Friday, April 28, 2006

Teens as Students?

"... My 14 year old son / daughter is keen to learn how to do blacksmithing. Are your classes or private lessons open to teens?..."

I am getting an increasing number of e-mail messages like this one. Often enough that I feel I needed to create a 'standard reply' to the question. My concerns in accepting students younger than 16 is based on my own experience - both working and teaching.

My response question is : 'How physically robust and developed and how mentally mature is the young person.'

I normally set 16 as the lower limit for a potential student in blacksmithing. This is primarily since below that age - with boys especially, the possible range of size, strenght and co-ordination is so wide.

The tools required to undertake any effective work at the forge are a minimum of 800 gms / about 1 1/2 lbs. The student MUST be able to not only move this wieight - but more importantly be able to CONTROL the tool in motion. Now consider the amount of repetition required - the course extends over a 8 hour day. About 50 - 60% of that time is applied to direct forge work.
As a comparison, the basic forging hammer is somewhat heavier than a standard nail driving hammer. The degree of control required is considerably greater.
For several of the basic forging exercises, use of an even heavier 1000 gm hammer is required (making tongs).

I am quite concerned about the effect of the kind of high impact physical activities that blacksmithing requires on the body. For that reason, I devote considerable attention not only to related safety concerns, but also to physical dynamics. Using a forging hammer correctly and effectively is not like driving nails. Individual body size, strength and proportions will effect what determines the most effective - and safe - working pattern for each student.

A number of concerns apply most specifically to teen aged students.

The truth is that teen agers are by definition still growing and maturing. This effects raw strength, physical coordination, bone and joint solidity, attention span, potential frustration level.

As a blacksmith works, all these factors combine to produce physical strain. As someone who is light framed (ie - not that strong) myself, I know that joints and tendons are cushioned by the muscles. Younger joints and bones are not as strong to begin with, and when there is less muscle mass supporting the underlaying structure simple fatigue can result in potential injuries.

What happens is that someone attempting to use a hammer too heavy for their effective control will instinctively hold the handle with a tighter grip. This in turn tightens the tendons. As fatigue mounts, the likely hood of the hammer head striking slightly off angle increases. If this happens, the hammer suddenly will rotate, the firm grip transfering the rotation into the arm and rigid tendons. The potential exists to physically damage these tendons at the elbow. Tendon damage is basicly forever.

There is often a problem with less mature students with simple frustration. Without ability to manage the hammer weight - effectively - it will just take too long to finish the various forming tasks during the day. Also, there is a noticeable tendency to keep working well past the point where the student is obviously too tired to continue. The very control required for effective work, and more importantly to prevent physical injury, has long been lost. I obviously watch for this with all students, but it can be very difficult to convince even an adult student that they stop working during a paid program. As you might expect, I try to keep the instruction paced to the group average. Any given course may not get through the entire outline as posted - it all depends on the work speed of the group.

I have had boys as young as 14 as students before who have been sucessful with the work in the course. Mind you - these have been the 'built like a football player' type of early developed young men. (In some cases notably larger and stronger than I am!) I should also point out that teen aged GIRLS physically and mentally mature at a younger age, although raw strength may be more of a consideration.

So I am willing to accept a younger student - with the clear understanding that the PARENT is knowingly accepting the greater possibility of a less sucessful completion of the course outline. More importantly the parent must also clearly understand the risks related to the activities and take full responcibility for any possible injuries that may occur.

One other possibility is to accept a parent and student working as a team. I will not charge extra for this - only one work station will be provided which will be shared between the two. Ideally this allows the younger student to do as much work as they are able, with the parent assisting on heavier physical tasks. Work will be limited to the use of a gas forge only (due to space constraints around the coal forge).

I would consider any potential student under 14 too young to be involved in the normal scheduled courses. I am willing to discuss the possiblity of designing a 'Private Session' program for individual students.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Computer Confusion / New Links

"The mountain does not speak but is often right.."

Jasper Friendly Bear

I did try to slap something up here earlier in the week, but for some reason the blog site kept crapping out on me and not uploading the post.
Who Knows?
Just went through a process of moving USP peripherals around my Mac G4. Several would only work on the main slot on the back of the machine - of which there are only two. Problem is I have three units (hard drive, printer, zip drive). pinter would not work on the powered 4 x expansion port. Hooked it up to the main box and it worked (loose the other two however). Put it BACK to the expansion port - and now it works. The zip drive runs on the expansion, but the hard drive has to sit on the main tower. Who can figure this out.

If anyone reading this can tell me how to get my internal DVD recorder (HL-DT-ST DVDRAM GSA-4120B) to work correctly - there is a nice gift in it for you. The damn thing will not record DVD's either via Apple's system software OR via Toast. It read disks (both CD and DVD's ) fine. It records CD's fine. I've given up on it.

What I had wanted to post up earlier was a note that I have added some new material to the main WAREHAM FORGE web site - a separate links page on the Iron Smelting section.

Finally got a web site that I was creating (for a fee) finished and all installed:
I had thought that I could offer a basic web design and creation service to area artists. So many have basic e-mail service, but don't bother with the web site (that comes with hook up) because is all technobable to then. Not the smartest, since the web is by far the cheapest advertising for the dollar that you'll ever find. Maybe more on this latter...


Monday, April 24, 2006

Some Iron links

I've just added a section of iron smelting links on to the Wareham Forge site:

Now - if I can just get to revising the SITE INDEX with all this new stuff added over the last couple of months!

The work on the bed frame for the lady in Lindsay is coming along. Have the major elements of the headboard completed - just have to add the tendril wraps and weld the pieces together. may finish the decorative work today...


Friday, April 21, 2006

Some 'Bloom to Bar' Links

So - Karen tells me I should get with it and figure out how to add links inside these posts:

I had asked on EARLY IRON a number of weeks ago if there was a known sequence traditional to Northern Europe for converting blooms to bars. Like many things - its turning out that this is something that has never been researched (or the research is hard to find). James Brothers had bounced the question up to ARCH METALS. One response came back - indicating this link

If you check it, you will see that it does not really answer the question.

A bloom as extracted from a the smelter, is inconsistent in its structure. A 'good workable bloom' will tend to be denser in its centre, and have more slag inclusions towards the outside. Imagine a muffin with nuts in it. As the bloom is compacted, the slag (the nuts) is compressed and tends to squirt out of the material. Most of the force is applied from one direction - this will leave thin flattened ovals of slag. The smith will attempt to compress out as much of this slag as possible.
As you might guess - the direction of these thin (microscopic) slag inclusions would indicate how the bloom would have been folded and compressed.

I may get around to writing up something about this. In theory a metal artifact could be sliced and polished and examined in detail to determine things like:
How many folds were made
What direction the folds were taken
What exact sequence of folds and direction of flattening were used.

Right now I have been working in a method suggested by Mike McCarthy. That is taking the roughly lens shaped bloom and compacting primarily from 'top' , with hammering force at 90 degrees to the thinnest dimension. This is then folded in half and welded to create a 'book' (will be longer than it is wide). This is then pulled out to a long rectangular bar and folded back on to itself. This second weld is at 90 degrees to the plain of the first weld.


Since I'm adding links:

is the new information I'm adding to the main web site related to iron smelting. At this point the stuff has a simple list of individual articles and notes.


First Bloom to Bar (older post)

Since I have not added much this week - this is an older posting that may be of interest to the iron smelters or blacksmiths reading this. The original post was send to EARLY IRON back in January (!)
I did however work on a different bloom fragment yesterday.
At Early Iron 2, the smelter I was looking over ran in a weird sequence. Elisabeth and Toby from MIT had to leave before the sequence was really complete. Rather than not finish the smelt sequence, I took the thing over. The end result when the smelter was opened up was actually TWO blooms. The first was larger and more spongy, lower down. On top was what I remember Mike calling 'a cute little football'. This was an entirely separate bloom, about 7 1/2 lbs.

Anyway I took this one - which again is a size that just fits into my gas forge. (For me this is proving pretty important equipment wise!)
- Preheat about 45 minutes - to a dull orange. Rotated a couple of times.
- Put into the coal forge and up to a bright orange, again rotated and flipped. Did note the 'bubbling / oozing slag' that Lee mentioned. Maybe 10 minutes here?
- Cut in rough half.
- Stared to work one piece, compressing down. On the second heat, the piece fragmented in two. There was a fairly large cavity with slag in it about the centre - this is where the break occurred.
- Took what was now about a quarter of the original bloom (1 lb 3 oz) and worked it. I had my 'baby pan' scale on hand, so took weights of hot pieces at several points. Scaled photos too.

- Compressed that piece to a 'book' roughly 4 x 2 1/2 x 1/2. Cut and folded in half - welded.
I did this weld under my 50 lb air hammer. The first side fine, working middle to end. On the second side, one layer of the end pretty much fragmented to pieces.
I may have been working too hot (like a brilliant white).
I also suspect this part of the material had a much higher carbon content, judging from the appearance of the collected fragments and later observations.
- From here went back to hand working the piece, working more from the yellows back to orange. Although I typically would hit the piece three times then bounce it on to the floor. The hand work let me concentrate on the edges - the same diagonal facets that Lee describes.

At the end of all that, I had a piece roughly 2 1/2 x 2 3/4 x 1/2. This was forged out (again working at higher temperatures, never under orange) to a bar at 1 x 5 x 1/2" and 12.5 oz.

With the collected fragments (total 5 oz) the conversion of bloom to bar was:
Start - 24 oz
Bar - 12.5 oz
Fragments - 5 oz
Loss - 6.5 oz
(I make this bloom to bar at about 75% - compare with the P. Crow estimates)

I took the final bar and water quenched it from red. The end that was where the fragmentation happened turned that clean light gray to white look that you get when you water quench mild steel.

I cleaned one surface with the hand grinder and then flattened on the belt sander to 100 grit.
- At this process the sparks were the classic 'dull red balls'.
- The suspect end showed a brighter colour with some feather. (This did look like less than mild steel however).
- The polished surface shows as solid continuous metal.

A couple of general things:

- I had tongs on hand for sizes from three inches down to 1/2 inch - and used them all.
- I found at the first part of compacting the surface that the size changed so fast that even one tong would go from too big to too small in a single heat.
- I chased bouncing blooms across the floor at lot!
- Slag seemed to draw to the surface and splat off in hammering on every heat. Never any need to flux. Ended up with gloves on BOTH hands (I normally NEVER glove my hammer hand) there was a lot of goo flying around.

It occurred to me while writing this that a tool made of a loop of 3/4" on a stick would have helped keep the small irregular pieces on the anvil.

I echo everything that Lee says about consolidation right after pulling the bloom. My team has found we can not even get that initial temperature even using the smelter as a giant forge. We extract through the top of the smelter. This includes one step that we can add - compacting the bloom in place using a length of 4" log about four feet long (what the lads call a 'thumper'). This also helps by removing a lot of the loose 'mother' before we extract the bloom.

I've got two 16 plus blooms here as well. The only way I can think of getting them at anything like a workable temperature to split is to make a large pit forge like Mike made at Early Iron


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Blooms On Hand

just a fast addition:

Look to the main Wareham Forge Iron Smelting series - Just added up a table style report on just what is inside that crate of blooms and fragments


Compacting Blooms

On the scheduled day for some bloom consolidation, Ken Cook took advantage of the experience.

We looked over the blooms I have accumulated. Because the number of DARC blooms that represent workable metal are limited (at this point basically only two pieces) it was decided to work one out of my own pile. Largely because of size, we decided to work up a fragment that Lee and Skip had given me at Early Iron 1.

For the research inclined, this bloom was cut off from a roughly 45 lb mass created using their 'African Queen' test smelter. The ore material was the standard Virginia Rock ore. I can't remember the % return, but typically their yields with this ore body run 35 - 40 %.

On Saturday, we started with 3.4 KG. The piece was 'lumpy' rather than 'lacy' - there were obvious voids in an otherwise fairly solid mass. It was a 1/4 sectioned off piece, so had two more or less flat surfaces and the others where curved from the edged of the original bloom. Rough size was about 15 x 10 x 15 CM tall.

The entire piece would 'just' fit into my gas forge. It was pre-heated and soaked to a medium orange - a process taking about 45 minutes. It was turned several times to try to get as consistent and penetrating heat as possible. Then it was shifted over to the coal forge. As much as possible, any work was started at a bright yellow to welding heat.

Because of the shape, the initial work was compacting the piece down from its 15 cm height. This was started with Ken using the 2.2 kg (5 lb) sledge. Once the piece had been reduced to about 10 cm tall, it was possible to move it over to the air hammer. (This a 50 lb hammer modified by David Robertson from the ABANA 'push / pull' system.)

As the piece was compacted, the sides were also worked in towards the centre. Several welding heats were taken. There was not much change in the rough size, save in thickness, until the piece got down to about 8 - 7 cm thick (as the voids were collapsed). A number of fragments did splinter off, an attempt to collect the larger pieces was made (using a magnet).

At about 7 cm thick, an obvious large shear line could be seen. We cut along this line with a hot set, removing a second piece at 750 gms. This was set aside, Ken would work this piece down latter.

The larger piece was then flattened to roughly 6 cm wide by 20 cm long and about 2.5 cm thick. It was notched 2/4 through with the hot set across the mid line, then folded back and welded. (What I'm starting to call a 'book weld')

At this point the block was spread at 90 degrees to the line of the first fold and weld. It is now roughly 8 wide x 14 long x 2 thick, The flat surfaces are basically free of cracks, and the long sides well secured. The cut and folded end shows some cracking, with what was the open end sill with some of the original surface fractures. (Remember that these two surfaces have not been compressed very much).

Accounting for the collected fragments and the larger piece sectioned off, 2.35 GM of the starting weight contributed to this block. The finished block weighs 1.6 KG. This is a return of 68 % (loss of 32%).

The slab at this state is likely consolidated enough to be forged to a bar, expecting some loss at the ends. I want to finish the flattening and fold and weld at 90 degrees to the first weld. Ideally you would do this one last time, thus compacting the bloom along all three of the surfaces of the block. I would expect some loss at each of these welds, but not a significant amount from this point on.

The surface of the plate was spark tested with the angle grinder. It shows sparks typical of low carbon content.

The end use of this block is for the creation of a pattern weld sample for Dr. Neil Price to use for teaching. (Thanks to those who posted to correct my well known ability to forget names!)

Ken took his fragment, and successfully compressed it down and through TWO welding steps. His progress through the first weld was roughly the same as detailed above. Because of the smaller size of the piece, it was possible to use the air hammer for all the heavy work. On the second weld, he drew the block out to a long thin strip , with fairly irregular sides. He then folded it twice (to four layers) and successfully welded. Because of the variation in width, the edges are pretty ragged at this point, and may prove a problem when its time to weld these surfaces down. We didn't get a weight on this block.

I think he is hoping to make a tanged spear head or a small seax out of his piece.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Note on May Courses

One of the reasons I started this was to be able to post up fast and changing information.

Introduction to Blacksmithing

May 12 - 14

This course is full (as of about April 1)

May 5 - 7

I added a second program for the early spring. As of April 12 - this course is also full!

Anyone also wanting to book the Introduction course is refered to the June 16 - 18 dates. As of today, I have one paid reservation - three spots remain.

A $100 deposit (non refundable) holds a course reservation.


Thanks, Karen, for some of the ideas on increasing traffic, thus usefullness, of this blog.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Caught in the web...

So - spring has more or less come to Wareham. (I'm sure Anti-V has more on this).
I spent way too much time last week working the Wareham Forge web site. Besides the new front end to the site, I finally got the EXPERIMENTAL IRON SMELTING information formated with its own index page. Most of this content was actually posted to the site - but as hidden files. Anyone looking for informaiton on iron smelting should take a look.

I also should have a counter now visible. This was done mainly to see if there is actually any traffic here at all. Remember my intent was to be able to post up and archive fast and informal information on an number of random subjects.

We shall see.

Just now waiting for a disk copy to be finished to send off from this weekend's E-bay order. Then hit the bank and try to get my accounts into SOME kind of order. Money is there - but like often, in the wrong spot....


Monday, April 03, 2006

Warping the Web

So - on the critique of Karen and Neil (primarily) I'm attempting to change the web design on the Wareham Forge site. At this point about 10 plus hours, mainly to re-work the first index page. This may tell you something about how complex a task this is.

The overall problem is two fold:
How to catch the attention of potential customers
The multi facetted nature of what the Wareham Forge actually does.

Right off the top, the web site is HUGE! It supports sales of standard production items, recruiting for courses, information leading to custom orders, representation of past museum work, an extensive gallery of past work - and the 'unofficial' documentation for the 'Norse Encampment' series of Living History Programs (which makes up roughly a third of the content. Right now the total site contains some ** 32 MEG ** of information. There are about 800 individual pieces, hundreds of images and dozens of individual sheets of information.

So my PROBLEM is:
How to list all the available information and guide the right people to the right area.

Anyway - I couldn't sleep last night, so was up at 2:30 working on this. I made up two prototypes of the first 'index' page. This changed the backgrounds and simplified and re-organized the type. The first version was with a light grey background with black type, standard link colours. That one I'm not happy with. At this point I will have posted the second version - which uses a dark grey background with white type.

I took some of the advice given on Sunday. I have reduced some of the font sizes and reduced the number used. I cleaned up the look of the type, and worked to group 'like topics' inside coloured boxes.

The question is - will this layout attract ALL the various customer types. My gut reaction is - no. The different types of customer are most likely to respond to differing layouts. This primarily suggests in fact designing entirely differing internal groupings to the site: High end Custom / Museum Work / Training / Everything else.

Anyway - I'm just burning time till I can log on and up load this entry and the new code and image fragments.

If you have time - go over to and then post me back a comment at


February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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