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This is an archive of posts from August 16 - 22, 2012 on the Guru's Den
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Put Mosquitoe Dunks in any standing water- safe for you or the shop cat
   - Ron Childers - Thursday, 08/16/12 11:14:55 EDT

For at least 30 years now, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale has been offering BA and MFA degrees in metalsmithing which include blacksmithing.
Many of the top blacksmiths in America went there, including big names like Daryl Meier, Phillip Baldwin, Bernard Hosey, Jim Wallace, John Medwedeff. Mary Lee Hu, Steve Yusko, Jorgen Harle, Gary Nofke, and lots and lots more.
So how you could say no North American school covers all the right things sort of confuses me.
Obviously, there is ONE.

In addition, there great college classes in blacksmithing at Austin Community College, in Texas, and there are really good non-college classes at places like Pratt, in Seattle, and at the Crucible in Oakland Ca. and at the New England School of Metalwork, the John C Campbell Folk School, and at places like Penland, Peters Valley, and Haystack.

Teaching Blacksmithing at the college level in the USA has been going on for over 50 years at various schools, and its been refined and improved ever since. Classes are out there, and many of the best smiths in the country teach regularly. And almost every one of these classes is in an art school context, where most of the artistic concerns are addressed. The better programs, like at SIU, most certainly address business and career development issues as well.
   - Ries - Thursday, 08/16/12 16:05:07 EDT

"Art School Context" :
That is the key phrase. In my family we have over a half dozen art school graduates. They went to a wide variety of top colleges and Universities including a Masters in Art at one of the most prestigious art schools in the country. NONE received any instruction in how to do business as an artist or craftsman. NONE considered that students taking fine arts courses in a degree program might need to know how to make a living as an independent artist.

I've had discussions with them about this problem and its well known in the arts community that schools consider the subject of pricing one's work and knowing how to survive in business is a disdainful subject that is not taught or discussed. My brother with the Masters, who is a fantastically talented artist gave up art after decades of failure. He learned much too late that you cannot "buy in" to a field. If you start out charging too little for your work those rates stick with you forever. YES, you can gradually increase your rates but if you start at 1/10th of what you should (and need to charge) then you can never get to the point of making a living. I've known artists and blacksmiths to do this including one who was constantly in financial trouble even though he had plenty of work STILL insists that you have to "buy in" or pay your dues. . .

This is an extremely complicated subject in art where at some point skill, imagination and creativity needs to be rewarded at a higher rate than simple craftsmanship. That is, the talent should be worth more than the simple craft. But many artists start out charging rates that do not pay for materials and a living wage (based on reasonable expectations). They are doomed to failure.

A semester or so of "Business for the Independent Artist" would prevent the stereotype of the "starving artist".

These things are not taught in art school.

Mechanics are also not taught in art school. A few decades ago a young person had a chance of learning mechanical skills doing simple maintenance on their automobile, or working a construction job, or on the family farm. Autos have become too complicated for the classic backyard mechanic and part time jobs in the trades are much less numerous than they once were. We all know to be successful in this trade you MUST mechanize and that means skills in mechanics.


I am a great believer in the liberal arts system of education (which we are rapidly losing). It made the United States the greatest country on Earth with some of the most creative, inventive people on the planet. But its primary failure is that "how to make a living" is was never considered a part of the system and is still looked upon with disdain as a "dirty subject" in virtually all areas of higher education. How to make a living was something you taught yourself after graduation OR you went to work for someone else.

The problem today is that the costs of a higher education is so high that even the doctors and lawyers have a difficult time paying off student debt. This makes courses on occupational economics a serious political issue in institutions of higher education.
   - guru - Thursday, 08/16/12 18:42:30 EDT

Art Business : When I was getting my Metalsmithing BFA at Colorado State University back in the late 60's they did offer business courses taught through the art department, specifically for artists. They didn't offer a complete business minor, (as the BFA program is not one where you typically have a minor, but they did offer a few courses in business planning, simple bookkeeping and accounting and business ethics as I recall. I know that SIU offers similar, if not more extensive business courses for their art majors. If I was asked to recommend a place to go for learning metalsmithing, my first recommendation would be SIU, every time. There's a reason that they consistently produce successful metalsmiths.
   Rich Waugh - Thursday, 08/16/12 21:04:26 EDT

College of Building Arts : There is www.buildingartscollege.us in Charleston, SC. I don't know a great deal about it, but they teach traditional iron forging and they have business classes. I think the emphasis is on restoration and preservation.

I think U Mass may have a blacksmithing setup.

I have taught brief workshops at a number of universities where they did not always have a blacksmithing program...usually sponsored by the Arts Departments:
Newcome/Tulane, New Orleans, 1973
RIT, Rochester, NY, 1974
Southern Illinois U, Carbondale, 1978
U of Michigan, School of Art, 1980
Southern Illinois U, Carbondale, 1981
Calif. Polytechnic, San Luis Obispo, 1982
Tennessee Technical U, 1983
" " ", 1984
Montana State U, Bozeman, 1985
SIU, Edwardsville, IL, 1987
Colorado School of Trades, Lakewood, 1992
And so forth, and so on. My degree is in Sociology & Anthropology. Go figger.

   Frank Turley - Thursday, 08/16/12 22:40:56 EDT

Starving Artist/Blacksmiths : Over 50 years ago, an old friend, the late Harry E. Smith of Toledo, Ohio told me of an old saying which stated that a smith will surely go to Hell if he (a)Hammers cold iron or (b) doesn't charge enough.
   - 3dogs - Friday, 08/17/12 12:03:26 EDT

All schools are different- but many art schools these days are responding- I have literally dozens of friends who teach at various art schools, and, more and more, they discuss what they call "professional practice"- which means how do you make a living.
I get college classes coming to my studio every year, from 2 or 3 local colleges and universities, and, more and more, they are discussing real world issues like business.
Certainly, it would be great if they could actually teach you how to make a living- but they are at least starting to address the issue in most art schools.

But returning to the original question, of how to learn to be a blacksmith in college, I still say SIU has the best program in the country for that, and you can certainly learn a lot about the various ways that other blacksmiths are making a living by attending there, as its a crossroads for alumni, visiting artists like Frank, or me, or Mike Bondi, or many other blacksmiths who are there teaching, giving slide shows of work, or just visiting.

If you want to learn how to make a living as a blacksmith, there is nothing better than talking to blacksmiths who make a living- and between the Metals Museum in Memphis, and SIU, a lot of em pass thru all the time.

I would agree that college is very expensive- I have two kids in college right now myself- and that for many, art school is not a great choice- but there is something to be said for a school that has experienced teachers, a great facility, connections to many blacksmiths out there in the world, and a range of graduates that do everything from jewelry to sculpture to ornamental to mokeme gane.
   - Ries - Friday, 08/17/12 12:35:16 EDT

Lead : Sorry I haven't been on the site for ages. I have been too busy. Old lead goes white. How can I get the effect quickly?
   philip in China - Saturday, 08/18/12 09:49:40 EDT

Kids in College : Ries- a favorite story (stopmeifyouhearditbefore) is when my eldest daughter went to UMBC.

Bad news: Your daughter is going to be a Drama Major!

Good news: She's a TECHY! She did props, sets, lighting, etc.

She learned to weld and saw and fabricate. She did some great sets and even some work for the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian. She ended up as Master Carpenter at Signature Theater. She never had her name in lights, but she had a steady paycheck and benefits. She now does facilities management for a private company, and some free-lance metalwork.

You just never know when and where practical talents will come in handy. As I told the National Park Service: we ARE the infrastructure.
   Bruce Blackistone (Atli) - Saturday, 08/18/12 13:45:51 EDT

Artists as a business person : Prof. Layne Goldsmith teaches a unique class at the University of Washington School of Art; “Commissions: The Artist-Client Process” that uses the design, manufacture, and delivery of a custom rug to illustrate the realities of being a professional artist. Students must apply for admission to the class, and if accepted, are matched with a real client that will receive a custom rug. From the course syllabus (abbreviated here): “An Uncommon Learning Opportunity …to expose students to career skills that are valuable to practicing artists that explores a career path followed by many artists, and fills a need that has been repeatedly voiced by arts alumni. By the end of the course, students will have participated in all phases of the commission process and will have learned many of the issues associated with the execution of an art commission. Coursework also covers small business development, business planning, copyright issues, fair trade and labor related issues, environmental and labor issues related to production.”
My wife and I were early clients and noticed that building a business plan was not emphasized in the class. We were asked to present a session on building a business plan and have had the pleasure to give that presentation four more times since then. We show how a typical a business plan is developed and include an exercise on building a simple profit and loss statement. The students are very receptive, take the homework exercises seriously, ask great questions, and have a surprising interest in the real world of art as a profession. Additionally, the UW Business School offers electives in Finance and Entrepreneurship they can take. I’ve given the same presentation to my local guild of professional woodworkers and was surprised on how few have a business plan, or are paying close attention to the financials.
What is the link to blacksmithing? Phillip Baldwin is Layne’s husband and understands the need to train would be professional artists in being professional business persons.
   Bob - Saturday, 08/18/12 14:07:55 EDT

Lead : If you are determined to piss about with the toxic heavy metal lead..
The white patina you desire can be created by applying weak acetic acid, vinegar will do and apply and repeat as it deies until the desired whiteness is obtained.
Mind you this is a shortcut, The white oxide surface will be softer ( easier to scratch or rub off) than a time oxidised surface.
I dont know any other method thats a shortcut to the white oxide of lad you desire.

Warning !! Once again, Pissing about with lead is not good for you or the environment, ( I know it was done with the most cavelier manner for decades, But thats no good reason to be careless now)
Please use the utmost care and dispose of the waste & etc. correctly.

   - Sven - Saturday, 08/18/12 20:02:19 EDT

Lead : Would any other acid work better? Here I can get pretty well whatever I need.
   philip in china - Saturday, 08/18/12 21:27:01 EDT

So, Sven, if I get that right, pissing on lead will have no effect either?

   - Nippulini - Saturday, 08/18/12 21:43:48 EDT

The Wikipedia article on "white lead" has some more information. If that's what you're looking for, it's not a simple oxide; it wouldn't surprise me if acetic acid is crucial to the process. Apparently carbon dioxide must be present as well.
   Mike BR - Sunday, 08/19/12 08:19:53 EDT

Lead : Acetic acid will form lead acetate on the surface, I suppose. Vinegar is 5% acetic acid, so that should work since CO2 is readily present in the atmosphere. It probably won't be a real speedy process, no matter what - lead is a pretty stable element, compared to many metals.
   Rich Waugh - Sunday, 08/19/12 10:17:09 EDT

White Lead : I know lead forms different oxides under different conditions and I've only seen natural white lead oxide a few times. Generally it was in closed spaces such as between layers of wood (very old architectural lead).
   - guru - Sunday, 08/19/12 12:24:21 EDT

Running on Empty. . . :
My primary PC that I just rebuilt a few months ago (new Mb/memory. . ) just died AGAIN. I'll be scarce until its back up again. Tons of data to rescue. . .
   - guru - Sunday, 08/19/12 12:27:07 EDT

Layne usually brings a class by my studio, and my wife's adjacent studio, once a year or more. We just had them up in May. This was not the rug class Bob describes, but another undergrad art class- and they regularly visit real working art studios where artists are, one way or another, making a living. This is exactly the kind of thing I am talking about, and its much more common these days than it used to be, in many colleges.
   - Ries - Sunday, 08/19/12 15:52:10 EDT

white lead : I've gotten white lead on a box of .454 caliber pistol balls that were shut in a wooden box for a year or so, but the traditional way of getting it as a pigment is to suspend thin sheets of lead over a tub of vinegar. It's the vapor that does it, no need to dip it in. It is lead acetate, known in old books as "sugar of lead" because it apparently has a sweet-ish taste. It is not recommended to test this, of course (grin!).
   Alan-L - Sunday, 08/19/12 15:59:10 EDT

Lead Oxides : Lead also has an oxide that is red - triplumbic tetroxide according to wikipedia. I didn't remember the chemical equation, but did remember that it had a red oxide - used to be used for painting round steel gutters for rust prevention.
   - Gavainh - Sunday, 08/19/12 23:21:51 EDT

Alan got it on the head! It's about diffusion, similar to placing iron next to a cup of acid. On the MagicCafe forum, I am constantly expaining to people who want to age their props how oxidation works. There's always some uneducated fool who claims "just soak it in acid". I have to come in an tell everyone that that will only clean the steel.

It seems here that wood may trap CO2 with the natural acids in the wood to get such a patina.

Quench north in oxblood.......
   - Nippulini - Monday, 08/20/12 08:38:08 EDT

Acid in the shop : Paw-Paw had an UNOPENED gallon of contractor grade muratic acid (low quality dilute hydrochloric acid) sitting on the floor of his shop (which I have "inherited"). Being unopened I paid no attention to it. But a year after setting some tools on a bench above it they were so corroded that I had to grind 1/16" (2mm) of surface of them to restore them. Several feet away, a box of drill bits and driver tools that was cracked open had hundreds of little tools with rust that looks like they had been left out in the rain. . .

All this damage (and more) was done by a closed container with the paper/foil seal under the cap still intact. . . Nasty stuff.

The jug of acid is now stored outdoors. . . however, this will not last as it is a typical plastic container that will eventually crumble from UV exposure. . .
   - guru - Monday, 08/20/12 10:00:24 EDT

True Patina and TIME :
If you carefully study old items you realize that genteel corosion over time is far from uniform. Items that are not finished inside become uniformly rusted where artificially aged will be bright. Rust spots will be scattered on select surfaces that were perhaps not well prepped originally but absent on other surfaces. The rust spots will have a concentrated center and fad into the surrounding area, some as stain, some as slow progression.

Other items may have rust on the top or bottom (depending on the location and climate) but less so on the oposite sides. Rust is often more severe on the bottom of bars where sunlight does not dry condensation or rain water as quickly as the surfaces in the shade.

Dirt, grime, wear occurs on some surfaces and is often completely absent on others. The person aging an item rarely leaves one surface in near pristine condition. . . Or distresses one much more than another.

All these phenomenon are difficult to reproduce artificially. To do so requires great attention to detail and artistic dedication. However, forgers generally can fool the majority and that is all they need to do. Most do not expect to fool an expert or microscopic examination. Just the average (or even semi-expert).
   - guru - Monday, 08/20/12 10:16:16 EDT

Heh heh, "forgers"... aren't we all forgers here?
   - Nippulini - Monday, 08/20/12 14:53:54 EDT

us anvil : Is it possible that Columbian hardware made some of them-i sent a pic of a 36lb US anvil-compare it to the 36lb columbian in your gallery-thanks vern
   Vern - Tuesday, 08/21/12 09:22:38 EDT

BTW, I won blue ribbons at the 2012 Middletown Grange fair last week. One for my figs (yes, they are amazing), and one for an iron rose I made (Bill Epps style). One night, the blacksmiths demo area was shut down, I peeked in and dropped a penny in his forge. I made sure it was conspicuous enough for him to see it the next day. I sure hope it made him chuckle. (from what I've HEARD, a penny does nothing in the way of effecting forge welds, from what I've READ, it does).
   - Nippulini - Tuesday, 08/21/12 09:26:04 EDT

US anvil :
It is definitely the same pattern as the small Columbians. It absolutely is not any type of Hay-Budden,
   - guru - Tuesday, 08/21/12 10:37:07 EDT

Copper in the forge :
It is a myth that copper in the forge will prevent a forge weld from sticking. It used to be common that copper and spelter brazing was done in the forge along with forge welding.

Congrats on the Blue Ribbons.
   - guru - Tuesday, 08/21/12 11:08:29 EDT

Copper can migrate intergranularly in steel causing problems if the hot enough steel is in direct contact with it long enough IIRC.
   Thomas P - Tuesday, 08/21/12 13:00:50 EDT

Copper in direct contact can cause problems, but the guy who taught me how to make tomahawks made a point of tossing few copper pennies into the forge before every (successful, I hasten to add) weld just to annoy the old timers.
   Alan-L - Tuesday, 08/21/12 14:20:51 EDT

I can tell you with 100% certainty that copper doesn't effect forge welds. I'm reasonably sure it doesn't even affect them (grin).

I have, however, had problems with hot cracks when copper on the floor of my gas forge coated thin material that I was working at welding hear.
   Mike BR - Tuesday, 08/21/12 21:03:04 EDT

Little Giant Clutch Adjustment : I have a 50# old style LG, and lately it has gotten a bit jumpy on engagement and disengagement of the clutch. Linkage is good, but the wood blocks are shimmed poorly, and the bolts that hold the wood blocks are not uniform in position. I want to re shim it and get it running smoothly again. Any help with correct clearances etc greatly appreciated
   Tim in Orygun - Tuesday, 08/21/12 22:24:03 EDT

LG Rear Clutch :
Tim, The problem usually is one of two things. You need to oil the clutch surfaces more. OR, the bearing in the pulley has worn and due to not running concentrically it grabs due to aligning itself on the clutch blocks. .

To adjust the blocks you would shim them so that they made equal contact with the pulley (when in the engaged position). But if the pulley bearing is worn this is counterproductive. If its only worn a little you could get away with checking the blocks at the sides (horizontal axis) rather than vertically but you could not adjust for concentricity.

It always pays to make first class metal shim sets in advance of a job.
   - guru - Tuesday, 08/21/12 22:47:37 EDT

Pennies in the Forge : Hey, it's 97.5% zinc anyway, so you would have to throw in about two dozen current pennies just to equal one pre-1837 pure copper penny!
   Bruce Blackistone (Atli) - Wednesday, 08/22/12 09:32:41 EDT

Oops! now I feel bad..... zinc poisoning! Yikes.
   - Nippulini - Wednesday, 08/22/12 10:55:53 EDT

Copper is toxic as well. You can get heavy metal poisioning from buffing copper, brass, bronze. . . But the real bad boy in this group is Beryllium used to make hard springy beryllium bronze used for springs and non-sparking wrenches. Fine dust from it causes pneumonia like symptoms followed by death.
   - guru - Wednesday, 08/22/12 12:10:14 EDT

Lest we forget : Cadmium will kill you just as dead as any of the others a generally quicker and with smaller exposure. Nasty stuff!
   Rich Waugh - Wednesday, 08/22/12 12:27:45 EDT

Basic rule for my scrap pile is "rusty metal only" with a small amount of stainless steel allowed on a technicality. Plated stuff is not welcome. I give any that finds it's way to me to the scrappers!
   Thomas P - Wednesday, 08/22/12 13:27:55 EDT

Blacksmith leg vises : Do you have any idea what these vises would sell for? I have a customer that's looking to sell one of these. I'm not sure make or year...just looking for a "ball park " figure.
Thanks, Susan
   Susan - Wednesday, 08/22/12 13:40:04 EDT

Susan, Blacksmiths leg vises have ben made for some 400 years or more and are still made. They come in sizes from 30 pounds to 250 pounds in 5 and 10 pound increments. Use vise prices vary from $50 to $500 depending on size and condition. New have sold as high as $1500. In their hey-day they sold by the pound and were so standardized that most do not have a brand name on them. Dating the majority of them is very difficult.

On average they sell for $125 to $175 for the common ones in the 50 to 75 pound range if in good condition. However, the market prices for these are low considering their value as a tool.
   - guru - Wednesday, 08/22/12 15:12:04 EDT

railroad rail anvil : Hi, I'm still pretty new to blacksmithing. Litterally everything I know I've learnfrom this site. Since I started I went from using a sledge head for and anvil to a large cylindrical piece of scrap I found. I recently found a piece of railroad rail about two feet long. It looked really really old. I'm pretty confident in grinding a horn on it and cutting the hardier and pritchle. But the problem is it is really pitted. I can grind the pits out but then I don't think it will be level. So my question is, does anyone have an idea on how I can make it level again without sitting with a block or belt sander for hours of leveling. I thought about taking it to a machine shop to get them to mill it but the only shops around me want an outrageous amount of money. Any suggestions would help. Tux and sorry for the long explaination.
   thomas - Wednesday, 08/22/12 20:32:13 EDT

railroad rail anvil : Hi, I'm still pretty new to blacksmithing. Litterally everything I know I've learnfrom this site. Since I started I went from using a sledge head for and anvil to a large cylindrical piece of scrap I found. I recently found a piece of railroad rail about two feet long. It looked really really old. I'm pretty confident in grinding a horn on it and cutting the hardier and pritchle. But the problem is it is really pitted. I can grind the pits out but then I don't think it will be level. So my question is, does anyone have an idea on how I can make it level again without sitting with a block or belt sander for hours of leveling. I thought about taking it to a machine shop to get them to mill it but the only shops around me want an outrageous amount of money. Any suggestions would help. Tux and sorry for the long explaination.
   thomas - Wednesday, 08/22/12 20:34:40 EDT

RR-Rail anvils :
Thomas, look at our article on Making RR-Rail anvils

The reason all of these are turned on end is that rail is very springy and makes a lousy anvil for forging. But when you put the mass in-line to the blow, there is no spring and the mass becomes very efficient. YES, the target or work area is small but it is no smaller than the "sweet spot" on a 100 pound or so anvil where 99% of the work is done.

Grinding by hand can go pretty fast with a heavy angle grinder OR a small 4.5" angle grinder with a coarse fast cutting wheel. They make various types of wheels for these grinders. Long lasting wheels cut slow and are better for polishing than cutting. The fast cut wheels do not last long BUT replacing them often is cost effective compared to your time (no matter how you value it). I've seen smiths take 1/8" (~3mm) or more off the entire face of a large anvil with a hand held grinder. . .
   - guru - Wednesday, 08/22/12 21:59:04 EDT

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