Saturday, January 26, 2013

It Followed Me Home (part 1)

   Today I made an excellent trade! I traded two bars of 1/2" Square Stainless Steel and a 14" Damascus knife blank.
(Damascus Steel: Pattern welded steel consisting of layers of mild and carbon steel welded and folded somewhere between 100-1000 times. Acid etched and shined, Damascus makes a beautiful patterned billet)

I traded these pieces for about a dozen cut pieces of leaf spring, half a dozen cut up pieces of coil spring 1/2" round, 4 1/2 ' of 1/2 square mild, and 17 railroad spikes. Also included was 7 files. The largest was 20" long and the shortest was 10".

Ah, forget the words, though!  All the beautiful, gently rusted metal!

Overall a great trade with a new friend who I look forward to forging with at some point in the summer!

Now, I know I promised pictures of some letter openers that I forged, but that will have to wait for now. I have not gotten good pictures of them yet, but have no fear! You'll see more soon enough.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

How To: Make a Fire

   Today I am beginning a series of posts that are "How-To" instructional posts. Tonight's demonstration is going to be on firemaking.

By the end of this post, you will know how to build a fire like Ridgeway Forge!

First, a look at the materials used in the construction and combustion of a fire.

Pictured on the top is clinker, middle is coke, and bottom is coal.
A brief description of each:
Clinker is the ceramic, glass and iron oxide mixture that melts out of the coal as it burns. Clinker makes its way to the bottom of the firepot, being heavier, and is then cooled and partially solidified by the air blast. It must be taken out with a poker or clinker breaker in order to burn a clean, efficient fire.
Coke is the partially burned coal. The impurities have been burned off, making it a very porous, hot burning substance. It is like charcoal in the way that it is formed, and reacts slightly like it.
Coal is compressed carbon formed many eons ago by dead dinosaurs and weird extinct fern plants. Remember of course that coal comes in different grades. The lowest grade is lignite, or brown coal. (some might argue that peat is the lowest grade, but I beg to differ. It is not really coal. It is a plant.) Sub-bituminous coal is the second worst grade, being not purely carbon.
Bituminous coal, or soft, blacksmith coal is the best grade for general forging. It is not the top of the line coal, as it has impurities in it. However, it cokes well and burns hot. It is superseded only by:
Anthracite coal. Anthracite is hard coal, and it has a shiny, obsidian-like look to it. It burns very hot, and is almost pure carbon. However, it is more difficult to use because it takes a more intensive care and more air. it also does not coke up like bituminous coal.
(Okay, I will add here that the top of the list, even superior to Anthracite is graphite. [Yes that's right, the 'lead' in your pencil is graphite. {Make sure you use a #2 pencil for test taking, lab reports and scantron sheets}])
A bag of good bituminous blacksmithing coal.
Okay! Now we know about the types of coal. If you don't know where to get good coal from, feel free to contact me and I will certainly point you in the right direction. (check my facebook page for contact information)
So, you are now ready to start your fire, equipped with the knowledge of the materials needed.
Begin with a few crumpled sheets of newspaper. (avoid the shiny inserts, but political cartoons and the celebrity sections seem to work best. Maybe its all the hot air!)
Next, put some charcoal (or coke if you have it) into some of the pages and wrap it up into a ball. (Oh, and look fabulous faster.)
Put several of these newspaper balls into the firepot on top of the initial sheets. Put some charcoal on top and around the sides of the newspaper balls.
I use sliced, kiln-dried hardwood floor drops as kindling. I cut them up into slivers and make the fire lob-cabin style.

After I bundle the fag of sticks (redundant, I know.), I light 'em up! I light several ends of the newspaper, and add a really slight amount of air. (and by slight, I mean super slight. Like, opening up the ash dump is enough for some forges)
And, we have combustion!
After the fire is burning briskly, feel free to turn the blower freely. Just no F5 Tornadoes, please. We're trying to burn a fire, not blow sticks out of a firepot.
After a bed of coals is established I add some coal. I smokes a bit at first, but if you pile it up like a volcano with a hole down to the coals in the center, you should be able to minimize the smoke. Also, wetting the coal a little bit helps some, too.
After adding coal, add air. And lots of it, too. You want to create an inferno, so crank it hard. (again, don't blow the fuel out of the firepot!)
After a little while, you should see coke forming. Break it into smaller chunks, and keep the fire well fed. Then, you will end up with this egg-shaped hot spot in the fire. That's the good part: it will heat 1/4" steel in under a minute.
A better view of the fireball:
And that's all folks!
Please don't hesitate to request demos, as I will be more than happy to oblige! Stat tuned, subscribe and check back later for some of my recent projects of aesthetic beauty!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Forging while distrac-flutterby

    Today I was forging. (Big surprise, I know.) However, I was really rather distracted. I have been packing for my return trip to my sometimes home at school. So, my mind was wandering a little bit today on my work.

I am here to tell you about how terrible of an idea that is.

Blacksmithing is an art that engages both sides of the brain. Additionally, it is dangerous and complex, and require complete concentration. I burned my steel, heated a punch (1060) too quickly causing it to crack, and did who knows how many little errors. I would urge you all, aspiring smiths and weathered veterans alike, please slow down, and don't forge while distracted or tired. All you'll do is cause yourself pain and frustration. I could have learned a lot more had I slept enough and been concentrating.

Bear with me over the next few weeks. There may not be too many posts. Also, Ridgeway Forge Co. is not accepting orders for products starting two weeks from now, until further notice. However, if you want to back order an item let me know. I'm always happy to serve my devoted readers and esteemed customers.

Well, I can only promise one thing: Big things are happening. They will be exciting and beautiful as they track my progress as a smith, and I hope you'll keep reading, and I welcome any input on how I can improve my blog!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Stump Anvil

    Today I tackled an industrial job at the forge. This was a learning experience for me, and one of the most important things I realized was that I am a foolhardy young man who should have gotten a friend to strike for me. However, because I am foolhardy, I went ahead and moved all of this metal by myself (with the help of a 4 pound hand-sledge).

My starting stock was 1090 Railroad Rail.
The next step was fitting my tongs to the stock:
I will pause here and mention to any smiths looking to use railroad rail as stock: It is in the 10XX series of carbon steels, so it is plain carbon steel. Nevertheless, it is in the 1080-1090 range, and must be handled like a tool steel. I had no experience forging tool steel when I began, and made a terrible mistake a little ways in. (In my defense, I thought it was 1050-1060 steel, like the clips are.)
This steel needs only to be worked at a yellow heat, not a sparking white heat. I burned the metal and wasted some fuel, metal, and work. Don't be stupid, a yellow heat is good enough.
Anyways, back to my story here.
I got the metal hot (as naturally a blacksmith would do!) and let it soak in the heat after I cut the blast. Then, using my hot cut (which is now unfortunately unhardened and untempered thanks to today's work) I cut the webbing.
Heat and Beat session next! The steel is too hot.
Because my steel was too hot, the grain structure grew to be too large, and cracked when I let it reaching a burning heat. I am not sure exactly what happened, but clearly my grain size was huge.
Here the grain size is evident:
After the little nugget was sheared off, I resumed forging, making sure to keep the steel a bit cooler.
The rail is taking shape! Now, the webs of these things are about 3/4" wide, and this one was 1 1/2" deep. So, hand-forging 1090 steel is extremely slow business.
Unfortunately I did not get a picture of it being quenched, but it was a lot of steam. I used a running stream of water from the spigot. (Fancy french word for pipe sticking out of the ground with water pouring forth: Spigot!)
Here it is, embedded in a stump!
That was today's work: A stump anvil! I have not weighed it yet, but I believe it to weigh around 3- 4 lbs, at least I hope. Usually stump anvils are heavier than that. Oh well, I will make do. Determination is my strong point. I used to forge in a campfire with a plastic 5-gallon bucket lid (of yellow color, I might irrelevantly add) to fan the flames. So, I know hard work, and it knows me. We happen to be on a first name basis. So, whatever I make on this stump anvil will be hard work. Nevertheless, we can't all be spoiled with a #400 perfect Armitage Mousehole Anvil and a three burner gas forge, now can we?
Hm, this anvil appears to be perfect for a portable forge, don't you think?
(hey wait a minute! Didn't I make a pair of tongs that would be perfect as well? What is going on here?!? Are these Spoilers?!?)
I am going to end this blog post with a link to my facebook page. That is a hint, dearest readers.

Monday, January 7, 2013


     I would like to meet Samuel Yellin. Unfortunately, I can't do that. But, I can observe his legacy. His work. His iron. It speaks, in a way, and tells stories of how the master of the craft made a lasting mark of steel on the world. He was a master blacksmith. He's a role model of mine. Yellin was able to manipulate steel, at his will, and form it into whatever his mind could think up. Everyday I am going to take one step to rivaling his mastery of his craft. I do not want to be him, nor do I want to reproduce his work. Contrarily, I want to take a bar and make from it what my mind fathoms, so as to express myself in a medium which is lasting.

  ...Well THIS post got off on an entirely too philosophical note! I really was not intending for it to be that deep, goodness!

On Saturday I made myself my very first pair of tongs. They work, though not well, and are ugly. I am not ashamed to say that they are terrible, because I jumped in and did it.
I made several mistakes which make these tongs poorly designed. They will now hang on my wall of shame.
Today, however, I made a nice small pair of tongs to hold small hooks which I forge.
Here are the tong blanks rough-forged, not cleaned up yet
Each one ended up being close to 11" long, and nearly identical. I didn't have to file or grind it any, which surprised me. I used the method of Brian Brazeal as seen here.
I like these tongs a lot, and I know I will spend many quality hours with them.

He's a cute little guy, for sure. Perhaps he needs a name! (do people usually name their blacksmith tongs?)
As I may have mentioned, these are light duty tongs only. They were forged from 13 inches of 1/2" Round Stock, and will be used on 3/16" to 3/4" stock.
I had to make sure they work, of course, and so I made two small drive hooks for my new forge (Work in progress... May be some months yet.)
These hooks were quickly thrown together for fun; I burned the top hook and the bottom hook was made a long time ago, but never finished.
Those tongs are so small and lightweight, they'd be perfect for a portable forge kit, wouldn't they?
I wonder if that previous statement was a hint at something....
Well, my post must come to a close. Only one parentheses in this post! (okay, let's make it two!)
Thank you dear readers! I always encourage feedback and critique, by the way.
Happy Hammering!


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Seeing Double!

(Warning: Long winded and full of pictures!)

Today I performed an exercise which I found to be quite enlivening!

I began with two lengths of 3/8" square stock, each 6" long. I put both of them in the forge simultaneously, and cranked my Champion 400 blower. (By the way, I am now using brand new coal compliments of my friend Matt at The Rough Country Home Studio- He gave me coal for Christmas!)

I then tapered each piece, to roughly the same dimensions. (in fact, I believe my tolerances were within 3/16" or less!) 
I scrolled the ends of the pieces, and although I was aiming at them being identical twin scrolls, I suppose they'll just be fraternal.
Using my vise-mounted bending forks, I made some nice, fluid curves. (This would be so much easier on a London pattern anvil. How I wish earnestly for the chance to forge on one! But, now I'm resourceful, since I lack many standard tools! But, I digress...)
Flattening out the screw-hole was next. I drew a line in charcoal one inch in from the edge of my anvil, and placed the hot steel against that line. The finished flat was longer than the mark and wider than the rest of the steel, but still came out fairly well. After I flattened it (to roughly 1/8"), I made a double twist. It was a sharp looking twist, and is big and beefy-the kind of twist which I like!
Some final adjustments, wire-brushing and air-cooling, and the two twin hooks are ready to be seen!
The twists were heated slightly unevenly, so they are a bit kittywampus. (If you're from the northwest, Cattywampus if you're from the southeast. Go figure! Eytemology at work, I tell you!)
The two are not completely identical, but are close enough for my happiness. Right now they, and some other recent work, are soaking in a solution of water and vinegar, 2:1. Once the scale and oxidation is removed, I will neutralize it with soap and wire-wheel it to give it a shine. I may prime and paint it, if I so feel like it, and have yet to drill screw holes in it.
Aha! Now, dear reader, you may be asking yourself: "what is that other unsightly piece of iron of a darker hue that is in the last picture? It looks rather like a coiled snake with back problems! It ruins the picture!" (you might also be asking yourself: "Is this man crazy? And why does he keep using parentheses?" [or, you could be asking, "Wait, did he just add brackets? Why am I still reading?])
Never fear, goodly reader! I am going to elaborate with pictures and words that seemingly unsightly mass of steel.
The picture is of a spiral candle holder. I didn't have the recommended 42", I had only about 24" of it. Therefore, what I made could scarcely be called true to the model. Nevertheless, I learned an important lesson on how to do it. It takes many heats and is kind of labor intensive, and I'm not very good at doing it. Nevertheless, it is a gift for a friend, and I'm sure it will be pleasing to that person when they receive it. I used beeswax finish, and had it burning for a while. It dripped some beeswax past the edge of the spiral though, I blame my stingy use of material for that one.
But, enough with the typed words, let's see some pictures, shall we?
Aha! Candlelight! So romantic! Seems so warm, yet mysterious, don't you think? Amazing what power a single flame burning can have on a room. I like those pictures. They're simply virile.
All in all, a great day at the forge! Stay tuned for a couple of exciting posts coming up: Forge construction, fire-making tutorial, perhaps more knives? Who knows! Alas, for now, I have written enough, and you, dear reader, should go to sleep. (No matter what the time! Ah! Naps, such great inventions, don't you think?)
This post was sponsored by Ridgeway Forge Co.
Please buy things from me: I'm a poor starving college kid who wants to continue my passion for art in blacksmithing!