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Tongs versus vice grips


George N. M.

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Thomas, I thought about doing that to, Ive already modified beat up farriers nippers to hold sucker rod ends for the hardy tools ive been making, so it wouldn’t be hard to modify beat up farm or tongs to,

I don’t understand why everyone of those things I see have such long reins? I think I’d have to shave some of that down a little bit lol, 

JHCC, They carry a vbit In their bundle packs, I thought about ordering the bundle with five different tongs and then ordering one of each of the ones that aren’t included in the bundle, that way I could get a feel of working with different types tongs 

plus that would give me some experience riveting, I haven’t tried to rivet anything yet so that will be a good excuse to learn something new lol

 

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To add one thing to JHCC's post above, What makes tongs so effective is called parallel closure. Whats that? Well it means that your jaws are set parallel to each other and they are set for a particular size of material. Set them a half inch apart for half inch material and dont use them for 7/16" or  9/16" stock. Thats why blacksmiths have so many sets of tongs, so you have a proper fit at least for your most used stock. When you are starting out you dont need more than a few sets to keep you working and learning. Even tho a center groove or a cross groove increases their efficiency, for flat stock a groove is not a necessity. For round stock, a groove down the center is important and grooved flat jaws work quite well. so you can use the same ~3/4 x1"x3/8" thick rectangular jaw for round stock. Also A set of tongs with parallel closure takes very little force on the reins to do their job.

TWISTEDWILLOW, for most tongs you will need ~14" reins. Anything longer is a waste and anything shorter generally puts your hand too close to your  fire. 

Like most here I got into the cool history of vise grips being made by a blacksmith. However, I never once have read anything that indicates that he invented vice grips to replace tongs. If any of you have seen this, I'd like to see it. Personally I doubt it. I cant imagine a working smith from back in the day comparing tongs vs vice grips and giving up his tongs. Properly set up Tongs have literally zero problems holding hot iron, moving it from forge to anvil, and applying hammer to do your job. That is not the case with vise grips. You cant leave them attached whilst your iron is in the fire because they over heat, It takes time to clamp them tight and more time to unclamp them. Not to mention every time you do this, the tension screw moves and have to be readjusted. How often? once is too many because I Never have that problem with tongs. I could continue in this vein. For what its worth, I've prolly got 20+ pares of vice grips in my shop and more uses than Carter has liver pills,,, but i cant remember ever using them as tongs. Lol, basically its hard to beat centuries of R&D of tong development.

And finally, A question to ask yourself: Why, as a new person, are you interested in blacksmithing? Could it possibly be that, like me, still, after 40 years, you are fascinated by the idea of  moving a piece of iron betwixt hammer and anvil into some shape for some purpose? Here's something to think about, It takes around 20-30 dedicated hours playing in the flame, going from rank beginner to having the needed skills to make your first set of tongs, perhaps even less. There are so many things you can do those first hours that dont need tongs from basic fire control to basic hammer control. You dont need tongs to make your first poker, rake, and watering can. A pair of tongs is the first complex forging for the novice smith. Your first moving parts, a couple half faced blows and done on the 45, a hinge area to be rounded up and,,, gulp,,, matched to its "better half"! And a set of reins. To paraphrase,,, a small step for mankind,,, a giant step for the novice smith. And amazing of amazing's, after a few sets, it becomes second nature and they are quickly made. Don't lose this experience for any reason,,, it's only your loss in the long run. Back to my question, I suggest that you look for every possible way, as a novice, to get a hot piece of iron between your hammer and anvil and maximize the reason that we are here, instead of finding "time-saving" or jury rigged shortcuts that  prevent this. I mean really, You just won't be able to convince me that at this stage of your learning, you have pressing smith work that is more important than building your initial set of tools. 

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Well said, anvil. You remind me that I had intended to say something about farrier's tongs, each of which is sized to hold exactly one thickness of stock. Because turning shoes requires holding stock on the flat at a number of different angles, these tongs have disc-shaped jaws with a divot in the center. This means that the jaws grip on their outside edges, increasing their resistance to the stock torquing under the hammer blows.

21 hours ago, TWISTEDWILLOW said:

I don’t understand why everyone of those things I see have such long reins?

Balance. Any weight on the back end of the tongs acts as a partial counterweight to the jaws and the workpiece, making it easier for the smith to hold and position the work.

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I go though using tongs as part of my first smithing lesson:  For nontapered stock; tongs hold where the bits are parallel. If they are not parallel they only form a pivot point. I demonstrate with COLD stock how the stock can flip around and drop on your hand if it's only held at one point.  I also try to break them of the idea that the size of the reins somehow indicates what size they will hold, I have 3 sets of tongs that are about the same outward size but they hold: 1/8", 1/4" and 1/2" stock and mention that my heaviest pair of tongs are sized for 1/16" as they are brazing tongs for bandsaw blades!

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Thomas hits it on the head. Once you learn and understand the concept of parallel closure, the three sizes he mentioned will get you well down the path of your learning. 

Tapered stock is usually the next problem area. There are a number of solutions for this. Here's the quick and dirty solution. Use a "handling length" of your stock, say 1/4" square. What's a handling length? A length that you can hold in your hand and you don't need tongs. Now, lay out the length of your parent stock. This means knowing how much 1/4" you need for your taper. Mark this for both ends. Draw your taper, then cut it off at your mark(a chalk mark on your anvil or a light center punch on your stock). Now, with your 1/4" parallel closure tongs, grab just above your taper where it's still 1/4" square. Your tongs will be at a wierd angle, but oh well, parallel closure will prevail. Now do your taper on the other end. Easy peasy and no new tooling is needed and you have the perfect work-around for a taper. 

As for long reins for balance, this is normally not an issue, even for a smith who does gates, railings, lighting and hardware. Why? Because if, as an example, you are making a nuel post out of 36" of 4" square with a tenon on the end and a full champfer, this is a handling length and needs no tongs. Generally, we use tongs to hold the fine details such as tapers, leaf work etc. The industrial revolution has pretty well eliminated industrial type forgings from the architectural or small shop blacksmiths. This is r a hard and fast rule, but is a pretty strong generalization. For the most part, tongs made from 3/4" square with 14" reins will satisfy most of your needs. A lock ring will usuay suffice for the occasional really heavy piece you are forging.

Please understand, these are general guidelines, not hard and fast rules(parallel closure excepted!). However, they should work very well for the novice smith to those who are pretty well advanced 

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I've been known to forge the end of a piece of stock down to where it's a good size to grab with my favorite tongs when dealing with oddball sizes.  When working what is big to me---2.5" sq stock being worked with a 200# Chambersburg---see avatar pic; we welded on a length of 1" rod to use as a handle.  Welding a handle on is common in bladesmithing when you are working with pattern welded steel billets.

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Thanks for all the info yall! 
I will try to start transitioning from vise grips to tongs this fall and I’ll definitely give tong making a go 

JHCC, when I mentioned long reins I wasn’t meaning normal tongs around 14” like anvil said,

what I meant was 21AE04CB-0A7C-4AFE-99DE-276C2715B0DC.thumb.jpeg.47e0d332141c3806c3cf7cd7d1eca126.jpegI keep seeing these super long tongs that a find around farms, here’s one that got tossed in with a blower I bought last year, this thing is almost 24” long 
It seems like it would have been awkward to work with to me but I’m not an expert, 

 

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TW- I've also found silly long tongs in my travels. Some just long, some more industrial. I adapt the jaws to fit my needs, and find these long handles poking me where it really hurts, or snagging my shirt tail. I cut them to the recommended 14" give or take, and as appropriate I might taper the ends down a bit. EZPZ.

Steve

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I've seen industrial tongs with reins over 10'.  You want to be a distance when working the big stuff due to IR.  They tend to get used with multiple people and a chainfall or jib crane too.   (And then there are the tongs with 4WD and a seat...)

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I think the reason we find so many long rein'd tongs is because back in the day there were far more shops who did industrial related jobs and fewer shops, proportionately, that were dedicated to architectural work. Thus, when  the industrial revolution deleted the need for these types of shops, their tools are the most common found cheap at flea markets, auctions, and antique stores. I mean, consider a farm or ranch who actually had very little experience with smithing, certainly went for the cheapest and most available equipment they could find. Necessity is, no doubt, the mother of,,, good enough to get the job done rules. However, as a novice smith,,, the choice is to follow the path of the farmer and rancher,,, or that of an experienced smith "back in the day" making the most efficient tool to get the job done. In fact, if you look at pics of say Yellen's shop, Francis Whitaker's shop and the shops and books put out by the early 20th century European smiths, you will see a preponderance of tongs with 14" reins.

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Thomas,  I don’t think I’ll ever need anything quite that big lol, 

Stash, that’s prolly what I’m gonna do to these, 

anvil, I definitely see your point,  most farmers I deal with are still like that today lol,

Ill take your advice the 14” is what I will work at making, 

I do have a question though, you mentioned that it’s best to make tongs from 3/4” square,

those kens tong kits I was looking at said the material was 5/16” for the one size and 3/8” for the other size, so it’s making me second guess the material, that sounds like they’d  be to thin once drawn out? 
 

I don’t think I’ve got any 3/4” square stock laying around right now but I do have a stick of  5/8” square stock that I could use 

 

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I have no knowledge of Kens tongs, or the kits. 

I learned how to make tongs from 3/4" square stock. So, As far as material for making tongs, The weight of parent stock determines the size of material you can comfortably hold and work before the max force on the reins wont securely hold your work. Long winded explanation. When your work isnt held secure, it flops around and is hard to hit.  ;)  . I've found that tongs made from 3/4" feel pretty good and secure up to about 1" or a bit bigger. Tongs made of lighter material seem to max out for me at about 3/4". And I have even made them from lighter parent stock for specific tasks. Basically use the stock needed to make the tong for the job. 3/4" square is a good place to start. So is 5/8" if its all ya got.

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3/4" square stock is perfect for tongs, especially starting out making them. It provides that extra material to correct minor mistakes and still have enough left. 

I rarely forge material bigger than 3/4" anyway, so most of my tongs are on the smaller side.  

Never tried vice grips. 

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Anvil,

kens tongs is a company i learned about on here, I can’t remember who or were it was but someone posted about them awhile back, I looked them up an thought about trying them out, 

Anyways they sell ruff tong patterns that have been cut out of plate, you heat them up and draw them out an shape them the way you want and then rivet them together, 

I think I’m just gonna save the 5/8” square for another project, an start looking for 3/4” square stock to practice tong making from scratch with, 

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Neil has a point. Smaller stock will work for tongs. The problem comes with over forging the different elements, which is common when you first start making tongs. 

I have a number of sets which fall into this category. They're perfectly usable, but only for light work on the anvil.

If you plan on getting a power hammer down the road, you'll be glad for some sturdier tongs.

I have a couple of Ken's box jaw tongs. They're very sturdy and easy to make. A good choice if you're getting started or plain don't want to make some from scratch. They also make a good reference for building your own.

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Not that it is something proffered, but TechnicusJoe has a great video on making tongs from rr spikes. It's not just his talent,  it can be done and after my first botched pair (that still do function) i made a pair of tongs that are a go to of mine. In fact a couple pair. 

TJ has more than one tong making video, and even for the novice, watch it several times, try, then watch again with a little experience under your belt to understand it more, then try again. 

Tongs can be made, nippers can me remade into tongs and really anything that lets you solidly hold the metal to be beaten will work. There are blueprints on tongs from flat bar stock...I prefer tongs fit to the stock as others have stated. 

No problem in making your own or maning from started blanks.  It's all in what capital you have vs. What you are willing to try. You could always just pay the money and buy some well crafted tongs. LittleBlacksmith looks like he has a bunch ready to sell. No shame in any way you do it. Long as you can hold the stock to hammer it. 

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3/4" sucker rod is a great starter for a lot of tongs---if you remember that it's not mild steel and so NO QUENCHING! A power hammer for drawing the reins out helps a lot---probably what a lot of the "old" ones had the reins forge welded to the pivot/bit pieces.

Another source of non-mild steel for certain tongs are lug wrenches. I've started collecting them at the scrap yard---unplated of course and have started working with them to get good---takes making about 5-6 of a design to get it down good.

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