Archive for the ‘Resources’ Category

Gas Forge

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

I’ve just completed building a new gas forge!

This past weekend I went back, yet again, to see David Robertson at the Hammer & Tongs in Cargill, Ontario for his one-day forge building workshop (he’s probably getting sick of me by now…).  It was another terrific course.  A lot of valuable knowledge, including a mini crash-course in welding.

The best part, of course, is that I came home with a new, fully functioning, gas forge!


Don’t get me wrong, I like using solid-fuel forges too.  But there is a real convenience factor from the quick start-up and mess-free shut down at the end of the day when using gas.  Suddenly, it’s realistic for me to do an hour of forging in the evening after school / work.

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!

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.


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?

The Hammer & Tongs, Revisited

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

What a weekend!

Not only did I go back to see David Robertson for his Intermediate Course, but my wife & I decided that she and the kids would come too, and make a mini-vacation out of it.  They would do day-trips while I was blacksmithing.  Four days, 1,100 kilometers of driving and a first proper family vacation later, and I am exhausted!

The course was everything I’d hoped it would be.  As mentioned, this one is more technique-oriented.  We did a lot of things … a fair bit of punching, slitting and drifting, made a slitting chisel, different types of joinery, and forge welding.

The first project was a bar (1/2″ square), which we drew out to a long point, punched through, and fed the tapered point back through the bar – what David called ‘threading the needle‘.   It makes for quite an interesting form, and a very comfortable handle too.  We broke off from this bar for a while to make our own slitting chisels.  New chisels in hand, we slit another section of the bar, are drifted it out to a circle on a cone mandrel.  This circle was then twisted.


We were done with this bar at this point, but at the end of the day on Sunday (when students have time for personal projects), I forged out the other end of the bar to make a fire poker for my dad (after all, Father’s Day is fast approaching).

The slitting chisels are by far one of the most useful tools I’ve made so far:


It started off as a short section of steel that’s similar to S7 (from a NASCAR axel, apparently); and was drawn out under the air hammer before a bit of grinding and a light sanding.  And I’ve got to say, thank goodness for an air hammer!  That’s definitely something to put on my long-term wish list.

Slitting chisels made, we continued to put them to good use for the rest of the course – and they performed marvelously – as good as any commercially made tool that I could buy.

I’m still a bit tired (sleep deprived – mainly due to the toddlers), so am having difficulty remembering what projects we did in what order.  However,  in no particular order:

We made two as-near-to-identical-as-possible scrolls using a scrolling jig.  These two scrolls were later joined using hot-wrapping.  I really liked doing the hot wrapping.  I think I could happily do that all day, and will certainly find projects to do it on.  Will have to add a torch kit to my wish list too…

One of my favourite projects / techniques was the mortise & tenon joint.  I have to say, that it is this project that has taken away any apprehension I had for working with larger, thicker material.


The larger bar was slit through (which was a heck of a lot of hard work), and drifted into a square hole.  The other bar was forged to form the tenon.  After a test-fit, it was time to upset the end of the tenon.


We also did a wedged joint – which I suppose is a type of a mortise & tenon, except that the tenon is a strap that’s bent over, and held tight with a wedge (hmm, looks like I didn’t happen to take a photo yet to upload).  In any case, I like it a lot.  To me, this joint would add a fair amount of ‘wow factor’ to a completed project.

At the end of the weekend, I finally had the opportunity to successfully do a forge weld!  Now, this was very exciting to me, as I had tried on a couple of occasions on my own, with out much success.  I think the problems I’d had on my own was that:

  • I’d never seen a ‘welding heat’, and was probably a bit on the cold side coming out of the forge (having burnt a piece I let get too hot); and
  • I was working with smaller stock (1/4″ round).  Being a little apprehensive,  and the stock being small and a little on the cool side to begin with, it cooled off too quickly on the anvil before I smacked it.

However, with some instruction and guidance, I was able to do it on the course with no problems.  And I was thrilled!  I’ll definitely need some practice, but at least now know what to look for (photographs & videos suck at accurately showing colours – you really do need to see it in person) as far a a proper temperature.

My first Forge Weld!

I rounded out the weekend with a couple of personal projects: I made a spring-style hold down for my anvil; as mentioned above, I forged the other end of the one bar into a fire poker; and I started on a ‘Wizard Hook’ for my son before running out of time … but I’ll easily finish it off at home.

All in all, it was a great course, and a wonderful weekend.  I picked up some new skills, renewed my confidence, and re-charged my batteries.  The biggest lesson I took away, was to always keep learning.  If you’re getting bogged down, go do some learning with someone else.  Borrow some ideas, pick up a few tricks, or get another perspective.

I will definitely be back to see David again in the future (I like the looks of his ‘Organics’ course), and will probably look at some of the others offering courses too.  I think doing a course or two a year, with various smiths,  will be a very useful thing.  The experiences are so valuable, that the monetary cost of them is insignificant.