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Grape or Cherry Dies

Hand or Power Dies for Blacksmiths

Rick Carballo (rickyc) asks:

Do you have any good ideas for making grapes?

The fellow that said make them solid is right. If you have a power hammer (even the junk yard variety) its easy. Its not too bad with a treadle hammer, but serious work by hand. Even for a dozen or so of something like this I stop and make a "clapper die". Two blocks of steel with a piece of flat bar for hinge and spring. Mild steel works fine unless you plan on forging several thousand!

grape clapper die

I'd go with a two stage die. Remember that your dies generally need to go through the same processes that you would by hand or you get "flash" to trim OR the flash gets folded and you have what are known as "cold shuts". They don't change the appearance of the part but can be places for corrosion to start or may weaken the part.

The first impression would neck down (fuller) the bar in one direction (rotate the work like you do under the hammer). The second impressions would be for "finishing". If you make it so you can clamp it to your anvil you will have both hands free. If you use a power hammer OR a treadle, you don't need the free hand.

Dies of this type can be made by forging or machining. I've shown the "punches" used to make the impressions. They too can be mild steel and should be quenched or "super quenched". If you make them of tool steel draw the temper to a straw yellow. All the working edges around the impressions should be radiused with a file or die-grinder. Since I have the capacity to machine this kind of die I might do it that way OR use a combination of machining and forging. It would be easier to forge the egg shaped impressions, then carefully align the two and machine the "necking" groove.

The spring "clapper handle" can be made of 1" x 3/16" bar or 1" x 1/4" (25mm x 6mm) bent in a "U" shape. The length should be a comfortable handle length. That works out to be about the right amount of spring. Bigger dies would need heavier "spring handles".

Its been suggested to make at least two different size impressions for grapes. This is a good idea to help make them look more natural. You can also make them all the same in a die and adjust some by hand.

Its also been suggested to use steel bearing balls and brazing them. McMaster-Carr sells plain carbon steel balls that are cheaper than bearing balls. They also sell balls in a variety of materials.

power hammer grape die
Power Hammer Grape/Cherry Die

This die can be made as a bottom only using a flat mating die OR as matched dies. As a single die the depressions are twice as deep and require a little more rotation of the work to produce a clean forging. (Modified BigBLU combo die shown).

- 1998 Jock Dempsey, DEMPSEY'S FORGE


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