Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My First Forge


I’ve heard this story with slight variations a number of times in blacksmith gatherings. “I started in my garage with a modified grille for a forge.”  In my case I had a Weber grille which was scheduled for replacement.  I lined it with some concrete and fire bricks to form a fire pit and plumbed in a pipe to deliver air.  My blower was a vacuum cleaner electric motor set up with a foot switch and my fuel was lump charcoal.
My next tool addition was a MIG welder which I used to add wheels to the forge and make a welding table and a cart for the welder itself and it’s argon mix cylinder.  I think the next item was the in-line treadle hammer and my first attempt at a tumbler.  At that point I had convinced myself that the blacksmithing thing was going to stick and the garage was too crowded so the big leap was to build a dedicated workspace.
As I outfitted my blacksmithing studio I realized I was acting out something like the chicken and egg conundrum.  In this case it was the tool and job cycle.  When I was planning a job I had to consider how my tools might limit what I could accomplish.  So I was designing my jobs to fit my tools.  Often, I would make a special tool or jig for a particular job and realized this was the recursive part of the cycle - designing the tools to fit job.
This back and fourth growth of capability has been especially evident on the tool side as those items remain in the workspace and readily visible.  There was a rapid acquisition phase where I added the oxygen/acetylene torch system, drill press, band saw, angle grinders and many shop built items.  There was a big jump in productivity when I acquired the 50 pound Little Giant. The fly press addition didn’t boost productivity as much as I hoped but I still haven’t fully exploited the possibilities for it.  The recent addition of the hydraulic forging press has had as big an impact as the first power hammer.
The first coal forge in the studio was situated away from the walls and had an overhead smoke collector.  I think the flue was too small to draw properly.  It was handy to be able and walk around and work on all sides but it took up too much space in the room, so I changed it to a side draft type which works very well.  I’m working on some measured drawings which I will post soon.

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