Thursday, November 1, 2012

Small Piece Tongs

I have a pair of old tongs I acquired from some flea market quite a few years ago.  I probably paid a dollar - I really don’t recall.  They were made from approximately 3/8” stock.  The jaw was flat and the reins were drawn down to about 5/16” and they were very pitted.  They looked so fragile I anticipated they would break after a short period of service.

Well, I was wrong.  It is ten, or so, years later and they still work as well and when I acquired them.  They are only appropriate for light duty work so the mechanical strain on them is small.  I am about to move into a phase of work where I will be handling a large number of very small pieces and these tongs are ideal for the task. 

In the usual daily work plan we run a hot coal fire and Ken and I move pieces through as fast as we can. We alternate pieces. To me this is an highly coordinated activity.  It has evolved organically, without a real dialog, strategy or mission statement.  We have just worked together for a long time.  Most of the time the work space is noisy and we wear ear plugs so very few words are exchanged while forging.

Although I can’t imagine working any more intuitively and congenially than we do sometimes we seem to manage to test each other with our differences in fire management strategy.  Ken has a way of working very effectively with a growing clinker.  The fire grows hollow and the work pieces migrate lower and lower into the very hot but oxidizing zone.  I try to hustle along and get more and more pieces into the fire.  It is really pushing it to manage a lot of small pieces in a risky hot fire.  His tendency would be to work fewer pieces in exactly the right location while my inclination is to get the clinker out and make the fire deeper.  Some how we make it work.

One of the things which makes it work is having enough of the right tools.  I can see that this single pair of old tongs is not going to be enough with the jobs coming up.  At the least we each need a pair and realistically we each need two pair because sometimes one gets misplaced.  Fortunately this is a problem that can be quickly solved.  I cut six pieces of 3/8” round 5” long and we went to work.

In one heat using the power hammer with a combination die, I flattened a two inch flat blade using a 1/8” stop and a top hand-held flatter.  On the second heat I rotated the stock 90º and flattened a 1.5” segment on the drawing die to make the box area.  On the third heat with a 5/16” stop I drew down the takeoff region of the reins for a couple of inches and did  the offsets of the blade and reins from the box.  On the fourth heat I punched the rivet hole.

In actual practice I made one piece.  Ken watched each step and I laid the finished example by the anvil and Ken finished the other five. They went into the tumbler when we left last night.  

Today I put in the rivets and used torch heat to do the final adjustments.  I also welded a punch drop to the end of each rein.   It took about an hour to finish all three.  If I could have just looked in a catalog and found exactly what I wanted I might not have bothered to make them but I’ve never seen this light weight style offered commercially.  So the bottom line is, I have what I need at probably about a third of what it would cost to buy if they could be found and it didn’t cost me enough time to really interfere with the work in progress.  I’ll call it time well spent.

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