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I Forge Iron

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Hey Guys, 

I hope this is the correct page in which to post this topic, I am sure it will be moved if not. 

I recently caught up with an old friend from high school who had posted pictures of some old iron pieces she hand found while walking on a trail here in Joliet, IL, a suburb of Chicago. She was wondering what they were. Long story short, I did some research and quickly figured out that they were some old iron Singletree hooks used, I believe, with plow yokes and the like.

Anyway, we continued talking and she goes on to show me this large farm bell she has. One of the arms of its yoke, the one on the left, has broken clean off. I have yet to see it in person, but she sent a video and it does look like a clean break. She asked if I could fix it because they want to hang it from the side of the house, not the traditional way of mounting it atop a post. I said I could weld it back on and, if she would like, I can forge a large hanger for it. She said yes! Cue over-excitement and brainstorm. 

So before I venture too far into this project, I want to make sure of a few things. (1) I have an arc welder and I have learned a little about welding old cast iron. It sounds like an arc welder will get the job done, but I am wondering: is there anything else I should be cautious of when welding it back on, other than the look of the finished weld? (2) I have made a plant hanger before (pictured), but it is from mild steel and much smaller than this project will require. I will soon be given a 20', 1/8" thick structural beam from a friend (pictured). I am considering cutting it into strips and using it, but am wondering if it will be thick enough to support it... forever. I will also be using the current iron arms holding it up in the picture.

The idea is to make 2 hangers and connect them at the mounting brackets, or just 2 separate hangers. I can't decide which will look/be better; the bell looks to be at least 50lbs. I am still waiting on more info from her. The bell has been in her boyfriend's family for what sounds like close to 100 years, on their farm in Wisconsin. His father is 72 and has said that HIS father remembered it ringing as a teenager. Obviously, I am being trusted with a piece of family history IF they decide to hire me. All conversation points that direction. So this project carries a lot of weight, pun intended. 

Please, let me know your concerns or how you would go about it. Try not to burst my bubble! :) More pictures to come. 

Thanks, Alex. 

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The beam is the very bottom part, tucked under the scroll garage door. You can see it protruding out, closest to the camera man. 

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Dear Red,

I would be VERY cautious about welding cast iron, particularly where it will be load bearing.  I am not a welder but I have a memory that you braze cast iron, not weld it.  We have some good welders here and they can probably opine with more authority than I.  If it were me, I'd forge a replacement yoke from mild steel.

Also, if she is thinking about hanging it from the side of her house two hangers similar to your plant hanger would look good.  Just refine your curls a bit better and keep them smooth.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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George, 

Thank you for your thoughts. Yes, that's why I am so worried. Unfortunately I would not be able to braze as I do not have an acetylene torch, nor do I know anyone who does. I will continue my research on arc welding, otherwise, I think you're right... will have to forge a new yoke. 

Red

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If the yoke is wrought iron you may be able to forge weld it back together.  Look at the metal of the break.  If it looks granular it is probably cast iron.  If sort of fiberous, it may be wrought iron.  Also, confirm your initial impression with a spark test.  If the weld/repair fails you can always forge a new yoke.

You are not too far from my old area.  I grew up in the South Shore area of Chicago and my folks later moved to Oak Lawn.  That said, I'm glad to be WY, particularly during this strange pandemic year, than IL.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand." 

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Red: There is a LOT MORE to welding cast iron than buying the right welding rod. What kind of grades did you earn in welding school? I know it's been 50 years but they didn't even teach welding cast iron in metal shop classes and welding was probably the main thing taught. 

Forging or fabricating a new hanger is far less likely to fail and you can design it to look well on the house.

Frosty The Lucky.

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11 hours ago, Irondragon ForgeClay Works said:

Are you sure the yoke is cast iron?

I am not 100% sure, as she has yet to send me more pictures. I have a 20 second video clip she sent me, hopefully it will post here. She shows the break quickly at one point in the video, and from that glance, to me, it looks granular. I do not have any wrought iron, unfortunately. 

8 hours ago, Frosty said:

Red: There is a LOT MORE to welding cast iron than buying the right welding rod. What kind of grades did you earn in welding school? 

I did not go to welding school, but thank you for the confidence. I studied English Literature & Professional Writing at Murray State University in Murray, KY. From what I have learned from watching others do it on the internet, I should weld an inch at a time at a lower amp setting (around 50 with the arc welder with a 3/32" rod; mine is older so I will practice a bit first), tapping the scale off as I go to insure a nice finish. If it's CI to CI, I should use a pure nickel rod; if CI to mild steel, I should use a ferro-nickel rod. 

So far, I concur with the majority vote. I will suggest to the owner and, if it is cool with them, I will forge another yoke from mild steel. From our first few conversations, however, they seem pretty intent on keeping as much of the original piece as possible. 

10 hours ago, George N. M. said:

I grew up in the South Shore area of Chicago and my folks later moved to Oak Lawn.  That said, I'm glad to be WY, particularly during this strange pandemic year, than IL.

Yeah, pretty close to me! I grew up in Lombard, so a little farther west. After spending about 7 years in KY, between school and working for a few years, my wife and I decided to move back up here for work. I currently work in Burr Ridge, so even closer to Oak Lawn. But I agree... too many people here to be completely comfortable in this climate. We do intend to move back to where she is from in Graves County, KY, with the promise of some family acreage. 

Red

Here is the video she sent me.

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Braze or replace is my advice.  Sometimes you can do "period appropriate" replacements that will look good.  Heavy wagon tyre wrought iron or perhaps old axle stock that might have been used if it had broken back in the early 1900's.  Probably gentle torch heat on the nuts to remove them with through cleaning and greasing before re-applying them.

I have an old family one to do as well; but the break is in the Y section of the Yoke and it's definitely cast iron.  When it's done it will be mounted *in* my smithy so my wife can get my attention without walking the 50' to the shop door. If it was mounted outside like it's designed to be it would disappear pretty quickly and as it's the farm bell of my grandfather's farm; I'll live with having it in the shop!

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Thomas, 

I like the idea of mounting it in the smithy!

I have an old strainer crank, used for wire fencing on the farm, made by Dillon that dates to 1905. I have yet to free it from its very thick oxidation and spark test it, but I assume it is either cast iron or cast steel. It has raised letters and, for lack of a better description, a fuller-ed handle on either side. But I don't think I would to want ruin that for this project. Not worth a whole lot from what I have gathered, but aesthetically pleasing.  

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Well I am a bit worried about loud unexpected sounds when I'm working with 2300 degF materials.  Having to run a cord from the shop to the house too.  I'll probably wrap the clanger with burlap to tone it down.

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Another point on welding cast iron-

It should be heated before welding. Not red hot, or in a forge type heating... more along the lines of a black heat... and usually something like a "rosebud" tip on an oxy acetylene torch- generally and slowly heat the area around the area to be welded to prevent further cracks and breakage from the thermal shock of welding it. Keep it heated and warm as you weld it.

 

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7 hours ago, Welshj said:

It should be heated before welding. 

Ok, thank you for that. I do not have an acetylene torch, but I imagine a MAPP gas torch would allow me to achieve a black heat. When considering the weight of the bell, what are your thoughts on the integrity of a cast iron weld?

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Hmm... if I were in your shoes- for this job I think I'd do two things.

First, I'd build a jig to hold the pieces in alignment and clamped in place for the welding work. Then, I'd grind a decent 45 degree chamfer along/on the broken edges... so I'd get good welding penetration and fill. Any weld- if done correctly, and burned in well, should hold.

I welded a 4- link suspension into a Chevy s-10 for a friend. He added airbags on a nitrogen bottle feed, and showing off- trying to hop it... ripped the rear suspension apart. None of my welds broke- he tore them right out of the frame rails around the welds.

 

Secondly- I'd do as the others suggested too. I'd try the weld to repair the original piece, and try to get it filled and ground down to the original shape as possible. I mean, it's a piece of history... then- I'd also forge a new one as close to the original as possible.

That way, they have options. They have the original piece, but have a new stronger one to use if they plan on still actually using the bell.

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On 8/21/2020 at 12:23 PM, ThomasPowers said:

Well I am a bit worried about loud unexpected sounds when I'm working with 2300 degF materials.  Having to run a cord from the shop to the house too.  I'll probably wrap the clanger with burlap to tone it down.

When I built my shop/smithy, which is about 100 feet from the house, I entertained the idea of putting in an intercom system with the house........then I got to thinking to myself......"Myself, WHY, just WHY are you thinking about doing this??????".  She just yells really loudly from the porch.  I enjoy the "mancave" aspect much better.

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On 8/22/2020 at 12:34 PM, Welshj said:

Any weld- if done correctly, and burned in well, should hold.

 I'd try the weld to repair the original piece, then- I'd also forge a new one as close to the original as possible.

All great advice, thank you very much! Exactly the issue with the owner: it's a piece of their family history and they want to keep it as original as possible. She is VERY slow to converse about this so... I am worried they might flake on me, but that's probably me just being impatient. If they choose to have me weld it, I'll do exactly as you say. 

Red

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Thank you for confirming, Irondragon. 

Update: Those who have read some of my other posts may know that I receive invaluable aid from my father-in-law, Tim. Whether in the form of tool acquisition or simply advice, he's always looking out for me. Well today, having yet to hear (the possibility) of this project, as if he knew the tool I needed to solve the dilemma of weld vs. forge anew, this guy finds a fully-equipped oxyacetylene station. 2 tanks, torches and more; all we need is some new hoses. An old friend of the family had passed away and his wife said come take what you want. If only I still had My Old Kentucky Home! Of course, it's worth the 6.5 hours drive. We're due for a visit anyway. 

So this means I get to learn how to operate the tanks and torches and eventually, how to braze the cast iron yoke! He could not find the papers for it, so we are concerned that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to get them filled here in Illinois without them. I will be asking around, but if anyone on here might know, please point me in the right direction. 

I'm psyched, 

Red

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Red:  Have the present owner give you a bill of sale ($1.00) for the tanks and setup and have her state that her late husband had owned them for X years and that she is the owner by virtue of inheritance.  If you want to be more formal have her do the history and statement of ownership in the form of an affidavit and have a notary public attest to it. You may have to have them pressure tested before you get them filled.  Different states have different requirements regarding pressure testing.  There is probably a month and year date stamp near the valve stating when they were last pressure tested.  

Make sure that you get some instruction from some source before you use them.  Oxy-acetylene is a great tool but it can be dangerous.  A flammable gas/oxygen mixture can be HIGHLY explosive.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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George, 

Great advice, thank you. I will see if a bill of sale/affidavit is necessary to get it filled here. And I will absolutely get it pressure tested and find some in-person instruction on using it. It is very exciting to have such great tool, but yes, considering its potential danger, I want to approach cautiously. 

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