Monday, August 15, 2011

Off to Join the Circus

Well, it hasn’t come to that yet, but tomorrow I am off to enjoy the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, Missouri, and work/play in the Blacksmiths Association of Missouri demonstration tent. This annual event is a favorite part of my year; I'll be away from the blog for several days. When my father mustered out of the Army Air Corps in 1946 we settled in Sedalia. That was where I grew up from age 3 to 18.

We have dear friends in Sedalia who give us a place to nest and good food and conversation. Every visit has built more lovely memories and complement those which date back to elementary school and even preschool days in Sunday school.

When I was living there, State Fair week seemed to coincide with my birthday, August 27th. But school starts earlier in the calendar now. Part of my birthday present used to be passes to the races for me and several friends. We could count on hot weather, a drought-breaking rain and sometimes a severe storm. I could go on for quite a while with memories of The Fair.

In the days preceding our trip I must decide what to pack. I’ve pretty much given up on trying to construct a “crowd pleaser.” It’s a lot more like a reception line than a static audience so the vast majority of visitors see what they want to see in less than a minute. A few will linger to ask questions and the oddball, potential blacksmith, will hang around and try to learn something. Those few will be offered the possibility of joining BAM and opening the gateway to eternal happiness. Well, again, I may exaggerate.

Back to the packing issue. After quite a bit of experience with this sort of thing, I now pack what I will need to accomplish what I would be doing in the shop anyway. Off and on I work on improving my workspace. Recently I looked over the tong racks in the forge room and concluded there were about twenty pair which were used frequently and another fifty which may not have moved in the past few years.

I removed all of the archived ones, looked them over, and concluded that most could be converted to useable tools. Most were odd shapes, too heavy kludges which I picked up for about $5 apiece at flea markets in the early 90’s. I took out the rivets and prepared them for reforging.

Over the years I have become picky about tools and have firm preferences. In tongs I have a very specific style of offset tongs which I like. I acquired a set of about eight round stock tongs sized from about 1/4” to 1” in an eBay auction about 15 years ago. It may have been the best auction purchase I ever made. At the time I didn’t realize I had purchased anything as unique as it was. I have been to a lot of shops and studied all the tongs offered by the big suppliers and have never run across this style; however, as I pondered my “ideal” tongs, I felt these were not quite on the mark. I had come to like the feel of the ball finial on the reins of a couple of manufactures tongs and decided this feature should be added. Moreover, a ring could be superior to a ball as it could accommodate a hasp or link catch as an alternative to a tong clip when used in a specific production run.

Now, I had a Fair Week project. It is hard to find the time for a couple of days of experimentation. It feels like a luxury extravagance in the work week but can be excused during Fair Week. On Saturday my student assistant, Scott, came and we pounded out enough tong blanks to see me through.

I’ll post a detailed description of my method of making tongs later but this is an introduction. I use 3/8” x 3/4” hot rolled flat bar stock. The blank is 13” long for the average pair of tongs. A couple of inches shorter will make nice light weight tongs for 1/4” stock and a couple of inches longer will make suitable tongs for 1” stock.

In almost every project I try to enhance my convenience in the first heat. This may be, (1) add two plane volume, (2) draw length, or (3) add a convenience bend. If I have a blank and have added two plane volume (potato chip form) as the first step, I can easily pick it up off the floor with pick up tongs rather that chase it around flat when dropped. Drawing length first adds a handle. A convenience bend facilitates localizing the heat. This power to bend and unbend at will is one of the great aspects of blacksmithing.

In this case, I wanted to prepare my blanks so I could work at the fair in a casual manner with hammer on anvil doing the refined jaw work. I decided to do the reins drawing in the shop with my power hammers to save time, effort and perspiration. Each reins segment was drawn out to 3/8” round in two heats. This left a great handle which can be drawn to full length with at 5/16” stop later when I am back in the cool shop.

It could be pretty hot on those demonstration days and I believe in the slogan, “Never let them see you sweat.”

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