Happy holidays!

A bearded sea Barron who bares a slight resemblance to a young St. Nick has been bashing out frames for Christmas lights.
Being the scraggly pirate Blacksmith I am.. making some really cool things out of metal is the best way to spend the holidays.. you may know I love working with steel. If festive decoration is your thing “The Holiday light store” carries lots of fun stuff like Santa shimmying down a chimney (animated legs a flailing), reindeer, castles, planes, trains and helicopters… dolphins and pumpkins with Santa hats, presents, golf clubs (Yes!), Santa’s and elves of every variety.. Dinosaurs… a horse, candy of all sorts and more! You’ve got to see it. Even a whole wild west town complete with jail, church, saloon, bank and stables. Custom pieces to boot. Check out the website – The Holiday Light Store! Those of you in the NC area be sure to visit Hill Ridge Farms for their festival of lights.

Joy to the World
Joy to the World
Statue of liberty
Statue of liberty
Musical notes
Musical notes

misc5 misc4 dragon 3d-star fish castle peace china joy to the world whodat crawfish pot hearts misc2 misc merry christmas reef barn moose the king

Another masive project was this 3 piece extinct herbivore
Another massive project was this 3 piece extinct herbivore
Designing a making dinosaurs has been a real highlight for me
Designing a making dinosaurs has been a real highlight for me
I didn't do it
I didn’t do it
Playing around
Playing around a bit with candy cane parts



Swinging the ol' ball pien
Swinging the ol’ ball pien
The deer making jig.
The deer making jig.
I felt patriotic.
I felt patriotic.
Merry Pumpkins!
Merry Pumpkins!

I got to help out around the forge and anvil at the Joel lane house again this month for their Christmas open house
Joel lane house Christmas open house
Solvar, Erica and I demonstrated flint striker forging and heat treating.
Solvar’s advice to new smiths.

Yates mill demo

I had a fun time this weekend attending an event at Yates Mill in Raleigh with Solvarr! There was good food, lots of corn talk and music. If you’ve never been there, the lake is beautiful and the mill is a marvel.

The highlight of my day was getting to help out around the forge. I demonstrated how I make one piece steel roses.

I wish I had a photo of me working, but sadly I forgot to ask. If Ashley was there’ she’d have taken twice as many photographs. Alas I love to swing a hammer not take pictures. She’s been busy lately and has even started he own blog!

With out further adieu Yates Mill:

I love places like this.
The first thing I wanted to do was to look at how the water wheel ran.
Water was controlled via a steel level. I’d have loved to see this part forged!


The water wheel.


Here is a better shot. You can hardly tell the hurricane nearly destroyed this area in 1996.


Some of the surrounding buildings were neat. I enjoy old wagon wheels.


I know I can’t be the only one fascinated my bits of old machinery!
Am I?.. yeah guess you’d have to be there. This stuff was neat to examine.
Solvarr had his forge set up, and that was my main reason for going. A couple of other folks helped out and it was nice talking shop and seeing how others work!


I didn’t bring a lot of my stuff, but I brought some stuff to sell, most of the neat stuff isn’t mine =P
These bellows are just really fun to work with.
All in all I had a ton of fun, and it was nice to sit back and enjoy some music near the end of the day.

You can see a great picture of the mill drive system here. And the inside here. It’s nice to see the past still present.

Building the trench forge, and a dirt cheap clay recipe.

This may not be the fastest forge to build, but it was worth the time. These ingredients have been used on all my clayed forges. The secret is slowly curing and really rehydrating the kitty litter before hand:

A dirt cheap recipe for fire hardening clay in forges— Works great for projects big or small; I just winged it loosely off of some other recipes. This is an approximation. That was modified as I went along and needed more. I just went for something that “looked right”.. not that I knew what that was. I started off drier and got wetter to keep the large mass from cracking:

-1 20lb Bag kitty litter (the unscented bentonite clay kind) is barely covered with water in a wheel barrel.
-Add three full shovels of sifted red ground clay. (Sifting is really just a formality, but it should be done dry.. if it’s from a deep enough hole.. like a charcoal barrel pit then it’ll be well clumped and moist almost pure clay)

-Stir it all together and wait at least 24 hours. Occasionally stir to make yourself feel productive. =P This will soften the clay pellets as they absorb the water. Additional stirring will make sure all the mix stays wet. (The weather was mild, but cool at night when I did this so use less water in winter, and possibly more in summer)

– Once about half the standing water is soaked up or evaporated. Then add about equal parts wood ash and kitty litter to the mix until it’s to the desired consistency. For a single layer about an inch that’s something that clumps together in your hand without crumbling.
This mixture should to cure very slowly.

I would apply it in about one inch thick layers around firebricks letting them dry 24-48+ hours in between. I used a heater and halogen light at night because it was getting into the high low 60’s. I’d check on each layer to keep the outermost “skin” moist. The goal was to avoid lots of steam from the inside escaping and cracking a dry outside. After many layers were applied I waited maybe just over a week with 75-degree heat and air movement. Then I built a small wood fire in my new forge. I built it up to a nice sized fire taking up the whole forge over a few hours and then let it burn HOT for half an hour before letting it slowly cool.

This forge wasn’t a single afternoon project, but it’s served me for a long time now:

I used coal in the forge, but wasn’t really happy with it compared to charcoal. I may try it again with coked coal now that I have a nice supply.
The PVC goes to a steel pipe.
The end can be used or the lid can be opened.
I’ve actually loaded a lot of wood on top of charcoal. The heat with out a lot of O2 (with the lid closed) can allow for charcoal production while forging. But sap is something to consider with green wood.. And be CAREFUL when opening the lid us a fire rake or pair of tongs, the flames will flare up.
The entire leangth of the forge can be used or clay can also be used to block off air holes in the pipe.

A tip with all clayed forges used with coal is to leave a thin layer of ash in the forge, or even apply a layer mixed with very little water. This will help prevent clinker from bonding with the clay. Instead it bonds with the ash.

Hardwood charcoal or bamboo charcoal are what I prefer to use n the trench forge. But coal can be used in a pinch.
Some relative information on clay:
Clay when used in bladesmithing for heat treatment.
I went on a quest to find out the science of how clay hardens… Instead I found debate!
I’ve been introduced to some new vocabulary that is very interesting: Sintering.

Joel Lane house on the fourth of July

In lieu of a lengthy post I’m just sharing some photo’s from a demonstration my wife and I had a chance to help out with at the Joel Lane house in Raleigh, NC. Their fourth of July celebration was a lot of fun, great music, lots of crafts and good food. If you’re ever in the area give them a visit. The museum is a lovely place. The grounds are wonderfully maintained and attractive. A very friendly group of people working together to keep history alive and it’s mostly done by volunteer efforts so if you drop by consider making a donation.

Working the bellows and hearth.


Forging a small leaf


Here you can see the portable bellows and hearth. Great craftsmanship on the bellows.


The atmosphere was great and pleasant on the ears!


The smell of stew was enough alone to draw a hungry crowd cooked up in true mountain man style over an open fire.
There was calligraphy with quill and ink.
The writing was truly elegant, I wish we had a better photo.


A chandler at work making candles.
Some of his goods and tools


Splint weaving was just one of this gentleman’s talents, he’s also a talented blacksmith I was later informed.


Thank you to the Joel Lane House and museum staff/volunteers for making such a great holiday celebration possible, and especially Mr. Campbell for allowing me to help out around the forge.


I wouldn’t have had most of these photo’s if it wasn’t for Ashley, my lovely wife’s help. She was everywhere at once it seemed helping wherever she could and taking many more photos than I have time to share! Thank you sweet heart.


Bamboo Charcoal Making

Some hippie stuff from a long-haired country boy and scraggly pirate:

Before I get into the pictorial I’d like to talk about the blacksmith and the environment. I’m not an environmentalist per-say, I try to be environmentally aware though. Nature and I get along; and I’d very much so like to think of her being able to take care of my great-grandchildren. Every day most everyone on the planet is burning something in some direct or indirect way. Us metal working folks probably gobble up a bit more than our fair share of the pie. Unless you can acquire an induction heating method and sustainable green energy source to power it then you’re probably destroying our ozone. Bad blacksmith, bad! Manbearpig is hiding under your bed right now waiting for you. In all seriousness though it’s something to consider. I’ve been using a lot of coal recently because of its price. Coal releases an awful lot of co2, from the massive amounts of fuel used to mine and transport it all the way to the end-user. Industrial coal use is regulated with emission standards, but I regularly send pillars of soot aloft. It isn’t a renewable resource so I’m of the opinion it should be used sparingly and in the most efficient way possible. Natural gas is more expensive but much easier to use and far better for the environment than coal, but it’s infrastructure still promotes the burning of fossil fuels and it’s expensive. Neither source of BTUs directly prevents co2 sequestering like harvesting trees solely for charcoal.
Bamboo is a very quickly maturing plant, that grows densely. I can harvest it by hand locally making it very co2 efficient for me. In the grand scheme of things it’s a drop in the bucket. But the overwhelming size of a problem shouldn’t be discouraging. It should be encouraging. At the risk of making an unfair parallel… I’d like to know how the same mentality would be applied to first aid… I’d hate to show up at the hospital with a huge open gash only to see the doctors focus on patients with small scratches because my problem was too severe.

Bamboo is a great plant to have around. I’ve made cane fishing poles, tomato plant supports, trellises and our pear tree even gets a helping hand with the weight of its yield. When I was a child bows, arrows and tents were what bamboo was made for! It’s speedy growth can be a blessing or a curse, our little bamboo forest has easily more than quadrupled in size over the past ten years and it’s encroaching on the foundation of my studio. We keep it cut back, but it’s kinda like throwing water on an oil fire. This year we cut a deep pocket into the bamboo for a garden in the rich soil cultivated from years of compost.

We gave some bamboo away and used a few pieces. But most of the downed canes were left to dry in the air and sun. Kept off the ground by their limbs it didn’t take long for them to turn from green to a tan/brownish color.

A safety note. Please read
: bamboo has many hollow pockets that allow pressure to build up and cause small explosions. I haven’t found these to be dangerous personally but I do like to at least give problem pieces a thwack with a machete length wise to reduce these pops. Once during the burn a large pop was enough to rattle the barrel a bit and under the wrong circumstances I can imagine danger occurring. It should go without saying, but fire is inherently a dangerous tool and should be used with the utmost respect.
There are better ways to do this but this is how I’ve managed so far.

Charcoal time!

The barrel has holes and slots in the sides and bottom to allow for airflow. I keep the dirt from the hole for use later.
The barrel should fit into the hole loosely and deep enough to eventually cover the air inlets with dirt.
In the past I’ve filled the barrel and then started the fire. It’s really the best way, but it can be frustrating to get lit. This time I started a small fire in the bottom of the barrel and then quickly packed as much bamboo in as we could. (Jon Mills was kind enough to help me out during the burn) Long handled shovels were very helpful for wedging the canes in.
Now if you didn’t pack the barrel with fuel before lighting a fire you may want to block off the air from the bottom of the barrel midway through the burn. allowing the top to catch up.
I use a large steel pot with 4 small holes in it to cap off the barrel.
I cap it off once the fire is really going and wait a bit till the smoke is notably lessened. Once I’ve decided all the steam and smoke has signified an apex of the burn I block off the mouth of the pot. Then I clay up the holes around the base of the pot.
I didn’t time things but the entire burn was less than an hour and a half if I had to guess. Not all of the bamboo passed the crumble test. But it’ll simply be used to start the next burn.
While we were waiting for the charcoal to cook I set up a log and passed onto Jon what I’ve learned about throwing axes, knives and toss and stick spikes. Jon picked it up quickly and he was real proud of this lucky double stick.

Some more bamboo fun with out all the carbon emissions:

Working with bamboo tips

Other bamboo crafting ideas
A bamboo bike (Really neat!)
Bamboo beer? This site also has a lot of interesting info on bamboo and even co2 but it seems a tad bias.

Charcoal links:
Charcoal chemistry
Microwave charcoal without the co2? Cool! Something tells me shouldn’t try this one at home.
A video of a large-scale home wood charcoal burn.
A video of a fairly small-scale conversion of wood to high quality charcoal.

Co2 emission info:
BTU, co2, and price information for home heating.

Info on types of household energy consumption as well as energy info for different types of wood, coal, gas and oil.
Think humans don’t cause the bulk of co2? Some folks think volcanoes are examples of nature producing co2 at a greater rate than humans, but science tells me they can’t even come close to comparing to our carbon footprint
How much more carbon does bamboo sequester than trees? 35%.


So hot steel leaves wilt

It’s been darn near a hundred in the shade lately. But I’ve been trying to stay hydrated by the forge. I’ve been practicing leaves. And well I have some more stuff for the ugly side of my next installment the good, bad and the ugly. But I liked these from the other day:

hand forged leaf hooks


leaf hook start
leaf hook start


leaf hook fire welded
leaf hook forge welded


leaf hook hole prep
leaf hook punch prep
leaf, ballpein, tongs, holdfast
leaf hook punch
hand forging leaf hooks
leaf hooks in the works


NCABANA meeting chisel, charcoal brazier, and tongs

I had a great time hanging out with guys of NCABANA at Eric Campbells shop! He demonstrated his approach to a Mark Aspery style chisel. Anyone who wanted too could make one too! He had a couple crowbars and I had a chance to try my hand at one myself. Here is a picture of it rough forged:

He also gave us some insight to how he makes his charcoal braziers.

Some open forges were set up and I spotted some tong making and had to snap some pictures:

I look forward to next time!


Time to make the donuts.. err cutlass

I woke up this morning and on my way to the coffee maker I could have sworn I saw a familiar face walking by me muttering about the donuts. (I’m not even old enough to remember that commercial, how did it become part of my pop-culture memory bank) Hehe burning the candle at both ends is worth it though!

I can’t wait to share the finished product!
I’ve also got another rose in the works. Wish me luck when I get back to it!


Tiny tongs from RR-spikes.

Here they are polished up a bit. (touched with a worn sanding wheel and wire brush)
They’re more pliers when they’re this size. They’re functional as is but I want to flatten the grooved jaws a bit and give them some more decorative flair. A gift to my grandfather.

They hold 1/8″ round firmly.

Until next time…
To see the finished tongs, checkout the next post on tongs.