Fly Press Tooling

Posted: December 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

It has been a busy summer and fall. We have been working on wildfires and prescribed burning projects, but things have finally calmed down enough to get some metal work done. I am making texturing dies for the fly press, mainly from 1045 medium-carbon shafting – 1″ round bar.

Most of the dies are worked hot, and then finished on a metal lathe. Others are done completely on the lathe. Most of these tools will be used on hot metal.

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These were cut with the lathe, and then hardened using a brine quench.

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Some are hand-filed or cut on the lathe and then forged.97

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The flower is built from rods and hand-filed. Negative was faced on lathe.99

Next step – using these for some projects.

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Fly Press

Posted: February 28, 2015 in Uncategorized

We just got a new tool set up in the shop. It is a 1930s Norton Fly Press, made in England.
We are using it to make tooling, and will be using it to forge hot and cold iron.
Here are a few first experimentations using it to form blocks of hot steel into rounding dies, and a make hot-cut hardy chisel from a jackhammer bit.

Some tooling that we’ve made for it so far:
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Kitchen Tools

Posted: November 20, 2014 in metalwork
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Into gift season, and it is also the time of year that we usually get a goat from my brother up in the hills. Breaking the carcass down to quarters is pretty straightforward, but when it came time to cut through the spine, all I had at hand was a boys axe.

I thought that I could do better.
Here is a functional carbon-steel cleaver crafted from scrap.

Blade is cut from 1080 high-carbon steel, from an old tractor disc. Full-tang handle.

Textured using handmade punches I made last fall

Walnut handle made from local wood, rivets are 16d nails. Finish is beeswax and pine pitch, from some boot grease that my brother learned how to make in Alaska.

My five year old asked if it is sharper than his axe, and if we can chop trees with it. It is very sharp, and heat treated to hold an edge.

An eye to hang, and hammered texture.

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Here is a smaller one, a little more manageable.

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This one is the first thing that we have made using the large rivets. They are known as ‘Loveless Bolts’, and we made them from common 5/16″ bolts.

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Next project, a general-purpose kitchen knife. This blade started its life as part of a massive bandsaw in the Collins Pine sawmill in Chester, California. After we got our hands on it, I cut out a knife blank, ground it to this shape, textured the blade, and then hardened and heat-treated it before final grinding.

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The handle is made from some local sycamore wood that I found at the ReStore here. It was very heavy, kind of a mystery-chunk. I ripped it into strips and used it for trim on some shelves, used a leftover scrap for this project. I gave it to my folks to replace the 40 year-old wedding present knife that they got from my grandmother. I like the rough texture on the handle, and am looking forward to seeing it age.

Wildland firefighting – an iron-age culture of backcountry ditch-diggers – has folklore borne of 50,000,000 hours of tool time. Young rookies must learn to keep their tool sharp and swing it safely all summer. Tool maintenance is reliable winter work for the fulltimers, many of whom learn to grind and weld. Wildfire stations usually have a metal shop, and over time, crews in each region have developed custom tools that work well in their particular fuel-type. Losing your tool is a serious ‘crew-foul’.

The clearest memories I have of seasonal work with the Forest Service all include tools: The sense of LOOT! upon seeing a jumble of beat-up, hand-me-down fire tools in the forestry cache at Bogard, Larry Vogan giving us hell for sharpening our Pulaskis without gloves on, Cedric accidentally throwing his machete at me, sharpening my Pulaski every 10 minutes while chopping ceanothus and on rocks along the Deerheart trail, or the public shaming I got when I stuck my Pulaski into a stump, sharp-end up, thinking it a clever way to hold it for sharpening.

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I just got back from 10 days on the Klamath River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (TREX), where about 40 of us practiced putting good fire on the ground, reducing hazardous wildfire fuels and restoring oak and conifer forests with a torch. Half the group were new firefighters. We were too busy lighting the woods on fire to talk much about tools, so it was kind of a free-for-all – we just grabbed tools off of the fire engines, or from the back of a pickup, but few of us had our own tools. I loaned out a nice McLeod and someone tried to use it as an axe, broke the handle.

The intention of the TREX program is to build local capacity for using fire to manage forested landscapes (how did the government come to own fire on the ground)? A decentralization of fire management empowers local communities to engage with fire on their own terms, but it also requires a level of thrift not common in our current fire culture. A set of personal protective equipment (fireproof clothes, a fire shelter, hardhat, and boots) can easily cost $1,000. A good radio can cost over $1,000, a fire rake costs over $100, a Pulaski fire axe is $80.

Luckily the Nature Conservancy showed up with a big stash of loot for us to use, but part of building a sustainable fire stewardship culture must include a means to equip a large number of backwoods restorationists with the tools that they need to do the work.

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Tools are also important for leaning on.

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This unit was so steep that most of the time I was using my McLeod as an ice-axe or a crampon.

A 20 person fire crew is a machine, designed to chop fireline 12 hours a day. Each person takes a whack at the ground and steps forward – ‘bump and lick’ – repeat. On our burning projects, smaller groups of people worked on a wide variety of tasks. A day’s work might include chopping fireline, putting in a hoselay, pruning branches, scraping moss off of an oak tree, running a drip torch, throwing some dirt on a hot spot, pulling back litter from the base of a large tree, scratching line around a slop-over, or mopping up a smouldering snag. There is a lot of solo work.

Working on the Klamath I had a few complaints about the different tools I was using.

  • Pulaski axe is great for chopping branches and grubbing brush, but the handle is too short for a long guy like me to use for very long.
  • A shovel is good for throwing dirt or cleaning up after a bunch of line-builders with Pulaskis, but not very effective for chopping fireline in rocky oak litter.
  • A normal McLeod fire rake is great for moving leaf litter, but lacks the heft to chop out brush or limb small trees, and the handle could be longer.
  • I got to use a Rogue Hoe for a while, but it also has a short handle, is pretty heavy, and is not very well balanced.
  • Combi-tools are great for mop-up, but not much else.

Now that fire season is finally on hiatus, I got back into the shop this week with a notion to prototype a multi-purpose fire tool that works for my body, and the Klamath mixed evergreen/conifer forests. Here is a first prototype of a mini-McLeod fire rake. Made from recycled tractor plow disc (which is actually high-quality ‘1080’ tool steel), it is designed to rake, scrape, limb, and grub.

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I was hoping to find a shape that would yield 4 blanks from a single disc, but this design only yields 2. After layout, I cut the rough shape with a plasma cutter and cleaned it up with a grinder.

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My favorite toolmaking projects require making more toolmaking tools. This jig is a bottom die for crimping the teeth of the rake. It goes under a 65# treadle hammer – you place the yellow-hot tool blank onto this, center each rake tooth on the jig, and then drive a fuller hammer down onto it.

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The initial blank seemed much too heavy – the disc is pretty thick – so I chopped the top half way down, then got it yellow-hot in the forge and crimped the teeth using the tool above.

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The hole is for the handle/socket to go thru for welding on both sides. The top edge is sharpened for whacking branches and chopping brush. The sides are ground for scraping.

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Heating a piece of pipe in the gas forge to use in making the handle socket.

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Tapering the handle socket on another custom tool made for this particular job – a cone mandrel made from lengths of round bar and old bolts. The cone mandrel has a 1″ solid shank on it that plugs into the hardie hole on the anvil.

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Finished tool with handle installed and thru-bolted. The blade is 1080 tool steel while the collar is plain/mild steel. When you weld tool steel, you have to preheat it to a cherry-red color either with a forge or torch. I tacked the collar into place, and then got both blade and collar red hot, and used 6011 rod in an arc welder to weld both sides of the joint. It is also good practice to draw a blue temper on the tines and cutting edge.

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The handle is an off-the-shelf hoe handle, with a tapered end – you could substitute local hardwood if you have it.

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Back it down, nice and easy. ^This is good McLeod ground. I am looking forward to trying this thing out.

The Broadfork

This is a non-forged, toolmaking project that I did a few years ago for some local farmer friends. Farming is another tool culture, and though I have less of a personal connection to farming, we like getting ‘custom’ for our homies, and they paid us in good food.

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Broadforks are used for turning garden beds. You use the weight of your body to drive them into the ground and pull the handles back to turn the soil over.

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While both the fire tool and broadfork projects used 100% salvaged steel and plasma cutting, the creative process was much different, and this one felt a lot less organic. Where the layout for the fire tool project used soapstone and a ruler, I designed the tines for the broadfork in Adobe Illustrator and had them cut locally on a robotic plasma table. The hardest part of the fire tool project was tapering a chunk of red hot metal with a hammer and a hokey homemade jig; the hardest part of this project was converting an Illustrator file to a DXF format that the robotic-cutter could understand. Many hours wasted, with little to show for it. I don’t believe that any time spent working with red hot metal is ever wasted. If I had to do this project again, I wouldn’t remember the file conversion steps, and it would cost me another day at the computer. No muscle-memory to be built behind a keyboard…

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Tines cut, ready to weld.

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Jigging up the tines for MIG welding.

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Ready for handles. I used ash 2×2’s, and rounded them with drawknife and block plane.

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The finished tool. It worked alright, but since we didn’t use tool steel for the tines, they are prone to bending, and it isn’t very good for hard packed or rocky soil. There is another tool company in town that makes nice broadforks. They have a nice shop and a steady crew. Theirs cost $200 – they are pretty nice. I don’t think we’ll be building a broadfork factory any time soon.

One of my favorite things about springtime in Chico is knowing that our wild Chinook Salmon are making their way up our local creeks.

I met the fish in the late 1990s when my friend Eric – who was living in Helltown, in Butte Creek Canyon – got me surveying work in the Upper Butte Creek Watershed. He invited me over to his place to swim with the fish, and I have never been the same since.

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Poolfull of Spring Run Chinook, 15 miles from Chico.

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The fish navigate the crazy hydrology that is the Sacramento Valley, swimming thru the Golden Gate and SF Bay, thru the Delta and up the Sacramento River, turning right into a canal that parallels a huge flood control bypass, past some gates that spill Butte Creek into a different part of the Sac. River near Colusa, thru duck clubs in swamps near the Sutter Buttes, between levees through rice fields South of Durham, over cobblefields leftover from hydraulic mining and gold dredging, and then into the tranquility and shade of Butte Creek Canyon.

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Some old friends have a place in Helltown overlooking the pool where the top two photos were taken, and over the years, they have introduced hundreds of people to the fish, and done an enormous amount of lobbying, politicing, and activism to help improve the odds for the fish. They asked if I could make them a metal Chinook Salmon and matching address sign for their place, and I finally had time this week to finish the project.

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Dorsal
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Tail
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Holding in the Shade
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Pectoral Fin
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Wanted the sign to match the fish

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Industrial scrap, with reflective road sign surpus that I found years ago at a fabulous crafting store in Durham, North Carolina

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Hammered scrap pipe

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Texture from custom punches
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Bullet holes for local flavor

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Picked up some industrial scrap in the form of discs that are left over when holes are laser-cut into plate steel. I wanted to make a candle holder/altar that can hold 3 large candles, so I made a couple of dies for the treadle hammer to use to shape the hot discs into bowl shapes.

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Final product

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I had another unfinished piece that was the result of an experiment to hot-twist multiple bars of steel rod and rebar using an impact wrench, so I cut that in half, and untwisted the open end to make a sort of tree candelabra.

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The top candleholder was sort of a ‘happy mistake’. I heated a 2.5″ disc and used punches and a ball peen hammer to texture it, then heated it again and used a large ball peen under the treadle hammer to press it down into a cut-off piece of 2″ pipe. It wanted to fold along the textured edge, and I love the way it worked itself out.

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Wasn’t happy with the clunky welds where the base meets the stem, so I added roots with a MIG welder and they looked like – welds… So I ground them down, like them much better. The grinding pops out the decorative punchwork, too.

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Roots

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New Fire Hose Tool Bags

Posted: February 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

Just made a couple of fire hose tool bags for our friend Dave Richer at Earthen Iron. They do ornamental metalwork and custom forgings, and need to lug a bunch of hammers, chisels, and clunky tools around to their various jobsites, and the old milk crate wasn’t cutting it anymore.

We made them two 6×20″ bags out of indestructible fire hose that nest inside of their rolling tool chest. One bag is going to be used for hammers and punches, the other for small tools. The small-tools bag has pockets for pens, small chisels, and bits.

These bags are 99% recycled. The only new material in them is the thread. $80/apiece or 2 for $150. Email us.

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