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This is an archive of posts from September 1 - 7, 2008 on the Guru's Den
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Long time no talk,

My girlfriend just got back from a one month rail to river trip canoeing and taking trains through northern ontario, and came across railroad spikes on the trip,

her and the 9 other people on her trip brought a railroad spike each home with them,

looking at the spikes some have nothing on the head, i;ve read that these ar low low carbon , then some say HC, i know this means "High Carbon" but is not usually useably high enough carbon for a knife,

and her spike says, HC with a P directly underneath,
does anyone know what the p stands for?

we were thinking of making railroad spike knives for everyone, , i know they wouldnt be able to be used, we were thinking of getting everyone on the trips names engraved along the blade ,and have them be more of a wallhanger, conversation starter or something, to remember the trip by,

just wondering what the p would stand for,

also, my girlfriend is new to blacksmithing, wanting me to teach her, so i thought making 10 knives would be a good way to improve hammer control on her part, i can always straighten thm out or touch it up a bit if its forged a bit rough:D

   Cameron - Monday, 09/01/08 01:10:22 EDT


If your girl is new to smithing and doesn't work full-time as a framing carpenter or something similar, starting her off forging blades out of spikes is going to either hurt her or frustrate her, most likely. Unless she's really a big, strong woman in terrific shape, I'd say it will do both. For a rank beginner, 3/8 or even 1/4 stock is a better place to start than a 5/8 to 3/4 spike.

Perhaps if you do the rough forging to get the blade flattened she could do the profiling and beveling, but that requires pretty decent hammer control. I'd seriously consider a less ambitious first project than 10 spike knives.
   vicopper - Monday, 09/01/08 02:07:27 EDT

Cameron, A I agree with VIc. I have a strong 18 year old girl working in my shop occasionally and for practice I started her out forging points on 1/2" stock. Only one per evening until she built up some control and the necessary strength. The assignment was to make 10 points OR until hers were clean and made in one heat. The points were then converted to leaves later when she had developed some control. Now that school has started she is only able to get in a couple hours per week but there is still improvement. The point is to get her into the craft without bodily injury OR too much frustration.

Even 1/2" (13mm) stock is a little heavy. I started out forging 3/8" (10mm) after slaving over a number of items from RR-spikes (tongs, forge parts). . . But 1/2" is a more common size and prepares you for heavier work IF you don't overextend. I still prefer 7/16" (11mm) stock for many things.

Hammer size is also critical. I started her with my old 2 pound (900g) hammer. After a steady week or so of short daily practice she started using a 2.2/2.25 pound (1000g) hammer. Now she keeps picking up my 3.5 pound (1600g) to work but I can tell it is too heavy. I've been looking for a 1300g (2.75 pound) hammer for her as I think that is the size she needs.
   - guru - Monday, 09/01/08 08:09:50 EDT

Wendy, it's the one Overman calls a "T-hammer."
   Alan-L - Monday, 09/01/08 09:33:49 EDT

Well, I'm almost packed-up and ready to head to the airport to go to the Atlantic Coast Blacksmith's Conference in Ashokan, NY. Should be a good one, too. Not taking the laptop this trip, so I'll be incommunicado for a week or so. Y'all have fun while I'm gone and I'll catch up when I get back.

Rich Waugh
   vicopper - Monday, 09/01/08 11:10:00 EDT

Guru, she must be one strong girl to be using a 2.25 pounder, I can barely keep my self from getting tired using a 2.5# hammer, and after about 2 hours my work is just unreliable.

4 days of work, about 3-4 hours a day, just finished hammering down the 1/2 inch thick bar into the preform yesterday. I think the cursed stuff might be spring steel, trying to bend it by hand is futile, just springs back into shape.

   Nabiul Haque - Monday, 09/01/08 12:20:53 EDT

hello again all i was wondering what i could do with my coal dust. can it be dampened and compressed into small blocks for starting my fire or any uses for the stuff
   j naylor - Monday, 09/01/08 13:23:28 EDT


Are you working that bar hot enough? Forging out a piece of 1/2" bar that long is a fair amount of work, but it really shouldn't take 12 - 16 hours.
   Mike BR - Monday, 09/01/08 15:22:06 EDT

Hey everyone,

i;m a member of the southern albert blacksmiths guild,

so we have powerhammers to use at the shop, and some really good guys that have a lot of practice, theyre gonna teach her how to use the powerhammer, t flatten the rough shape, and then i;m gonna teach her how to forge light bevels and get the shape ready for grinding, also i want to teach her how to twist and do the grinding on the blade,

i;d have her using tops a 1.5 lb cross pein, and ive got a lot of lighter ball peins that she would probably want to start with,

and i;ve made probably 30 or 40 spike knives using this method so, i doubt it will be a problem, i;m also gonna have her making nails for a shop we;re building in my backyard to house all my forging supplies,

i noticed no one answered about what the p may mean, does anyone know?

also, about the shop we;re building,
ive been using a cleared away corner of my yard, about 12 by 15 feet to have everything in, but i;m getting so tired of having the sun ruin my fun, so i;m hoping to built a 12 by 16 foot shop, with a peak in the center of the 16 foot measurement,

its going to be a roof supported by 8 main beams, four at the corners, and the other four in the center of the twelve, and 16 foot measurements,

about seven foot tall at the edges, and 9 or so feet tall at the peak,

8 by 12 foot roof sides are easy because they go so well with plywood available at 4 by 8 sheets, and i;ve done alot of roofing and have built a similar building with my grandfather, his was an open picnic area at his cottage,

it will have a straight dirt floor , or , something else, i know concrete is bad because of the moisture trapped in it, and dropping steel and blowing chunks out of it,
any ideas?

   Cameron - Monday, 09/01/08 15:33:14 EDT

Dirt is good. Just pick up your tools often.
   John Christiansen - Monday, 09/01/08 16:22:20 EDT

Spike markings are often proprietary and only mean something if you know who made it.

Floors: There are all kinds of pros and cons for every type floor. In a modern shop with machinery of any kind you cannot beat a good heavy concrete floor. Machines are hard to move on soft surfaces and they need good foundations. You can move machinery on rollers, with a pallet jack or a fork lift on a concrete floor. Concrete is also the easiest to clean UNLESS it is bad dusty concrete. Spalling is only a problem if you don't know about the problem. Let work cool on a grate, in the forge, under a bench. . . Don't torch directly over the floor, use a protective piece of sheet metal or cover the torch area floor with refractory brick. .

Brick floors used to be popular in forge shops but they tend to settle, heave, crumble individually and are generally just plain high maintenance.

Heavy wood floors used to be popular in factories, even forge shops but are expensive and absorb oil.

Dirt floors offer some cushion to the feet and are cheap IF you have the proper dirt (mostly clay and sand). Gravel also can be used. The problem with dirt floors is tracking and loss of tools. Drop a scribe, center punch, screw driver ANY small tools and shuffle your feet over it and it is GONE. When a friend of mine moved his shop they MINED the gravel basement floor and filled up two pickup truck loads of steel and tools!

I like a dirt floor for the feet but you would only need a circle about six or eight feet in diameter centered around the anvil and vise with the forge and bench (platen) to the sides.
   - guru - Monday, 09/01/08 16:23:14 EDT

someone also told me you can lay pea gravel about 4 inches thick, then dump lots of concrete powder over it, wet it down, and trowel it, , its less of a permanent floor, i doubt i will be in my parents house for more than 2 years tops, and then to take up the floor you just jackhammer the concrete into big chunks and rake the gravel away,

would that work in this situation?
   Cameron - Monday, 09/01/08 16:53:47 EDT

I'm using a somewhat bad charcoal forge, and I spend a lot of time waiting for the metal to heat up, it depends on the bag of charcoal some bags burn fantastically, some are just crap. I usually work on the metal at a orange until it becomes totally dark then reheat it. My forge can't get the metal any hotter unless I burn large amounts of charcoal at once.
   Nabiul Haque - Monday, 09/01/08 17:59:46 EDT

When I made my three (and only, unless my mother asks for another one) swords, I'd start working the metal close to yellow, and put it back in the forge at a middle orange. The correct technique depends on the specific alloy you're using, but working tool steel too cold is just as bad as working it too hot. And low red to black is too cold for just about any alloy. You also might find that burning up charcoal three times as fast will let you finish in 1/3 the time.
   Mike BR - Monday, 09/01/08 19:52:41 EDT

Charcoal: There is charcoal and there is charcoal bricketts. The molded things for use on a barbeque grill are mostly saw dust and glue with just enough charcoal to make them black. . . They are for steaks not iron.

Real charcoal is much less dense than coal so it takes a deep fire. All early iron was made using charcoal including melting for casting. The fuel burns plenty hot, it is just low density so it takes a greater volume.

Burning fuel in a situation that does not produce enough heat is throwing away fuel. Pile it up, work hotter, faster.
   - guru - Monday, 09/01/08 20:07:28 EDT

Not Concrete: Cameron, What you are describing is very wasteful and does not produce good results. Do it right.
   - guru - Monday, 09/01/08 20:08:55 EDT

J Naylor, For the coal dust (fines) try wetting them with water into a slurry and pack it around your fire. If it's coal and not ash, it should coke up for you with careful fire management.
   Frank Turley - Monday, 09/01/08 20:37:35 EDT

I have heard of a blacksmithing course affiliated with
Haywood Community College near Ashville, NC. Has anyone
any information about this?
   Dave Randolph - Monday, 09/01/08 21:45:02 EDT

it is dust out of the bottom of my bin should i let it dry before lighting or light it when it is damp
   j naylor - Monday, 09/01/08 21:45:26 EDT

i wuld like to make a few hammers would rr rail top be suitible for this or should i get something else
   j naylor - Monday, 09/01/08 21:49:39 EDT

Cameron: For a temporary floor You might consider patio blocks or really large pavers. This is not a great floor, but You can take it up when You leave & re-use it at the next location.
   - Dave Boyer - Monday, 09/01/08 22:23:15 EDT

I am about to rebuild the hood to my forge. I have an open air workshop so there is only a canopy roof to keep the weather off of my head. I am considering the "Super Sucker" design because it looks to be the smallest pattern in the plans section. Can you tell me how tall the smoke stack needs to be to get a proper draw on this design?

   Will - Monday, 09/01/08 23:04:21 EDT

Will, the super sucker works with only 3 or 4 feet of stack. By the time you get it well over head it will work really well.
   - guru - Monday, 09/01/08 23:07:17 EDT

RR-rail steel: j naylor, Rail steel is up to 75 point carbon and will harden much more than necessary for a hammer. So be sure to use local hardening and temper as well.

Be careful of cold shuts and cracks in used rail. The train wheels put enough pressure on the steel to make its surface creep and create cold shuts. Heavy use can result in cracks. If there are no problems it is good steel for many types of tools.
   - guru - Monday, 09/01/08 23:12:21 EDT

thanks again
   j naylor - Monday, 09/01/08 23:18:11 EDT

Asheville Blacksmithing: The 1998 ABANA conference was held at the Asheville Campus of the University of NC in. UNCA.edu

At the conference they had built a permanent big brick forge and the Williamsburg, VA smiths had provided a big bellows to use with the forge. See:

Anvilfire NEWS V.2, Page 18. Williamsburg Blacksmith, Peter Ross

I do not have a clue what has happened in the 10 years since. I'll ask some Asheville folks tomorrow.
   - guru - Monday, 09/01/08 23:22:13 EDT

I've heard of trailways being made by the method Cameron described. As I understand it, gravel is put down, dry concrete put on top, mixed together, watered and then compacted. However, it likely is not a surface which would hold a standard road vehicle. Also seems like I've heard some runways during WW-II were built in a similar manner.
   Ken Scharabok - Tuesday, 09/02/08 06:35:43 EDT

Starter Projects:

My favorites for new smiths are tent stakes; you start them by drawing out a point, then you can show how to flatten, offset flatten, bend, twist; you can even do animal heads for the fancy ones. If the beginner does any camping, or know someone who does, they have a useful object/gift. Lots of variation and lots of teaching opportunities, all in a simple object everyone understands. Then go for small simple knives out of some decent spring steel to teach forging an edge, hardening, tempering, and sharpening. Most of my beginners are startled when they move from mild steel to spring; but there's plenty of good spring steel to be had, and small is good. Then, once she understands the process and has built her endurance and skills up, she can whang on railroad spikes for novelty knives.


My compromise (inspired, in part, by the wif) is sand over gravel at the forging end, and 16" X 16" pavers over gravel with sand grouting at the "cold work" end. You can buy them at the local "big box" or landscape store if you have more money than time, or knock together some casting boxes out of 2 X 4s and cast your own if you have more time than money. My friends and I refer to the sand floor in my present shop as the "self-fluxing floor"; but as Jock has pointed out, stuff does tend to disappear. On the other claw, stuff also tends to take weird bounces on masonry or wood floors, and show up several years later, too.

Sunny and warm on the banks of the Potomac.

Visit your National Parks: www.nps.gov

Go viking: www.longshipco.org
   Bruce Blackistone (Atli) - Tuesday, 09/02/08 08:17:34 EDT

Concrte powder can be put down anywhere and provided there is moisture in the atmosphere it will set. Ever leave an open bag of cement a couple of weeks? So unless you are in Saudi or similar this technique works. Problem is that to achieve good density you need to compact it. It is easier to get air gaps out of wet concrete than dry- you can just use a poker either electric or off a compressor. A vibrating plate or roller will do for dry powder. Don't cut corners. A bit of steel and adequate mix of cement powder is a lot cheaper and much less trouble than ripping it up when a slab fails and relaying.
   philip in china - Tuesday, 09/02/08 09:19:02 EDT

Spike Markings: Page 5-2-2 Section 11. Marking. A letter or brand indicating the manufacturer shall be pressed on the head of each spike while it is being formed. When copper is specified, the letters "CU" shall be added.

I'd guess the P was a manufacturer indication.

Wrought iron: tyres of wagons have been 75-80% Wrought Iron when I lived in OH, 95% when I lived in AR. They are generally a low grade WI and so easy to identify by rust striations. If you get too high a grade of WI you won't get much pattern when etched without doing something like twisting it first. Note that damaged tyres are often cheaper as they are scrap rather than antiques and so sell cheaper. When I lived in the inner city in Columbus OH I once found a large tyre in a dumpster a block away from my house---the local florist had used it as part of a display and discarded it when they were through with it.

I have a number of items forged from old tyres in my WI scrap pile. In particular barn hinges seemed to be a popular reuse.

Soaking the wheels: with use the iron/wood interface wears and becomes loose. Swelling the wheels is a stopgap method to get a bit more use out of them before having to have the tyres taken off, resized and shrunk on again---why tyre upsetters are fairly common as are methods of doing it without one, (like is discussed in "Practical Blacksmithing" a book from the late 19th century)

Keith Sommer at Quad-State sells WI from an old bridge, yes he bought a bridge and is doing well by it! His AG stuff is generally 1070 or 1080 (?) rods from potato diggers.

Tent Stakes is a good use for scrap steel, I used to get drops of 1/2 sq stock from a local ornamanrtal iron fab shop that would be just the right length for tentstakes and tacked up into 6x6 piece blocks for their bandsaw to cut. Best of all it was FREE as tentstakes don't have much margin on them if you have to buy the stock---discarded cheap railings were a good source too. (back when they used real steel in the uprights instead of tubing)

Coal dust: my suggestion is to soak it, build up your regular fire with regular coal and then add the coal dust to the sides/top having let the water run out of a shovelful before you apply it. My current coal is sold to me as fines so I have to be sure to save some of the coked up lumps to start the next fire with.

Floor: I have never had any problem with concrete spalling when I drop hot steel on it. That is much more a concern when casting in my opinion.

   Thomas P - Tuesday, 09/02/08 11:39:03 EDT

Is it advisable to use firebricks in making a small, possibly 4'x 8' coal briquette "forge"?
   Pat - Tuesday, 09/02/08 11:42:55 EDT

It seems to me that making a floor out of just pea gravel and portland cement would be like trying to glue marbles together. There's a reason they put fine aggregate (sand) in concrete. If you wanted weak concrete, it would make a lot more sense to just use less cement than normal.
   Mike BR - Tuesday, 09/02/08 13:56:47 EDT

Concrete: The concrete "powder" over gravel method is a medium to high labor method of mixing concrete in-situ (in place) AND as noted produces a poor quality concrete. The total materials cost is the same as for GOOD hand mixed concrete. This is higher labor requiring mixing in a mortar box or on a platform and then hauling the concrete and placing it in a form and finishing it. However, the results are MUCH better. If your time is worth ANYTHING or is limited then call a delivery truck. . .
   - guru - Tuesday, 09/02/08 14:35:05 EDT

Coal Dust: Collect it, screen it, package it as "Punching dust". There are enough gas forge users that would like to use coal dust as a punch lubricant that it might sell well. . .
   - guru - Tuesday, 09/02/08 14:36:55 EDT

Forges. Bricks, and Briquette's: Pat, charcoal "briquettes" are not a suitable fuel for a forge. They are mostly sawdust and glue. The sawdust is how they get the oak, hickory or mesquite flavor into the stuff. In the forge you use real "lump" charcoal which is 100% charcoal, OR coal.

Firebricks or refractory bricks are not needed for a solid fuel forge. You may use them but a metal container works and so do any fired clay brick. Forge "firepots" are best shaped like a cut off inverted pyramid so that the fuel works its way to the center where the air is coming it. This is true in a bottom blast coal, charcoal or coke forge. This makes a very hot concentrated fire.

When bricks are used to make a charcoal forge they are best used to make a trough type forge. These are also known as Japanese or sword makers forges. This is a long U shape arrangement of brick or refractory about one brick length wide and about 2 to 3 feet feet long.

Traditionally these use a box bellows but any air source will do. This is a side blast and the air spreads into the fire lengthwise due to the walls of the forge. Bricks can be used loose in the back to make the fire deeper.

The bricks do not need to be all refractory bricks but those in the center where the fire is concentrated should be. But is is easier to build with all the same size and shape bricks. The whole can be built loose and adjusted as necessary.
   - guru - Tuesday, 09/02/08 15:08:37 EDT

Dave Randolph, there is a course there from time to time, and from all I've heard it's a good one, if often kind of bladesmith-centric. That doesn't bother me since I'm rather bladesmith-centric in my own work. From what I understand they have a nice shop. Contact the college directly and ask 'em!
   Alan-L - Tuesday, 09/02/08 16:21:11 EDT

As a propane forge user myself, I would buy coal dust. Now, does this have to be coal dust from a forge or could I just simply crush coal into powder and use it?
   - Nippulini - Tuesday, 09/02/08 16:46:46 EDT

While coal dust will somewhat work as a lubricant for punching, there are many mordern lubricants used in industry. Most are water based and do not smoke and flame as does the oils, neversiezes, graphite and coal dust homemade lubricants used for hot work.

Just as one should not be a home paint chemist and concoct home made varnishes, one should also consider the millions of dollars spent by the big lubricnt makers on R&D.
Try the Puncherize sold on this site, Poorboy Tools Punch lube(A great lube) or try Henkle or Fuchs.
The difference will astound you.
And No combustable dust deposits in the shop.
   ptree - Tuesday, 09/02/08 17:52:40 EDT

I harldy ever do punching, even more rarely drifting. But when I do, I get so frustrated at the tools sticking to the work. After some banging, twisting and cursing I eventually get it off. Never used ANY type of lube. I figured liquids would burn off. This is what happens when you're self taught. Stupid assumptions.
   - Nippulini - Tuesday, 09/02/08 19:21:45 EDT

Nip. ANY lube is better than dry when hot punching, slitting or drifting.
Avoid the neversiezes as they conytain a witches brew of metals that are not what you wish to breathe once they vaporize.

Graphite (coal dust is a poor mans graphite) Has been used for a couple of centuries. Works. Cons: dirty, the dust that accumulates is a combutable dust and in quantity can be a fire/explosion hazard, graphite is a natural product mined and contains respirable silica.

The modern lubricants are mostly applied in a water diluted state to pull the heat from the tooling and leave a tightly gripping solid film behind. These solid films are slicker than snot on hot metal. If the tool is allowed to overheat mushrooming will still occur and the tool will stick. Also since the lubricant is soo slick, the tools go deeper for a given force and have surprised folks by going thru the stock and forming a head on the far side of the stock. (I have done that.)

I use a modern lube in my shop, and have bought and now promised about all that remained of the drum committed to our trade. Most of the big companies want to sell in 250 gallon totes.
   ptree - Tuesday, 09/02/08 19:33:07 EDT

A pint would last me years.
   - Nippulini - Tuesday, 09/02/08 19:37:16 EDT

Nip, e-mail me.
   ptree - Tuesday, 09/02/08 20:21:57 EDT

Coal Dust, Punching Forging Lubes: My suggestion was mostly in jest. However, coal dust IS a traditional method and works while providing a great show of fire while punching. In fact the vaporizing coal does a great job of cooling the punch and the "lube" is a combination of liquid and gases making it very slick.

Coal dust for this purpose is NOT from the forge but is fresh clean ground forging coal. It only takes a pinch once a hole is started. It does burn in the process and one must be cautious of the flames. Yep, there are modern replacements.

Smiths have used a variety of compounds as lubes. Beeswax used to be a common punch lube and the handling holes in anvils were filled with it to provide a handy supply. Beeswax has a much too low melting point and burns much sooner (but cleaner) than coal. I suspect that mixtures of beeswax and coal or graphite have been used.

Plain old "axel grease" works to a degree. It flares off providing cooling and a little more lubrication than beeswax but not much. While this is not a great lube it is infinitely better than no lube. You would be amazed at how your punching improves with any lube/coolant.

Puncheize manufactured and sold by Big BLU is a graphite and molydisulphide mix that is applied and let dry (or force dried with heat). This is a good high temperature lubricant. Personally I would use it with a coolant (grease) but they recommend to use it alone, dry. The advantage to a drying lube is that you can pretreat all your punches and drifts and then they are ready to use when you are.

The modern lubes as Ptree says are the results of a lot of expensive R&D. Much of this is to find a low toxicity lube that can be used in huge amounts over time.

The important point is that you should use a lube. Any is better than none and the commercial varieties are better than home brews especially in the area of safety.
   - guru - Tuesday, 09/02/08 21:58:12 EDT

I will have Punch Lube for sale at Quad-State or it is eBay listing #280111533069. Essentially a couple of ounces in a cosmetic-type plastic container to which you add water.

I don't plan to make many of my own tools up to Quad-State this year. If you want something from Poor Boy Blacksmith Tools you can order in advance for delivery there though. To find items available easiest way is to go to www.ebay.com and then do a seller search on scharabo.

Steve from matchlessantiques will also deliver any of the anvils he currently has on eBay to the conference. Just the savings on shipping would pay for much of your conference attendance cost.
   Ken Scharabok - Wednesday, 09/03/08 03:56:14 EDT

Charcoal for forging, softwood, or must it be made from hardwood?
   John Christiansen - Wednesday, 09/03/08 08:27:31 EDT

John, both work. Hardwood charcoal is a little denser and may last a little longer per volume. Highly resinous woods such as some tropical woods are not good as they spark and send explosions of fire fleas all over. A few woods such as tulip poplar and tree of paradise do not coal.

In North America pine, fur, cedar, oak, hickory and maple work well. When it was available Chestnut was a top charcoal variety. In other places there are different woods that work well.

   - guru - Wednesday, 09/03/08 09:03:48 EDT

We have a species in southern New England known localy as scrub pine. They seem to live about 40 years, and can have trunks to about 18" or a little more. They are known to cause buildups of creosote in chimmeys and are shunned by most firewood burners. Is this the type of pine you mean, or were you refereing to an eastern pine or a southern pine? Using scrub pine would be most economical, if it works.
   John Christiansen - Wednesday, 09/03/08 09:19:05 EDT

One more stupid question if you don't mind. Must the bark be removed before coaling?
   John Christiansen - Wednesday, 09/03/08 09:30:15 EDT

No bark can be coaled too; it tends to make for a more sparky charcoal but it will still burn. The creosote/pitch problems will be in the coaling stage if the charcoal is *throughly* coaled so no pitch pockets are still around it will work in the forge. You will have to be aware of the greater cook off issues during coaling.

Note that the traditioanl japanese swords were forged and forgewelded with a soft wood charcoal and many folks consider them to be ok...

   Thomas P - Wednesday, 09/03/08 10:31:46 EDT

Thank you both for the exellent information.
   John Christiansen - Wednesday, 09/03/08 11:15:16 EDT

Dry wood coals best but green can be coaled. It just makes a lot of steam and recycling the gases to the fire must wait until the steam is cleared if wet wood it used. Bark often contains a lot of dirt if the log have been dragged in muddy conditions. I am not crazy about heavy dirty bark in the wood stove OR coaling. Rotted wood is generally a waste of time to coal. Scrub Pine is fine.
   - guru - Wednesday, 09/03/08 11:34:01 EDT

Any Ideas for a cupola that could first make it's own charcoal? Also would softwood charcoal work well for smelting? I have about 8 feet ot two foot pipe,sched forty.
   John Christiansen - Wednesday, 09/03/08 13:18:04 EDT

Softwood is fine for smelting, you just use more of it. The famous Swedish wrought iron, imported to England and reshipped to North America for use in nail rods due to its purity and strength, was smelted with coaled Fir and Spruce wood. The English had gone to coke by then, and the American iron industry didn't have the infrastructure to roll nail rod in the vast quantities needed at a lower cost than the imported stuff.
   Alan-L - Wednesday, 09/03/08 13:41:23 EDT

Cupola---as in melting cast iron? The bloomerys I have been involved with we built from adobe, it helps to have some insulation!---though the plans for a foolproof bloomery in "The Mastery and Uses of Fire in Antiquity" uses something more like the old steel schoolroom trashcans.

The japanese tatara smelting furnace uses softwood charcoal.

   Thomas P - Wednesday, 09/03/08 14:48:13 EDT

Forgot to mention the main reason for hardwood charcoal in smelting was that the large furnaces needed fuel that wouldn't crush under the load of the ore and fuel above it. If you smelter is a small jobby this is not longer a consideration.

   Thomas P - Wednesday, 09/03/08 14:50:00 EDT

More great info. This site is a resourse like none other. Thankyou.
   John Christiansen - Wednesday, 09/03/08 14:52:22 EDT

Thanks Thomas, I was thinking along the lines of Steve Chastains' or Stewart Marshall style, but also able to produce charcoal.
   John Christiansen - Wednesday, 09/03/08 14:58:15 EDT

Didn't someone do a semi-scientific study of force required for hot punching using various (and no) lubes in the Hammer's Blow a few years back? I looked quickly but didn't find it.
   Judson Yaggy - Wednesday, 09/03/08 20:20:08 EDT

BTW a friend gave me some of Ken's lube a while back and it's good stuff.
   Judson Yaggy - Wednesday, 09/03/08 20:22:56 EDT

Copulas and Retorts: Charcoal can be made by a number of process and I suspect you could do it in a specially designed copula. But production charcoal making is done in a "retort", a sealed container where the gases given off can be used or returned as fuel to the fire. Copulas are designed to be open and top fed, air is forced in from the bottom and there are taps of ports for slag and iron.

Si, you could carefully design one device to do two jobs. But usually it is easier to build individual devices, especially when it is likely that changes will need to be made.

Also note that even a small copula operation is a multi person operation. These things need constant attention for 10 to 24 hours. Take a moment to step behind a bush and you may find that the fire has collapsed or a tap broken open and you have to start all over again. Feeding, taping slag, monitoring and clearing tuyeres that clog, adjusting the air for the conditions, recording how much fuel, ore, flux, iron you have in each charge and keeping a running total. . . Is more than one person can do. So is taping and pouring. And while the pour is in operation the tap must be plugged for the next pour.

So if you build it, be sure you have enough dedicated people to support operating it.
   - guru - Wednesday, 09/03/08 22:16:58 EDT

Guru, thankyou for reply. So it is not a very natural match. I just noticed you say ore, and Thomas refered to a Bloomery. Am I incorrect in my asumption that srap iron could be melted in a cupola?
   John Christiansen - Thursday, 09/04/08 05:05:00 EDT

John, You can do both but the dimensions of the furnace varies somewhat. Casting iron is much simpler than making it but the operation is similar in manpower needs. To have good cast iron most small casters use cast iron as the source material, not iron/steel scrap. You can use steel scrap but then you get into chemistry issues and how long you hold the iron.

You can also melt bronze in a copula. I prefer melting in a crucible.
   - guru - Thursday, 09/04/08 05:49:44 EDT

And. . you can melt iron in a crucible too. Reduces your manpower needs to what you can lift.
   - guru - Thursday, 09/04/08 06:39:18 EDT

At Batson's Bladesmithing Symposium this spring I got to watch a group of amateur foundrymen (and women!) run a small cupola. They used coke as the fuel and broken up cast iron scrap as the iron source. As the Guru says, it took a minimum of four people to run the operation.

I have also been around bloomery smelts. These are a whole different thing. Charcoal as fuel, ore as the metal source, high-carbon bloomery steel as the end product. Two people can run one of these on a small scale, although I know guys who have done it solo. These are almost, but not quite, similar to a blast furnace for producing cast iron from ore.

So: three methods, three end products, but they all involve a tall narrow-ish stack full of fuel and metal or ore. You just really need to know what you want to have as your end product before you start building.
   Alan-L - Thursday, 09/04/08 08:40:20 EDT

Can you tell me what you know about coal,coal mines and other stuff about coal. Its for a school project.
   kris - Thursday, 09/04/08 10:20:01 EDT

John you originally talked about *smelting* which is reducing ore to metal and that was what I was addressing.

If you meant *melting* which is fusing already made metal then my comments do not directly address that.

I have run into a confusion between the two quite often on the net.

So cupolas melt cast iron (or bronze) and bloomeries smelt iron ore into iron (wrought iron usually, though a bloomery can go pretty much anywhere on the wrought iron-steel-cast iron gaumet)

Cupolas do not reduce ore to metal. a blast furnace or a bloomery does that---it's basically a time and temp thing with cupolas designed for fairly fast flow through and the blast furnace/bloomery for a slower flow to allow the reduction reaction to occur. The basic difference between the blast furnace and the bloomery is that the blast furnace produces liguid cast iron and the bloomery produces a semi-solid bloom of wrought iron.

   Thomas P - Thursday, 09/04/08 10:20:01 EDT

Coal Mines: Kris, We do not do homework or research for students. However, I will tell you a little about coal that you may not find in other resources.

Coal is infinite in variety. The amount of carbon, the part that burns clean, can vary from 10% to 98%. Coal also includes hydrocarbons such as "coal oil", some of which burn and many of which make up smoke. Good coal is almost all carbon plus a few hydrocarbons and is an excellent fuel. Bad coal produces as much or more volume of waste (clinker) as you start with. Coal can include other elements such as sulfur and heavy metals. Sulfur also burns but the waste gases are often toxic as well as smelling bad. The parts that are not combustible are rock and clay. This forms the ash or clinker when the coal burns.

Blacksmiths use high quality coal to heat steel so that they can forge it. The fire has air blown into it which creates an intense heat as high as 3,300°F in a small space and can melt or burn steel.

As coal burns it creates a substance called "coke". Coke is coal with all the hydrocarbons evaporated or burned out of it. It is sort of like charcoal which is made from wood the same way. Coke is nearly pure carbon and when it is burning it creates the hottest coal fire. When coke is made commercially the hydrocarbons are captured and used to make all kinds of things. They are the basis for many huge chemical industries.

You will be able to find a lot of information about coal mining in references such as encyclopedias and geography books.
   - guru - Thursday, 09/04/08 12:36:29 EDT

Guru,, Iwas hoping that you might tell me how old my forge is i was told that it is one of the original forges from our towms blacksmithing history it is a CANEDY OTTO MFG CO,CHICAGO HEIGHTS ILL. The forge measures 40" x 36" with side walls being about 10" tall.Ihope i gave you adequate information but that is about all i know about it at this time.. THANKS, jamie
   jamie - Thursday, 09/04/08 15:59:37 EDT

Jamie, All I can tell you is that Canedy Otto was in business from about 1900 to 1950 maybe later. We have some of their old catalogs but there were no dates in them.
   - guru - Thursday, 09/04/08 17:17:17 EDT

thans guru all i can find is the fact that they made bench grinders and post drills
   jamie - Thursday, 09/04/08 18:23:20 EDT

Hello all, I was wondering why Bill Epps demo in the I-Forge,# 97 (Spike Knife) he says he quenches the blade pointing Due North ? Is this a knife makers habit or just something to make me ask crazy guestions .
   Ringer - Thursday, 09/04/08 18:44:52 EDT

kris-- the coal industry has an association headquartered in Washington, D.C. that can probably inundate you with more info than you need. Try Google. Don't forget to give the United Mine Workers-- the miners' union-- equal time.
   Miles Undercut - Thursday, 09/04/08 20:46:23 EDT

Well, if you live below the equator you might point is south. . . ;)
   - guru - Thursday, 09/04/08 21:04:48 EDT

looking for products to stain, color, etc for steel...other than "paint"....
   art - Thursday, 09/04/08 22:04:53 EDT

Art, "Paint" is what you should color steel with. "Stains" are rusts, oxides and similar coatings that require oiling to prevent rust. Typically commercial products are "gun blues" and other oxide treatments. This gives you a narrow range of color from rust red to brown, gun metal blue of various densities and black. These slow the attack of rust but do not stop it.
   - guru - Thursday, 09/04/08 23:31:02 EDT

Hardening a knife blade true North is just an old tale. It is said to keep it from warping. It doesn't make any difference.
   - Rustystuff - Friday, 09/05/08 00:23:59 EDT

Yea, the warping of the blade during quenching is due to the CORREALIS EFFECT, the rotation of the earth, as it moves thru the magnetic field of the sun. The blade should point WNW in the northern hemisphere. Blades should only be hardened during points of low Sun spot frequency, while wearing an aluminum foil hat.

Or Not
   - Dave Leppo - Friday, 09/05/08 07:47:40 EDT

I've read this "north quench" BS in a few of my smithing books. If you set up a pyramidic frame around your anvil it makes mild steel turn into tool steel.
   - Nippulini - Friday, 09/05/08 08:02:53 EDT

The pyramid reminded me of Slim Spurling's blacksmithing school a little ways west of Denver in the early 1970's. At that time, he would have each student imagine that a pyramid was enclosing their immediate forge/work area. To focus on the forgings, they were to exclude from the pyramid all sound and distractions. Slim used to be involved with Scientology, but I don't know whether this idea was derived from Scientology. I found out about the pyramid, because I demonstrated smithing techniques at his school long ago.

Later on, Slim developed his own ideas about the physical and metaphysical worlds. He passed away last year, but you can google a website in his name.
   Frank Turley - Friday, 09/05/08 09:00:43 EDT

Post vise disassembly:

I bought a corroded 5.5" jaw post vise for $25 and I'd like to get it back to working condition. A shim had been put between the moving jaw and the mounting flanges, presumably because it was a bit loose at one time. Rust had made this way too tight to move by hand. I got the pivot bolt out last night and the vise screw removed. However, I can't see how the anti-rotation key is held in. I'd like to clean out the screw box without the fixed jaw attached. The vise is a very close match to the PW? shown disassembled in the FAQ section; 80 lbs, 5.5". There are initials stamped on the mount at the spring: nT, with a large lowercase n, or it could be a U if the T was upside down. The bench mount has a large 4 on the bottom.

What methods should I try to get the screw box out? Thanks.

   - Jacob - Friday, 09/05/08 09:15:42 EDT

NOMMA Videos:

Has anyone got an opinion on the NOMMA handrail videos? I need a little guidance on layout techniques. Thanks a lot.
   - Mike S - Friday, 09/05/08 09:36:57 EDT

Vise Disassembly: Normally the screw box is just laying there and will fall out. Unless the rust has built up THAT much someone has swapped some parts or made adjustments, maybe even welded it in.

On something this rough I would clean with power tools such as wire brushes, a needle scaler is you have one. Then soak again with penetrating oil.

Normal advice on stuck rusted parts is to use heat. At a red heat the rust converts to a type that takes less space, parts expand and you can get oil in. However, vice boxes used to be assembled by brazing pieces together and this kind of heat would wreck one of that type. The bracket indicates a much later modern era vice but this one may have mix and matched replacement parts.

Vibration or many relatively light hammer blows often works stuck pieces apart with no damage. A hand held air hammer will often shake apart things that a heavy hammer would mash and destroy. You can do the same by hand using MANY light blows but it is tiring and requires self control. Besides trying to push the box OUT I would try to rock it back and forth. ANY movement usually leads to success.

I've disassembled many things that looked impossible or that others have given up on. Often the secret is patience. Oil it, tap on it, leave it for a day, oil it, tap on it. . . Sometimes it helps to use tools others do not have such as a press or another vise. Sometimes close study for wedges, shims, rivets or welds that should not be there is the key.

Good luck!
   - guru - Friday, 09/05/08 10:04:25 EDT

If it's not grease encrusted on the outside of the screwbox then sticking the whole thing upside down in a bucket of cheap vinegar and leaving it overnight to a few days will take care of most of the rust and a scrub brushing while playing the hose over it will remove the black gunk left.

This will free up things very nicely without eating into the base metal.

There will be a line where the air/vinegar level in the bucket is but you can ignore it or wire brush it as you wish.

   Thomas P - Friday, 09/05/08 11:14:12 EDT

Forgot to mention that once you oil it then the vinegar doesn't work.

   Thomas P - Friday, 09/05/08 11:15:04 EDT

Heat, degreeser, and hammering got the pivot pin out. That needed to be replaced anyway, so hammering was OK. The screw box is loose, but does not drop out due to the anti-rotation key. I'm not sure how the key is attached. A quick look at a cleaner, smaller vise agreed that the screw box was held in thrust as well as rotation, but I did not get a chance to take that one apart to inspect the key.

I'll see about posting a picture. Thanks
   - Jacob - Friday, 09/05/08 11:21:47 EDT

When I oil my salad, the vinegar works just fine.
   - Nippulini - Friday, 09/05/08 12:41:17 EDT

Vise Box Key: This is a simple ridge on the top of the box. On the old fabricated boxes it was a brazed on piece of wrought iron or steel. On the later "solid" boxes made in closed dies it is an integral ridge. The key or anti-rotation dog simply fits in the V shaped corner of the slit and drifted hole in the vise frame. It is normally a rough loose fit.

There is no key to remove, just a part that should fall out of an odd shaped hole.
   - guru - Friday, 09/05/08 12:50:30 EDT

Some of the quite early screw boxes had two keys (lugs) brazed on opposite each other.
   Frank Turley - Friday, 09/05/08 17:08:56 EDT

I am currently enrolled in an advanced special problems in metals class at my local university. The professor has mentioned that he would like a "hotbox" style forge built and installed in the schools foundry area. The power source to be used is a single output natural gas burner. It is rather large and I was wondering if anyone knew of a way to find some schematics to base my design on? We have all kinds of steel at our disposal and access to fire brick. I have a general idea of what I need to do I just want some documentation to show my professor. Thank you for any help at all.

Jeremy Pugh
   Jeremy Pugh - Friday, 09/05/08 17:14:57 EDT

Forge Furnace: Jeremy, Virtually all gas and oil forges are a "hot box" arrangement. They are no different than heat treating furnaces and other oven types. Depending on the application these are built with hard refractory brick floors and lighter insulating refractory sides and top. The lighter the insulation the more efficient the furnace. However, light refractories are susceptible to mechanical damage from the work moving in and out of the furnace. The ideal furnace has a hard thin liner surrounded by high efficiency Kaowool blanket.

Flat roof furnaces must have some kind of support for the refractory and often use special molded panels. Often special bricks are made with bolt sockets molded into them. Arched roof designs are better at being self supporting and often light weight refractories are used alone.

SO, you have a refractory lined box, simple. The burner is a fan with the fuel dumped into the air flow. Also pretty simple. The trick is to size the fan for the volume of the furnace. If you have sufficient gas you just keep increasing it until it burns right with the necessary air.

Air and fuel IN means exhaust gases OUT. Furnaces need a permanent vent that allows the burnt gases to escape when the doors are closed. Some furnaces do not allow the doors to close fully on the hearth and others have vent holes in the roof. Roof vents have the advantage of being vertical and capable of exiting the building through a vent pipe.

While venting is important so is having a little back pressure. Back pressure increases the air (oxygen) density and allows the furnace to run hotter.

Where shop furnaces get tricky is designing and building automatic controls. Auto ignition is the first step, then flame out detection to turn off the gas. Between these features goes a temperature controller a few relays and your control switches. Controls can cost as much as everything else in small forges.
   - guru - Friday, 09/05/08 18:11:44 EDT

Jeremy look into a "ribbon burner" system efficient and quiet.

   Thomas P - Friday, 09/05/08 18:16:35 EDT

Thomas, Alan, Thankyou for the additional information. Thomas, I did not realize smelting aplied only to ore. Thank you for the clarification.
   John Christiansen - Friday, 09/05/08 21:51:33 EDT

melting, smelting . . not much difference in the words but a big difference in the process.
   - guru - Friday, 09/05/08 22:53:56 EDT

Jeremy-- ABANA has some plans for sale that enable you to build a quite effective recuperative forge from Robb Gunter's "Sandia" design. Check the ABANA website. Unrecall for sure, but maybe the plans include a materiel list for making a bunch of these as a group project.
   Miles Undercut - Friday, 09/05/08 23:31:41 EDT

Thank You all for your input. When it comes to the automatic control system is that an insurance issue or can some things be fudge, for example do I necessarily have to have an auto ignition system? As for the venting what ratio of vent diameter vs. forge volume would I look for? Thanks again. It's nice to have this resource at my disposal.

   Jeremy Pugh - Saturday, 09/06/08 00:44:59 EDT

Jeremy, I'm not much of a gas forge man, but you shouldn't use any old buff colored fire brick from the building supply, but a heat rated brick such as K28. Our hi tek guys can correct me if I'm wrong.
   Frank Turley - Saturday, 09/06/08 09:44:15 EDT

I have an anvil from a Blackard power hammer and wish to sell it. Do you know a good web site?
   coenobita - Saturday, 09/06/08 09:47:55 EDT

Coenobita, You may list it on our Hammer-In (our other forum). Be sure to tell folks where you are and leave contact information. The web is international and someone in Dallas, Texas may not be interested in shipping something from Sydney, Australia.
   - guru - Saturday, 09/06/08 10:37:04 EDT

Automatic Controls: Yes, it can be an insurance issue or even a local ordinance. However, if EITHER of these get involved then without someone's seal of approval like UL® then you are SOL. A licensed plumber may even refuse to connect the thing.

Many pieces of industrial equipment are built on site and come under their own insurance umbrella. AND even small gas blacksmiths forges are not UL/CA or other approved. They are strictly "use at your own risk"

Many of these devices are manually run. You toss in a piece of flaming paper, hit the gas and air and you are off to a literal roaring start. These devices require constant monitoring and you cannot safely leave them unattended for a single moment. Murphy lives in devices of this type.

A good friend of mine built a fully controlled propane forge as an engineering school project complete with thermal analysis and full automatic controls with a very expensive "fire eye". It had a full research paper, blueprints, the works. It was built in the school shop under the instructor's supervision. In the end they would not let it be fired on school property due to "insurance concerns". . . . The sad thing about this is that NOTHING new would ever come out of University or industrial research if all risk were avoided due to "insurance concerns". . .

As Frank noted, there are different grades of fire or refractory brick. For a gas furnace running at forge temperatures you need the best highest temperature rated brick. Those sold at construction supply places MAY be high rating but they may not because they do not need to be. My local supplier gets his from a nearby foundry supply so they are the same. But other places many not.

Foundry bricks come in many ratings and types. Look at a good cross section drawing of a foundry copula. There are many layers of bricks each with a special purpose.
   - guru - Saturday, 09/06/08 10:39:27 EDT

Ransome, a California outfit, sells Venturis, gas controls. Q.V. Google. Also, see http://www.wardburner.com/technicalinfo/basicglossary.html
   Miles Undercut - Saturday, 09/06/08 10:52:10 EDT

John C: RE charcoal. Contact me about charcoal. I have just hooked up with a smith in Eastham who is coaling extensively. We will be building a 275 gal retort together in the near future. ALso into wood gas generation, which can produce both charcoal and a massive blue flame hot enough for cupola.
   Peter Hirst - Saturday, 09/06/08 15:00:10 EDT

RE: trip hammer action. I can tell you from recent experience that the 500 lb hammer at Saugus iron works, which was state of the art in 1645 hits at about 1 per second and sounds like a 12 gauge shot at about 110 decibles. It is demontrated on 2" copper bar, cold, and interpreter says this pretty well duplicates the sound on a hot bloom.
   Peter Hirst - Saturday, 09/06/08 15:03:33 EDT

Peter Hirst, lost your phone #.
   John Christiansen - Saturday, 09/06/08 15:49:09 EDT

Richard Postman and I have agreed if we could time travel we'd like to spend a day at Mousehole Forge in about 1840. Must have been quite an operation. The town of Sheffield sits nearby and I'm sure the sound of their heave hammers carried to it. Scrap metal and coal vendors making deliveries. Scrap metal being made and forged into billets. Top plates being forge welded on. Anvils being heat treated. From the photographs in Mousehole Forge, it wasn't a very large operation. Certainly not like the Peter Wright complex in Dudley.
   Ken Scharabok - Sunday, 09/07/08 10:09:14 EDT

I have a very large anvil (as well as a 1934 South Bend Lathe with the original purchase papers) that I inherited from my uncle. He probably bought it sometime before 1950.
He usually bought the best.
The anvil face is like new and the horn shows some wear( he did quite a bit of metal bending and curving in one of his hobbiew. The face is 6"x25" Horn is 14" Heght is 15-1.4" and base is 13X15" . There on the fron foot are numbers 47718 and 439( which I assume is the weight 541 lbs)
it has an Arm and Hammer logo impressed into the side Looks to be iron with tool steel top. Hammers bounce back high and anvil rings. I've read a bit on the web and it seems like I have a real good one. Can you confirm? Looking to sell it and thinking of asking $1500 to $2000 from what I have seen available for new anvils not quite this large. Any info greatly appreciated. Thanks
   Paul K - Sunday, 09/07/08 14:32:36 EDT

I just was given another post vice. When i was cleaning it i came across a marking that said Warren, Ohio and it was Warren ... Forge Co. Does anybody know what the name of this company is, it would be very helpful. Thanks!
   Matt Tessier - Sunday, 09/07/08 16:10:08 EDT

Matt, are you SURE it doesn't say "warrented"? These things are often misread.

Paul, That was made by Columbian Anvil and Forging Co. of Columbus, OH. The weight will be in pounds not British hundredweight. Still heavy. The anvil may bring that if you wait long enough. I'd be more interested in the lathe.
   - guru - Sunday, 09/07/08 16:32:58 EDT

Matt Tessier, The Warren Tool and Forge Co. manufactured leg vises, top and bottom tools, and hammers, many of them stamped with the trademark "QuiKwerK." I believe that most of their tools would date in the first 3/4 of the 20th century.
   Frank Turley - Sunday, 09/07/08 16:50:35 EDT

Im sure it says Warren because my grandfater has one with the same marking and it clearly reads Warren, but like mine, it doesnt have the word tool marked clear enough to read, thanks for the help. I also have one that has The words Iron City inside of a star, does anyone know about this maker? Thanks.
   Matt Tessier - Sunday, 09/07/08 18:12:21 EDT

Sorry its grandfather.
   Matt Tessier - Sunday, 09/07/08 18:13:20 EDT

Matt Tessier, Iron City Tool Works was another company formerly established in Pittsburgh, PA., from 1854 to 1958. In 1958, they were acquired by the Warren Tool Corporation of Warren, Ohio, the same as that mentioned above. Besides vises, Iron City made blacksmith tools, hammers, hoes, picks, and railroad tools.
Reference: Directory of American Toolmakers, Robert E. Nelson, Editor. Early American Industries Association; 1999.
   Frank Turley - Sunday, 09/07/08 19:02:29 EDT

Vice disassembly
Don't forget that warm oil will get into places cold oil will not. It has greater "creep". I would wash out with an organic solvent to get rid of any grease which might also be holding dirt, rust, scale etc.. Then hit it with penetrating oil as Guru says. CLEAN THE PENETRATING OIL OUT! Then my favourite, as everybody knows, is use some warm dirty sump oil out of an engine! It is free and does the job wonderfully well. Put the part in when it is good and warm and go away. Leave it for a few hours or better still a couple of days. then just go back and keep nattering away at it with a small hammer, pull on it, push on it and eventually it will give way.
   philip in china - Sunday, 09/07/08 20:10:15 EDT

I was wondering if someone could give me some help narrowing down the year my Peter Wright anvil was made. It is stamped "Peter Wright", "Patent" and has "Solid Wrought" in a circle. It is not stamped "England". Its stamped weight is 127 lbs. From my reading, my best guess is 1880 to 1910. Can anyone narrow this range or tell me when british law started requiring England to be stamped? Thank You
   Jesse - Sunday, 09/07/08 22:12:26 EDT

Jesse: I would date it from 1860 - late 1800s. Richard Postman initially used 1910. However, infomration since then indicates the use of ENGLAND started in the late 1800s.
   Ken Scharabok - Monday, 09/08/08 05:01:45 EDT

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