The fall and winter has brought a variety of projects both large and small. Along side the normal winter production of fireplace tools, housewares, and kitchen utensils I’ve had the opportunity to work on projects that have pushed me technically and creatively. I am thankful for both and I’m finding that splitting time between the two is a great way to balance the pros and cons of each over the course of a year. This fall I’ve even found the rare moment to improve the shop making new tools, tuning up equipment, and an odd purchase of something that should prove useful.
The highlight of the last six months, however, was the opportunity to assist Lee Sauder with a bloomery smelting class in Johnstown, PA at the Center for Metal Arts. We built two clay furnaces and ran each twice. We used limonite ore that Lee brought from Virginia and we went ore hunting in the hills behind the town. We discovered, to our delight, what we thought was high quality specular hematite from the days of iron industry when the large blast furnaces were running. As the smelt progressed with this ore we began to realize all was not right. At first it appeared we were making cast iron so we adjusted the air and ore/charcoal ratio accordingly. The slag continued to thicken, however, and eventually cease completely. Our “bloom” was crumbly and it appears we couldn’t increase our air rate enough. Post smelt we determined that we think the ore was that mostly of manganese and not iron. We are unable to reduce the manganese and what we end up with is not iron and entirely unusable. That said, it was interesting to find ore that seemed to be of exceptional quality based on sight and feel, but confirmed that you never quite know what you have until you put it through the furnace.
Outdoor Railing Project
Play time with bloom iron. Looking for patterns and areas of exploration.
Mortise and pestle
I’ve been looking to replace my old and cheap bench vise. I finally found this Parker swivel jaw vise in exceptional condition. The pin on top pulls out and the back jaw can swivel allowing you to hold objects with non parallels sides. This feature, though simple, is incredibly useful and saves a lot of pain when trying to secure an odd shaped piece.
This is called a “fly press”. It is both simple and extremely effective. Essentially it is a huge screw that produces a large amount of force, 2.5 tons in this case. The frame and castings are strong enough to withstand the handle being swung to allow momentum of the top counter weight to produce a maximum of force. It can also be used very slowly for precise control of whatever die you insert into ram. The possibilities for this tools are limited only by the imagination and on top of that you can use it with hot or cold work making it versatile in more ways than one. I only just begun to explore this tool, but I look forward to using it for many projects down the road.
This is a tenon swage I made for use with the power hammer. It forms tenons of three different sizes for use traditional joinery projects. Shown is the tool and an example of what it can produce.
Bloomery Smelting class at the Center for Metal Arts in Johnstown, PA with instructor Lee Sauder
Evening at the shop
What’s next? a sneak peak…