Apprenticeship Session 36 – Bonus!

We were so close to being done, but hadn’t quite gotten it over the line. Just a few more hours work and we’d have a working pipe lock we could be proud of. And it is something that not a lot of blacksmiths have made.

our key in progress with the example one on the right

Our big task of the evening was to get our key finished up and working smoothly to open the lock. Sounds simple enough, but it took a lot of tweaking to get the shoulders in the right place so that it would go into the lock deep enough to open the lock but not too deep as to slip over the spring and be forever stuck inside the pipe.

A bit of grinding on the key, bending of the bow, filing of the key opening as well as the opening at the end of the pipe and it started coming together.

There was also a fair amount of fussing, pondering, and consternation about how things were coming together, but in the end there was a shout and a leap and success!

This really is a piece to be proud of. It’s a very clever, if simple in concept, design that’s a challenge to execute. I’d love to make another one when I had a couple of weeks to kill. Like everything, I’m sure the next one would take less time now that we know what we’re doing, but it’s still a whole lot of steps and and whole lot of fitting to make it work. The time to create a lock like this is going to far exceed what the market would bear, but it’s a fun thing to work on anyway.

our finished pipe lock

And with our apprenticeship under Doug Swenson of Goose Prairie Forge coming to an end, we did celebrate in proper fashion with some Trappist monk ale and a toast.


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!

Apprenticeship Session 33

After the disappointment at the end of the last session, we worked during the week to get the rings ready to go. They weren’t quite perfect, so we did wind up making a few adjustments (namely grinding the ends down so they connected better). But It didn’t take us long to get those finished up.

So the next step in getting the pipe ready was to cut out the plate that covers the one end (the end with the tail) so that it fit the pipe and had a big enough opening to get the key in. It wasn’t to hard to cut the notch for the key, but we first attempted to hacksaw the thin sheet of metal to bring it closer to the shape we needed for the pipe – and then abandoned that approach pretty quickly. It wound up being a lot easier to just grind it down. So we traced on the sheet around the end of the pipe and just whittled it down on the grinder.

Now the pipe is ready to be brazed. The first step was to cut up some old brass bullet casings into small pieces that we would then lash to the pipe lock. The idea is that we need to hold that brass in place as close to where we need it to flow to seal up the joints between the pipe, plate, and rings. So we used a linen thread (which will burn up during the 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. process) to carefully tie down small “tidbits” of brass in the key areas. It took a lot of tidbits and a lot of lashing to get enough pieces in place to cover all the spots we needed.

And while all this cutting and lashing was going on, we were also working on the lock piece and fullering another neck on it with the guillotine. While it takes it a bit of effort to make that happen, it’s quite a different type of job than lashing the brass pieces to the pipe.

So the last thing at the end of the day was to pack the pipe to prepare it for the actual brazing process. The first thing that got packed was the center of the pipe with the small bits of brass and charcoal. The brass will line the interior and the charcoal will help support the pipe and keep it from collapsing. Then the exterior needed to be packed in clay. The clay needs to be a certain type, stoneware clay I believe, with a bit of sand (you should be able to feel a bit of grit), and horse manure (which adds some fibers that will allow steam to vent out of the clay rather than crack it). You just pack the pipe, being careful not to disturb the brass lashing that was done, in about 1/4-to-1/2-inch thick clay all the way around, including inside the tail part. (I sure hope I got it packed in that tail part good enough.) The clay should have at least 24 hours to dry, so that’s where we left it for the day.

Next session we’ll get to do the actual brazing process which I understand to be “cooking” the clay for about an hour. We’ll also be working on the lock fitting and getting a spring made for it as well. I suspect that’s all we’ll get done and we’ll have one more session to make the key.

This pipe lock has introduced us to some very different skills than we have done in the past. It’s hard to imagine trying this project on our own without some guidance. The North Dakota Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant has really allowed us to push our boundaries for sure!

P.S. We were late for our session today as we were hiring a contractor to build our house. Looking forward to getting our own workshop set up soon!

Apprenticeship Session 32

So the tasks for the day were to get the bands in place and ready for 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. and to begin work on the locking mechanism.

We started by adjusting the loop and tail on the pipe itself just a bit to make the tail just a bit longer as we’re going to be wrapping two bands over it. That went pretty well.

Then we moved on to making the bands themselves. We need three total: two to go over the loop’s tail and one at the bottom end of the pipe. The two that go over the tail need to have a small “bump” in them to accommodate the tail and that’s where our work began.

We used a fullering swage in a vise and a piece of round stock as the upper fuller to hammer in the bump. Then we put that over the tail on the pipe and started shaping the band to wrap around it.

Once again, sounds easy enough, right? Hammering that square stock to fit around the pipe was much fussier than expected and took a fair bit of time. Then, of course, the challenge was to get two of them to look the same.

Then we needed to somewhat guess where to cut the stock so that the ring would either just meet or fall just short of meeting; this is one place where we didn’t want it to overlap. You can see from that photo that where we initially put the bump in the stock became a pivot point when we started to bend it and it got a bit of a crease in it. As it turned out, that was an important development that would bite us a bit later.

After a bit of fussing, some of which involved hitting the ring simultaneously with two hammers while it was on the pipe, the first ring was looking pretty good.

So we worked on doing the same thing for the second ring and had it nearly complete. We were working on the last finishing touches to shape it around the pipe when that stress point where the bump had creased finally gave up and broke in two. Ugh, but this stuff happens in blacksmithing. We quickly then shaped the much easier third ring, the one without a bump, in the last few minutes of our session.

In the meantime, while all the work on the rings was going on, we were also starting the much harder work of getting the locking insert started. Beginning with something like a 2-inch long, 2-inch diameter piece of round stock the first task was to fuller a neck around it. Once again, simple enough, but this time it’s just plain work. A chunk of steel that size takes a bit of effort to get it moving.

By the end of the day we had one of the bump rings finished, the circle ring ready for cutting, and the lock insert with a decent looking neck fullered into it. The time went quickly!

Next time we should be able to finish up the rings and get the top plate on and perhaps get the brazing done. Then it will be more work on the lock insert and finally the key for it all. I think we’re going to be lucky to finish this before our time under the Folk Arts grant is finished.

Apprenticeship Session 31

After finishing our hinge experiments, we turned to our next interest – locks. We’re starting with a pipe lock, which is pretty ingenious for a simple lock. This is going to be like nothing we have made so far. It’s going to take a bunch of tricky cutting and filing and fitting and 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. and …

What have we gotten ourselves into?!!!

So this is the example piece we are after. Ours will of course look much different, but it’s good to know where you’re headed.

the master’s samples

So we started with a pretty hefty pipe for our pipe locks and cut the end at an angle with a hacksaw (and or angle grinder) and then cut it just a bit more to leave a “beaver tail” piece that we will draw and taper for the loop at the one end. Once that was cut it was into the forge to start drawing it out. It was fun to watch the smoke come out the end of the pipe, but it was also potentially dangerous to quench the pipe as hot steam can also come out of the pipe so you need to be careful how you hold it.

smoking our pipe

With that tail drawn out to resemble a tang, we turned our attention to the angle cut. There needs to be a small notch in it to hold the plate that seals the end and that’s a bit tricky to cut. It also has to be just right in both the depth to match the thickness of the plate and the angle to not be too sloped or too abrupt. We fussed over that for quite some time with files and rotary sanders and whatever it took to get it the to something near 45-degrees and flat and smooth.

It was a bit tough to work around the tail we had drawn out and we bent it out of the way for a bit of the process.

The next step was to cut the hole in the other end of the lock so that the clasp can be inserted into the pipe. The cuts perpendicular to the length of the pipe were easy enough, but the lengthwise cuts eluded us. Doug showed us how to do an X-cut to get that opening, well, open. We were confused about how the X would actually work as we were imagining the X on the top of the pipe where it would connect the two parallel cuts we made. And while that was technically what was needed it didn’t create the X looking at the top of the cuts, but rather from the side, which allowed the unwanted metal there to be “scraped” away. We would have never come up with that.

The last bit before ending this session was to bend the tail we had drawn out and get that ready for fastening later. We talked a bit about cutting the plate to cover the end and made a couple of initial cuts, but the time had flow by once again and it was time to lay it aside until the next session.

a good day’s work

Apprenticeship Sessions 25 & 26

So with the strap part of the spade hinge finished it was time to move on to the pintlepintle A pintle is a pin or bolt (male component), usually inserted into a gudgeon, which is used as part of a pivot or hinge.. We were starting with the basic spike / bolt design for our first hinge. Our first session consisted almost entirely of taking a 1-inch by 1/4-inch piece of 1020 bar stock and creating the pin that the loop of the strap hinge would fit over. (I believe that loop part is called a gudgeongudgeon A gudgeon is a socket-like, cylindrical (female component) fitting attached to one component to enable a pivoting or hinging connection to a second component, the pintle..) Once again, it sounds simple enough, but creating shoulders on the bar stock and then drawing out the pin and rounding it to size took a few hours. We weren’t able to finish that in one session as Rob was on call and we had to cut it short after 2-1/2 hours.

So when we returned the following week it didn’t take too long for us both to get the pintle sized to the gudgeon. Then we moved on to creating the spike that would be driven into a timber to hold the hinge. The first step was once again to create a shoulder that would define where our tapered spike would begin. Once that shoulder was set it was just a matter of a lot of hammer blows to get the spike drawn out and tapered. There’s always a certain amount of fussing about keeping things square and straight, and we had to revisit our shoulder a few times to keep that crisp.

Once the spike was the length and shape we wanted, the last step was to bend it 90º so that it could be hammered into the wood. It required a yellow-hot heat and we had to make sure we weren’t burning the tips of either our pin or spike. But once it was hot we put the spike part in a vise and hammered the pin and the square below it until it got to the correct angle. After that it was just a matter of dressing any remaining bits up and then we were done!

They turned out really well and seem quite functional. We might try to use them on a garden gate in the future. We specifically kept this project simple and a bit old school because the next one is going to kick the hinge design up a notch.

One of our finished hinges

Apprenticeship Session 24

So today we started on what we’re calling a spade hinge. Something “simple” like the ones shown in this photo, though ours will be a bit shorter.

Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

While the spade part of the hinge is something I think we could handle, the business end of the hinge where a pin of some sort is used is something new to us.

So as expected we started with a piece of bar stock and chose one about three feet long where we would each work one end of it and then cut it in half. We started with the business end, so our first task was to fold over the end about two or so inches, while maintaining a space for the pin, and then forge weldingwelding Welding is a process that joins metal by using high heat to melt the parts together and allowing them to cool, causing fusion. Welding is distinct from lower temperature metal-joining techniques such as brazing and soldering, which do not melt the base metal. it back onto the bar stock. Sounds simple enough but keeping the tube for the pin makes it a bit more challenging. We used the swage block and a piece of round stock for the pin to make sure the fold to create the tube was round and allowed the pin free movement. Then it was a matter of forge welding the stock – keeping that round tube for the pin intact. You have to get the crease where it transitions from round to flat tight without smushing the tube.

The bar stock for the hinge and the round stock for the pin.

We each managed to get our ends rounded up and welded and they came out pretty even with each other’s. Next time we’ll be working on the decorative spade end, but we’ll also have to work on the other half of the hinge that attaches to the door frame and get it to match the tubes we made. I’ve no idea how that is going to happen. Stay tuned!

Apprenticeship Session 23

We finished a project in one session!

Today we started on our first door/cabinet hardware project which will be the focus of our work this year. We made a simple strap hinge similar to those on the Måstermyr chest. I had attempted to make one of these before but had not finished, so this was going to be the first actual hinge we had made.

The first step was to take a piece of bar stock and hammer it to thin it out a bit. We were trying to match the dimensions of the Måstermyr hinge as best we could and came pretty close. Then the next step was to draw out a “tang” for the loop that would connect the two pieces of the hinge. This involved tapering one end, setting shoulders, and then rounding the taper. On the other end of the bar stock, we used a chisel to punch a hole through and then drifted it into a circle.

After that the two ends needed to be cut to length and hammered a bit more to make the dimensions we were going for.

Next was to make the holes for the nails to go through when you attach the straps to the chest, or whatever you might be using them on. The holes actually went farther back on the strap than I initially expected, but it made sense in order to give the strap clearance around the wood joint so that it could move freely. While traditionally we would have used a punch to set the holes in the straps, we opted to use a drill press – partly for time’s sake and partly for the experience of drilling through metal. We’ve punched holes through metal several times, but never drilled a hole before. It turned out well and was very quick (and fun to do), but it felt like cheating. Not going to be our preferred way to do that going forward.

We also invented a word today – “schmoogle”. A schmoogle is those fold marks that appear when you are working the edge of a piece of metal. Apparently they can happen because the hammer you are using is too light and is only moving the surface of the metal and not getting all the way through. It happens to me a lot. Like every time I make something. It’s why we swung the big sledge hammer making our nail header, and after that experience I’m determined to start using bigger hammers when called for. I guess my arm will just have to get used to it.


“Schmoogle” is a great word for this. “I schmoogled this piece.” (Adverb) “The drift hole is starting to schmoogle.” (Verb) “My schmoogle isn’t too bad.” (Noun) Perhaps there is an official word for this phenomenon, but until we learn what it is, we are going to use this term.

The last step in making the hinges was to connect the two pieces. We started with a small curl at the very end of the tang end and then heated up the tang and slipped it through the hole of the other piece and curled it into a loop. Ideally, you’d like to do that in one heat. Then we curved the one piece that would have gone on the lid of the chest to match the curve of the wood. We used a leaf spring as a guide for the curve. And there we had it! I finished – and matching – set of strap hinges.

Something that once again I underestimated the effort to accomplish. I figured we’d be done in under three hours, but it took us nearly five. And we’ve gotten much quicker with our work, especially on a project such as this that didn’t really introduce a lot of new techniques. Really makes you appreciate the work that went into simple, every day items.

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 weldingwelding Welding is a process that joins metal by using high heat to melt the parts together and allowing them to cool, causing fusion. Welding is distinct from lower temperature metal-joining techniques such as brazing and soldering, which do not melt the base metal. 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.

Apprenticeship Session 21

Apprenticeship session 21 marked the beginning of our work on the FY21 grant projects. We are focusing on door and cabinet hardware this year including hinges, locks, latches, and handles. So to begin with, as all good blacksmiths do, we didn’t begin by working on our projects, we began by making a tool.

Since nails are required to fasten hinges, latches, and other hardware, we wanted to make a nail header to be used for making nails. The Måstermyr find included one that we want to emulate. It had five holes, most of which were for nails and but one was for rivets (tapered vs. straight holes). Ours may not have that many holes, but we do want to be able to make both nails and rivets.

So we started with a BIG piece of 1020 bar stock (this won’t be hardened). The measurements from the Måstermyr find were actually larger than I expected. It was 22.9 x 1.9-3.8 x 2.1 cm. (approx. 9 x .75-1.5 x .83 in.). So we were in for swinging big hammers today.

We spent the entire day working on tapering out the handle. We often were working as a 3-person team with one holding the bar, one being the blacksmith, and one being the striker. That’s a lot of fun actually. You have to watch yourself from getting wrapped up in it and not paying attention to what is happening with the piece.

One trick we did because the bar was so long and heavy was to place a brick on it when it was in the fire to keep it in place. Without that, we’d either have to had to hold it the entire time or else it would flip out and send hot coal and metal flying.

brick holding the bar stock in the fire

Before we arrived, I actually thought we might get the nail header finished today and even have a chance to make nails. Nope. It will be another full session, at least, to finish shaping the handle (including upsetting the end), cutting the piece, and punching the holes through.

I guess we know what we’re doing next time.

Apprenticeship Sessions 18, 19, & 20

While technically we are done with the FY20 grant, we had a couple of projects that we hadn’t yet completed and we wanted to get them done before moving on to the FY21 projects. These final projects being a hammer and an axe. We wound up doing three sessions in one week (Thursday, Saturday, Tuesday) to get these wrapped up.


Last time, we had finished shaping and thermocyclingthermocycling Thermocycling is the process of heating steel to critical temp (non-magnetic) and then letting it air cool. Usually done three times in a row. our hammer head and all that remained was to heat treat it, quench it, temper it, dress it, and add a handle. There wasn’t a lot of forging on the hammer today; mostly just finish work. We did get to heat it up and try something a bit different with the quench. The was to drip water over the face of the hammer which is where it needs hardening the most but leave the middle portion a bit softer to absorb the forces when hammering.

The rest was finish work with a bit of tempering and then putting the handle on.

setting the hammer head on the handle


The axe head had been left with the hole punched through and drifted just a bit. We still needed to draw the langetslanget Langets are the "ears" associated with a drift hole, such as on a hammer or axe, where to flatten the sides you pull the mass up into ears instead of pushing it to the sides which would distort the hole., taper the face, and draw the beard out, not to mention heat treat it and put an edge on it.

the steps to making an axe

So we began by drawing out the langets again, which turned out to be similar to the hammer head, but slightly different since we were going to fullering the one side to set the beard. So after the sides of the eye were mostly flat, we started drawing the taper of the face. Not too far into that, however, we used a round fullering tool to shoulder the area for the beard and mark where the tapering needed to be done in earnest.

Once we got it to a size we liked, we forged and then ground the edge, but not too sharp. Because the next step is the heat treating. With the axe, we opted to quench in oil and then water.

quenching the axe head in oil

Once again, the last steps were finishing the edge and tempering. We finished we a good, solid, sharp, usable axe head. Now we just need to find the right handle for it.

Apprenticeship Session 17

The last of our official sessions under the FY20 NDCA Folk and Traditional Arts grant had us working on our hammer and starting an axe. Yay! We’re finally getting to the axe, which is a project I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.


Last week we started our hammer head and had managed to get the eye punched and drifted and the cross peen started. We still had a bit more drawing and shaping to do on the peen end today, and of course there’s still the heat treating, hardening, and dressing to do as well.

So we dug right in and started pounding on that cross-peen end. This is a solid block of tough steel and it doesn’t want to move too quickly. But after a while it started to shape up and we then turned our focus to the langetslanget Langets are the "ears" associated with a drift hole, such as on a hammer or axe, where to flatten the sides you pull the mass up into ears instead of pushing it to the sides which would distort the hole..


Langets are formed when you take the mass of metal that was pushed out when you drifted the hole for the handle and pull it upwards. Why would you do that? Because you want the side of your hammer to be flat and not have that bulge in the middle. Why is that important? It keeps the hammer from sliding off the anvil when you set it down and you can scrape the hammer scale off the anvil with the flat side. So if form follows function, you want a flat side to your hammer.

our example hammer where you can clearly see the langetlanget Langets are the "ears" associated with a drift hole, such as on a hammer or axe, where to flatten the sides you pull the mass up into ears instead of pushing it to the sides which would distort the hole. shape

It sounds easy enough, once you understand what you are trying to do and why, but once again it’s harder to do than it sounds. The trick is to not change the shape of the hole you’ve created too much. So much of the time you are pounding on the sides of the hammer, you have the drift punch in the hole rather than using tongs. That helps keep the shape a bit and gives you better control too.

And as much as moving this rather large chunk of hard steel takes a bit of oomph, it’s surprising how it also requires finesse to get it just right. Keeping the bottom flat, the sides flat, the slopes of the langets straight, and the hole straight and true means a lot of little taps on top of the big hits from earlier in the process.

We finished the day with the shape of the hammer head where we wanted it and began the heat treating by thermocyclingthermocycling Thermocycling is the process of heating steel to critical temp (non-magnetic) and then letting it air cool. Usually done three times in a row. it three times. The final heat/quench and tempering will have to wait until next time.


We started with a chunk of 4140 bar stock to begin making our axe. It begins a lot like the hammer in that you need to drift a hole in the middle. It’s a bit tricker though as the stock is rectangular instead of square and you’re trying to cut through the narrow end. So we started with the same trick of putting the stock low in the vise and scoring it to mark the middle. This hole is further to one side since, unlike the hammer, there’s really only one business end of an axe.

Doug had spotted a jig for making axes in one of the Norwegian/Swedish blacksmithing books and had replicated it. We were a little worried that the heated block would get stuck in the jig or it wouldn’t fit in it in the first place, but it worked brilliantly and was much more sturdy than having another person hold the block with tongs. It seems nearly impossible for a solo smith to do both hammer and tongs work on this and get that hole drifted at all, much less straight. The jig makes it easier and better no matter how many folks are available for the work.

After nearly 6 hours at the forge today (time always seems to fly at the forge) we called it a day when our arms gave out. We still have next weekend to do the final touches on the hammer and get the axe into shape as well.

While this marks the “official” end of our grant work for FY20, we learned this week that we have been approved to continue our apprenticeship for FY21. Exciting! We won’t be starting on that work until July, so look for a separate post with information on our plan for the new grant and the projects we’ll be working on.

Apprenticeship Session 16

This one was a doozie as it was double, maybe triple, long. Today we focused on getting one hammer made. Sounds easy enough, right? One hammer, one long day, two (or three) people, no problem. Uh, we got a long ways but we did not get it done in the 5+ hours that we spent on it.

Because a good start to this project is everything, we started by scoring our block of 1045 square steel (maybe 1-1/4 inches) with some lines to make sure that we got our hole for the hammer centered and straight on the block. While you can make some adjustments as you go, it’s better to take your time at this stage. It’s hard to recover from a badly placed hole. So we marked some lines on the top and bottom to find the center down the longest dimension (length) and copied those to the opposite side. We then wanted to mark our “center” in the narrow dimension (width), but this mark needed to be off-center just a bit to allow for the lengthening of the one side as we draw out the cross peen. It was about a 60/40 split. We used a straight edge and a drill bit to make the score marks.

After we scored all the lines we needed, we got out a chisel and marked the spot where we wanted the drift to be. It was a fairly significant pilot cut as we were going to need to be able to see it when the block was heated to yellow hot. We made the same marks on both the top and the bottom of the hammer head.

Next was to get the block good and hot and begin to punch a hole through the block. As you can imagine, it took a lot of heat and a lot of times in and out of the forge to get the chisel to go all the way through. We punched from both sides and met in the middle. It was a two-person job as one person worked the tongs to pull the block out place in on the anvil, hold it in place, and then flip it over while the other person carefully placed the chisel and hammered the bejeezus out of it. It is a best practice to switch sides of the anvil (and therefore the block of steel) to compensate for any thing that might not be quite plumb or level. It became a bit of a dance as it was two or three strikes with the hammer, dunk the chisel in water to cool it off, switch sides of the anvil and repeat.

We finally managed to get the chisel through the entire piece and it was relatively straight. Next step is to make that hole big enough to hold a handle, so we used increasingly larger chisels/drift tools until we had a good, straight eye formed. It was easy to check if it was straight by lifting the hammer head up on the drift tool to eyeball how it was sitting. We did need to make some minor adjustments along the way.

Once it was large enough and straight enough it was time to start drawing out the peen end. That’s a pretty solid chunk of tough steel to try to get moving, but if you heated it up enough it started to move. This was where having a team of people was really handy as we had a fireman/tongs person, a lead blacksmith doing some hammering, and a striker delivering some powerful blows to get it into shape.

Due to some other commitments, we weren’t quite able to finish the hammer head in one day. We still need to finish the peen and draw out the langetslanget Langets are the "ears" associated with a drift hole, such as on a hammer or axe, where to flatten the sides you pull the mass up into ears instead of pushing it to the sides which would distort the hole. around the eye, plus there will be some work to finish the face of the hammer as well. We’ll get it done at our next session.

A couple of other things we learned today. One reason that it is preferred to drift the eye hole rather than to drill it into the block of steel is that steel has grain and fiber, somewhat like wood. Rather than break those fibers by drilling a hole it is better to split the fibers by drifting to maintain their strength.

Apprenticeship Session 15

The end of our grant is fast approaching and we’ve got a few projects left to finish up. So today is going to be another double session of basically finishing the projects we were working on last week.

Viking-age Bellows

With the beeswax/tar goop that we painted on the canvas last week now dry, it was time for final assembly.

We affixed a couple of crossbeams under the bellows. They serve two purposes: 1) to allow air to flow into the valves from underneath and 2) to set the angle of the bellows for best airflow effect.

The best angle for the two bellows is to have the airstreams cross about three inches in front of the snouts with the soapstone barrier about an inch in front of that. We lined up some steel rods down the centerline of each bellows to determine where the airstreams would cross and then marked the crossbeams before affixing them. There’s no special measurements of where they should go other than the back one shouldn’t obstruct the valve holes and the front one should stick out the sides so that it can be clamped or bolted or staked into place when using to keep them from moving about.

The last step today was to attach the handles and test the results.

There is one final step left to do on the hinges which is to affix the leather hinges to the sides of the side, but we want to use them for a while and break in the leather before making a slice and tacking them down. And we also need to drill the hole in the soapstone and maybe build a portable table to hold it all for using at events or just outside on nice days.


Now back to the shears…

Shears are one of those projects that seem like it should be easy, but in practice turn out to be more difficult than imagined. We had started with about 18-inches of 9/16-inch 10851085 1085 steel is a hardenable steel round steel stock. First we flattened out the spring area in the middle and drew out the ends to thin them out. And that’s where we left them last week.

So this week we needed to create the blades on each end and fold it and then finish it.

It’s been a while since we’ve done blades so it was a nice refresher. Drawing them out, grinding them, heat treating, and tempering are things we are familiar with but with shears the blades need to be at 90º angles to the flat spring area and facing the same direction as each other. I can neither confirm nor deny that there were mistakes made in that process. It’s really hard to get two blades that are exact mirrors of each other.

The last step was to fold them and line up the blades. Keeping them equal lengths so that the tips were even required wrapping the spring area around a big steel rod (vertical worked best) and either push/pulling the ends or hammering a bit on the spring area.

Then the big test of whether or not they would actually cut anything.

will they cut?

Well, they did pass the test, but we learned so many things that we’d like to do differently that we may have to try another pair soon. Things we’d do different are: 1) longer blades and not so much concern about the length of the reins, 2) have the blades be flat on two dimensions (spine and one side) that that they don’t rub and interfere with use, and 3) set shoulders to define the spring and blades areas, and 4) draw out only the reins area and not the blades area (we needed a bit more mass to work with).

before and after

Good thing we brought donuts to the smithy today because we spent over 6 hours in the forge getting these two project finished up.

Apprenticeship Session 14

We had two tasks for today’s session: 1) work on the bellows and 2) start forging a shears.

The Viking-age Bellows

We did get our homework done and got the copper snouts attached and the canvas tacked on. Both were fairly simple jobs and we were happy with how easily the canvas laid in place. Working around curves and hinges we were a bit worried that it would get fussy, but it was pretty straightforward and fun!

So the next step in the bellows process is to seal the canvas. It’s not really intended as much to make the bellows air-tight as it is to protect the canvas from the heat, sparks, and hard use.

For a sealer, we used a mixture of beeswax and tar (pitch) and heated it over a campfire. It’s highly flammable, not to mention messy. We melted the beeswax first then added the tar pitch until it became saturated – the mixture will only take so much. Once that was done, it was time to brush it on the canvas.

Painting the mix on the canvas was easy enough, if a bit sloppy. The color of the mix as it dried … well, none of our suggestions about what we would name it should be repeated here. 😀

After that we set them aside to dry and started working on our shears.


Since a shears is basically two blades on one piece of stock we weren’t sure the best way to go about that. We had considered creating the blade on one end and then putting in the flat spring portion before making the blade on the other end – basically working from one end to the other. However, Doug recommended that we actually start in the middle and flatten the spring section first, then draw out the reins, and lastly add the blades to the end. Seemed like an odd way to go about it until we got into it and then it made perfect sense. It’s easy to make one blade, it’s hard to make two that match. His suggestion would give us the greatest chance of having that happen.

the finished dimensions we are shooting for

We managed to (mostly) get the spring section flattened out of the 3/8″ round stock and began drawing out the reins before calling it a day. By the end, we knew we’d been working with 10851085 1085 steel is a hardenable steel steel rather than 1020 all day. We’ll pick this up where we left off next week – and get the handles and mount on the bellows too!

Apprenticeship Session 13

Since we’ve lost so much time this spring, today was an extra long session and we actually got to work on two projects: cooking utensils and our bellows.

Cooking Utensils

I had seen these utensils – I dunno what we should call them, maybe bread bakers? – at a couple of reenactment events we had attended. They looked interesting and reminded me of the “Tonka Toasters” we use over campfires to make pies and sandwiches.

While the coiled spiral shape is something we’ve done plenty of, it’s usually been of round stock with no gaps in between. We had discussed for the past week what might be the best way to approach making these. Take round stock and flatten it out? Take square stock and flatten it out? As it turns out, the way we wound up doing it is actually one we discussed – as the most difficult – which is to coil rectangular stock on the narrow edge.

sketching out the design
the plan

As with most coils, the start is the most critical part. There’s no fixing the taper or curl (at least very much) once you’ve started the coil. This was only a one-sided taper and I nearly forgot what those were like as most of the recent ones have been two-sided or round. That went pretty well, but continuing the coil proved to be heavy work that went much better with the stock held tight or braced up against something when striking the opposite end. One really nice thing about a coal forge is that we were able to heat specific sections of the coil to have them bend while keeping other sections cold for striking. That’s not possible in a gas forge – you have to quench sections in water to cool them off to get a similar effect.

While the concept of a one-sided taper followed by a narrow-edge coil is simple enough, the execution is another thing. Nearly every blow wants to bend and twist the piece since it doesn’t like to move on that narrow edge. And trying to keep the coil smooth and avoid flat sections is easier said than done. I found it reasonably easy to keep the outer edge smooth, but the inner edge would get some straight areas that are harder to deal with.

In the end they came out pretty well and we were able to make some small tweaks to the spacing at the end using tongs.

tweaking the final spacing
tweaking the spacing using tongs

The last step was to work on the handles. There are lots of choices there. We could draw them out, twist them, round them up, make a tang and put on a wood handle, and so forth. In the end, Rob punched a hole through his so he could hang it and I drew another one-sided taper and made a thumb loop at the end.

the mostly finished cooking utensils
our cooking utensils

This is the kind of project that will get better with practice (don’t they all). But I’d like to give this one another try and have some fun with different handles. Looking forward to cooking some bread on these!

On to the second project …


We had started making our bellows back in August but set them aside for our trip to Scotland and then the winter and then all the challenges that the spring brought. But it’s time to get them finished up!

We had left them after we attached the hinge to one set of bellows (you can catch up on that here). So we needed to get the hinge on the second set before moving on to the next steps.

Once that was complete, we moved on to getting the snout ready. We are using about a 10cm length of 2cm diameter copper tubing and attaching it to a thin sheet of copper that will sit on the end of the wood part of the bellows. We started by cutting a hole in the middle of the copper sheet that was about the size of the INSIDE diameter of the copper tube. Then we punched a few (four, to be exact) holes so that we will be able to tack it to the wood. Lastly, we soldered the tube to the sheet – something I’d never done before. It was really cool to see the solder melt and seal up the joint!

There’s still a few steps left before these will be complete. We are going to use canvas rather than leather for the sides. During the Viking-age they may have used textile, most likely wool, rather than leather for some bellows as leather may have been too expensive for such a tool. We just don’t know for sure. So we used a pattern to cut it out and that’s where we left if for the day.

So what’s left to do before these are done?

  1. Attach the copper tube plate to the snout
  2. Attach the canvas to the sides
  3. Attach the handle
  4. Treat the wood (with linseed oil)
  5. Treat the canvas (with a beeswax/tar mixture)

Our homework is to complete four of those steps and then bring them back to the Goose Prairie Forge to complete that last, messy, smelly one to get them done. Can’t wait to see them in action!

Apprenticeship Session 12

So after a break of a few months due to the death of my mother and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we returned to making progress on our projects. Part of today’s session was simply regrouping after the recent events, but some of it was planning for the remainder of the projects. We’ve got several things yet to accomplish and a short time to get them done, but we’ve made a plan to make it happen.

So to get back into the groove, we decided to work on a cold-cut chisel project today. It was a great choice to get back into the swing of things (see what I did there? ? ). The hammering skills were simple enough – just tapering one end of a piece of octagonal steel stock. But tool steel hammers differently than milder (aka softer) steel, so that was a good refresher. On top of that there was a bit of grinder work to do and we hadn’t been at a grinder in months. That too seemed simple enough, except you have to have a pretty steady hand to get a straight grind and we struggled with that just a bit. But after a few pointers and tips, we got the grinds looking pretty good.

So the steps to making a chisel (or pretty much any hardened tool) are essentially:

  1. Forge
  2. Thermocycle
  3. Grind
  4. Heat treat (quench)
  5. Grind (polish)
  6. Temper

Chisels have a tip that has two angles on it, one that is forged in (about 15º) and one that is ground in (about 60º). So we started with forging in the taper. Then we thermocycled the pieces before we started grinding. (Thermocycled means that we heated them up to critical temperature where they become non-magnetic and then set them aside to air cool, repeated three times.) After that it was time for a heat treat. So we heated the pieces once again to critical temp and then quenched them in oil and then water. They had the nice gray color we were looking for and a file just skated off of them. So the last step was tempering the steel and we did that by heating a 4-inch length of 2-inch pipe to red hot and then holding the chisel inside the pipe for short periods of time (maybe 10 second or less) and then looking to watch for the blue almost purple color we were looking for. That means the chisel is done!

The chisel was a nice quick project that called on a variety of skills we have learned. They turned out pretty well!

P.S. We also learned about the various types of chisels. These are really broad distinctions and there’s much more to them all than this.

  • Hot-cut chisels: have a longer, narrower taper so that they slice through hot metal rather than push it aside.
  • Cold-cut chisels: have a more blunt edge to put some weight behind the cut.
  • Stone chisels: have a flared out edge to prevent the chisel from getting stuck in the stone.
  • Wood chisels: have one sided taper (they’re flat on the back).

Apprenticeship Session 11

We did it! We finished our Måstermyr chain. Well, mostly. We spent 5-1/2 hours and finished the 23 links that we had created and joined them into one chain. The actual Måstermyr chain had 26 links and a ring at one end. We will probably add those at some point, but for now we are considering this project done.

One of the nice things about making this chain was the repetition that was part of the project. For most of our other projects we have made just one and then moved on to the next project. With the chain, we got to repeatedly practice making links and then forge welding them so we started to get really comfortable – albeit still beginners – with the process. There’s a lesson there about going back and revisiting some of the projects we’ve completed previously and something to keep in mind regarding our projects going forward.

We’re going to have a bit of a break due to other commitments, so it will be a few weeks before we’re back at it again. Next up will be the completion of the bellows we began way back when and making hammers. Looking forward to having a custom-built hammer!

Apprenticeship Session 10

Today is the day when we turn from making links to making an actual chain. The thought of forging a link together while there are a couple of other links hanging off of it seems daunting. It’s often the case that we struggle to get the piece shoved into the fire as it gets hung up on the bits of coal or other obstacles. Adding a couple of links hanging off the end seems like it would only complicate that.

In addition, today was the day that Troyd Geist from the North Dakota Council on the Arts, the sponsor of our grant, was stopping by for a site visit. He certainly picked a good day! Because of his schedule we started a bit later than usual, which wasn’t a bad thing. Doug had done a nice job of setting up a table of beverages and snacks as well as a few of his favorite books, some of which we hadn’t seen before (and ordered on our way out the driveway!). It was really nice to finally meet Troyd and having him in the shop on a day when we were forge weldingwelding Welding is a process that joins metal by using high heat to melt the parts together and allowing them to cool, causing fusion. Welding is distinct from lower temperature metal-joining techniques such as brazing and soldering, which do not melt the base metal. was a good choice.

So we started to combine our links into a chain. Take two completed links and hook them together with a U-shaped link and weld that up. Seems easy enough, right?

Actually, after much trepidation, it was pretty easy. Or at least no more difficult that doing a standalone link. The extra links hanging off didn’t really interfere with it much and sometimes actually might have made it easier as the extra weight balanced things out.

The most challenging part was not letting the join area of the link get too thin. It’s easy to want to just pound on it to get the weld to stick, but if you don’t do the overlap with enough metal it can get think in a hurry.

After doing a couple, it became much easier and we were off and running. Forge welding is hard, but it’s also a lot of fun! We got two sets of seven links put together. The Måstermyr chain had 26 links. This is going to be quite a long chain when it’s done. But making links / chains is something a person could enjoy doing a lot of – and they probably would have done a lot of them back in the day.

Apprenticeship Session 9

We had some homework to finish before today’s session in anticipation of forge weldingwelding Welding is a process that joins metal by using high heat to melt the parts together and allowing them to cool, causing fusion. Welding is distinct from lower temperature metal-joining techniques such as brazing and soldering, which do not melt the base metal. the links. We had made a few U-shaped pieces in preparation for making links for our chain during out last session, but we needed to complete more of them – 12 in total – to have enough to work with for today. So we had finished four last time and then at home Rob did four and I did four to round out the dozen links we needed to start with.

So there are several steps to making a link, and we were nervous about how difficult they seemed. (Remember the quote: “Forge welding: The most difficult damn thing you can do!!” – said by someone who’s an expert!) But it turned out to be easier than we feared and went pretty well. Even our “mistakes” turned out good and we learned some good lessons from them.

While we worked much faster today, it was still nearly four hours of work to put the ears on eight pieces and turn out four figure-8 shaped links. Making the ears turned out to be the most fun, at least for me. But the feeling when you hit the metal when doing the welding is pretty satisfying too. You pretty much know if it’s a good weld or not by the feel. One of those things you can only learn by experience.

So next time we’ll get to take two of the figure-8 links and join them with a third link to start the actual chain. (You can see an example of that on the anvil in the pictures.) We may make some additional U-shaped pieces at home to get to the full 26 links of the Måstermyr chain. We ended the day trying to do the math of links. What we were trying to figure out is how many links are used as the chain grows. Because the start of a chain is two links joined by a third link producing a three-link chain. Then you make two of those and join them with another link, so you have seven links, etc. It looks something like:

3 = (1) +1+ (1)
7 = (1+1+1) +1+ (1+1+1) = 3 + 1 + 1
15 = (1+1+1+1+1+1+1) +1+ (1+1+1+1+1+1+1) = 7 + 1 + 7
31 = (1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1) +1+ (1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1) = 15 + 1 + 15

So I’m not quite sure why the Måstermyr chain wound up being 26 links, but we will have to have to work with an uneven set of links somewhere along the way if we want to re-create it. We intend to finish our chain at our next session, so let’s hope that joining link isn’t much tougher than welding the other ones.

Notes: Scandinavian Blacksmithing in the Iron Age

I took a few notes as I was reading a master’s thesis written by Sverre Christoffer Guldberg, “The Smith on the Edge of Worlds: New Perspectives on Technology and Ideology in the Late Norwegian Iron Age” in 2014 at the University of Oslo. This is not meant to be a summary of the document, but just my notes of things I learned or confirmed by this reading.

  • Viking-age anvils and hammers were on the small side.
  • Smaller pieces of metal were welded together to make larger objects.
  • Stones may have been used as anvils.
  • Viking-age anvils had horns and holes.
  • Pattern welded weapons were rare, but existed.
  • Crafting specialization was unlikely, meaning metalsmiths probably also worked wood, bone, soapstone, leather, etc.
  • Some tools were made of soapstone and it was a main material in tuyeres.
  • There was a type of shears that resembled a modern scissors but with arms bent upwards like a cloth-cutting scissors.
  • Saws existed but with low-carbon steel they were thicker and coarser. Some were meant to be used by pushing not pulling. Among other things, they were used to make bone combs.
  • A division between farmer smiths and (perhaps itinerant) specialist smiths seems supported by things like scales and dice in some graves.
  • Farmer smiths were more likely to be multi-crafters.
  • Weapons (not including axes and knives) were common objects for metalsmiths. Axes and knives were so common that they cannot be considered as weapons.
  • Shields and arrows aren’t really associated with metalworking.
  • In mythology, dwarves are exclusively connected to metal working.
  • The Old Norse word “smiðr” encompasses both metal and wood working and is probably better interpreted as “crafter” or “creator” rather than “smith”. The current use of the word “smith” has different connotations.
  • Smiths were likely part of the warrior structure.
  • Weapons production was decentralized as you could obtain weapons through the entire country.
  • There’s an old Anglo-Saxon calendar (sixth century) that describes October as the month for metalworking on the farm after the harvest.
  • There is a single mention of a female smith (smiðkona) named Þórgríma in the Harðar Saga. She was also considered a sorceress.
  • Egils Saga mentions a smith (Skalla-Grímr Kveldulfsson) as also creating poetry in his smithy.
  • Smithing was considered to be a proper skill for a king’s son.
  • The old Norse concept of “knowledge” or “wisdom” involved action, interaction, and experience. And smithing definitely involves those things. Our current understanding of knowledge and wisdom is much more passive.
  • Tools are found in both “rich” and “poor” graves. To quote: “you did not have to be a king in order to be knowledgeable, (- ideally -) you had to be knowledgeable in order to be a king.”

Next to Read

Carsten, 2012, “Might and Magic: The Smith in the Old Norse Literature” – a chapter in “Goldsmith Mysteries. Archeological, pictorial, and documentary evidence from the 1st millennium AD in Northern Europe” by Alexander G. Pesch, 2011

Apprenticeship Session 8

So we continued our work with forge weldingwelding Welding is a process that joins metal by using high heat to melt the parts together and allowing them to cool, causing fusion. Welding is distinct from lower temperature metal-joining techniques such as brazing and soldering, which do not melt the base metal., or at least prepping for it. We didn’t actually do any forge welding today. We are working on replicating a chain found as part of an archeological find in Sweden called the Måstermyr find. It’s a rare case of an entire toolbox full of blacksmithing and other tools. Doug showed us a book that documents the entire find and we may need to acquire a copy of it.

So we had practiced forge welding last time. This time we started to make the links that we’ll be forge welding into a chain. So since chains are made up of lots of links (26 in the Måstermyr chain) we started to take our square stock and forge it into links.

The first step was to make a mandrel out of a piece of round stock that would fit in the Pritchard hole of the anvil. We’re going to be using that to form the curves of the links.

So most of the day was spent bending the square stock into the u-shaped pieces that are going to be the basis of the links of the chain. It’s surprising how long it can take. Our skills are getting better as we learn to look with a critical eye and correct mistakes and just generally prevent them in the first place. Getting uniform curves and parallel, equal-length reins while not twisting or crimping them.

The most interesting technique of the day was using two tongs to pull on both reins to set the curve and pull them even. It was also a test of skill to get the kinks and bumps out and make sure the curve was symmetrical. We only got four links done between the two of us over four hours. I have to imagine this gets much faster with practice.

Apprenticeship Session 7

Forge weldingwelding Welding is a process that joins metal by using high heat to melt the parts together and allowing them to cool, causing fusion. Welding is distinct from lower temperature metal-joining techniques such as brazing and soldering, which do not melt the base metal.. Today we tackle forge welding.

Okay, we dabbled in this once before, but now we’re getting down to brass tacks. We started the session in the “classroom” – meaning Doug’s dining room table – with a lecture on how forge welding works and the various fluxes that are used to clean the metal. Forge welding is considered a “solid state” weld as the metal does not liquefy. It is critical to have clean surfaces to allow the metal surfaces to forge together tightly.

While all fluxes help clean the surface they each have characteristics that make them unique. There are some fluxes that are magnetic, which in theory sounds good as it would stick to the metal, but it doesn’t really seem to provide as good an outcome as some of the others. The cheapest, most readily available is regular grocery store borax which can work just fine, but it is “hydrated” meaning it contains some water. You can watch that water bubble off when sprinkling it on your metal. There is also an “anhydrous” version, meaning without water, that seems to be the most straightforward flux and provides the most consistent results. Personal preference perhaps, but that’s going to be our go-to for the day.

We also talked about the different types of metals available and how well they work for forge welding. The old, and now hard to find, wrought iron worked really well forge welding. Some of the modern materials still work pretty good, but there are others that don’t work so well at all. Rule of thumb might be that the softer the steel, the easier it will forge weld.

So once we finished in the classroom, we moved out to the forge to practice. We set aside working on links and just focused on practicing the skill of taking two pieces of square stock steel and getting them to stick together. Building the fire like an oven (that’s what in one of those whiteboard drawings) so that the steel can be surrounded on all sides and heat evenly is important. A forge welding fire needs to run hotter that most.

So once it is in place, the next step was to shove the square stock in and heat it up. Then when it was good and yellow hot, we pulled it out and applied flux to clean it up. Then back into the fire to heat up again. And after a bit, you can touch the two pieces together and they should stick to each other. At that point you’re just looking for a bit of greenish-yellow smoke to come off and maybe just a few sparks. At that point you pull it quickly out of the fire, straight to the anvil, give it a solid smack on the top side, flip it over, give it a solid smack on the bottom side, and then back into the fire. That basically just sets the weld. Then once it’s heated up to yellow hot again, you pull it out of the fire and over to the anvil again and give it a couple of good whacks on the top and a couple more on the bottom to really meld the two pieces together. Back into the fire once again, back up to yellow hot, back over to the anvil, but this time you can take it a bit slower to seal up the weld and dress the sides. You’re kind of past the welding part at this point and back to the forging part to shape it the way you want.


So enough practice. Rob had started a link during our previous session and we wanted to get it welded up.

So it was time to put what we learned to the test. We heated it up and followed the steps outlined above. It’s a little trickier to use tongs to grab the link than it was to use your hands to grab the square stock (tongs always makes things trickier), but the process of heating, fluxing, pounding, repeating was the same. After a few heats and some good solid smacks, it started coming together. Literally.

You don’t want to flatten or figure-8 the link too much as you’re pounding on it, so there’s a bit of finesse and being careful with hammer angles as you go. But if the weld is solid you can shape the link as needed to get it to the size and shape you intended.

So there’s one link done. Now to do dozens more so we can have an actual chain. I hear that you make separate links and then join two links by adding a third. That sounds easy enough, right? I guess I know what we’ll be doing next time.

Apprenticeship Session 6

With wreath season over and the craziness of the holidays behind us and all that brought to everyone involved, it was time to get back to the forge. So we had some half-finished candleholders that we needed to complete.

So we had left our candleholders in this state:

The half-finished candleholder from our previous session.

So what remained was to taper the stem and finish closing the socket for the candle. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, tapering the stem was the easier of the two but even that was a bit challenging because of the socket started at the other end. It was pretty easy to hang on to, but you couldn’t lay it flat on the anvil. So much of the tapering was done off the rounded edge of the anvil with 45º hammer blows so that you didn’t bend the stem. (I was doing it wrong for a bit and boy did it make a difference when I got that sorted out!)

So how to turn that fishtail into a socket? Seems odd, but much of the work is done right at the base of the socket or on the backside. By rounding the area at the base, the rest of the fishtail follows along and the edges just naturally close. To create the fishtail the work was done with the cross peen side of the hammer and on the table portion of the anvil. That only goes so far because you can’t get the hammer in there any more. That’s when it’s time to start working the base and backside on the top of the horn of the anvil.

Before, during, and after showing the round stock the half-made fishtail and stem, and the finished candleholder.

Rob put a twist in the stem of his candleholder, but I chose not to because I had a shorter stem and was really happy with the way it had turned out (and didn’t want to mess it up). It’s hard to believe that we started out with a piece of 5/8″ round stock and wound up with something that would look good on a dining room table. I guess that’s part of the magic of blacksmithing.

The finished candleholders. Rob’s on the left and mine on the right.

Rob finished before I did, so he started to work on our next project: a welded iron chain. We’ve done a few S-hook chains, but weldingwelding Welding is a process that joins metal by using high heat to melt the parts together and allowing them to cool, causing fusion. Welding is distinct from lower temperature metal-joining techniques such as brazing and soldering, which do not melt the base metal. the link shut is a new skill that we are both excited to learn. Forge welding is going to be challenging. But it seems the links themselves aren’t all that easy either. Since all good projects start with a plan, Rob and Doug sketched out a few parameters before they began.

The plan for the forge-welded chain

I missed out on a few of the instructions (I’m sure we’ll revisit them next time), but at the end of the day, Rob had a good start on his first link. Take a close look at the way the ends overlap as that was a new way to scarf the ends that we hadn’t seen before. Looking forward to cranking out a few more of these and then finally trying our hands at forge welding.

The first link for the forge-welded chain.

Apprenticeship Session 5

Because Goose Prairie Forge turns into Swenson Greenery for the holiday wreath-making season we were unable to work on our bellows, so instead we started to work on a Viking-age candlestick. While these were an everyday item in the Viking-age, they weren’t something that everybody owned. Not necessarily a nobleman’s item, but probably not something peasants would have. There are several variations, including one that looks like a spoon, but we were going to create one that looks somewhat like what you think of when you say “candlestick”.

So we started with a pretty big piece of round stock in a soft steel – probably 1045 or so. And the first thing to do is what? Hammer round stock into square, of course. Be we also began to taper that down a bit. Thing really got interesting when we flipped the hammer over and began to use the cross peen side to make what I can only describe as a fishtail.

A candleholder at the “fishtail” stage.

The goal was to get the fishtail to the proper size to fit around a candle, so we were looking for something around 1-1/2 inches at the end. It took a lot of hammering to get it into shape! Once the fishtail was big enough it was time to start giving it a curve. Still using the cross peen side of the hammer, the fishtail gets place on the table portion of the anvil and you start to hit it into the corner to get it to start to bend.

The fishtail is starting to wrap around.

That’s actually about as far as we got today, which doesn’t seem like much progress but hammering out the fishtail is harder than it looks and takes time. But we should be able to wrap these up next session. Can’t wait to see them finished!