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Daily posts of a power hammer builder

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John Larson


I haven't posted a blog since mid-December. The 75 mentioned then has been completed some time ago and is awaiting somewhat better weather for delivery 40 miles up the road. I did receive the order for a 125 and I will be starting on that about Feb 16. I have also been building a special 125 for myself to use in R&D. It uses a custom 4" bore cylinder with internal modifications to improve air flows. It uses a 13" hammer head stroke instead of standard 11" to help me determine later in the year whether or not the steam hammer-like valving is more beneficial with more air space. It ought to be. In any case its early operation with standard back pressure throttling shows that its new-to-me ceramic five-port valve (with 40% better flow potential) in conjunction with the cylinder flow potential provides beastly top end power with traditional Iron Kiss control at light treadle.

The hammer design is a thought extension of the work done in August-September-October where a second throttle valve on the inlet air was tried. Now I am using tie rods from the treadle to external throttle shaft levers on each side--one for exhaust throttling and one for intake throttling. This surmounts the complexity of running two valves with one throttle shaft and allows readily converted linkage to intake-only, exhaust-only, or both intake and exhaust throttling. Intake-only throttling uses less air to run any utility hammer, but then exhaust dumps to ambient. This provides a rather clunky behaviour at die contact such that planishing blows are sub-par compared to exhaust-only throttling where the treadle tends to determine the degree of pressure drop across the cylinder ports upon reciprocation.

Some people decry back-pressure controlled utility hammers for their air compressor requirements in contrast to in-flow controlled versions. Point taken. Part of my tedious R&D program is learning how to merge the two approaches.

John Larson


I shipped a 50 today to Alabama. And received a (tentative) order for a 125. A good day. I worked on mounting the cabinet frame and anvil to the 75.

John Larson


I am working on an Octagon 75. Today I machined its base plate. I also machined 4 sides of an anvil billet for the middle of the bottom block of an Octagon 125 anvil. It was acquired at the same time as the 75 billet and base plate, was in my way, so I just processed it to get it outta the way. Used my new 6" facing cutter for a couple of its edges, this cutter being the last item acquired in a set of 1.5", 2", 4", 6", 8" and 10". The 6,8,and 10 are only used in the 10 hp horizontal spindle for single passing the edges on the larger anvil billets. The 3 hp vertical spindle won't adequately power them. I also would have to trammel the adjustable vertical spindle extremely carefully, more easily said than done. Mostly I use small cutters in the vertical spindle at its highest rpm level, which is pretty tame by today's standards of high speed machining.

I have many pieces of 50 taper tooling and quite a few facing cutters that use sort of out of date carbides, all auction buys. The new cutters are Mil-tec and all use the same carbides. It has been a major investment over 5 or 6 years, not something I just impetuously purchased in a tool frenzy. The standardization on carbides makes life a whole lot simpler.

There are so many shapes and sizes and grades of carbides it is a major study project to fathom them. One vendor wrote a book to help customers do their selections. Egads!

John Larson


Back up and operating on the computer front, with the help of my service provider technician. The completed 50 has to be prepared for shipment next week. I moved on to making frames for the next machine, a 75. A new door has been installed in my industrial shop and they finished the weather stripping this afternoon. I am hoping I can now concentrate on hammer building and not have to solve any more equipment problems.

John Larson


I am having an assortment of troubles with my computer and the Geek Squad that just removed 331 viruses. My access to facebook has been damaged somehow. So my late fall/early winter hardware strife is agonizing.

John Larson


Well, I have completed the Octagon 50. The milling machine is working fine now. I had a new door installed in the industrial shop. This required me to move overhead lighting fixtures. I am starting work on the frames for the next 75 pound hammer. Hopefully there will be fewer delays along the way.

John Larson


I have gotten the Cincinnati 307-14 mill back in running condition after having the motor rewound, having a professional industrial electrician debug all the wiring, and having him help me install the motor. This finished up yesterday afternoon. I won't get back to work on hammers until Saturday.

Running a business like mine without back up machinery is reckless, but not always avoidable. I do have two back up machines, however each in partial running condition. Each had a burnt knee motor, one being a surprise. So I had to call Jack at Industrial Salvage in Berlin, Conn seeking a motor. His advice was rewinding what I had but he was wildly on the low side in suggesting the cost of rewinding. Now I know how to manage a milling machine electrical breakdown, and from previous experiences have someone who can help me with the machines' mechanical malfunctions. I have gone from being rather depressed to being rather up beat. Regardless of the huge expense involved, it has been very interesting.

One of the back up mills yielded a pair of electrical components for the electrician to use in the 307-14. I also had wiring blueprints for him to scan simultaneously with the actual wiring.

I am so far behind it is daunting. All I can do plug away until I get back on track.

John Larson


It has been since mid-September since I last blogged, before Quad States. The hammers were reasonably well perceived at QS and it was enjoyable to be there. Since returning I've received orders to extend the backlog a bit, and I am building another machine for myself. The personal machine has longer stroke and exposed dies at TDC to facilitate big die experiments. Not there yet. The primary milling machine knee motor shorted out and went up in smoke. The intended replacement motor was found frozen from gunk to my surprise. A call to my best contact led to the suggestion to have the existing smoked motor rewound. That is in process right now. Until it is back and the electrical circuits are checked out by a pro I can only do work on the back log hammers that does not require the milling machine. The temperatures have been cold in the shop, but nothing to complain about as compared to Buffalo, NY with its 6 feet of snow in one day!!!

John Larson


I am working very hard to complete a 50 pound hammer. If I get it done before next Wednesday I'll take it along for show-and-tell at SOFA Quad States. I've been invited to set up in a special vendor area to showcase Iron Kiss. The original plan was to show the 100 with the latest version of steam hammer valving, but now may take the 50, too. Today's adventure was to slightly change the valve locations in the 50 as compared to earlier hammers, and this ended up causing me to change the exhaust collector dimensions. Go it figured out, but it cost me considerable time. There just is not much room inside the 50's cabinet.

John Larson


It has been a while since I posted. Got the mills mentioned in the last post moved and stored in the new hobby shop at home. I have since then delivered a hammer to a customer in New Hampshire and along the way visited two suppliers and one other customer. The customer is deeply involved with sculptures for large settings like malls and parks. A prosperous artist! The supplier of sand blaster parts was most helpful and good to meet in person. The other supplier in the New Britain CT area runs an industrial surplus operation specializing in Cincinnati mills. I was able to buy a motorized over arm for one of my #2 mills (for more money than I have invested in both of the #2 mills, by the way) and it is a real sweet piece of WWII era machinery for tool room purposes. Was extremely happy to acquire it.

In the hammer business I have been building a 50 and doing more testing of the 100's steam hammer feature. I have simplified what I showed at ABANA and am intending to build another 100 with a longer stroke so as to take advantage of the tup positioning within the air space.

Today I opened a package from Parker containing a large Cv 5-port valve to consider as a replacement for my Norgren Nugget 500 valve. The Parker valve is physically larger in all three dimensions and is an air-return valve as opposed to a spring return valve. Fitting it in my cabinets will be difficult, unless I can re-orient it in some way. There is always some difficulty facing use of new products.

I sold a hydraulic press that I had bought at auction, so I may be thinking more about building a replacement..

The phone has been ringing a little bit from the ABANA marketing. One dude wanted me to build a 400 pound machine and I( referred him to Anyang's James Johnson. In no way do I want to build huge machines.

At ABANA a few smiths were intrigued with the steam hammer valve behaviour, but most everyone was enthused about my regular treadle hammer action. Partly from that ABANA marketing I've been invited to SOFA's Quad States event at the end of September. After that I hope to do another video for youtube..

John Larson


I have spent all week continuing my reconfiguration of the commercial shop. Most of that time was spent on two Cincinnati #2 mills I have, removing them to create the space needed. One has been owned perhaps 18 years while the other has been owned only a few months. Each needed laborious top-to-bottom preparations for painting, and the painting. The forklift was indispensable both as a prime mover and as a way to elevate the machines for easier access to the bottoms. Two days per mill. Today my work related to moving them to my new building at home as a key part of my eventual retirement hobby shop. I wasn't sure it would work, but my trailer carried them home where I have a 5000 pound forklift to unload. The challenge was to clear the fenders/wheels on the side of the trailer. It worked out with only inches to spare. At the end of the day I had them placed side-by-side in the new building, basically in their likely work positions. And all the removed items were put back in place, albeit in a more tightly packed configuration. It is fair to say that a major segment of the to do list has been completed.

John Larson


I am back from the ABANA conference where I displayed a conventional 75 with the treadle hammer feature and a 100 containing the experimental steam hammer type of valve system. Both worked flawlessly and many former customers and friends stopped by the display site, in addition to new folks interested in Iron Kiss. As I've indicated before, on an 11" conventional stroke there is not much advantage to being able to place the tup anywhere in the air space. But it sure caught the eyes of knowledgeable smiths. They could see that if the air space was enlarged it would be beneficial in single blow work to use attenuated ascent and descent. Prior to departure to the conference I had some time to mock up a new valve layout in a scrap piece of channel iron. I will be able to place the dual throttle valves side by side in the 100. Once this is done and functioning nicely my intention is to make a video and get it on you tube.

I spent yesterday afternoon and a bit this morning unloading. Then I moved a rack of steel, disassemble part of the rack, and moved the 26" vertical band saw to the 4'x4' vacated spot. This required moving a lot of things to be able to get at the band saw with the fork lift. The purpose of this was to greatly enlarge Jeff the welder's space for his activities. Jeff has the run of the entire shop, but tends to weld in a small area defined by the large acorn welding platen table. I was able to put my tig and mig welders into approximately their former locations, but the large rack of clamps and other tools has been placed on the other side of the shop and I need to find a convenient home for it by moving one of the unused mills outside under tarp.

John Larson


Tomorrow I leave for the ABANA conference about 80 miles away as the roads bend, but just across the Chesapeake Bay as the crow flies. The trailer is loaded with two hammers and an air compressor and a propane forge. The truck holds the propane tank and sundries. Tomorrow morning early I will finish loading; hopefully the rain that started after I had the hammers loaded will be over and done with. The weather forecast is for very nice weather through the weekend.

Over the past two days I have been mocking up the dual throttle valve system that I will install in the 100 after the ABANA conference. It operates just as the demo system for ABANA, however the ABANA system has one valve on the exterior of the cabinet. I want the valves inside. I used a piece of channel iron matching that used in the 100 as a bread board, and I fit a pair of valves in various ways until I had a configuration that I liked. The valves are side-by-side and linked to a single throttle shaft. The outflow valve operates pretty much as it does on my standard hammers, controlling back pressure. It is the key to my machines' exceptional control. The Humphrey valve is mounted above and to the side so as to be actuated by a cam on the outflow valve's lever. This simple valve turns the air on/off to the roller triggering valve, hence it controls the ascent of the tup when the treadle is released. Single blow treadle hammering is thus possible. The in flow throttle valve is primarily useful to shut off the air in flow when the treadle is fully released. This is part of the scheme that I have for steam hammer control of tup position at any position in mid-stroke. The rest of the scheme is secret for now.

After ABANA I plan to show the scheme in operation on youtube.

John Larson


Today the previous valve system was re-installed in four hours. The spool valve system was set aside for further analysis, etc.. Performance of the system is now just fine as it always was, and my opinion here may be reinforced by the finding that the spool valve system didn't work out as hoped. I try to be objective and dispassionate, but what is being evaluated is more than a little bit subjective, namely, the feel of the machine.

I am now mentally prepared for the ABANA show-and-tell next week. I mounted the 5 hp Quincy air compressor on the trailer. I have the trailer brakes and wheel bearings and wiring all A-OK. I have a list of things to do in preparation. I will finish my preparations on Monday and Tuesday and on Wednesday I'll go to the show and set up my display. The show is Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. My intention is to have fun and enjoy the event. Friends are demonstrating.

I am concerned that the market is softer now than a year ago with competition strong. I have innovated and am marketing.

The spool valve was placed on the lay out table and disassembled for diagnosis. The two main rectangular openings affecting air flows are, relative to my needs, too wide and too short. There is no way to lengthen the openings. Modification is not tenable. However there may be factory made versions more to my liking.

John Larson


Today I completed the entire valve system based on a spool valve throttle from a past research project. As expected, it has absolutely superb single blow/treadle hammer behaviour. That is because its simultaneous in-flow and out-flow throttling is so precise and linear. On that I was truly impressed. On repetitive blow behaviour I was disappointed. The valve is just too big internally and the transition from low to high flow is just too abrupt. This caught me by surprise. Therefore, I am putting the machine back into its configuration of several days ago in order to have it operational at the ABANA conference next week. That will happen tomorrow. Recall that I had a completed set up that I then took apart because I had the time to seek something better.

It just didn't work as expected. R&D is full of surprises, especially when it involves system changes as opposed to small component changes. I plan to search for a better spool valve for this application because it is the lesson learned, I think. A spool valve is likely to be the most compact way to achieve dual throttles and to achieve high precision. I have more ideas that I will talk about in the future.

John Larson


I have the new combined in-flow/out-flow valve installed. It was a day-long slog to find space for the hoses and fittings in a crowded cabinet. Two trips to the hardware store to get just the right pieces of brass. I never have installed this valve inside a hammer before, but I have used a scrap of 8" channel to teach myself about bolt spacings and such. So when I built the cabinet frame I drilled a variety of holes and tapped them in case I used the valve at some point. Those previous efforts paid off today. I had a set of holes that placed the valve correctly for using the throttle shaft port/bearing support. I was able to use the intake manifold and inlet port to feed the new valve, and though it took a while to figure out I did manage to route the in-flow hoses to the 5-port valve; the problem was space constraints. Blah-blah-blah. At he end of the day I had the machine reciprocating, however I had not tackled the task of mounting the Humphrey valve. That's tomorrow's adventure.

John Larson


I rigged up a dual valve system on the 100 to simultaneously control in-flow and out-flow. This took fabrication time for the levers and tie rod and the corresponding tuning. It worked! It is equivalent to my back-pressure control system with an added total turn-off feature so that it (slightly) mimics a 3-position spool valve. But both the valves are throttles and that is a big distinction. Now I can do with my treadle what it takes two levers to do on a steam hammer.

That being today's bragging, let me mention that I still want a manual valve to control the hammer during light treadle single blow mode. But I used that valve for the exhaust throttle. So I ended my day with another tear down of the machine to do some research on another valve that includes in-flow and outflow throttling inside the cabinet. By itself, that is straight forward. Mounting the throttle shaft and the Humphrey valve are two challenges for tomorrow morning..

John Larson


I continued to work on preparations for next week's ABANA conference. Put together an emergency valve and fittings stash, made a dual hose system so both machines can run concurrently, modified the throttle valve for more top end air flow (some disassembly required), figured out a way to directly compare back-pressure throttling versus inflow throttling (there is a big difference favouring back-pressure throttling), ran after supplies several times, and hauled a load of rubbish to the landfill. The mechanic started work on the trailer wheel bearings and brakes and is supposed to finish tomorrow.

John Larson


I played with all three machines today, but spent most of that stint on the 100, getting a feel for the in-flow throttling. The special valves I use for the treadle hammer (aka steam hammer) single blow setting works like a veritable champ. In regular multi-hitting mode there is less snap at bottom dead center as compared to back-pressure throttling. I had the 100 and the 75 side by side for comparison purposes. However, I have been aware of the in-flow system's behaviour for years based on experiments as well as observation of other hammers. I am trying to tune in some better BDC behaviour, especially for light blow planishing.

John Larson


My three hammer builds are completed. The 59 will be shipped when payment and logistics are taken care of. The 75 is a standard configuration and it is ready to go to ABANA. Ditto the custom 100 with my new version of steam hammer valving. It will sit beside the 75 at ABANA so that interested blacksmiths can try them both in treadle hammer mode. Yesterday I made sure that lights and tires on the trailer are properly prepared. Monday I take it to a shop for brake and bearing work as needed. Today I had the Mitsubishi short masted forklift hauled home and set on the concrete apron of the new shop building there. I used it to extricate and load the 5 hp Quincy air compressor, which I took to the commercial shop for testing and clean up. It ran all three hammers separately quite well. One aspect of the 100's in-flow throttling is that it uses less air pressure to run.

John Larson


I heat treated one hammer's wedges and then had to give back an extension cord to my electric oven. Will do another set similarly tomorrow.
Today was special. I finished the 75's punch list--it was really short. Then started fussing with the new style 199. Hey, it seems to work as planned (with the treadle) and tested (with hand controls) about a week ago. What this means is that I freed up a lot of time set aside for fussing with the 100. I got a new printer for the computer room, got a new tire for the trailer, and took off a bit early from the shop.

John Larson


I completed the new 50 today, working a so-called punch list of things I wanted to make right before shipment. The die faces did not align quite right. So I machined the anvil-capping plate at an angle to correct the misalignment. I do this on occasion, but not always. I then disassembled the cabinet. I took out the tup-cylinder assembly, took it apart, and shortened the tube 5/16" so that the tube top cannot contact the upper hose. I also shortened the linear cam 1/2". Then it was put back together. I massaged the bottom of the driver side V-guide so that the upper die wedge had good clearance. A longer cam for the Humphrey valve was made to allow a faster tup-up-at-idle speed.

Tomorrow I will examine the 75 and make it show ready. I hope to get some time in on the 100, too.

John Larson


Nose to the grindstone today, but I only got close to finishing the 50. Tomorrow for sure. I cut the dovetail slots for the upper and lower dies, made the 4140 wedges, finessed the thickness of the bottom die block to obtain the 9" air space between the dies (maximum), Made the dovetail pin for the sow block, plus its wedge. Made the plate for capping the anvil on which the sow block octagon is bolted. made the octagon and the bottom die receiver block. Welded them together once the block's thickness was finessed.