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Interested in learning about blacksmithing? Read this!

--News & Announcements--
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

Friday, August 30, 2013

Quick and Dirty Serving Jig

Back when I made my first bowstring, I also made a serving jig. For those of you who do not know what that is, serving is the thin thread that 'serves' the string, protecting it from wear where the arrow nocks and where the string would hit an arm guard. The jig that spins the serving around the string is quite simple in principle, and for some reason sells for around $20.00. Aside from not wanting to wait and pay for shipping, that is absurd to me (and it should be to you, too).

To make your own, all you need are the following: a piece of scrap sheet metal, mine was brass and about 12cm x 2cm x 16 gauge. Anything will do, as long as you can hammer it and it is not unreasonable (use your judgement); a bolt a little longer than your serving spool and slightly smaller diameter; a matching nut; and two washers (not critical).

Find the centre of the rectangle of sheet metal and hammer a ridge across the width of it. This will be where the bowstring sits while you serve the string. I did this by clamping a chisel in a vice and hammering on either side of the tip, but you can place the metal on a piece of wood and hammer it in with an old flathead screwdriver. Next, find the centre of the ~2cm width inside the newly hammered ridgeline and punch a hole through it with a nail or screw, making sure to go through the INSIDE of the trough. If you are confused, look at the above picture. The divot goes towards the inside of the ] shape, and the hole started on the outside. The reason for this is, unless you spend a lot of time filing down and sanding the shavings on the back side of the hole, it will rip your bowstring apart.

Now measure the length of your spool and find the centre of that. Use that distance and bend a right angle on the sheet metal on either side of the centreline and hole, as shown above. Finish off the jig by punching two more holes, one in each end. I rounded off the ends of my jig purely for aesthetics. Make sure the new holes are large enough for the bold to slide through.

Insert the spool in the jig and slide the bolt through both holes and the shaft of the spool. I used a wingnut because it gives me more control. Tighten down the bold just enough that the weight of the jig does not allow the string to unwind when you hold it by the loose end. If it was not obvious already, you put the end of the string through the hole in the divot you hammered in earlier. This keeps the string in the same place where it meets the bowstring.

For more on the use of the serving jig, check out the tutorial on a simple bowstring.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Backpacking in the Adirondacks

There exists in the world a lure that cannot be satisfied by the ways of technology, which must be seen from the wilds of nature and heard through the depths of tranquillity, vice the emptiness remains. Along the open road this journey began into the High Peaks of the Adirondack Mountains. Two days of backpacking through the forests and peaks to the summit of Mount Marcy and back around the valleys beyond awaited with the mist of a cool morning.

The five of us standing outside the Marcy Dam with a clear view to the distant peak we were about to climb.

There is something about the mountain lakes and verdant foliage covering the slopes that, however many times I see it, never fails to hold my captivation. The feeling of standing there was surreal, and even many hours gone does not cease to hold that feeling.

Midway to the summit, the Indian Falls sit atop a massive slab of rock with a view of Algonquin Mountain in the middle flanked by its sister peaks.

All over the mountainside, these purple flowers grow by their lonesome or in clusters, standing out against the greens and yellows and browns with their vibrant hue.

On the trail to the summit, cairns mark the path built by hikers over the years. Piles of rock, there is something inexplicable about them that portrays the utterly placid stature of the mountains and the harmonic balance between man and nature. For decades, they will stand to endure the wind and rain without toppling, and when that day comes, someone will begin to rebuild them to be larger and stronger than before. Both a physical and symbolic guide from the past generations to the new of what challenges await.

Thus marks the summit of Mt. Marcy. Scores of peaks outline the horizon through the summoning clouds of an afternoon thunderstorm, none of which climb to her heights. Of the 46 High Peaks, Mt. Marcy is the highest, and provides a breathtaking view in every direction of the rolling valleys and lush forests.

Well above the treeline, only grasses and lichen grow at the summit.

Lake Tear of the Clouds is, in a basin on the slopes of Marcy, the highest altitude lake in the state of New York. Fed by the cool mountain streams, it is a welcome solace from the steep, rocky descent.

Moss carvings on a river rock

Along a lower lakefront, boardwalks and stairways guide the trail through the rocks towards Avalanche Pass, a sharp crack in the mountains where the land fell away long ago.

At the river crossings, the forests give way to pillars of balancing rocks, like smaller cairns with an equal tranquillity to their stature. Through over 5,000 feet of elevation gain and three hours of pouring rain in the evening, a dinner of rice, lake water and various meats cooked in the rain, and one of the most spectacular two days of scenery I have ever seen, Mount Marcy was my first of the 46 High Peaks, and will certainly not be the last.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Hearth Steel Update

Now that I am with power again, I was able to do a spark test for carbon content. The first smelt yielded a ~2.25lb puck of very dense material. I tried cutting it in half with an angle grinder, but I need to get it to a chop saw if I want to be realistic about it.

A quick spark test yielded the following--

The sparks are nice and long with a slight feathering on the ends. The density of the sparks is decent, and much more active than the mild steel I used as a comparison. (I am no metallurgist and have no idea what these results mean. With luck, someone more informed than I will be able to help me here.)

The second smelt produced far more material, this being a small bit of it. These two pieces that broke off during consolidation straight out of the hearth weigh in at ~.75lb, and the remaining majority was too heavy for the 2.5lb scale by more than a pound.

The spark test for this one suggests something different.

Instead of the same long, straight sparks, these are very fluffy and feathery. It is difficult to see in the pictures, but any slower shutter speed made them too dark to see.

Notice how they do not spray out to the sides as much. What to make of this, I have no idea. More information to come soon!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hearth Steel

Ever since the days when I first began forging blades, I had the dream of one day using steel I myself smelted from ore as it was done thousands of years ago. As they say, 'It is the journey that makes the trip worth taking,' and it is the journey which I cherish most. Something about the mythic properties of those rocks mined from the earth draws me as much as the fires of the forge. While this is some ways off yet, I had a taste of what it means to make steel when I attended the Northern Wisconsin Hammer-in a few months back. Hosted by Scott Roush of Big Rock Forge, we built a smelter to run some local Tiger Ore abandoned along the railbeds bordering Lake Superior. While that smelt did not work quite as planned, we also built a smaller hearth furnace to reprocess existing iron and steel. In principle, a hearth smelt is rather simple, as is a fully fledged smelter. Despite knowing virtually nothing about either of these, I came away with enough to recreate the process in my own back yard. 

First, I had to find things to reprocess into usable material. I have an assembly of old circular saw blades, broken pairs of scissors, rusty razor blades, the bottoms of those small camp stove propane cylinders, silverware, an old hammer head forged half way to an axe, and some rusty clod on the end of a mild steel bar I dug out of a forest a number of years ago. Also (not pictured) I dug some barbed wire, old bolts and other assorted hardware, pipes, and things I am not certain how to classify from the ash pile built up over the course of 20 odd years.

While I did not capture most of the pit's construction, here is a little glimmer into how I approached it.

Simple as a hole in the ground lined with bricks and covered in ash, this is the furnace. Out to one side, a salvaged pipe directs air forced from a shop vacuum into the bottom of the furnace, placed at an approximate 45 degree angle a few inches from the bottom. In retrospect, I should not have used bricks with holes in them (leftover from the chimney to the house, circa 22 years ago) as the air blasts ash out of them and defeats the purpose of using it for insulation.

Because the old burn pile is so far away, I had to run about 500 feet of extension cords to get the air supply out there.

Up in Wisconsin, we made the cobb from a mixture of local clay, sand, and natural materials (peet moss, dried manure, grass clippings, etc.). I had only some silt from a creek not far away, and a short expedition through the forest to its banks yielded enough for the project.

This was by no means the best possible thing to line the bottom with, but it was better than nothing. In the end, it mostly melted together and left a glassy plate on the bottom of the steel.

As with all furnaces and smelters, the flames required a sacrifice to bless the steel with success in the smelt. I placed a shard from the perpetual-WIP Persian dagger I started years ago that broke at least three times. The tip went in to fan the flames as green wood preheated and cured the furnace.

'Twas a hungry flame.

To help ensure the carbon content was high enough, although it would have been fine, I added a few pieces of stock 15n20 to the mix of Franken-fodder.

To fuel the furnace, I used natural all hardwood charcoal found at the friendly neighbourhood hardware store. If you are going to try this, be aware that it needs to be broken into pieces the size of your thumb, not the fist sized hunks it comes in.

Forcing air through the tuyere (air supply pipe) sends sparks flying into the air, which is unfortunately much more spectacular at dusk than the middle of the afternoon, but I love this picture. Small bits of charcoal are being shot out of the flames like a miniature volcanic eruption.

Once the sacrificial scrap steel was consumed in the flames and the charcoal supply at an end, I cut the air and let the inferno subside. That blackened mass on the left is the end of the tuyere where it melted and cooled from the air rushing over it.While I am unsure how hot it actually burned, it was around 2700 degrees (F) and far too hot to stand beside. On the other side, it cooked hotdogs in 20 seconds flat.

And finally, the yield. A nice fist sized hunk of steel, dense as can be and with minimal strange geometry ripe for inclusions when consolidating. I am yet to weigh it or cut it open, as I have been operating in a shop without power until only a few days ago.

This process opened many doors to me, both in the direction I would like to move as a bladesmith and in ideology of how I see and interact with the world. Although I may not be able to smelt down ore into bloom, I can start to reclaim the wreckage of humanity.