Before the machinist, there was the Blacksmith...

Doc's Alaskan Forge & Blacksmith

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I've been interested in blacksmithing for many years, and recently managed to assemble the proper equipment so that I'd be able to give it the proper go. In early 2007, I aquired a well-abused anvil, a bucket of hammers hardly worth the name, a second bucket of marginal tongs, a Champion 400 blower in good condition, and a Cole vise.

The Cole is a poor substitute for a good leg vise, but has it's uses (it's more portable than the one on the welding bench) and I had no interest in using coal for a forge, so the Champ was sold to another amateur 'smith.

I rehandled the better third of the hammers, and in addition, in a fit of passing but not uncommon insanity, built myself a somewhat more personalized hammer from a cheap flea-market dreg. Next, lacking a good Oak stump, I made a proper stand for the anvil, and built the first of my own design of atmospheric propane burners, using only stacked yellow firebrick as a poor but at least functional forge.
Due to their weight and thus shipping costs, anvils are fairly rare up here in Alaska, so it was worth the effort to repair this one, rather than simply buy a better one.

Over the course of many months, I applied MIG welds to rebuild the broken and blunted horn, and to bring the badly dished table back up to snuff.

The main face, after much research and not a few experiments, I repaired using the TIG and some screen-door springs from the hardware store.

No, I'm not kidding.

The spring wire is probably 1095, or about .90% carbon, and small beads essentially self-quench to file-hard. No special hardfacing rod needed, just lots of patience, a good TIG, lots of argon, and a couple of $2.25 screen door springs. And a good belt-sander with lots of elbow grease.



Once the anvil was back into shape, the poor stack-of-firebrick forge was next. I'd aquired some Kao-Wool, and devised a plan for a simple and easy propane forge. A simple tray of scrap angle iron, some expanded metal, and a couple of tabs, a single yellow (hard) firebrick, two layers of KaoWool in an arch, a simple chunk of scrap sheetmetal as a cover, and a few scraps of shear leavings to bolt the burner to. The burner is my own version of the typical atmospheric style, with a large (and as it turns out, greatly oversized) intake bell, a jet made of stainless instrument tubing and the usual .024" MIG tip, and the whole mess finished with a few scraps MIGged up front as a shelf/rest.
A little experimenting with pressure, jet placement and choking off the intake (masking tape!) and the new forge, less than three hours since I started, was up to low yellow heat and burning clean.

I have since added sheetmetal chokes to the end bell, alowing better on-the-fly adjusting as the forge heats up, and the second-gen will have a smaller bell to start with.

Once the newer burners are built and proven, I plan on making a somewhat more proper forge, but at the moment, given my current low skill level, what I have is more than sufficient to practice with.



Some highlights of the anvil repair:
Spalled crater at the heel, almost 3/16" deep: Going, going, gone!
Grinding away the rust and pits in perparation for welding.
An early experiment: Rusty and chipped, most of the rust ground out, roller bearings used as filler rod, welded and ground. The bearings worked well, giving a hard bead and little tendency to crack if not built up too far, but were very, very slow to use. The screen-door spring actually seemed to provide a harder weld, and was considerably faster to use.

The anvil turned out to be a 140-pound Peter Wright, dated sometime between 1885 and 1910. It has a "tool" steel face forge-welded to a wrought-iron body, in my preferred classic "London" pattern. It had clearly had a long and hard life, with extensive use by large burly men with biceps larger than either their hat size or IQ.
The bulk of the face is still original (albeit slightly thinner than new) and my repairs are nearly as hard, so I have confidence it has decades more life in it.

I've had many people suggest that I "blunt" the point of the horn, to reduce the chances of injury. My reply is usually to point out that, as a blacksmith, one is already using large and heavy clubs to beat on pieces of yellow-hot steel, while standing in front of a raging fire, in order to make things like knives, axes, fireplace pokers, nails and swords.

A pointy anvil is the least of your worries. If you can't avoid jabbing yourself in the thigh on your own anvil horn, I suggest taking up a different line of work.



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Wanted: 25-lb Little Giant, larger anvil of similar quality to this PW, 5" or larger leg vise, useful tongs and hammers. E-mail for more info.