Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Setting up a Blacksmithing Workshop

Working with metal has long been a plan of mine, so the time had come to find an expert to show me how to go about it. I found a course offered by Iain Hamilton of Mother Mountain Forge at Tilba in NSW. He has found fame by making knives on the River Cottage Australia show but has been working with metal for the past fifteen years.

His course offered practical experience and advice in setting up a workshop. To work with metal you need three things: a heat source (forge), a hammer and an anvil. Plenty of other tools are useful but these are the minimum. Iain uses two different forges - gas and coking coal. The gas one looks like a small barrel with an opening  in the door. Its quick to heat up and creates a constant heat but is noisy and chews through the gas.  

The coke forge is quieter and has a range of temperatures but takes longer to get going.
My most impressive achievement over the weekend was to make a hammer. The project started as a piece of scrap steel. 
 After welding a rod onto one end to make it easy to put in and out of the forge, the metal is heated up until it glows yellow. Then it is ready to be worked on the anvil. One end needed to be flattened and spread out to make the 'cross peen'. The middle needed to have a hole punched in it to fit a handle in the hammer head. The process is simple but getting the right technique is more of a challenge. I had to learn how and where to stand and practise hitting the hammer at just the right angle and in the right place. Iain had some tools that would make the job quicker but he started by getting me to work it the traditional way. It was amazing to be able to change the shape and slowly watch the hammer appear.

Once the head was shaped it had to be hardened and tempered in an oven. This gave time for shaping a handle from Queensland hickory. To fix the head to the handle a notch is cut into the top of the head and a wedge of hardwood tapped into it. We also put in a sharpened ring cur from a pipe and then coated the top with epoxy resin to ensure a lasting handle. The shaft was coated with a special beeswax mixture and the end product is both beautiful and practical.

A fantastic course and I am inspired to find a suitable heat source so I can start to make metal objects on my own.

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