Apprenticeship Session 22

We continued work on our nail header today. Last time we had drawn out the taper on one end for the handle. It was heavy work, even on the soft steel we had chosen. It was looking pretty good, but we all agreed that it was a bit too short. So we decided to add another inch or two to it – and we also decided to speed things up and use the trip hammer. Rob and I had never used the trip hammer before and it gave us an opportunity to experience that. It’s easy to see why folks like those as it turned several hours of hard hammering into about 5 minutes of mesmerizing pounding. Doug helped us set the shoulders for the handle. It might have been a bit of “cheating”, but we got introduced to a new skill and got our handle where we wanted it in short order, which left us the rest of the day to work on forming the business end.

the handle as we started the session

We took another short cut and used the chop saw to trim the stock down. We could have hot cut it using a hardy tool, but once again we wanted to use our time working on the more important aspects of the tool.

So the next step was to thicken business end by hitting the edges. Since this piece is a large mass of steel, using our usual hammers (800-1200g) would only really slide a portion of the edges rather than compressing the entire piece. So we got out the 14-pound sledge hammer to see the difference that would make in how the material moved. Boy did it make a difference! Besides moving it much more quickly, it moved it better – meaning no sliding toward the end and creating a fish mouth, no creating lips on the edge that then have to be hammered back in place (and really accomplish nothing). It was a beast to swing, but it sure felt good when it connected with the hot steel.

After we got the bar to the size we wanted, the last step was to punch a hole through. The Måstermyr nail header had five holes in it, but we opted to start with one and then decided later what other sizes/types of holes we would want to add. The idea would be to have the bigger holes closer to the handle, so we could have some pretty good sized ones before we’re done.

Since this was such a large, hot piece of metal we’d be punching through, we chose to use an essentially throw-away piece of round stock and taper the ends. It wouldn’t pay to harden it since it would lose that as it went through the hot bar. So we found something in a size that would make a decent nail, tapered the end, and started punching. It was surprising, actually, how easily and quickly that hole punched through. But we did have to cool the punch after every hit (sometimes in water and sometimes in a beeswax/olive oil mixture) and straighten it out a couple of times. When we finally got it through we just kept driving to push it all the way through. That didn’t go so well. We had failed to taper the top end of the punch which would give it some relief and allow it to drop out. So we basically had our punch stuck in the nail header and with the kind of heat involved there was a risk of it welding or simply permanently getting stuck in there.

The fix for this situation was brilliant and shows why we are apprentices and Doug is a master. He opted to cut the top of the punch to about an inch above the bar and then grind a taper on it. We then heated it up to orange-red and the cooled one side of the punch in water to harden it. Then we hammered on that end and lo and behold it went all the way through and fell to the ground. Disaster averted!

the remains of our poor, abused punch

We had done it! We had forged our nail header and punched a hole in it. It was ready to be used and we just had to give it a try. We found another piece of round stock, set the shoulder, hammered it square, and then cut it off about twice as high above the shoulders as the diameter of the nail. There’s a trick to cutting it off with only cutting on two sides, but we’ll have to practice a bunch before we’re ready for that. For now, the goal is to cut equally from each side of the square nail but not quite fully through. Then you heat it up, place it in the nail header, twist the excess stock off, and hammer the nail head. The goal is to have a nice, even, , flat, centered nail head. It didn’t quite come out that way at first, but a second heat allowed us to improve it quite a bit.

our nail header and its first nail

This was a massive undertaking for a small, everyday tool. If a person (or actually a team of people) had to make these, you can bet they’d take care of them. They are not easily or quickly replaced.