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Upcoming projects:
Building a Frame Saw
Forging a Copper Kettle
Making a pair of leather work boots
Forging and Fletching a Bodkin
Flocking a drawer interior

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Forging a Double Bit Axe

In the lofty pursuit of forging all the tools I will eventually need to timber frame a workshop, I have worked my way into the variety of axes. Starting with the small ones, this time I made a double bit axe. More of a proof of concept and to experiment with dimensions, it won't be doing much of the heavy lifting but is designed for light trimming and the like.

The size of the stock is 5"x2"x,75" mild steel, nothing special. The other axes I have made were done using the fold/wrap method where the poll is forged out of the middle of the piece and the edge is made from the two ends. This time, I slit an eye in the middle and the ends will become two edges instead of one.

All the tooling I used for this I made in the shop over the last few months. From left to right, there's a hot cut hardie, centre punch, hot cut chisel, small drift, large drift, hot cut (without the handle) and a pair of double calipers. On top is the pair of hammer eye tongs. These are great for this, and having only recently finished them 8 months after forging the two halves, I am incredibly glad I did. 

First step is to mark the centre of the billet. 2,5" in from the ends, I marked both sides. This is because slitting from both sides separately and meeting in the middle is generally cleaner and prevents one side from getting too thin if the entry is off kilter.

With the hot cut handled, it's onto slitting the eye. Flipping the piece around (or the hot cut) helps keep it all centred. I took the entire first heat to setting the line properly in the centre of the billet and across the dot I marked earlier. The setup is the most important part, as doing it off angle or off centre will be difficult to correct as the eye opens. If it is at an angle, it will tend to stay at an angle until either you reach the other side or it comes out the face of the billet.

Here it is with both sides slit. Were I to make the hot cut again, I would round the edges a little and make it more oval rather than rectangle so there are no sharp corners on the inside of the eye. This width of steel is on the cusp of being too thin for this size of a hot cut, and as a result, a small tear formed in one of the corners. Nothing catastrophic, but it would have been prevented with rounded corners on the hot cut.

Next up is drifting it open to size. By hammering the drift down into the eye from either side, then forging on the cheeks, it spreads out and widens. Do not use the drift by simply forcing it down through the eye and stretching it to shape that way, it will rip the steel somewhere with it being this thin. 

After moving through both sizes of drifts (you can get away with one or none depending on how you make the hot cut/punch/whatever), the eye is mostly done. Here, it is still thick because I want to do a few things to the rest of the axe body without distorting it unduly.

Before slitting the ends to weld bits into, I tapered the ends a tad. Looking back, it would have turned out better had I left it the original dimension, because the extra mass would have made welding in the bits easier and the subsequent spreading to shape easier.

To open the ends, I used the hot cut again, holding it on edge in the leg vice. I would have gone considerably deeper with the slit had I a better way of holding it or a second set of hands, but the limitation left it about half as deep as the bit of rasp I was using as the edge steel.

Cut on both ends, it looked something like this.

For the edge, I used the aforementioned rasp. Cut a little long to give room for error in alignment, it will be trimmed neatly after welding. I cut this one on the hardie hiding out in the shadow in the top right of the above. Having a narrow bodied hot cut is extremely useful for cutting thick stock (not this, but it also works great for thin stuff) that a butcher won't do without heavy distortion.

And, a fair bit hangs out. I could and probably should have forged it down to about half that width and doubled the length so I only had to use one piece, but the teeth of the rasp helps hold it in place while setting the weld.

Setting the edge hot locks the bit and the body together because the cold rasp's teeth bite into the hot steel of the body, which keeps it from sliding all about. 

A few careful heats to set the weld, then another few to shape it, the first side is set. Some of the excess is trimmed off here, but more sill go to clean up the edges.

Now comes the second. The easiest way to judge if the piece is welded with steel this thin is to let it cool. If shadows form anywhere when everything else around it stays hot, there is probably a weld flaw underneath. Even cooling indicates good welds, but obviously there can still be problems.

Back to the trusty hot cut, the excess is removed and it starts to look like the thing I am trying to make.

Unfortunately at this point I had to close the shop and didn't have the chance to take any more pictures, but a little more work was done on the eye, the last bit of profile forging, and a quick trip to the old hand crank grinder to true things up. I may end up going back and forging it a little thinner all around, but it feels good as it is...

Monday, May 29, 2017

Forged Chandelier: The Frame

Over the last few months, it has been incredibly difficult to get any time in the shop. Rather, to find any time anywhere to be productive making things. Throughout the weeks since I last posted anything, I have been working on designing and forging a chandelier. The ultimate design will have the piece detailed below hang from chain (which I will also make) and hold a collection of lights that cascade around the rim.

First off, the tools and techniques here are all period to the shop I am working out of, as I am here as a public demonstrator and educator to the 1850s era. To begin with, I forged the outer pieces of the rim. These ultimately determine the size of the chandelier, so I figured it would be best to do this before the cross piece in the centre.

Via hack saw, I cut the four pieces. Originally, I was going to have a solid rim with the ends lap welded together, then forged into round. This quickly turned into something else when I tried to figure out how to get the internals worked out.

To give it a little more flair and character, I added some swept corners to each of the ends. I intended them to be sharp corners, but I decided I liked the curves better (and were less work...). For the sake of repetition, as there are eight of them, I used the pair of double calipers I forged a while back. Half the fun of making things is using the tools you made to make them.

To that half inch mark, I drew out little tenons on each end of the four bars. These are what became the bent down points.

Which look like this. There are a lot of parts of this build that I was not able, for one reason or another, to document. To forge in these points, I held the tenons down over the face of the anvil and hammered them to a right angle with the long edge of the pieces. Then, clamping the lot in a post vice, upset the material back into the bar to get something resembling a corner on the far side. If I were to make it a sharp angle, I would have continued forging this way until the two lines came together, but I wanted the rounded corner on the inside and outside of the bend.

Considering the variation in the process, the result was remarkably uniform. Symmetry, I have come to realise, is my mortal enemy.

Next up is to make them round. No mysteries here. I just hammered them over the horn until I was satisfied.

Having them all bend slightly more than the 90 degrees of the arc they were cut to fit in results in a lobed sort of shape, which I liked more than a straight circle. It just seems a little more interesting.

Part II is to build the internal frame. At first I thought about some weird skewed thing that would not have any intersections, then having two layers where one side passes over the others, but in the end I decided to try out slitting and drifting each of the bars to pass through one another. It is a technique that I learned requires a bit of practise to get right.

This is the general layout of the bars, and where each of the intersections is, one of the bars will pass through the other. Blacksmiths are, as far as I have been able to reason, the only people who can put a 1" hole in a 1" bar and still have it all stay together.

This is where I wasn't able to take any photos again... But, to explain the process, I measured a distance from one end of each bar that was less than half, then marked it on all of them. Having a uniform distance here is critical to it working right. The distance off of the bar's centre determines how large the square in the middle is. The closer to centre, the smaller the square.

To actually make the holes, I took a chisel and slitted it to roughly the skewed length of the bar that passes through it. Then, I forged a drift with the tip that tapers only in one direction. This way, as it is hammered through the slit, it widens the hole in the right directions. It's really just a wedge that turns into a square at the end. Having the slit be wider than the width of the drift helps with not stretching out the cheeks of the hole you are making.

With all that out of the way, I set it out again to determine the next move. Attaching the outer rim to the cross went through a few design changes as well. Before I actually started any of this, I thought about using wedges to hold the outside pieces on to tenons sort of like in Japanese woodwork joinery, but I gave up on that almost immediately.

Instead, I decided to make regular tenons and forge them down like rivets. To make these, I used a guillotine tool for the shoulders, then followed it up with a hot rasp (after this picture was taken) to make it all square and aligned.

Making the square holes for the tenons to fit into was actually the easiest part of this ordeal. Because they were all slightly different, I made a tapered punch/drift that I eased into the size of the tenons. Because of that, it all fit together only one way, but that's fine.

Getting the thing to assemble was tricky. Once the first three rim pieces were on, the entire thing became more rigid, and since the sector length at the end of the tenons is a fair bit longer than it is at the shoulders, working that last piece into place took a bit of patience. This too also helped lock the inside frame into place. Due to the nature of its construction, the four bars can slide closer and farther apart until they are constrained in some way. Having the outside pieces there prevented it from moving about.

And there we have it! This bit is done for now, all eight rivets in place. Heating it in the forge was precarious at best, because the thing is large and awkward. I had to clamp it all in the post vice to hammer down the rivet heads, and even then the ones that were not yet affixed tended to fall off without any help getting them back on again.

Next time, I will forge the chain and hanging assembly, and maybe also just finish it with the wiring. Who knows? I guess we'll have to learn together.

Friday, March 24, 2017


The spirit of adventure is born in hardship, and those who refuse to seek it out have never truly lived.


Across the gentle passage of time, change comes more slowly than often we realise unless thrust upon a great circumstance of uncertainty. Yet looking back over where we once were and where we have become, there can come a place which holds the mind affixed with an image disembodied from the cause which brought it there. Months or as many years have passed since the illusion of control sat anywhere near where I found myself standing, and in it the gradual progression has removed symptoms of its change. For better or worse, that change persisted, and in its wake we are often left without indication that anything has truly come and gone other than the triviality of events themselves. Impact and implication, without scrutiny, fall into the secondary realm that can be clouded by a dreamstate.

One morning not many days ago, I awoke with a startling awareness that I have not truly seen before. It is not as though I were any different, any more or less awake in the existential sense, no farther from where I am or closer to wherever I am going, but there was something different in the way I saw where I was in the world. To be wrapped up in something which causes you to move 5000 miles in two years, to live in four different states and nine different places, to have been able to see so much of the country and yet hold so little freedom in the ability to truly see it, a juxtaposition silently creeps up into the bowls of the subconscious.

To those who have never experienced it, it likely sounds hyperbolic or questionably sane. Yet, in absence of hindsight, what once we thought to be a road towards actualisation is in fact a symptom of that same affliction which we seek to escape.

Faced with the crippling disinterest of all that which was once held dear and so day by day moves recklessly farther into the extremes in the hopes that the familiar evocation of wonder and passion and purpose and hope one day returns. Unknowingly and unwittingly it comes to become convinced and confused by the peculiarities which bear the guise of sensibility.

A series of fragments which lie like shards of a reality both familiar and unbound from the life thought to be behind you rise into as a scene unbelievable even to the conscious mind which has watched it come and pass. A chronicle of a life observed but never truly lived, that strange sensation comes, witnessed but estranged, seen but unincorporated. Disjointed unions of a once whole fragmentation together paint a picture which by all rights bears no reason or cohesion to the sequence which gave it birth. Each second links definitely to the last, and yet forsakes absolutely the progression into what the future is expected to hold.

To realise that the hands before you have made what they hold, that the feet beneath you have taken you to where you stand, it is only unnatural from the mind's disenchanted observation that what is waking crosses the line from what is dreamt. Together or apart, those fragments tell a story, each one so neatly self contained that they cannot possibly relate. Years or months or days slip by and before you are any the wiser you wake up as someone different and know nothing of the person you thought you were to become. Instead, there is a decoherence and the question of where next you will find yourself aware.