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When collecting, what should we look for?


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Yes I realize that answer depends on what you do in your shop and where you are on your blacksmithing journey.

Anything with shape can be used at some point.  Solid material gets first choice, 1/4 inch up to say 1-1/4 inch.  This is 1/4, 3/8, 1/2, 3/4 inch round, square, hex, etc that can be used for many projects. 1 inch and larger are good for heavier projects, such as chisels, pry bars, hardies, hammer heads, etc.  Coil springs are good quality round bar.

Shapes such as angle iron, flat bar, rectangular sections, channel, etc come in a close second.  Flat bar will be used first, followed by the rest as needed for the projects.  Do not build a box and then try to think outside the box. Leaf spring is just good quality flat bar with a slight curve to it.  Old bed rails are high quality angle iron.

Grab that 55 gallon metal drum when it becomes available.  It is 16, 18, and 20 gage sheet metal.  It is a storage container, or forge, or if cut 4-5 inches tall it makes a tool pan.  

 

Give  us some ideas what to look for.  

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  • Glenn changed the title to When collecting, what should we look for?

My collecting went thru an evolution. I went from refuse nothing to being pretty discerning. Now I only look for or accept wrought, tire irons, springs from old wagons, coil and leaf springs. The latter two depend on my present stockpile. I'd rather buy my square, round and flat stock in 20' lengths. Any tools made for sale come from purchased numbered or lettered stock.

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What Glenn wrote about solid shapes. I first look at any square bars, starting at 1/4". I prefer square to round, but both are good. Just make sure they are not galvanized or chromed. Be aware that things that are painted and welded together (such as railing) can be a mixed blessing. They take a lot of time to cut apart and remove the paint safely, to the point they may not be worth the effort and consumables (cutting discs, sanding belts, etc.)

Larger chunks (2" and up) can make great improvised anvils, if you need one.

Rebar deserve its own note. Some smiths like it, others won't touch it. It has its uses and can be easy to find.

Pipes and tubes are useful, with thicker walls better than the ligther one. Short sections of pipe can make great scrolling jigs. Thick-wall round pipes with 3/4" and 1" internal diameter are great for the tuyere of a JABOD. Some smiths also use pipes to forge things like chili peppers, apples, insect bodies, etc.

Square tubes can be used for many purposes. Larger ones for the anvil stand legs or other types of stands, while smaller ones can be great for hardy tool stems, to make a guillotine tool, etc.

Any metal container, such as buckets and drums, are nice to have. Even empty paint gallons can be used to collect your short pieces and scraps. Old garden hoses split lenghtwise are good safety measures to prevent cutting yourself on the edge. 

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First:  IN RUST WE TRUST!  if it's rusting; well then it's probably safe to put in the forge!  (Stainless is a whole nother thing---it can be forged; but it costs more in forging time, consumables, etc.)

Second:  I always look for old rock/cold chisels and punches as a source of HC steels; especially the OLD ones that are most likely plain HC---Spark Test each item for basic content!  Even if there are multiple identical ones!

Third: don't go overboard with steel way too large for you needs.  Free steel isn't free if it takes hours to get it into a usable size and shape.

Fourth: a lot of drops the same size may be useful---even if you need to design a project to use them!  (I once picked up 200 pieces of 1/2" sq stock 22" long and have been going through them a lot faster than the 400' of 20' sticks of the same!)

Fifth: there are some items that tend not to disappear; so you can let your local mechanic or scrapyard "store" them for you---like leaf springs and coil springs.  I try to only take home the unusual sized ones now.  Of course my scrapyard is about 6 miles down the road from my shop...Also do get things like automotive springs so new the paper tags are still on them!  Unfatigued springs are a rare and precious thing for a smith!  They don't show up often in the scrap stream so get them when you can and hopefully you will have enough to tide you over the dry spells.

Sixth: just the opposite: Never expect that something you are interested in will still be there the next time you come back!

Another aspect of scrounging is storage; with the saying "If you can't see it; it doesn't exist" applying.  I put down scrounged roofing tin under my scrap pile to keep the weeds from growing up.

Keep a tarp/plastic bags and gloves in your vehicle incase you run accross a "find".  Be SAFE when retreiving "road kill" materials.

Keep your eye out for stuff and whenever possible ASK---especially for Dumpster/Tip diving.  I've been offered more and better stuff by asking that I ever was turned down from getting.

Never try to cheat your scrapyard people!   Making friends with them can be worth a LOT; especially if you can get to the stage of "We thought you might be interested in this; so we put it aside for you!"   Also special deals; recently I picked up a working Delta Jointer on stand with motor, about 200# worth made around 1951.  I got it for scrap rate, 20 USCents a pound where most folks would have paid "Secondhand tool rate".  (Of course some of that might have been that I came to the scrapyard and bought as much as I can afford during the lockdown to make sure they didn't go out of business!   Now to make the hangers for the 400# tank end "bells"...)

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8 hours ago, ThomasPowers said:

steel way too large for you needs.

This especially. When I first started out, I found a vehicle front frame section that I thought, I can use that for something. Thirty years later it is still leaning against the outside shop wall buried by other more usable stuff. One of these days I may break out the plasma cutter and cut it up.

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  I started out collecting from a scrap metal art perspective: beak shaped metal pieces, claw shaped metal pieces, head and eyeball shaped metal pieces, legs, arms, wings, fins, etc....   Then I got my hands on some benchtop machine tools, built a forge and a foundry and everything became fair game.  It became fairly overwhelming.  I knew there was a problem when I started breaking rule #3 on a regular basis.... :)

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  I feel like I have more questions than answers right now but I'll throw my half a cents worth in here.

  To try and keep cost down while learning this trade I have been using TPAAAT. Not only for a better anvil but metal to forge or to scrap. Where I'm working there's a good bit of "consumable" steel. After x amount of time these pieces and parts are swapped out for for a fresh new part. 9 times out of 10 before there is any substantial wear for safety reasons. When they're swapped out I lend a hand and get to keep the used parts.

  Large nuts and threaded bits 3/4" up to a 1 3/4". Recently started collecting annular bags. These have about 70 lbs of cast iron in them  Various lengths of cable usually 1/2 inch in diameter by 100 or more feet in length. Some times little bits of tubing in various alloys copper, aluminum, stainless, and iron.

  What I'm really looking forward to working with is the tong dies and slip dies. I know these have been heat treated. I am hoping I can turn these into my own tools and hopefully knives as well. I've found the company that makes them and hope I may be able to ask how they go about their heat treating process. They may not but it'll be a good learning experience none the less.

 Someday I may try my hand at forging cable damascus. For now though I will most likely just scrap most of the cable I have. Is any of the stuff I am collecting worth  throwing in the forge or good for other purposes?

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Joe, re cable:  Just make sure that the cable you are forging is NOT galvanized.  Galvanized metal in a forge gives off very nasty fumes.  If the cable is uniformly rusty you are almost certainly OK.  If it is all or partially gray or silvery be careful.  You can remove galvanization with acid on many objects but I wouldn't even try on cable because so much of the surface of the wires are buried in the bundle.

Just be careful and skeptical.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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Absolutely George. Thank you for the Intel. I hadn't considered it being galvanized and will look into it. It looks to be ok ( in rust we trust! ) but I won't even chance it until I'm positive. I work directly with these guys so I may even be able to get the specs on it.

 I also forgot to mention I get some broken pipe wrenches every now and again. Ranging from 12 inches all the way up to 40. I know the heads can be forged on most of them but some of the larger ones seem to be two different pieces. The teeth most likely hardenable but not sure on the rest.

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Learn how to braid eyes into the cable and make your own chokers.  By the time you get good at braiding eyes you will have enough chokers of various sizes and lengths for your own use, plus a new skill.

Back the nut off flush with the end of the threads and weld it in place.  Cut off or reform the head of those threaded bits (bolts) into chisels, punches, drifts etc.  The threads will give you a solid gripping surface on the tool.  The nut will give you a larger target for hitting with your hammer.

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 Glenn great ideas!

  Been a decade since I braided any eyes. Will definitely be trying my hand at it again.

  I'm so glad to hear you say that those nuts and bolts could be used for tools. I can't wait to start making a few. I don't have a welder but I recently befriended my company's mechanic. A 12 pack and some good conversations scored me a new friend and access not only to the shop tools but the scrap bin.

  I'm now a proud owner of a forklift tine. I was grinning ear to ear when he showed it to me. About 4 inches x 40 or so. It's a tine from a 1055 telescoping JLG forklift. It has a mean bend in it so they threw it in the scrap bin. The portion I want is in good shape. Going to figure out a way to attach it to my RR anvil that I buried on end(a legally sourced gift). I'm thinking it will make a nice larger striking surface. I like my anvil the way it is now, I feel the small striking area is helping my hammer control. It also had some nice wear on it where the wheels road. So I have one nice rounded radius and one that is a good bit smaller. I believe I have a way to make the tine detachable. Just need some days off to get it started.

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6 hours ago, Joe Dirt said:

. Going to figure out a way to attach it to my RR anvil that I buried on end(a legally sourced gift). I'm thinking it will make a nice larger striking surface. I like my anvil the way it is now, I feel the small striking area is helping my hammer control.

I have a fairly long vertical rail anvil myself. It's not long enough to bury (approx. 29in) and I like it quite a bit too. I have one of the 66lb ebay cast steel anvils too but I find myself using the rail I started out with more often than not. 

Pnut

 

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The main difference between a piece of RR rail and a piece of forklift tine is "concentrated mass". The tine is solid from one end to the other and also across the width and depth.  They are both made of good tough steels and both profit from being "of the larger sizes".  A friend of mine made his anvil from a large tine, (that I had told him where it was thrown out.) The heavy rod it was mounted on is just a bonus.

MarcoBorromeiForkLiftTineAnvil.jpg.f2b4e9e805e9dd0fb42ebf5fb1185c15.jpg

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 Pnut that's what I am afraid of. I'm going to do little to no modifications to the RR rail that way worst comes to worst I can just remove the tine.

  Thomas you gave me a plan B. If I don't have enough length to get it to the right hight I may have to put it in a five gallon bucket with some cement. If I have to go that route I may flip it and weld another support under it. The support will add some more mass and hopefully deaden what I could only imagine to be a crazy loud ringing.

  I drew a little picture of my plan but taking a picture of said picture is proving difficult.

You know after saying all that I may just go with plan B modified. I would have two anvils and one that's mobile.........hmmm?

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3 hours ago, Joe Dirt said:

That's what I am afraid of. I'm going to do little to no modifications to the RR rail that way worst comes to worst I can just remove the tine.

Don't get me wrong. I get plenty of use out of my double horn anvil any time I need to use hardy tooling or a horn. It's just more convenient to use my rail anvil as it sits outside where I forge and the double horn anvil lives in my SUV when not in use. If I don't have to go through the hassle of getting it out and attaching it to the stump I don't. 

Pnut

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When collecting, what should we look for?

Free bees.  Yesterday I ran accross a machine shop from the late 1800's/early 1900's.  One lathe; 20"swing, 12' bed with steady rest, and tooling, along with 1 drill press, 1 shaper. and 1 bandsaw.  All overhead shaft, belt drive. All still working.  I get all the drive shafts, motors, etc. for one money. All I gotta do is help him sell a boatload of Model A stuff.    There is also, a LeBlond lathe, 12" swing, 8 foot bed, with taper attachement, and a vertical mill, both of 1950's 1960's vintage. 

   I "cut my teeth" on the older equipment. And all have been well kept, and well used, but have sat idle for about 7 years.

I didn't have a way to get pics, but I will in the very near future.

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Sounds wonderful; but do you need a 12' bed lathe?  A nice heavy 10 with a bed under 1/3 that  would make me very happy!

I'm a big fan of turning stuff you have that you don't need/use into stuff that you do!  (Especially if it's at a profit!).

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LeBlond is a good make. I have two Monarchs myself.

The line shaft items may be good for a living history museum.

Model A stuff may be a slow mover depending on what you have. Why? The old boys who were the main buyers are passing away at a fast rate. Bigger supply than demand today. A good friend was big into Model T's and A's, and had a ton of extra parts at his ranch. The younger generations (gen Y and younger) are not that interested in cars made prior to 1980.  Then again, if it is rusty enough, there are quite a few Rat Rod builders out there.

 

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I remember reading an article several decades ago in the Wall Street Journal that was about what cars were the top price in the antique car market.  It said the cars that were the "cool" ones that every teenager wanted back when; would be the market leaders when those teenagers are in their 50's and so have money to "buy their dreams".  So the market moves as people age.  I feel kind of sad for the folks who were teenagers in the 1970's though. 

There will always be folks who "fell for a car" outside their bracket for one reason or another...(I like running boards and big round headlights---probably from reading all those 1930's English Murder Mysteries that my Mother had...So various "retreads" like the MG TD or the Excalibur is probably as close as I can get...)

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My Scoutmaster had a MG TD that I got to ride in; he wore an air force parka and gauntlets to drive it in the winter as I recall. Probably the most expensive car I ever sat in was Lloyd Ruby's Indy 500 race car...I'm still waiting for my Bugatti Royale to show up.

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