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I Forge Iron

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Jon Kerr

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Of course there is always the problem with your neighbors getting nervous as they see you lugging HEAVY ammo boxes into your shop...

A friend of mine used to work with explosives for a research company and started collecting old artillery brass.  Well he moved and found that the lovely heavily waxed double walled boxes from work were excellent for moving his collection.  His neighbors actually did call the police as he lugged box after box marked EXPLOSIVES into his basement. The cops were nervous when they opened one as saw a (De-Mil'd) artillery round in it.  Once they found out they were all safe they spent a lot of time chatting with him about them....(the guy with the "hold the cold end and hit the hot end and get it right next time" saying.)

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I don't do a lot of heat treating but I have a quench tank. It's made from a 15 gl. lube oil barrel and has a nice reasonably tight fitting lid. It lives in a cut down 55 gl. drum again with a lid. The lube barrel is thin steel and poking holes in it is a concern so I cut a piece of 14 ga. steel sheet to fit and dropped it in. Then I cut and bent 5/8" expanded to make a shallow basket that slips in the barrel and welded a pair of handles that raise above the oil level but are below the level of the lid. 

The 14 ga. disk has been enough armor I haven't poked a hole in it and the basket allows me to fish out things I drop without reaching into the oil. The cut down 55 gl.  drum is containment if it catches fire or gets a hole poked in it. I preheat with a piece of 2" dia. round bar, noting fancy I just heat the end and stand it in the oil, it's long enough I don't have to do anything special it only gets HOT on one end. On the rare occasion someone doesn't plunge a quenched piece completely under the oil and its flared up I just tossed the lid on the oil barrel and the containment and we took a break for the smoke to clear.

I HIGHLY discommend using: ABS or PVC pipe, plastic bucket, wading pool, etc. for a quench tank like you see on TV "reality(?)" shows You REALLY don't want to touch a side, have the hot steel melt a hole and let the oil out, especially seeing as it's flowing over a piece of HOT steel. A healthy stream of burning oil is just SOOOO hard to explain to an insurance adjuster. They have their own definition of understandable you  know.

Frosty The Lucky. 

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Frosty- thanks, I think I'll copy you on both fronts- cut a thicker disk of "armour" to protect the bottom from dropped sharp objects, and also find a larger tank for it to sit in to act as containment  in case of a disaster.

That makes me happier as my £25 lovely 30litre, sealed lid, shiny blue quench tank isnt a waste of cash!!! (I did TRY to find something cheap/free but struggled!!!)

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I don't know if it was mentioned previously as I'm responding via email notification, but you may want to consider a mesh basket for the bottom so you can get anything that may happen to fall in out without having to look for it. Yep, Frosty covered it.


Edited by pnut
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If you are prone to dropping pointing stuff in the quench a soft bottom can prevent tips from breaking off.  I've seen a disk of wood attached to a disk of steel to hold it down and prevent puncture in extremis.

(And the smith I know who had his shop burn down was trying to quench a long blade in a plastic bucket with insufficient oil. He was holding the bucket at an angle and had the accident.)

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John, I was confused. It's not the Kerr side of my family that is from Lincolnshire but the Bickers side of the family. You were correct that the Kerr's that I'm related to were from Scotland if you look back far enough but were in Ireland by the 1730's and from there emigrated to Australia and the US.


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On 11/20/2019 at 10:23 AM, ThomasPowers said:

(And the smith I know who had his shop burn down was trying to quench a long blade in a plastic bucket with insufficient oil. He was holding the bucket at an angle and had the accident.)

Poor guy is probably very aware he was doing something silly then. I'll do everything I can to be safe...... I'd be heartbroken to burn down my brand new shop.

I'll probably go with the simplest option of a thicker piece of steel in the bottom to prevent anything being pierced..... and simply kick myself if I drop a knife and break the tip off when it hits the hard bottom! At current levels of progress I'm about 30 years away from making my first knife anyway.

Thanks Thomas!


Pnut- Ah! There you go. More Scottish Kerrs- it does seem if you go back far enough thats where theyre all from. Interestingly...... my great grandfather was also an Irish Kerr (from whom my name descended)! Maybe we're distantly related Pnut?!


Clan Kerr history/legend in Scotland is quite amusing. Apparently they were a pretty troublesome border-tribe and gave the English (or, really, the Anglo-Saxons) plenty of trouble. Apparently a disproportionate number of Kerrs were left handed, and as such they built the spiral staircases in their castles to be backwards (anti-clockwise) to give advantage to the left handed men. Sounds like a load of rubbish to me (because it would also benefit their mostly right-handed enemies!.. not to mention the Kerr TROOPS probably werent all right handed!) but.... the staircases are indeed backwards in a couple of their castles!


(Fot those wondering what I'm talking about.... castle staircases were often built with a clockwise spiral. This provided benefit to right-handed defenders as their sword arm was not impeded when defending the staircase from the top, wheres right-handed attacked would have a harder time swinging thanks to the centre of the spiral.)

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The Kerr's I'm descended from that are in Australia were not willing emigres. They were sentenced to transportation and like most people who suffered that fate just stayed in Australia when the sentence was over. So troublesome I guess is a trait shared among the Kerr family.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi everyone,

More updates- boring by most people's standards but its progress for me :)

(48) Hooks.jpg

I made 2 small hooks, and rigged up a temporary bending jig with two round piece of steel in my vice. This worked a treat and was much easier to get the bends to match. As soon as I have access to a welder I'll be making myself a proper version.

(49) WIP Bottle Openers.jpg

I started two bottle openers, but reacher the stage where I'm missing the tools needed to continue. SO, rather than try to bodge it with tools I have, I've forced myself to be patient, stop, and make the necessary tools to finish the job properly. So....

(50) Drift.jpg

I made a simple drift from an old masonry chisel. Its not perfect but it will do the job.

(46) Rail Anvil.jpg

(47) Portable hardy hole Anvil.jpg

I removed the rail track from the post so I could safely cut a notch out to make a mini horn. My portable hardy anvil is now a really useful tool- the holes are fine for punching and drifting, and the square hole works well for my only current hardy tool (a hot cut). I'm hoping to make a spring fuller soon!

Next time I'm in the shop I can use the drift and mini horn to do a little more on the bottle openers. Then, I'll have to pause again to make a rounded punch (for the opener tab), and a chisel and a centre punch as I want to try a dice twist. (These will be gifts for my boardgamer/wargamer friends!)


The final pic is the current view of the forging area of my shop. I couldnt be happier with this, given that I was forging outdoors, at the bottom of a muddle garden next to a falling down shed this time last year!

(51) Workshop.jpg

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You can also take a small ballpeen head and forge the peen end into the "rounded punch for the tab" draw temper on the face of the hammer so you can strike it with a hardened hammer and put a handle on it.

Small ballpeen hammer heads are rather common and cheap over here at jumble and boot sales.

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Thats a good idea, thanks guys! I have loads of little ball peens from car boot sales. I'll do just that.


I also have some bike chain ready to make a hold-down, which I'll probably need soon.


26 minutes ago, pnut said:

That's quite a bit of progress. Unfortunately I'm still forging outdoors and the weather isn't cooperating. Seems like it skipped Autumn went directly to cold and wet winter weather.

I'm very sympathetic Pnut- I know exactly how that feels. This time last year I was out braving the elements. Cold and drizzle I can deal with but DARKNESS at 4pm is a problem!

I'm very lucky now with my new shop. Most Wednesday evenings I rush home from work for a forging session between about 4.30pm and 7.30pm (when the neighbours kids are heading for bed). I couldnt even dream of that until I had a fully lit shop.

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Take a piece of appx 1/4" rod stock, bend it in two. Heat and stick the free ends through the eye of the hammer and bend them around to hold the hammer securely. Make any twists in the hammer to make it look nice/be more secure. Open up the original bend to make a handle that fits your hand and is easy to hang on a hook. (My coal forge has a wire rope over it to hold the chimney up. This goes  from one truss support to the other and so is about 15' long and has a lot of hooks on it to hold tools/things.)

MANY variations on this, he main idea is that it works for you!  I'll probably not be in my shop in daylight till next weekend Or I'd post a picture of an example.

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Oh I see! You remove the wooden handle. I've seen these rod tools before but never using an old hammer. I suppose the hammer just has the advantage of the eye which is a nice strong joint to the rod?

I'll definitely look into that.

Is this essentially the same as a handled punch? Is replacing the wood with a rod just for the purposes of heat proofing? Or do people tend to use both rod tools and wood handled punch type tools for different jobs?


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The answer to that is: Yes definitely!  Some folks use one, some use the other, some mix them fairly indiscriminately. Some folks like nice sets of tools all the same "look"; others don't care. Some folks buy only new tools; others use only tools they have made and others don't care. One way is not necessarily better or worse than another though folks with strong inclinations will often tell you differently!

If it's for a tool that students will use; I like rod handles as they take abuse and can be re-worked easily.  Student's get fussy when you point out they just ruined a wooden handle that will take US$7 and some time to replace and THEY should replace it!

I used to have a set of "tool holding tongs" used with a tong ring. Some "advanced" students were driving a chisel held with them with a sledge and missed and destroyed the tongs.  As that chisel sees a lot of use it now has a steel strap wrapped around the tong holding indentation and then riveted shut and stock in a piece of pipe as the handle...

As getting the eye right is generally one of the harder things when making a handled tool, being able to drill two exactly positioned holes in COLD stock to run rods through to make a rodded handle can be a lot easier.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hi all, quick update!

Things are going great in my little forge- I'm really making progress.

Thanks to the introduction of the mini-horn to my rail anvil, I had all the tools I needed to finish my first bottle opener with a dice twist!!

Incredibly happy with this- especially sincs I've tried this a few times over the past year and this is the first time I succeeded. Really proud of it.

Now I just need to make about 10 more for all my nerd friends.

I also took Thomas' advice and made a handled chisel from an old small cross peen hammer. Havent used this yet. Heat treated the chisel end and annealed the striking end.

The forge is evolving all the time! I made a quick hammer rack. My sister bought me a new apron for Christmas which is hanging on a hand made hook.


And..... most excitingly of all...... my amazing wife bought me a 3 day Bladesmithing course with Owen Bush (Basher on IFI)! I cant wait. April cant come soon enough.








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Today I managed my first solo forge weld!!

A few weeks ago I met up the Neal the Smith from IFI and he gave me a forge welding intro which was awesome.

Today was the first time I managed it in my own forge (coke, wheras Neals is gas).

Super happy and I finished a snail (much better than the first, although I still burned an antennae off!!)

I also forged and heat treated a better centrepunch and a rounded punch (last one was rebar)..... to make more dice twist bottle openers.

Finally I made a simple punch holder from a tin can screwed into my hammer rack....






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Not sure if anyone is reading these updates but I'll keep posting nonetheless as its nice to track my progress for my own sake...

Today I made a bike-chain hold down with a foot stirrup, inspired by JHCC. Forgot to photograph it but it works wonderfully well.

I also made two more bottle openers. Really really pleased with twisted one and used my touchmark in earnest for the first time which came out nice.

I made a second dice twist opener which didnt turn out as good as the first.... but practice makes perfect.





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