Apprenticeship Session 34 & 35

Sadly, we are coming to the end of our apprenticeship. But first, we have a pipe lock to finish. We left off with encasing the pipe lock in clay and leaving it to dry so that we could “bake” it in the forge and braze the pieces together.

So the clay had a chance to dry out during the week, and perhaps a bit too much. There were some pretty significant cracks that we patched up with some wet clay before we were ready to put it into the forge. Without patching the cracks, the heat would get through there and overheat those sections of the pipe.

the clay cracked a bit as it dried

We had a bit of a discussion about the type of clay that’s best for this type of thing. Apparently not all clay is made the same. I believe we used stoneware clay (not earthenware clay) with a bit of grit and horse manure mixed in. The horse manure has fibers in it that burn up during the heating process that provide just the right amount of venting to keep the clay from exploding open.

It was interesting to get the clay heated until it was glowing orange and then keep it there for quite a while. The whole process took somewhere around an hour. As it happened our clay did crack a bit and gave us a hot spot on the project, but it didn’t affect it too much. When it was “done” we pulled it out of the fire and rolled it around on the floor using “Viking chopsticks” which were basically pieces of kindling. They were the same tools we’d been using to turn in in the forge too. The rolling about helps get the melted brass to flow around and cover as much of the project as possible.

the Viking chopsticks

After several minutes of rolling it about, it was time to drop it in a bucket of water to cool it off. Believe it or not, as the water was still bubbling from the heat I plunged my arm into the water to grab the project and start breaking the clay off of the metal. It sounded insane, but it only got hot a couple of times right after I peeled off a good chunk of clay. Good news! We’d made it that far without it going completely sideways!

successful brazingbrazing Brazing is a metal-joining process in which two or more metal items are joined together by melting and flowing a filler metal into the joint, with the filler metal having a lower melting point than the adjoining metal. Brazing differs from welding in that it does not involve melting the work pieces and from soldering in using higher temperatures for a similar process, while also requiring much more closely fitted parts than when soldering. of our pipe lock

With the pipe part of the lock now mostly complete, it came down to details. Time to file off the rough edges and make sure the key was going to fit through the opening. It’s a lot of hand filing and you can imagine that it may have been someone’s job to do nothing by filing all day long. (And another person’s job to keep the files sharpened!)

The other piece that needed attention was the bolt. We had forged the spring onto the center, but we needed to make sure that it was the right length to lock, but also to allow the key to unlock it. That was interesting to figure out as there needed to be a gap between the shoulder of the bolt and the top of the spring, but that was inside the pipe so much of it was just guessing.

the pipe lock and bolt with spring, before fitting

At this point in the process it was a bit of a dance between the bolt and spring, the bow that goes over the spring to lock it, and the key that goes over the spring to unlock it. Getting the sizes just right for all the moving parts took a lot of back and forth. There were times we were convinced we were going to get it locked never to get it unlocked again.

But by the end of the 35th session we had a working pipe lock with one exception – there was still a bit of work to be done on the key.

Our 35th session was technically the last of the sessions covered by the North Dakota Traditional and Folk Arts Apprenticeship grant. Looks like we’re headed for a bonus session. But mead was toasted to a successful apprenticeship and good journeys for the journeyman phase of our learning!