JoshuaMS

Off-grid blacksmith shop near Tyler Texas

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Hello everyone,

I have been building a primitive, off-grid blacksmith shop for a Christian missions organization called Youth With a Mission, near Tyler TX. They have worked with communities in developing nations that could benefit from the knowledge of basic metalworking skills for agricultural and economic development. The shop is still in need of some work but is currently functional in a limited capacity. If there is anyone here on the forum that is near this area and has an interest or experience in blacksmithing and metalworking, please consider this an invitation to come visit, or help out. Just send me a message or post in the comments for more information.

The open air shop is about 15'x15' and equipped with a small propane forge, a charcoal forge (currently being modified for safety and functionality), double lung bellows, a limited selection of hammers and tongs, Fulton anvil, post vise, a wooden work table, an observation bench, and various hand tools. We have a collection of springs and other material on hand for projects. I will be here for the next three months developing the shop and hope to run some workshops during that time.

Thanks,

~Joshua

IMG_3651.jpgIMG_3563.jpgIMG_3389.JPGIMG_3229.JPGIMG_3639.jpgIMG_3422.jpg

 

 

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Have you read the UN Blacksmithing Manual(s) that were written for rural Africa? Very appropriate for off the grid setups.

I take a forge up every year and do a weekend at our church's summer camp for the College session or the Family session.  Great fun as I seem to have the counselors as well as the campers pounding steel!  (we did a batch of marshmallow roasters and then tested them out at the bonfire that night.)

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Thanks for the info! I looked up those UN manuals, they are great starting material for anyone interested in blacksmithing. I this book information on Tillers International's website:

Unfortunately the pdfs are hard to find, but all three are on google books.

The drum forge is quite an interesting design, very simple which I like! I'm currently using an industrial metal sink and am working on finding materials for the refractory and chimney. Hopefully it will be up and running soon. 

Here's a new pic of the shop after some recent roofing work:IMG_2627.JPG

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Joshua,

Great to have you on the site.

The F A O series of 3 books is great.

Also, Check out Abana.com for their course on basic blacksmith skills.

The narrative and drawings are excellent.

And the overall price for both series cannot be beat.

SLAG.

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The UN Manuals are where I first read of using cast iron to hardface mild steel---a very interesting method of using the high rate of carbon diffusion into steel.

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26 minutes ago, ThomasPowers said:

The UN Manuals are where I first read of using cast iron to hardface mild steel---a very interesting method of using the high rate of carbon diffusion into steel.

That is very interesting! Have you ever used that technique? I've tried to forge cast iron in the past and it just shatters. In the bladesmithing community I know people sometimes mix cast iron with bloom iron or wrought to make crucible steel, but that requires fully melting the material. I haven't read through all the manuals yet but I'll keep an eye out for that section.

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I believe it was in the section of making axes to the traditional shapes.  You heat the mild and the piece of cast iron and "crayon on" the cast to provide a thin layer that diffuses into the surface.  I have not tried this particular idea; but I did once try to forge weld alternating layers of mild and cast iron---thin high grade CI, old bathtub!; based on early "guesses" I had read on how damascus steel had been made.  It became very clear that the people who wrote such speculations had NEVER TRIED THEM!

As my scrap pile leans heavily towards High C; I never needed to make my own save as trying to replicate earlier processes, so blister steel yes.

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Thanks, I just looked it up in the intermediate manual and there is a very interesting section about hard facing with cast iron. I will have to give that a try sometime to see how effective it is on tools.

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Cast iron was not a common material in the early medieval times in Europe when the bloomery process was used (AKA the direct process, the indirect process uses cast iron as the starter material.) So I just remembered it as an interesting technique rather than investigating it's use.

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It is an interesting concept and very different from anything I have read about before. I'm very curious to try it!

I am quite familiar with the bloomery process, and have participated in a smelt myself as well as experimented with changing the carbon content in mild steels in a small furnace. I can say that cast iron was not uncommon in medieval times as it is actually a byproduct of bloomery smelting in many cases. I've accidentally made cast iron myself. When ore is smelted in that kind of furnace some material is carburized more and some less so the end result is an odd mix of steels of different carbon contents, often including lots of cast iron. The term pig iron is sometimes used to refer to such cast iron. Before crucible steel became common pig iron was refined by oxidation in a hearth to reduce the carbon content for a workable steel. At least that's my understanding. These historical processes and science fascinate me!

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Well with 15 years of smelting using hand blown short stack scandinavian bloomeries we never got any cast iron; what kind of medieval bloomery were you using?  The Japanese tatara furnace is known for its high C blooms. "Pig iron" only came when they have enough cast iron to run into a casting floor as pigs.   There were a number of indirect processes used before crucible steel was developed by Huntsman in the 1700's (osmund process for instance and after that the fineries and chafferies)

You might like reading "Mastery and Uses of Fire in Antiquity", Rehder  or "Sources for the History of the Science of Steel" C.S.Smith

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Interesting, I certainly still have much to learn! I'll add that book to my ever growing reading list. I'm somewhat surprised you've never gotten any cast iron, but then in my case when it happened I was not smelting ore but just remelting some mild steel. I used a small stack type furnace (similar to Lee Sauder's Aristotle furnace), with an electric blower, not exactly a medieval design. The bloom was mostly high carbon but a portion melted and flowed to the bottom as cast iron. When I tried to forge it it just disintegrated into little bits. Here's images of the bloom before forging (I've since learned not to let it cool), the first picture is of the loom right side up but you can see the melted portion better in the second:

Bloom1.0.jpgBloom2.0.jpg

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11 minutes ago, JoshuaMS said:

Interesting, I certainly still have much to learn! 

FYI, ThomasPowers is our resident medievalist/early technology reference librarian. 

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naw just an opinionated old curmudgeon who's learned the hard way to be wary of making historical claims based on using modern materials and methods---I once had an argument with folks claiming all medieval/renaissance armour making was done cold---even though pretty much *every* wood cut, etching, painting or illumination we have showing it has a whopping big forge right near the work area.  They had never worked with real wrought iron before and so were not familiar to possible issues with cold work....

I'm sure you have some neat books on your shelf too that I'd like to hunt down! Please Share! (And please contradict me where warranted!---iron sharpens iron and nobody knows it all, earlier dates for Stuckoffen keep crawling out of the dirt as more and more excavations find them!)

(Besides "Steelmaking Before Bessemer, vol I Blister Steel and vol II Crucible Steel", Barraclough, have you read "Cementation of Iron and Steel" Giolitti, Richards, Rouiller---has lots of odd bits of all the weird experiments  with the process---including that you can carburize using diamonds as the carbon donor! and carbon monoxide need not be present! "Sources for the History of the Science of Steel" has a neat collection of Renaissance quenchants all "guaranteed" to make your steel whiter and harder and all the excerpts have been translated into english by an expert, covers 1532-1786 when a Frenchman slaps his forehead and says "Mon Deiu, it's CARBON, that turns iron into steel...well plumbago/graphite...)

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I know you coined anvil envy Mister Powers, but has it ever occurred to you that library envy is a much more serious threat for some of us?

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I once read a saying that seemed such a self evident truth:  "Only your Friends will steal your Books".  

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On 1/25/2017 at 10:30 PM, ThomasPowers said:

naw just an opinionated old curmudgeon who's learned the hard way to be wary of making historical claims based on using modern materials and methods

I can understand that mindset and I do appreciate the correction; I've had my fair share of those cold forged armor type debates too. Sometimes I forget how long of a period "medieval" refers to, a lot of things changed and developed. It still surprises me that cast iron was so uncommon. I can't help but think if it only took me two attempts to accidentally make cast iron, then surely the process was discovered early on in Europe. But I don't profess to be a history expert. I just enjoy learning about and attempting old processes as it helps me understand where things come from and how things work.

As far as books go, I've been traveling a lot lately so my library is rather limited. I do have one new addition, The Sword form and Thought, which I highly recommend if you're into medieval blades.

On 1/26/2017 at 2:10 AM, ede said:

JoshuaMS, A penny for a close up photo of your bellows.

Here's a couple pics below, but for more detail you can check out this blog post about how it was made: http://bezalelblades.blogspot.com/2016/07/double-lung-bellows.html. I did some research before starting this project but the design was purely my own, not based on any particular historical piece. I'm sure there are more efficient ones out there, but it works for my needs. There are definitely some improvements that could be made, the faux leather material is not the most wear resistant for one. It's still functional after six months though (not in regular use).

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I should note the forge in the background was a temporary setup with parts we had lying around. For safety reasons, I do not recommend anyone use galvanized material for a forge; it's definitely not worth the health risk!

 

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It's nice to see you being so resourceful with your materials, it should prove helpful in the villages that are resource poor.  Don't know where you plan on going to help, but If you listen to Blacksmither radio, Brian Brazeal is going to Kenya to start a Blacksmithing school there with his brother Ed.  

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"The Celtic Sword", Radomir Pleiner is an interesting work on the metallography of early ferrous swords.  As for cast iron it was considered a mistake as they didn't have the methods to use it and so they were trying to avoid it in european bloomeries.  "The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England" Ellis Davidson, is interesting as an example of how to research things from other methods than direct investigation of the physical culture.  It also has an appendix on Anstee's work on patternwelding----much of which has been superseded---like using round rods, when you can get the patterns using square and NOT having all the overhead and possible cracking of making the pieces round....

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