Thursday, July 29, 2010

Working Fast

Getting client work out the door and billed quickly is the engine of cash flow.

I came to the conclusion early on that with the type of things I was doing I couldn’t get along without a power hammer if I wanted to make money. I didn’t know much about them but took a leaf of faith and bought a 50 pound late model Little Giant from a friend. I then went to Sid Sudemier’s class in Nebraska City to learn how to rebuild them.

It has served me well and I have have done a couple of rebuilds and made various modifications and still use it every day. However, if I were starting out today I would build a spare tire power hammer (STPH).

At the 2008 BAM conference I bought a set of plans from Clay Spencer (designed by Ray Clontz) then went home and built mine with a few variations. It works very well and has a number of advantages over my 50 pound LG. It hits straight down not with the slightly glancing blow delivered by my LG. But probably more importantly I can fix everything myself quickly as nearly all the parts can be found locally.

Another aspect of working efficiently revolves around the most efficient way to heat what I’m working with. I found there were distinct advantages to making both a coal forge and a gas forge. I use the coal forge for working stock with large mass and stock that requires higher heat or is too awkward for the gas forge.

I use the gas forge when I need to work many small pieces simultaneously. I make a lot of small leaves and other plant parts to use in botanical sculptures. These are laser-cut blanks of usually 12 gauge 1011 steel. I can put 10 or twenty into my gas forge at a time and don’t fear losing any to oxidation.

After using a rectangular gas forge for several years and being frustrated by it’s fixed 6” square inlet I decided to make one of loose firebrick so I could shape the chamber to suit what I’m working with. It’s a bit slower to heat up because it doesn’t have the reflective refractory lining but I think the flexibility offsets that disadvantage. I still have the old forge to use if it seems a better choice. My propane tanks and forges are equipped with quick-connects so switching is easy.

Another part of working quickly is avoiding as much effort as possible in removing fire scale and that is where my tumbler comes in, and that’s a future story.

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