as if anyone knows of a place where I can order some bullet mold cherries for round ball black powder shooting?

Thank you for your help.
Craig C.
   Craig C. - Saturday, 04/03/10 10:43:58 EDT

Craig, The type of "cherry" shown in Bealer's "The Art of Backsmithing" was made by the gunsmith as were many of his specialized tools of the time. Such tool making was part of the art of gunsmithing.

I have never seen this specific tool made for sale but then I am not a gunsmith and do not have all the catalogs and such that are available.

In modern practice their are "ball mills". These are a milling machine cutter with a hemispherical end. They come in fractional and mm sizes and are not likely to match the caliber you need. For this you will have to have one reground to a specific size and use the cutter on one half of the mold at a time. Ball end mills can be purchased from any machine tool supplier including online sources such as McMaster-Carr.

Ball end mills are simply straight spiral flute end mills that have spherically ground ends on them. If you want to make your own I would start with a four flute standard milling cutter as close to the size that you need and carefully regrind it.

I have converted end mills into various shapes including mini dovetail cutters and radius cutters. Hand ground cutters do not work as efficiently, nor are as strong as precision fixture ground but used with care they will work. At the time that I did this the only grinding tools I had on hand for the task was a good 6" bench grinder with freshly dressed wheels. Today I would approach this using the bench grinder and a die grinder or Dremmel for close details.

I think you will find that a good 1/2" end mill without modifications will cost as much as a commercial bullet mold.

The way the old gunsmith did it was to shape and finish (probably turned in a small lathe) a blank in annealed tool steel, then carefully laid out the spiral cutting edges with a scriber (either directly on the metal or using bluing), then filed or chiseled the reliefs between edges. This took very good eye sight OR a magnifying glass. I used to be able to see this well. . . never more.

After cutting the edges the gunsmith would harden the cutter, tempering the shank only and then possibly hand dress the edges again with small pieces of sharpening stone.

In use, this delicate tool would only be used to finish the mold to size, other tools would be used for roughing.
   - guru - Saturday, 04/03/10 11:25:24 EDT

Thank you for the great information, this forum answers many questions that sometimes I didn't even know I had...a great group of people
   Craig C. - Saturday, 04/03/10 13:30:10 EDT

I am planning on making a venturi style propane forge; and i have an acetylene torch rig (nozzles lines and regulators) and was wondering if i could use some or all of it in the construction of the propane jet/delivery system. if you could reply by email (melee171@yahoo.com) that would help me greatly.
Thank you.
   sean - Sunday, 04/04/10 00:56:25 EDT


Some acetylene regulators can be ueed with propane, others cannot. You will have to check with the manufacturer. Due to construction variations gas forges often use higher pressure than a standard acetylene regulator is designed for (15 PSI max).

Hoses are rated for acetylene only OR all fuel gases (Type T for acetylene, propane and natural gas) - (Type R for acetylene only). Propane causes rapid degradation and failure of type R hoses.

The welding torch nozzles could be used for a fuel jet but a $2 MIG tip is much easier to use and are the right size.

Valves that are not silver soldered to torches are very handy fuel valves IF the seats are good. However, most discarded welding equipment has abused valves.

Every blacksmith shop needs an oxy/fuel torch and/or cutting rig. I would not scrap one to make a gas forge unless it was an odd unmaintainable brand (Chinese/Indian). OR unless you have another quality brand torch setup.
   - guru - Sunday, 04/04/10 12:12:03 EDT

where do I find information on hand forging gunmakers locks, flint, wheellock,air or wynde? Did the artisans of the past use specific purose swage blocks? ect. at your convienence. I have Colonial Williamsburg video as well as House's.
   dsmith - Sunday, 04/04/10 14:48:39 EDT

Gunsmithing: There are bits and pieces of weapon forging instructions spread across dozens of publications. However, There is nothing special about most of these forgings, they are just simple shapes. The end results of most gun parts was from many hours of chiseling, filing and hand working cold.

The revised edition (the one currently in print) of Alex Bealer's The Art of Blacksmithing has many specific flint lock gun part instructions. Every smith should have a copy.

Note that a great many of Bealer's instructions are based on the way things were done in the wrought iron era where weld build up was common as well as doing so to apply the grain direction of the wrought properly. In modern steel forging there is practically no grain direction OR it is created by the forging.

Swage blocks (ocassionaly called "gunsmiths anvils" if they had an octagon groove) are handy for supporting work, preventing damage to finished shapes and some basic shape forming but they are NOT molds to be used to make parts. For making such finished parts "dies" can be used under a power hammer. Dies are carefully made from hardened tool steel where the impressions in swage blocks are cast often losing detail and in cast iron which is not suitable for detailed dies. For information about blocks see swageblocks.com
   - guru - Sunday, 04/04/10 15:22:52 EDT

Thanks for the R.R ties info. Does anyone know how much play you can have in the babbits before removing some of the shims? Kelly
   kelly - Sunday, 04/04/10 23:51:50 EDT

Kelly, Play in LG bearings should be about .003" to .008" but I've seen hammers running with 1/8" play. . . If you treat the machine gently it can run while in terrible condition. The problem with large amounts of play is that the shaft hops up and down hammering on the babbit and bearing caps greatly increasing wear rates.

Critical to good work is the play in the ram guides.
   - guru - Monday, 04/05/10 00:15:10 EDT

dsmith, if you have those videos, you have all of them that I know of. As I mentioned above somewhere, the book "Notes from a Small Iowa Rifleshop" by Steve Bookout is a valuable resource for fully hand-made lockmaking.

He just covers flintlocks. I don't know of any books or videos about how to make a wheellock, but you might try asking therifleshoppe.com as they sell kits for them made up of rough investment castings. I don't know what an air or wynde lock is. Do you mean matchlock? Percussion?

As the Guru says, most gun work is fiddly cold work, not magic at the forge. They did sometimes use simple open dies to forge bosses for things like the tumber shaft, but these are noting more than depressions in a handy block of iron or steel.

Do you have any forging experience? I have found many people think smithing is something completely different than what it is. I have been told that I make tomahawks by hammering steel into a mold, or by pouring it into a mold. This after I tell people I just hammer 'em on the anvil and use one simple forge weld and a drift to get the shape. Things aren't as complicated as we sometimes think.
   Alan-L - Monday, 04/05/10 10:39:53 EDT

Alan, I've had the exact same experience with interviewers that watched me work, then asked questions and had the process explained. Forge becomes cast and anvil becomes mold. . .

I try to explain that it is exactly like shaping modeling clay with your hands except the metal is hot and you cannot touch it with your flesh so you must use tools instead.

There ARE some tricks to hot work. Punches can be made to make designs and reliefs. Small dies for trimmed edges.

But as Alan noted, it is mostly simple tools and a little (or a LOT of) practice.
   - guru - Monday, 04/05/10 12:06:03 EDT


I have been researching Anvils and blacksmithing for over a year now. I do custom gates and fencing and I want to start forging my own scrolls and other wrought iron ornaments.
Right now I pay a guy to do all that for me but I want to learn the craft myself. Bottom line I finaly tracked down a beautifull PW anvil at a steal! and I want to begin forging right away! I have desided to buy a forge instead of making one. can anyone (who has bought one) recomend anything.
I have looked at "chiliforge" and "diamond back iron" They have forges in my price range.

Thanks, MR
   Mario - Monday, 04/05/10 12:29:56 EDT

Gas Forges: Mario, The first thing to remember about gas forges is one size DOES NOT fit all. For efficient fuel use you need a small forge for small work, a medium size for medium work and so on. . . MOST blacksmith forges are an average size that decorative work, at least ends fit. For long work you heat sections.

An advantage to some forges such as the NC-Tool and Forgemaster forges is they have push button piezio electric igniters. While starting a gas forge without one is not a problem the push button units are VERY convenient. No looking for a striker or match, no burnt arm hairs or eyebrows. . .

The other advantage to the more established more commercial forges is replacement parts. You can rebuild an NC for about 1/4 its original cost and parts are available for every forge they ever built.

See NC-Tool Forge Refurb

NC-Tool Whisper Moma Setup

While some folks do not like the NC's they give you more features for the money. Doors, ports, igniter, replacement parts. But you know your budget and personal likes and dislikes.
   - guru - Monday, 04/05/10 13:28:16 EDT

i personally would recomend talking to Larry Zoeller from zoeller forge.com. i got forge parts from him a few months ago and he was a great guy to work with and he was really helpful. i would recomend just buying a burner and making the rest yourself. that is what i did, but it may not work for you.
   bigfoot - Monday, 04/05/10 14:46:02 EDT

I sent him an email and he never got back to me. How much did it cost you to build?
   Mario - Monday, 04/05/10 15:21:50 EDT

Mario, We have burner designs on our plans and FAQ's pages.

See Stupid Gas Burner This has a blower type burner (very hot) and links to other articles.

For a freon tank or small propane tank forge one of my venturi burners works fine. There are other ways to build them, everyone has a preference. All I can say about mine is I have never had one fail.

Cost depends somewhat on what you buy new and what you scrounge. Note that some plumbing supply houses carry high pressure fittings and ONE reducer can cost more than the whole burner made from schedule 40 (common) pipe parts.

We sell both the refractory liner material (kaowool) and the ITC-100 coating to cover it with. You will need a fire brick or two OR several half thickness "split" bricks for the floor. We are planning on selling these but have not gotten the inventory in yet.

Kaowool for a propane tank forge costs about $25 plus shipping which can run as much or more than the product. A pint of ITC-100 is $44 and you save on shipping ordering the two together.

Generally you can build one of these forges for $200 or less including the regulator. But you can also easily eat up more than that running around looking for bits and pieces. While they are expensive I just carefully go through the McMaster-Carr site for the plumbing parts and gas fittings and try to get them from one source.
   - guru - Monday, 04/05/10 16:03:33 EDT

mario, it took him a week to get back to me. i got all the supplies i needed (firebricks, burner, regulator, ETC) for a total of $250 shipped
   bigfoot - Monday, 04/05/10 19:17:49 EDT

I can testify that Larry Zoeller is a fine gentleman to deal with and always provides good value. He is local to me and is in our club. If buying one of his burners, ask for "Z Burner"
   - ptree - Monday, 04/05/10 19:29:31 EDT

oh, i forgot to add this. i get about 10 hours out of my 20lb propane tanks (28ish out of a 50lber) and can heat 1in sqaure stock no problem. my firebox (is that the right term?) is pretty small, but if i need to do scroll work i fire up my coal forge.
   bigfoot - Monday, 04/05/10 19:43:58 EDT

I too have had good dealings with L. Zoeller, bought some burner flares from him a while back.

I do have to respectfully disagree with the Guru about NC forges vs the Chili forge. I've run both as a professional making architectural ironwork and while they are both more than adequate the Chili is a little more versatile. Love the full width end ports, almost eliminates the need for a side door, they seem to get hotter, each burner is independent. Best part is the hard lining which greatly reduces gouging of the insulation. The lack of igniter was a mild annoyance at first, no big deal now that I'm used to it

Each is a good forge, for the way I work the Chili has the edge.
   Judson Yaggy - Monday, 04/05/10 20:10:06 EDT

Actually, I am not impressed with any of the forges on the market. I've seen a box type modified into a C-frame with the door closing the side of the box. Lets you heat bar and billets efficiently but then opens to the side to get long squirrely pieces in and out. This is a good flexible construction that is right for the blacksmith shop.

I've also seen forges with air curtains. These greatly improve forge safety and comfort being near them.

Combine these features with an extened hearth, plus a piezio igiter (only costs the manufacturer about $2-$3 including adapters if bought in production quantities) and you would have a pretty good shop forge.

Larger forges need industrial style counterbalanced doors.

I've watched a bunch of folks build fancy forges using multiple $100 burners when all they need is ONE $75 blower and a valve. . . Yeah, the forge takes a little electricity but they get hotter faster. Faster? Cheaper? So why use venturies?

My big blower forge has an NC (Normally Closed) gas solenoid in the gas line. Lose power and the forge shuts down. Power is controlled by a little relay so if the power comes back on, the forge does not. A lot of safety for a few parts.

I see about 50% or more gas forge users building their own, including professionals. Most want something different than what the market is providing.
   - guru - Monday, 04/05/10 20:40:27 EDT

Anvils - finding and acquiring them. I usually spend part of Good Friday visiting a combo flea market/farmers market in Rogers, Ohio. This past one was more crowded than I've ever seen it before, and I've been going at least 10 years. I'm not in the market for an anvil, as I have 2 decent sized ones that are probably Peter Wrights and a smaller 120 lb one. (I'm also currently a little tight for cash.) We often run into anvils for sale there and this past weekend was no different. A vendor had 2 - a 150 lb Peter Wright that was a bit beaten up and a nice 120 lb Mouse Hole. He was asking $150 for the Mouse Hole and $175 for the Peter Wright. Pretty decent prices, even if they aren't in Thomas's preferred range. My buddy and I thought about picking up the Mouse Hole and taking it to Quad State, but it was just too crowded, we were parked too far away, and are both feeling a little cash strapped. Maybe next year :)
   - Gavanh - Monday, 04/05/10 22:35:17 EDT

Its amazing that for over 60 years used anvils have been selling for roughly the same prices in many cases. $1/lb. . .
   - guru - Monday, 04/05/10 22:53:23 EDT

Thank you to all that replyed to my forge question. Hopefully I do hear from Mr. zoeller at very least to get his input.
If anyone has more advice or thoughts on forges (building versus buying) please keep it comming.

Thanks again!

Ps. I found a 137 pound Peter wright in great shape! Only a 100 bucks! There is still great deals out there if you can wait and look really hard!
   Mario - Monday, 04/05/10 23:42:30 EDT

In UK there are also anvils out there. From reading on some forums the problem people have is that they won't pay the going rate. When they say they can't find an anvil what they mean is nobody will sell them an anvil for lesss than it is worth. That is not quite the same thing!
   PHILIP IN CHINA - Tuesday, 04/06/10 22:44:51 EDT

That is true all over the world. Often "can't find" means they don't carry the item in the corner store OR as noted they can't find one for FREE.

Oddly enough, I've been given at least 3 very nice anvils over the years. Often all you have to do is ASK all your relatives, friends, acquaintances OR let them all know your are interested in blacksmithing.
   - guru - Wednesday, 04/07/10 06:21:46 EDT

My "uncle" Bob gifted me three of my working anvils. One is a beaten-to-death 200 pound Mousehole, I'd wager $0.75/lb. My Wilkinson (gorgeous lookin' anvil I might add), is worth over $5/lb. Antique dealers will probably pay even more, which drives the price of working anvils even higher.

Charles McRaven recommends you drive around farm country, ask around folks with old barns and such. He adds that many farmers would be willing to sell or trade their anvils in exchange for some welding and/or forging services. I've tried this in New Jersey farm areas, but most barns had no anvils to speak of.
   - Nippulini - Wednesday, 04/07/10 06:53:36 EDT

I'm doing an English project on technology. I chose blacksmithing. I'm looking for a trustable website(s). I need the beginnings of blacksmithing, to the modern day. I just want the very beginnings some in between and the modern day. 4 or 5 pages is enough, more is better. Thanks!!!
   - Jacob Lockhart - Wednesday, 04/07/10 10:51:50 EDT

It may sound trite, but for years I have been telling people "anvils are where you find them". But it is true.

They are just as likely to be in the basement of a brownstone in Queens or a cold water flat in London as an old closed blacksmith shop in a little rural town. I've found them in garden sheds in the suburbs, in machine shops in the city, in an old couples basement, AND had them delivered to me (without asking) in the trunk of a car.

I've found them antique shops and truck repair shops. I bought one out of a junk yard. My two larger anvils came from ironworks (one a foundry and machine shop, the other a welding and fabrication shop). I bought two with broken horns at Hammer-Ins and a sweet little Mousehole at SOFA Quadstate in Ohio a few years ago because it was selling for less than $1/lb. (€1.66/kg).

DESPITE my opening statement, I realized I bought my first anvil from an old blacksmith shop. However, there are used anvils by the millions and old blacksmith shops are VERY VERY rare. Anvils are more common in some regions than others but they are found anywhere in the world there have been people and industry.

Time to put all this in a FAQ. . .
   - guru - Wednesday, 04/07/10 11:12:40 EDT

Jacob, The history of blacksmithing is almost the history of technology for several thousand years. It starts during the Bronze age and there was hundreds of years of transition which varied from place to place. Once in the iron age every little technological change was created by blacksmiths OR had an effect on them. This process is still in progress. Improvements in smelting, improvements in bellows design, new machinery.

In the modern era you have folks like James Nasmyth and Eli Whitney who were smiths or who advanced forging technology. Nasmyth invented the steam hammer but many others developed small mechanical hammers. Up into the 1980's high tech metallurgical research organizations such as NASA and many Universities had power hammers and blacksmiths on staff to operate them.

I'd recommend narrowing your focus (As almost every teacher tells every student about every paper). Set a time period and location. There was no history of blacksmithing in the new world until the Europeans came. . . Europe has a different history than the Far East and Africa yet a different history.

You could also focus on the development of specific tools. Anything to narrow the focus.

Sounds like you are looking for your paper to be written for you . . . the history of technology is very difficult to research. If you find it on the web and copy it (especially from one place) you are cheating and may be infringing on copyright.
   - guru - Wednesday, 04/07/10 11:35:10 EDT

Hi,I have several steel bars I am trying to idetify. It is brittle,won't bend far befor breaking heated or not. It is not maliable at all. Gives of the same sparks as an old chisle. Seems to be a little lighter that expected. Help ?
   - KennyB - Thursday, 04/08/10 07:39:35 EDT

RE steel bars
It might be cast iron ... but that would have a very fuzzy yellow or red spark.... could also be a high carbon high alloy Stainless steel, or it could be wrought steel I had a bar of that that needed to be at a yellow heat or better to work it.. very red short.
depending on how hot you had it to bend it could also be any number of alloys that are prone to red short.
yep this is the truly fun part of working random bars of steel.
   mpmetal - Thursday, 04/08/10 08:55:26 EDT

I think I'll go with a modern day topic, with references to the past(reccomended by my teacher). I know there is information on this website, but I also need more information on industrial scale forging, like drop forging and such. Thanks for the help!
   - Jacob Lockhart - Thursday, 04/08/10 11:07:04 EDT

Industrial Forging History: Jacob, for Industrial forging there are only a few relatively rare and expensive references. You will need to go to a good engineering school library. Some Universities have such references some do not. It is easiest to start with their on-line catalog (links available from the LOC).

Locally the University of Virgina has a very good engineering library seperate from the main library which makes it easier to use. Other schools like VA Tech and Duke University also have good engineering libraries. Where ever you are there should be such a school within a few hundred miles.

Industrial forging starts with wooden helved water powered trip hammers. These slow primitive machines were used well into the 1800's. In 1839 James Nasmyth made the first drawing of a steam hammer. A French company who's engineers, MM. Schneider and Bourdon, had seen the drawing built the first Nasmyth Hammer which was in heavy production by 1842. Nasmyth patented his hammer and manufactured many as well as licensing the manufacture. There are many Nasmyth hammers still in operation today and the modern steam or air powered drop hammer is virtually identical to the original drawing by Nasmyth.

Other forging machines did not come along until the end of the 19th century and many new machine thereafter but the Nasmyth type hammer still produces a large portion of the world's forgings.

   - guru - Thursday, 04/08/10 11:42:31 EDT

Websites are by their nature very limited and often very wrong in their information, are you restricted to them or can you use some books as well?

Egyptian Metalworking and tools" Shire press early iron age

"Cathedral Forge and Waterwheel" Gies & Gies covers medieval period

http://www.warehamforge.ca/ has good information on viking era smithing including in North America

"Divers Arts" Theophilus circa 1120 A.D. has some smithing info and is very useful as a *primary* source.

"De Re Metallica", mid 16th century, lots of technology involved in mining and refining of metals---*great* woodcuts!

"Mechanick Exercises" Moxon, published in 1703, much of it dates in the mid 1600's

"Diderot's Encyclopedia" The gem of the Enlightenment (late 1700's early 1800's) Also known for it's pictures.

"Iron Works on the Sagus"---early iron production in the USA

"Bond of Iron" a look at the use of slaves in iron manufacturing from the end of the American Revolution to the Civil War.

"Practical Blacksmithing" Richardson, a compilation of articles from a Blacksmithing Journal from 1889, 1890, 1891 (you didn't think forums were a *NEW* thing did you?) Interesting as it deals with the switch over from using real wrought iron to mild steel.

I'd ILL a bunch of these at the local library---or did you leave it till the last minute?

Or if you are near central OH and can get a parent to accompany you over to my smithy I have these and a bunch more in my personal library.

   Thomas P - Thursday, 04/08/10 12:41:07 EDT

Optional Libraries: As Thomas notes, Many smiths have significant personal libraries. I have all but two of the books Thomas lists but then my focus is a little different. I've got a few of those expensive ASM references that most folks don't have and quite a catalog collection plus about everything that can be found on locksmithing. Most of what is on our book review page is in my library. However, most of us know better than to loan books. You will have to make use of them on location.

Many blacksmithing organizations have libraries and DO loan the books to paid members. I would not want want to be the librarian. . .

Twice, I have had "apprentices" that had access to my entire library and neither one took advantage of the situation. Both did a lot of reading and studying various subjects but neither took advantage of the blacksmithing and metalworking books. . . Even when I threatened to test them on it.
   - guru - Thursday, 04/08/10 13:25:29 EDT

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