Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Finding a Niche




When I became interested in blacksmithing and started my first first forging efforts I had no sense of direction to the work. I was only interested in acquiring capability in general. As time went on and I accomplished more work I continued to cast a wide net and attempted to make many different things. Eventually I could make a lot of things but none really well.

This wasn't a bad strategy for a beginner in my situation where there was no living-breathing instructor, only books. Progress depends mostly on practice, anyway, I think. My further experience path was directed by the specific projects which clients requested. Some proved more satisfying than others and I started narrowing the vision of which things I wanted to do and which I didn't. By concentrating on the most interesting types of work I improved my skill in those areas and the overall satisfaction of the creativity increased.

Large architectural work is not for me. I mostly work alone and don't have the strength of youth and endurance necessary for heavy projects. I prefer smaller projects involving natural forms particularly botanical elements. I incorporate many different kinds of them into various sculptural decorations.

Currently I'm working three projects which employ forging and fabricating hollow forming techniques which I have developed over the years and enjoy using. One is a large sunflower sculpture which will hang on the outside west wall of my studio. The second is a large pair of interior doors which present a woodland scene. And the third is three runs of grape vine hand rail. All include stem, trunk and vine elements up to 3" round. Obviously, solid stock can't work in those applications because the weight would be enormous. I have encountered this design problem many times and find the hollow forming an ideal solution. The closed shape lends great strength with little actual mass.

I can briefly describe the process as follows. Mostly I use 14 gauge HRS sheet but sometimes 18 gauge if even lighter weight is required. I request the steel supplier shear the 14 gauge into pieces 2' to 3' in length and about 4" in width. This size is easy to work given the tools I use.

The first step is to run all the sheet through the coal forge to fire scale and anneal. Next I run the stock through the tumbler with steel aggregate for about 20 minutes. This knocks off all the scale and leaves the surface with a very fine pitted and planished texture which will eventually be the "tooth" which holds the finish in place.

The second step is to heat the sheets again in the coal fire and boldly texture the surface with one of a number of bottom dies I have made for the power hammers which produce specific bark patterns.

Next, I use the flypress with a bottom trough die and top ball die to bend the sheet into the desired radius of concavity needed for the fabrication of the final form. If the sheet is 4" wide and the final form is a branch about 1.25" in diameter (4/pi) I can completely close the tube by switching the top ball die to a top trough die. I don't strive to create a symmetrical pipe as some undulation will be desirable in the finished product.

Finally I place the tube in the post vise and close the seam with a MIG weld bead then fuse the seam with the oxy-acetylene torch and run the finished piece through the tumbler again.

The final structure will require some tapers and bends rather than just single diameter tubes. Tapers are formed by cutting the sheets into elongated trapezoids which are then tubed. Bends can be complicated but often require removing and replacing various geometrical areas.

I find this building process fascinating and I am happy that I have found this niche technique. To each his own.

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I don't often check for blog comments, so the best way to contact me is directly: at ottercreeksmith@gmail.com or djedwards@cableone.net