Tuesday, February 10, 2015

One Way to Make a Wheat Motif

Several months ago a reader asked a question about how I made the wheat shown in an image.  I missed finding that question but it has come up before so this will serve as a generic answer.

First, I have made the wheat motif several different ways at different scales.  The stock material has ranged from 12 gauge black annealed wire up to 9/16” round.  For most of my small wheat sculptures I use 1/4” round rod.

Secondly, I have made wheat in a lot of different ways but I’ll show the most common one which I call the three-fold twist method.

The diameter of stock used will have a great influence on the numbers of spikelets (seeds) in the finished head.  This link shows a head with a total of 18 spikelets.

The ones I make usually have 16-18.  The length of stock cut will determine how many twists can be made from that size material.  For 1/4” round I’ll figure about 4.5” to 5.5” x four to get the workpiece length.  If you don’t want the heads to come out exactly the same vary the length a bit.

I cut my blanks cold with a hack in the hydraulic press so the ends are tapered. As a rule I’ll probably cut enough to make about 20 heads on a single production run.  A center finder rule is used and I mark the center point with a presto pen.  I heat the center point and bend it 180º and hammer it shut.  Incidentally, I use the torch for most of  this entire project when using small stock.  Note, the images I’m using were taken on different runs so there is some inconsistency in them.

I’ll quickly make a simple bending jig to accommodate the size and length stock being worked to make things go fast.  This facilitates making the second bends of the folding process.

Approximately 24" of 1/4" round and bent 180º at center is placed in the second-bend jig.  This illustration could be misleading as the stem is not ordinarily added until the folds are completed.
The three-fold blank ready to add stem.
Next, I weld the stem to use as a handle.  Sometimes I weld it on the closed loop end and sometimes on the other depending on how I want the finished top of the head to look.  The closed loop free is usual.  In any case the original rod ends must be tacked to their partner to twist properly.

A stem has been welded to capture all four segments.
The second-bend jig and the custom socket wrenches.
The stem end is clamped in the vise and with torch heat the right hand loop is twisted counter clockwise and the left side clockwise.  Usually I work back and forth keeping the twists evenly paired. In an actual seed head the kernels alternate and that can be accomplished by bending the pairs sideways a bit to get a mirror image out of register.  I made a simple socket wrench to make the twist easy.
Twisting with torch heat and keeping twist evenly aligned.
I make sure the twist pairs close tightly against each other by clamping face-side-down in the vise.  The face side is the one with the kernels pointing up and out.
Face side before and after twisting.
I add a length of filler metal such as a nail or 10 gauge black annealed wire or a piece of 3/16” rod.  Anything that will mostly fill the center gap will work.  The goal is to tie the two twist pieces together, prevent MIG splatter from going through to the face side, and add a little center mass.
Clamped in vise back-side-up with filler metal in the center valley.
Filler metal welded to "kernles."
When all the pieces reach this state it is time for the coal forge.  The head is heated and swaged in hydraulic press in a die made for the appropriate stock.
Press swage die for 1/4" round stock wheat.
Next I’ll hand forge the taper of the top and texture it with a handled chisel under the treadle hammer, or on a die in the forging press or on another die in the power hammer.

Tapered top end ready for texturing.
The leaves are usually forged on a power hammer combination forming and texturing die with 1/4” square stock run through on-the-diamond.  I usually work about 30” pieces then hack it into approximately 6” lengths. The finished pieces are run through the tumbler, assembled, brass brushed and coated.

Finished wheat.

I’ve probably sold more of this botanical motif than any of the other ones I make.  This is hard red winter wheat country.

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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