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I Forge Iron

Little things that make a BIG difference


C-1ToolSteel

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There are so many.

I was comparing these two letter openers, and it got me thinking. Here's a picture of two items that are 95% identical, but it's the little 5% that makes it go from rather crummy to something nice looking.

Tell us about a little thing you do in your shop that makes a BIG difference.

 

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Here I was thinking of 2-10-11 "Eyes-Fingers-Toes"

Anyway: dressing the hammer faces makes a big difference; especially for people just starting out.  When I get students with more than usual hammering issues I tend to move them to a hammer that's dressed very smoothly indeed!

Using starting stock that is close to finished size/shape.  Yes you can forge odd ball shapes into other oddball shapes but the time and fuel involved often results in the finished piece looking poorly as you spent all your energy at the start of the project and so give short shrift to the end of the project.  If you have the discipline to do a project in stages over a number of days you can work around this issue.  (The old "Free 1" sq stock" is NOT free when you are making 1/4" round items!)

Wire Brushing often!

Keeping the face of the anvil cleaned off---especially important for knifemaking!

If you are making a bunch of an item that should "match"; do it in steps and do a step for all the pieces before going to the next one.

Almost forgot this MASSIVELY IMPORTANT ONE: If you are making a blade from scrap; TEST IT BEFORE USING IT!

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  • 4 months later...

Put drinking water where you can reach it from the forge blower or wherever you rest during heats.  Put the pitcher of refills where it won't spill, or be forgotten.  Dehydration makes everything harder to do.  Once the fire is lit, it's harder to find time to get more water.

Stop when you're tired.  I've burnt more stuff in two trying to make things go faster when I was tired than anything else.  

Getting the air flow, fire pot, and forge all dialed in with a coal or coke forge.  I used to spend half my free-time fighting to keep the forge lit, let alone actually heating the work.  Coke has many positive attributes, staying lit in the absence of a constant draft is not one of them.  

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When I use coke I let the blower on all the time. It uses more coke but it makes forging that bit easier than needing to tend to the fire all the time. 

And ... one that is not restricted to blacksmithing is rehearsing your strategy in your mind before getting started. When I am planning for something I have never done before, my mind seems to go to work by itself and a few days before starting I seem to go through all the necessary steps and try different ways to do the most challenging parts in my mind. It usually works and I find solutions that avoid costly mistakes rather than diving in the project without a plan. Reminds me of that movie of Sherlock Holmes when he is in a fist fight and thinks ahead all he moves in slow motion ... love it :)

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Using proper tongs, using the correct weight/type of hammer for the job, using good fresh sandpaper, using sharp files, soaking things in venegar to remove rust or scale...

And then on the bad side: Sticking your work down in the bottom of the firepot (too much scale), letting your mind wander with a blade in the forge, forgetting to wear dirty clothes when in the shop. 

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standing properly at the anvil, I learned that one just today. 

before I was just standing at the anvil like you'd normally stand, feet side by side about a shoulder width apart and bending at the knees but finally my friend pointed out that I should try moving my right foot (I'm right handed so it most likely goes opposite for you lefties) a bit back and to the right, something akin to most martial art basic stances and stand 30-45 degrees to the anvil.

I felt how it engages the Latissimus dorsi (the muscle just under your arm) in my side a lot better, therefore relieving the bicep and triceps of some strain, it also brought me down just enough so the anvil was at a perfect height for working with smaller diameter stuff and I personally find it easier to lift myself up on my toes a little bit to get that slight extra swing and power which makes the work a little bit easier for me and in turn makes a big difference at the end of the day for me at least

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  • 1 year later...

Wasted motion is a bigger deal than it might seem.  One day a few years ago, I went out to a site where we needed to finish terminating all the electrical panels so the HVAC system could be energized.  This job had four identical panels mounted side by each.  An apprentice had been working on terminating the first panel for a day and a half by the time I got there.  I started on the furthest panel from him and worked my way through them.  Halfway through my first panel, I made him stop and watch me demonstrate how to strip, tag, and terminate a conductor.  I pointed out that he was switching tools more often than he needed to.  This caused him to let go of the conductor during his tool shuffle.  He was constantly chasing the wire he needed in the tangle of loose wiring.  To a bystander watching, the apprentice looked like he was hustling.  I probably looked like I was mostly standing still. Being made of impenetrable teenager, the apprentice was adamant that he always had a good reason for the wasted motions.  Since I was sent out to get the job done, not teach the apprentice, I held my tongue.  By day's end, I had terminated three panels before he'd completed his first. 

I apprenticed under some seriously overweight guys who were keen to protect their investment in fast foods.  They had to make the same production as everybody else or they'd face layoffs.  Eliminating wasted motion was invariably crucial to their success.

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  • Mod30 pinned this topic

Rockstar, reminds me of a comment from one of my old bosses. He always used to say he would give the really hard jobs to the laziest guy in the hangar and he would work out the quickest and easiest way to do it. Funny now when I think of the number of jobs he used to send my way.

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  • 1 year later...
Quote

He always used to say he would give the really hard jobs to the laziest guy in the hangar and he would work out the quickest and easiest way to do it.

The hardest and most inconvenient job for me would be daily cleaning of the floors. In fact, I understand that such work should tune in the right way, like meditation. but I'm really lazy in this regard. Therefore, I have "my lovely helper". The most common robot vacuum cleaner that runs twice a day where I have an office part)) Near the workplace I have to do everything in an old-fashioned way (

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The old fashioned way was to have the apprentice sweep after everyone else was done for the day!

I have a dirt floored shop and so handing a new "minion" a broom and telling them to sweep up the dust is a standard joke.

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I got this idea from Francis Whitaker. He had a dirt floor. He sprayed his floor with mag chloride to keep the surface hard and dust free. He usually didn't work weekends, so I would soak the floor with water from a hose. Then I would rake the high spots into the low spots. They were easy to see because of the standing water. Because of the mag chloride, it didn't take much water. This kept the dust down and the floor level at the same time. Usually in front of the forges, anvils, and post vice low spots would develop and the highs were where the dirt went. The lows were never noticeable to my eye, but a little water told the story.

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  • 2 months later...

While your piece is in the fire, get any tools you're going need ready and placed in a spot you can grab. Mentally go through exactly what you need to do next. 

I will often stop what I'm doing and take a moment to think through the process again and make sure I'm not missing anything. That alone has saved me from having to start over on many occasions.

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Here's a few tiny time savers. Most of these key well with what Ted said above.

I set up my anvil hammer to the heel. If you spend much time working on the horn, this is the most efficient way.

Here's some other benefits that come from this.

I place my hammer on the heel and it takes a real effort to bump it and have it hit the deck. It's flat and a long way from the sweet spot. If you are set up hammer to the horn, the natural place to set your hammer is on the sweet spot or the step/horn combo. If it's on the sweet spot, it's in the way, especially if you use two hammers in one heat. If on the step/horn it's precarious. Watch vids by those who do this and note how many times the hammer gets bumped.

Place the working face of your hammer towards the sweet spot. 

Match the hammer handle to anvil face angle to match the natural angle made by your hand to anvil face angle

I place my hot and cold work hand tools on the step. I can put 3 or 4 and not bump them. Place them there in the order of use. 

When using these hand tools, put your tongs over the horn, jaws up. They will live there nicely until you need them and not fall to the ground.

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Good advice Anvil. It took me a while to get in the mindset of tool placement. I used to do a lot of woodworking, which never cools off. Plenty of time there to fuss around. 

Blacksmithing is all about how much you can get done in a short period of time, which means pre-planning. 

Pre-planning has never come naturally to me. In my old job I built and maintained microwave radio installations, which were mostly located on remote mountain tops. When there was a problem, I would have to take a long drive to fix it. There was nothing more frustrating than getting to the site and realizing that I had forgotten to bring a tool or part I needed. My boss didn't find it amusing either. 

A "Xxxx the torpedoes, full speed ahead" mentality doesn't work well in blacksmithing. 

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I place my tools a little differently than Anvil but we do this from very different perspectives. You will have to find what works best for you Ted. Individual approach and such is what makes this an art rather than a follow the numbers science.

I lay my next step hammer with the face/pein I'm using next facing away from me. That way when I pick it up the desired face is in THE position in my grip. I prefer slab handles so I never have to do a fine adjustment of grip.

If I'm doing a project that requires more than a couple handled tools I have a rack on the close and far side of my anvil stand. At demos I may be changing projects frequently and have a small steel table with hammer ad tong racks I position within easy reach to change up tools during a heat.

No doubt anyone who's practiced production smithing has their version of tool placement.

Don't get excited Anvil, production techniques and methods doesn't mean you work in a factory, just that you have to organize your work space and tools to maximize effective work. Think "Productive" blacksmithing. ;)

Frosty The Lucky.

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Frosty, it doesn't matter which direction the face is,,, what matters is to be consistent.

Handled tools and hammers are different. Handled tools go in my tong hand and live in a different neighborhood than my hammers.  ;) Handled tools usually live, on a job basis, handle up and by the horn. Hand tools, not handled tools are like chisels, center punches, veining chisels etc. They live, on a per job basis, on the step. A tool rack keeps my non working tools. If this is closer than the above than it's just plane in the way of my primary work space. The area around both my anvil and post vice is reserved for me, no boogers or traps allowed.

No I don't do production work, never have since changing the focus of my blacksmith shop from horse shoeing to working by commission. I call what I do " limited production". That's when you make a hundred pickets, 36" long with a tenon on each end ,, and to a 64th for a railing.  :) . 

Considering I've been doing this for 35+years, I'd say that somewhere along the way I must have stumbled upon a pretty efficient setup for my work. Alas, I never worked in a factory, so ya got me there.  ;)

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I knew saying "production" would stick in your sematic crop. When I say production work in the context of threads like this just replace "production" with "Productive". 

It's irrelevant how you arrange your tools in any specific way to anybody but you. I arrange mine to suit me. THAT was the point of my above post. The Purpose of the post was to hopefully diffuse some of the new guy's impression that what you say is  THE way it should be done rather than A way. 

You say you have an efficient set up I'd be surprised if it took you 35 years but if you stumbled on it you maybe should read more than you write. You might look up synonyms for productive and efficient. 

What makes you think I've worked in a factory? Father's shop was hardly a factory though you are right, a couple months working in it would've done you a world of good. Was his shop productive? You have no idea how productive, it competed successfully against larger operations. 

If you think making 100 pickets 36" long to a tolerance is anything BUT production, you're deluded or so hung up on your own special meanings for words you might actually be hard to teach.

I'd appreciate it you would stop talking down to me, you aren't good at it.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Frosty, I don't know what's stuck in your craw, but I suggest you look at the title of this thread. These work big time for me. If you believe they are detrimental to efficiency, then that's your right. 

You know, in all these years I've never seen any of your work. I know you have seen mine and given me some nice responses. They are all done using the above little details around my anvil. Why don't you show some pics of your work and list some of the "little things" practiced by you to produce them? That would be very educational for all of us.

For me, like I said, I call it limited production. If I had a production shop I'd be making pickets, as an example, for other shops, fab or blacksmith. The setup to do this would be pretty different than my per job setup. It's just my way of looking at it. 

And I'm not talking down to you, just responding to your statements about me.

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I like to arrange my tool holders and hammer racks so the tools/hammers I use the most are closest to the forge and anvil.  The "once in a blue moon" ones can hang out in the back.  As I often have multiples of tools I like I tend to set them near the various work areas that are in my shop.  No need to walk from one end of the shop to the other to pick up a hammer or wrench; just go to the "local" one.  (I do try to buy exact duplicates of my favorite tools to have a backup in case of damage or theft.)

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In my shop, my hammer rack is immediately to the right of my anvil. Since I'm right-handed and can reach all of my hammers with equal ease (unless I've forgotten to put one or more away properly, which happens more than I like to admit), I can grab whichever one I want when I want it, sometimes even mid-heat.

Here's another interesting setup, from Kim Thomas's shop in Seville, Ohio. He's got a rack on the off side of his anvil that holds his three most-used hammers, a pair of scrolling tongs, and his wire brush:

Kim's tools.jpg

(This is a cropped screenshot from his "Points of interest when making tongs. Scroll Tongs in particular" video.)

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