Archive for June, 2012

New toys

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

I’ve been shopping for some new toys for the shop…

I just picked up a new (small) cone mandrel, stake plate and swage block from Newman Forge & Pattern in Hamilton, Ontario.  These all high-quality tools, and were very reasonably priced.

I’m thrilled to have add these to my collection!

If it weren’t for bad luck…

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

When I had my recent session making a whole bunch of new tongs, my forge seemed a bit ‘off‘.  Like it was having a bad day. At first, I couldn’t figure out why.  But then I walked away from it to go get something … as I was walking back, I could see an odd glow coming from underneath.

Turns out, a part of the firepot assembly had broken, and the whole thing was hanging down causing a 1″ gap to open up.  No wonder I wasn’t getting much of an air blast!

In this particular forge, the firepot assembly has the firepot itself, which hangs from a flange, then the clinker breaker, held in place with a type of collar, the collar is held in place by the tuyere, which is in turn held in place by another collar / bracket to which the ash dump attaches.  The whole lot is tensioned up by two threaded rods that run from the bottom of the firepot down to the bracket for the ash dump… which happened to break into two pieces on me.

It’s not that this will be all that difficult to fix (although, it would be easier with a working forge) – it’s just getting frustrating.  It seem that every time I get into doing some serious work, my equipment is breaking on me.

I think I’ve had enough of these ‘antiques’.  Sure, they look neat, but after sixty, ninety or more years of working, they’ve had their day.  I think I’m going to seriously consider getting these two antique forges into working condition, and then sell them to make way for new / modern replacements.

A long, drawn-out process

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

I’ve come to realize that my small shop is woefully lacking in some basic tools, in particular, tongs.  Most of the work I’ve done in my own shop has been with smaller stock.  But now that I’m getting into larger, more complex pieces, I don’t have the tongs I need.

The solution is simple enough – make some.  However, the only tongs I’ve made so far were done at a much larger shop, and were drawn-out using an air hammer.  I started on a couple of sets of new tongs this evening…

I now understand where the expressions “a long, drawn-out process“, and “I’m all drawn-out” (i.e. tired / exhausted) come from.

Drawing out by hand sucks – particularly when you don’t have the right tongs to firmly hold the stock you’re working with.  This first pair I’m making will be the right size to hold the stock for the other pairs; so hopefully that’ll help with the next ones.

None of your beeswax

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

For those who may not be aware, beeswax is a very commonly used ‘finish’ on forged pieces.  While the piece is still warm, you rub a block of beeswax on it, and the wax melts on.

In any case, I’ve been working my way through a couple of blocks of wax that I acquired when I was first getting started in smithing; and am getting near the end of my supply.  I’ve also been wanting to experiment with another traditional finish that is a mix of beeswax, linseed oil and turpentine – but I haven’t wanted to melt down my limited supply of wax.

So I went on a search for beeswax from a local supplier… I am shocked by how much this stuff can sell for!!!  The price for a small block of wax from a craft store (candle making section) is absolutely insane!  You can get a larger block for a not-unreasonable price from a few places, such as Kayne & Son (Blacksmith’s Depot), however factoring in exchange rate and international shipping, it becomes a nuisance.

After a bit of searching, I found a supplier I’m very happy with: Busy Bee Beeswax in Tweed, Ontario.  On their website, they have refined beeswax for sale for a fraction of the prices I’d seen elsewhere.  Then I noticed this: “We also have industrial grades of beeswax suitable for purposes  other than candles or skin care products. Inquire for details.” .

Well I inquired, and it’s exactly what I was looking for!  The price is amazing, and the customer service was great.  I’d highly recommend them to any other Canadian customers who wants to avoid the hassles of ordering internationally.

Iron Work Conservation short course at Willowbank

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Later this week (Thursday June 7th to Saturday June 9th), the School of Restoration Arts at Willowbank, will be running a short course on the Conservation of Architectural Iron Work.  Instructors Craig Sims, Ed Bowkett and Lloyd Johnston will be covering the following (description copied from the Willowbank website):

This course is designed to acquaint anyone, whether they be architectural historians, collectors, students, curators, conservators, consultants, architects or blacksmiths, in the historic use and conservation of decorative iron in architecture.

Through class room lectures, field trips, demonstrations, discussions and hands on time with artifacts and at the forge, participants will become familiar with the vocabulary of traditional iron details and will develop the ability to ‘read’ an object to describe how it was made, to understand the metallurgical and physical properties of the materials (largely cast iron and wrought iron), and to appreciate the range of options for conservation. Subject matter will range from historic techniques, compatibility of various materials, repair options, galvanic issues, removal of corrosion products and coatings or other forms of protection.


Lloyd Johnston – Blacksmith
Lloyd’s formal education was in engineering. His self directed education and employment over the past 40 years has been in historical metal working technology and conservation. The bulk of his work has been for museums and historic sites in both the public and private sectors in Canada, the United States and Europe. Lloyd is an honourary Life Member of the Ontario Artists’ Blacksmith Association, a member of the Canadian Guild of Arms Historians, the Kentucky Rifle Association, the Council for North eastern Historical Archaeology and the Early American Industries Association.

Lloyd has taught blacksmithing and metal working at public and private Colleges and Universities over the last 25 years. Major commissions include the restoration of 12 Gothic revival gates in the Wellington St. wall on Parliament Hill, the restoration of the Hendry Gates at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, and the reproduction of 21 patterns 1837 Brunswick rifles for Fort Wellington NHS in Prescott, Ontario.

Other interests include collecting and conserving historical weapons and stringed instruments. He lives in a fine old stone house in Beaverton Ontario with his historical collection and a Scottish ghost.


Craig Sims – Heritage Building Consultant
Craig has worked in the built heritage field for over 35 years. He has worked successfully with a broad range of clients including government agencies and community groups, but most commonly architects, engineers and contractors who require specialized knowledge. He has developed historic structures reports, historic structure condition surveys, and developed specialized conservation specifications and drawings.

Craig has worked on building types ranging from vernacular log and timber buildings on the prairies to the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. Some projects of interest include the Rideau Street Convent Chapel in the National Gallery, the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Notre Dame Cathedral in Ottawa, the Colonial Building in St. John’s Newfoundland and Fort Henry in Kingston – most are National Historic Sites. He was a consultant, working with Lloyd, for the conservation of the Wellington Wall Gates and is currently involved in the conservation of the roof cresting on both the East & West Blocks on Parliament Hill. Working with Ed recently he was the consultant for the conservation of the Rolph Gates at Dundrun NHS in Hamilton.

Craig is based in Kingston, Ontario. He is a graduate of the Civil Engineering Technology-Restoration Program (1979), St. Lawrence College, and the Technical Education Program (1993), Queens University, Kingston.


Ed Bowkett – Metal Conservator
Ed Bowkett graduated from the Art Conservation Techniques Program at Sir Sandford Fleming College, Peterborough, Ont. in 1994. After being employed by The National Museum of Science and Technology, The Cumberland Museum and a private conservator, he began a private practice. During the past 18 years, Bowkett & Co. has served many institutional and private clients in the Montreal – Toronto. Ed has focused on 3 dimensional objects with a specialization in the treatment of metal artefacts, indoor and outdoor, of all sizes and has provided both treatment and consultation services to The Canadian War Museum, Canadian Conservation Institute, Public Works & Government Services Canada, Parliamentary Precinct Directorate, The Canada Science & Technology Museum, Fulford Place-Brockville, and various from St John’s, NFLD to Saskatoon, SK, and various private clients.

Ed has supervised the daily efforts of student interns on placement from Sir Sandford Fleming College; attends several institutions as a guest lecturer; and guest hosts a CBC phone in show on preservation of antiquities. Ed also continues to be an active volunteer in his community, acting as treasurer and president of the Russell Historical Society; founder and treasurer of Vintage Iron and Traditions, Eastern Ontario; and as a volunteer for The Bytown Railway Society;

This looks like an excellent course, with great instructors!  I wish I was able to attend, but if I am to go to Willowbank full-time in September, I need to save my shekels.


Rescued from the scrap

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

It’s a discouraging thought for any craftsman; no matter how much care and attention you put into making something, it will likely end up in the trash at some point in the future.  I recently had the pleasure of rescuing two items from this fate … at least for now.


The first was an old mystery tool.  A friend of mine operates a junk removal business.  He had stopped in to see me about something, and said “Hey, I have something in the truck you may be able to make use of.  It’s some kind of a vise.“.

My friend had done a clean-out of a garage, and to the owner, this tool was just a rusty bit of metal they had no use for.  Turns out, it’s a special vise used for sharpening hand-saws.  I gave it a try, and it works wonderfully!  It needed nothing more than a light cleaning with a wire brush to get rid of the surface rust.  If I didn’t happen to see my friend that afternoon, this would have been melted down for scrap.


More recently, I was clearing out my (late father-in-law’s) garage, and came across a box of marked “for yard sale”.  The box had probably been sitting there at least 15 years.  It contained mostly junk, and a whole lot of mice nests, but it also had this in it.

As a student of the art of blacksmithing, I was immediately drawn to this fireplace set.  I suppose I can understand why this set was destined for the penny table at a yard sale – people tend not to have fireplace sets these days.  Those that do, often have them simply as decoration, sitting next to their gas fireplace.  This set was in rough shape when I found it … it was heavily rusted, and the stand had been painted in a thick layer of glossy black Tremclad which was flaking off.

But the more I looked at it, the more detail I noticed.  This set is old; but it is both hand made, and very well made.  After spending a good hour cleaning it up on a wire wheel, I think it’s beautiful.

This fireplace set is no masterpiece of ornamental  wrought ironwork.  It is not old enough or rare enough to be a museum piece, or to be collectible.  But someone, at some point in time, put a great deal of effort into making it.  It deserves better than to be sold off for a pittance, and eventually wind up as scrap.


I am glad to have come across both of these items, to have rescued them from the scrap heap, and to extend their life as working tools.


Workshop plans

Friday, June 1st, 2012

For some time now, I’ve been thinking that I really have to build a dedicated blacksmith’s shop.

Dragging my stuff out of the garage to work in the driveway is less than ideal, to say the least. It takes a lot of time to set-up and tear down, and is seasonal and weather dependent. I’d briefly considered converting a part of the garage, but still need a general workshop – and really don’t want to mix smithing and woodworking in the same space; so dismissed that idea pretty quickly.

Behind the garage is a virtually abandoned bit of the property, where my late in-laws had stored ‘stuff’ out of sight behind a fence (a utility trailer, a couple of old BBQs, composters, stacks of firewood, etc.). The whole area was in pretty rough shape, overgrown with weeds and such. But when I stood back and looked at it, I realized it’s actually a fair bit of space.

So, I have pretty much decided to build a small (10′ x 12′) shed in this area to use as a shop. The size is based on a) what will fit comfortably in the available space, and b) 120 sq.ft. is the maximum size I can build without the added headaches of a building permit.

I’ve been trying to decide on a type / style of building for this, and think I’ve found it.

An "Irish Shed" - Timber frame with 'cordwood masonry' walls

I recently bought an excellent book entitled Sheds – The Do-It-Yourself Guide for Backyard Builders” by David Stiles. The shed shown on the cover of that book uses ‘cordwood masonry’ for the walls, which I like the look of a lot.

The other source is a blog that I only just found, called “Peeling Logs“. There is a post on that blog by contributor Jon Anderson about the building of a 10′ x 12′ post and beam / timber frame shed, which is exactly what I had in mind. And they have even gone so far as providing the Google SketchUp plans for it too – Awesome!!!

Just as soon as I can find the time, I think I’d like to build a shop based on those timber frame plans, but with a look somewhat along the lines of the ‘Irish Shed’ from David Stiles book.

Any thoughts?