Friday, January 01, 2010

The Ice Chisel

I have a friend named Bear. Actually, I have two friends named Bear. I imagine I am in a small population, having two outdoor-loving brothers with an ursine appellation.

One of my Bear friends lives up in Minneapolis, the other in the Ozarks. Both are paddlers. The Minneapolis Bear (M.B) likes winter trips to places like the Boundary Waters, where getting water in the winter is a matter of some work. You can take an auger but ice chisels are faster and unlikely to break. When given a choice, always take the simpler tool.

A few months ago M.B. asked me to make him an ice chisel. He didn't want a wimpy sort of store-bought ice chisel. The ice is thick in the BWCA, and a wimpy chisel just makes you tired and grumpy. He wanted a chisel with some heft. I agreed to make one, it was an experiment of sorts, but would be relatively easy. The trick was to find a cutting edge that would hold up.

I needed a piece of spring steel, so I stopped in at Madison Spring, a heavy-duty user of spring steel. They're the ones who put leaf springs in cement trucks. I was going to buy a piece of steel but I just asked them for a little piece so I could put an edge on an ice chisel. He didn't say anything, he just sauntered to the back of the office and went out into the shop. A few minutes later he returned with a piece of spring, tossed it onto the metal topped counter and said "Here ya go. Merry Christmas." Despite his holiday greeting, he never cracked a smile. Not even a slight lift of one corner of his mouth.

After cutting the spring steel to the proper width, I got out a big chunk of the mild stuff and started forging it into the proper dimensions (it was a little too wide and I wanted it to be a little bit thicker). It's fun to work with big stuff because it stays hot a long time, so your arm doesn't have a chance to rest. My hammer arm has weakened significantly, since I don't work big stuff as often these days. A 1000g hammer can give you a workout.

I had to grind two bevels in both the spring and the mild steel so the weld would sit down in the notch and really tie things together. The mild steel makes long sparks...the spring looks like's really pretty.

"Luke, I am your father."

I am not a skilled welder. I don't suck, and my welds hold things together, but I am not one of those people who make bike frames, their perfect little semi-circles mocking my ham-fisted attempts. This would be a fun one to weld--big things. I turned the welder up to 11.

I should have turned it up to 10.5. It was a little too hot, as you can see by the dishing at the end of the weld. No matter, another weld covers it. Then the grinding and forging begins. I really wanted a seamless transition between spring and mild steels, and I got pretty dang close.

Here's the semi-final product, before tempering, buffing, and rubbing down with paste wax.

The only problem is that M.B. has already left on his trip, and I am a dope for not finishing this last week. Then again, I work in retail. This is not our slowest time of year, so I have that excuse. I look forward to a report on how well it worked.

Respectfully submitted,



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