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I Forge Iron

Clay as a modeling medium

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Just came home from the "TUESDAY NIGHT LIVE BLUEPRINTS" here on IFI. As Glenn says," bring somebody new nextime, always plenty of seats".
The second round of tonight's festivities were centered around using clay as a modeling medium in blacksmithing and that's what this rant is about.
Like everything else in the past 5,000 years of blacksmithing, it's probably been done before. I've been using clay as a modeling medium for about a year now to work out what I want to do in iron. You, me, and everybody else have used clay before in our childhoods at home and in school.
Ever since remembered that and used it in your smithing?
Remember making your own version of "Mr. Bill" from Saturday Night Live"?
O.K. maybe I am alone in that.:(
Anyway, Modeling what you intend to do is common and makes a lot of sense.
Boatbuilders make hull models, architects make scale renderings, etc. etc.
Clay is a plastic substance, not "plastic" in the modern throw-away society's concept, "plastic" in the definition of being fluid, it can be moved.
For example, you can shape clay in the form of the stock you intend to use for a given purpose, full size or to scale (remember, you are a blacksmith and should have a full understanding of scale, blueprints, etc.) and "forge" it with your fingers and/or tools to arrive at a desired rendering all the while mimicking in your mind the required steps and tooling to forge it for real, in iron in your shop.
This in itself is the object here, trial and error in a medium that can be worked cold, at room temperature with an inert substance that bows to your will. Providing you with a learning experience.
This paralells how iron can be moved. This paralells how you can proceed with your intended project and give insight to tooling and methods to use.
The wheels of creation in your mind will be spinning all the while in this creative process as you envision the iron being formed, as you form the clay.
If you are like me, beginner or an accomplished worker of iron, using clay as a modeling medium will save you time and help your creativity.
Lots of you frequent IFI, but as Glenn has said to me over the phone "Always plenty of seats at the "Tuesday night live blueprints".
So bring a friend.:)Dan...COMMENTS?

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Well . .clay in the sense of wet dirt. . should always harden . ..
and it is the cheapest and most readily available thing around. .

I for one happen 2 have a pile in my backyard ... . .and the filling for my forge is made of it ..so as not to waste bricks and refractory cement ..

my forge is a clay block with a brick shell and a refractory brick firepot .. and some black pipe plumbing for air and ash ..

I never used clay for simulating a project but i do intend to use it for lost wax casting ( as soon as I get a crucible from a friend. . and pile up some bronze)

I find it also useful in making furnaces and ovens...especially if mixed with ash and straw ..contrary to popular belief . .you can heat it up and the straw will still keep it from cracking .

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clay in the sense of wet dirt. . should always harden . ..

Todays modeling clay (store bought) is high tech stuff. There are products (silly puddy) that will flow like cold syrup but will fracture or shatter when hit. Others are designed with properties that make them special as a marketing tool for the kids.

Like anything else, choose what works best for your application.
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Try getting normal custard powder and adding just enough water to get it all mixed up into a paste that will just run like a liquid then try punching it in the mixing bowl. Very strange.
Also try to remember not to do any of this near a lit flame, ie the cooker. Custard powder in the air as dust burns VERY well, with a rather funny colour :)

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I've never heard of custard powder, the stuff is really easy to make without powder. At a guess I'd bet "custard powder is corn starch.

There's all kinds of Youtube videos about the stuff. Some call it "Ooblect" (I think) or (non-newtonian) fluids. (I think)

Funny stuff.

So's custard of course.


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There was a clip on youtube or similar where a kids science TV show filled a pool with the "magic mud" as we used to call the cornstarch water mix and then dared kids to run across it while the host swam in it. It's amazing how much weight it can hold when you keep your speed up. Stop to catch your breath and...

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  • 3 months later...

Plasticine or oil based modeling clay works fine for modeling a lot of things, none of them structural.

There are different grades from stiff to soft and you can keep it pretty stiff by keeping it cold.

Mostly I use it to experiment with forged shapes and made up pieces. It helps me determine the best sequense to follow when forging more complicated shapes and such.

I don't use it for large things, long objects, say a coat rack and such.


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Our old blacksmith in town here is aged 81. He uses clay. He just goes out and picks up a pile of it off the ground and goes and clays his forge! Nothing special. He can also light a fire in seconds using straw etc. etc. Maybe when I have been smithing that long I will be able to as well. But I would be aged about 110.

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