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I Forge Iron

My first project

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Not really a project per se, but just learning how to heat in a forge to move metal.

My first attempt at forging anything, was heating, and beating on a piece of re bar, just to see how to heat and move it. At the end of the day, I had burned up many pounds of charcoal, several inches/feet of material, and wound up with serviceable tongs.  Not nice, and well finished by any wild stretch of the imagination, but usable.  I then decided to find out how hard steel works. I had a mid shaft bearing out of a 2000 chevy pickup, cut it apart, and threw the outer race into the fire.  Using my newly fabricated "tongs", I retrieved the now hot race, and proceeded to try to beat it into submission with my 5 pound hammer. My plan was to flatten it out, then fold it, and weld it. It took many heats, and lots of charcoal, but I finally got it somewhat flat.  I couldn't believe that it took so much effort. Disgusted, I tossed it into the dying forge, and put my tools away.  I've been massaging steel for nearly 30 years. I can take a flat sheet of steel and turn it into a fender for a model A Ford, with nothing but a couple hammers, files, and dollys. I can take a mangled frame and with controlled heat, and well placed blows, bring it back to shape, shrinking, and stretching as need be. Then it dawned on me.  After a week or so of life getting in the way, I fired up the forge, got a better bed of coals, and more on top, better air control, thus generating a nice neutral hot spot. somewhere in the middle.  Using a smaller hammer, and warmer metal, I got that bearing race flattened out, and folded. Now what, let's see if I can get the thing to stick together. Hmmm, I read somewhere that I need some flux of some sort. I remember Dad mentioning something about borax, So I raid th' ol'  ladys  washing soap and found a box of 20 mule team borax.  I got that flattened, folded bearing race warm again, and shoved it into the box of borax, much like you would a brazing rod. pulled it from the borax and stuck it back into the forge, cranked up the air, and waited.  It got hot, white hot, appeared to me like it was starting to melt, (excessive borax) I snatched it from the fire, and literally beat the daylights out of it.  About 6 good licks, until it started to look orange.  back into the forge, it opened right up. well dang. I didn't do something right. Or I did something wrong.  Got it good and warm again, sprinkled a pinch of borax so that it would melt and run into the split. Back to the forge. Good and hot, gave it 3 quick licks starting at the fold, working back. Back in the forge.  By this time, I'd learned that I needed to keep a good layer of charcoal on the bottom, about 2" thick, and then rake more on top of the work to hold the heat.  I slowed down the air some, and found that while it took a little longer to heat, it burned less fuel, and material.   I went on to draw, and fold several more times. Then I decided to weld a handle to this chunk of mess.  I rounded up a scrap of square stock about 18" long, and welded it on one end.  Back in the forge.  This chunk of whatever it is, is now about 3/8" thick, and  about 3" long.  I set about seeing how far I could stretch it. I set a goal of 1/8" thick, 5/16 wide, and about 6" long. And so it began, I started out with a 2 pound hammer. I got it to about 1/4" thick and 4 1/2" long, then it developed a crack about mid way. I was about out of fuel in the forge anyway, so I just shoved it into the coals, and put my tools away.

   Week later, I took that chunk of, ??? out of the cold forge, and clamped it in the vise. Snapped it off at the crack, and examined the end grain. The crack went through the entire thickness, about a third of the way through the width, no sign of delamination.  Took both pieces to the grinder, and cleaned them up a little. They looked OK to me, so I clamped them in the vise, and wired them together. All I had on hand was some .040 safety wire, but it seemed to hold them together quite well.  set it by the forge and went to the local coke dealer. He's closed until after the new year.  So, off to wally world for a bag of charcoal. They were out of Royal Oak, so I picked up a bag of the cheaper stuff, Just as well, I'm short of cash anyway.  Got back home, and set about the task of busting up the chunks into usable size.  Got a bucket full, and fired up the forge. I wanted to see what would happen with this chunk of ???? wired together.  Remember, it started life as a bearing race, it is now ????, as I have no clue what I've done to it. Got the forge started, and tossed it in, added more fuel, and waited for things to get going. Once the forge got going good, I re-arranged the coals, laied the chunk on, and added more fuel to the top. turned on the blower, which by this time I'd added a method of regulating air flow. A slow steady flow of air, instead of the full blast I'd had before. it took a bit longer to heat the work piece, but that is a good thing (I think).  Looking through the cracks in the coals, I could see the metal getting red, Once it was an even color of red, I pulled it out, and sprinkled some borax on the joint, it melted immediately, I flipped it at tossed some on the other side, and back to the fire. Looking again through the cracks, it started getting red, then bright red, then finally it blended in with the heat of the forge. I snatched it from the forge, and 3 licks, end, middle, end, and back to the fire. I didn't even bother to look at it, beyond those three licks with a 2 pound hammer. When it got to the same color as the hottest part of the forge, I pulled it out and gave it another three licks, in same order, removed the wire, and back to the heat. I'm amazed, it never got colder than bright orange.  At this point, I've no clue if it welded or not. I figure that the next time out would tell the tale.  Got it good and red, bright red actually. Pulled it out, and started the draw. Found that the 2 pound hammer was a bit much for that. Was actually tiring holding it back. And a small bit of delamination where the handle was welded on.   Mabe the handle was acting as a heat sink, so I put it back in the forge only to heat the delam part. got it to white hot, and smacked it about 6 good licks with my body hammer. back to the heat.  bein's how it's a small piece, I used my old cross peen body hammer from here on.  Red hot, it moved quite well with very few licks, cooled rapidly.  Took many re-heats to get it drawn out, but I got it to about 6"x1/8"x1/4".  No sign of delamination, and cooling in the forge now. I'll inspect it in a few days when I have the time.

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Bluerooster, I’m sure others will chime in, but for forge welding the first couple of hit are to set the weld. If you hitting to hard one the first hits (by hand hammer, presses and power hammers are a different story) it may cause the material to slide at the interface resulting in a failed weld. The key is clean, matching surfaces, and a few even steady light hits. Then wire brush,  reflux and back up to welding heat and do it again. Once you’re confident the weld is set, then forge it out. Watching the videos one YouTube can be miss leading, the smiths that are really good at it, know the have a good weld and go straight into forging in the same heat. I’m not there yet, but hope to be before too long...

we love pictures...


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Thanx for the comments.   I'm just a beginner at this, and learning how metal behaves under the hammer.  Thanx for the info about light hits at first to "set" the weld. I'll give it a go and see what happens. I'm certian that what I have when I harden it and break it will be areas of fusion, and delamination around the edges. 

The first time I watched a smith weld, was a wagon wheel tire. It was a scarf joint. He beveled the ends, heated to temp, and told me that it only gets 3 licks, to weld.  I don't even think he used any flux. When it was hot, he hit the joint middle, end, end, and that was it. Back to the fire, and level out the joint. He told me that those 3 licks made the weld. The rest was simply to "take out the hump".  He never mentioned anything about hard, or light on the hammer blows. I believe it was a 2 1/2 pound cross peen, that he used.  It was many years ago.

  I'll post a pic or two as soon as I can take some.   I'm the worlds worst about not taking pictures. I just never think about it, until it's too late.

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