Saturday, January 31, 2009

Blacksmithing on a Saturday morning

The start of a very fine morning indeed.

In my mind, there are several gradations of "Day Off."
  1. Day off where you drop into work for a few minutes (turning into an hour) and then you do other things the rest of the day, but you answer emails and phone calls on your cell.  Day Off Ratio: 2/10.
  2. Day off where you don't physically go to work, but you still do work things.  Basically, No. 1 without physical presence.  Day Off Ratio: 3.5/10.
  3. Day off where you get up later than normal by an hour or so, possibly check your email but other than that, you're not at work.  Day Off Ratio: 5/10.
  4. Day off where you don't check anything about work, but you have a list of honey-dos a few yards long.  You do things with your family.  Even if they're fun, you are still not on your own time schedule.  Day Off Ratio: 7/10.
  5. Day off where there's no one else in the house, you can do whatever you want whenever you want, you don't have to shower, you can wear grubby clothes and eat cookies for breakfast, and you get to spend the morning pursuing a solitary hobby.  Day Off Factor: 9.5/10.
I've never reached 10/10.  I don't know what that would feel like.  I imagine it would feel quite nice, but that last .5 is probably mostly in your head.

Anyway, today was probably a 9.  Canoelover Jr. was off on a Scout campout, Stephanie is off making baskets with a bunch of her friends and having a girl's day.  That left me alone and unencumbered for at least five hours.  

12" of 1/2" square mild steel. About 1300 degrees at this point, heading to around 1500. 

This meant that I could spend some time in the smithy, the half of my garage that is not canoe/kayak/bicycle storage.  Only uncreative people (or people with six-car garages) put their vehicles in the garage.  For me, it's a creative space, a play area.  Except my toys get up to 1,500 degrees F.

I spent a good hour cleaning first, as my shop was a mess.  Winter has a way of encroaching on my work area...sleds and toboggans were piled all over, as were snowshoes and skis that we had unloaded from the car when we were too cold and wet to put them away.  I sorted and stacked and put gear away, recycled a giant pile of boxes that needed slicing up, all as the forge heated up.

As usual, I had no idea what I was going to make.  I have a tool that I am building that takes little bits of time, a guillotine that will allow me to make shoulders for tenons and such, so I worked on that between heats while goofing off with a piece of 1/2".  It's my favorite size of steel, be it round or square, as it just feels right, and you can work it without spending hours whacking on it with a 2000g hammer.  As it is, I mostly use a 1500g hammer, a Swedish pattern Peddinghaus, made in Germany by anal-retentive Germans (shocking, I know) who know that a good hammer is as similar to a hardware store hammer as a Stradivarius is to a swap meet fiddle.  There is a difference, and it's wonderful.  It makes short work of 1/2" stock.

Turning a square thing into an octagonal thing.

I started as I often do, just a basic exercise, drawing out.  Like doing scales on the piano, it's one of the fundamental things a blacksmith does, and it's something you always need to practice.  As I was making sure I was making a square taper and not a parallelogram taper (a common, mindless mistake that shows your mind is elsewhere), a design came into my head for a large coat hook. Something beefy and organic.  So I started the shaping process and set up for twisting.

Working the rosebud on the acetylene torch.  40,000 BTUs.  It gets things hot quickly and in small areas.

I twisted and turned, corrected and straightened, working with the torch when the taper became too delicate to handle using blunt force.  This is the part I like, the finesse work.  I think it is because of my tool limitations (again, no 50-pound power hammer that would make short work of 3/4" stock at the cost of losing the love of my immediate neighbors), but also because I like small details.  That's why hand-forged beats anything cast anywhere.  There will never be another hook like this.  I could make one similar, but why bother?  That's the beauty of it.

The final hook.  Started as 1/2" square stock.

As the hook cooled I did some riveting on my new tool.  It will be very cool when done, and I am sure I will be making more jigs for it as time goes by.  I also tested a new slitting chisel (sucks, need to make a new one out of harder steel) and cleaned the rust off the drill press platen.  Then I paste-waxed the hook and polished it, set the countersink for the mounting screw, and turned off all the various gases to welder, torch, and forge.

Then I went in the house to wash my hands, blow a few pounds of black boogers out of my nose (occupational hazard), and wrote this.  The hook is still a little warm as I write this.  1/2" square retains heat pretty well.

So far, so good.  By no means a perfect day, as few are, but it was very nice to have a chunk of time where I didn't have to be responsible for anything for a few hours.

Respectfully submitted,



Silbs said...


jbwrites said...

However, I'm creative and I put my car in the garage. I hate hail dents.

Silbs said...

Looks like you had a blast.

canoelover said...

I did. Sometime when you're over here, Silbs, we'll fire up the forge.