2016 October 9 Tech Metal & Shop
Recently I bought a metal toolbox that needed some TLC. The toolbox was full of junk, debris, filings, etc.. The drawer slides stuck badly. And one of the drawers made an awful oil-canning sound every time it was opened. Hey, it was two bucks!
The previous owner had installed drawer pulls made from stubby 3/8" carriage bolts. It was difficult to get a grip on these; the thin edges made them not very pleasant to use.
While fixing up the toolbox with a file and some gear oil, I got an idea. Why not make new drawer pulls?
In this article, I attempt to learn one of the basics of blacksmithing. Read along and (hopefully) my fellow beginners can learn something too.
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In This Article
Thoughts About Gear
Backyard Tool Kit
Hammering It Out
Thoughts About Gear
Blacksmithing is more than just hammer, anvil, and tongs. There are many situations that call for swage blocks, drift punches, rivet headers, and other tools. If you're like me, though, maybe you want to get up and running in a single weekend. With blacksmithing that's a bit challenging, but it's not impossible.
Give this article a read for some ideas on equipment, from the standpoint of low budget and not a lot of space. If you have the budget and you think there's even a chance you'll get serious, I would strongly suggest that you get a real anvil. In fact, I would just order one of these. They're made of forged steel, they're brand-new, and they're pretty much the best anvil you can get. You won't have to deal with someone else's dings and rounded corners.
In a sense it is like film photography, in that if we keep only buying used stuff, the market for new goods will dry up. Buying new sends a message that says "Hey, we still want these." Manufacturers won't make stuff if no one is there to buy it. If any art is to flourish, it needs a market supplied with newly-made goods.
And besides, lately I'm seeing a lot of overpriced, heavily-worn vintage anvils for sale. Chips, dings, rounded edges; I've seen many that required extensive restoration, when it's even possible.
A lot of people are getting into blacksmithing. I would say it's trendy, but it's not really trendy. Learning to make stuff is timeless.
Backyard Tool Kit
It's possible to pound out some metal without the right equipment, as I've learned. It's not ideal, but it can be done. Disclaimer.
AnvilMy "anvil" for this project was actually a short section of H-beam. It's clangy, it has almost no rebound, and it's somewhat unpleasant for prolonged use... but yes, it will actually act as an anvil for light forging. One great thing about it: because it's made of steel, it won't crumble as a cast-iron "ASO" would.
Sometimes you can find steel I-beam or H-beam anvils through this link.
HammerFor this project, an eight-ounce and a twelve ounce ball peen hammer are just about perfect. They're still necessary even if you have a proper rivet header.
I've learned that a light hammer is best for upsetting the metal to make a rivet head. If you use a 1-lb hammer or something heavier, too much of the upset will be where you didn't want to fatten the metal. (The shank has to stay roughly 3/8" in diameter, because later we're going to cut threads into it.)
The ForgeI used a propane torch and several scraps of firebrick. One of these types of torches will work great. Regular plumber's torch does not get hot enough.
This mini wood-fired forge with some charcoal and a hair dryer would be way better, I think, but here's how I managed to get by for now. Stack some pieces of firebrick scrap so that you have an inside corner with three sides. Even better, lay a piece of firebrick diagonally across this, to close in the top. Now, hold the end of the workpiece in that little corner and heat it with a propane torch. (Do this outdoors or something.) It will get hot enough to forge.
A more repeatable solution, if you use a propane torch, would be to get a ready-made mini propane forge. There are already pre-made ones that are not that expensive, and it will save you a lot of time that you'd spend having to make your own.
TongsIf you don't have a rivet header, you're basically going to be holding the rivet with tongs while you hammer. I found that 500mm blacksmith tongs were kind of unwieldy for this. Locking pliers were also a bit clumsy. Sometimes you have to re-position the grip very quickly before the rivet cools. A set of 300mm tongs would probably be good for this job.
The Rivet HeaderMy backyard tool kit doesn't include a post vise. My bench vise would probably crack again if I tried forging stuff in it. So, the vise is out for this round.
Solution? I drilled a 3/8" hole in the steel H-beam section. This will be our "rivet header" for now.
By the way... you'll need some 3/8" round stock for this project. I'm finding this is an incredibly useful size for small blacksmithing projects.
Hammering It Out
"Upsetting" is the process of increasing diameter of a piece of metal. Generally you heat the end of the stock, then ram it into an upsetting block or an anvil. Or, you could use a hammer to do pretty much the same thing. Upsetting is tricky, because the hot metal tends to want to bend sideways. Be sure to read this great tutorial at Anvilfire. It mentions quenching the area behind the upset, which is a good idea that I should have tried.
Here's what I did. I don't know if this is even the right way, but it sort of worked. First I tried freehand-upsetting the 3/8" round stock by slamming the end of it into the anvil. This of course made the metal bend sideways, quite a bit. I hammered it back to straight as best I could. Process was repeated a few times. Once the steel was definitely much more than 3/8" diameter at the end, I dropped it into the "rivet header" so the wide portion was up top, where it could then be forged.
You forge the metal while it's still orange-hot. It cooled here before I could get the photo.
This took several repeats. If all goes well, eventually you will get something resembling a round rivet head.
At one point I tried bracing the lower end of the 3/8" rod while pounding on the top. I used a sledge hammer head to support it, because it's what I had sitting around. The problem was that the lower end flared out, which meant that it couldn't be pulled back up through the 3/8" hole in the H-beam after the forging was done!
You shouldn't really need to support the bottom end.
The main thing was to do the bulk forging with a 12-ounce hammer, then tap-tap-tap a whole bunch with a very light hammer to smooth it out. I wanted to make drawer pulls that had a hammered look, but not with huge flat spots. Maybe the result is not perfect, but they achieve the look that I wanted.
These are going to be drawer pulls for a tool box, so they will need some finish work.
Forming the round heads left some lopsided metal around the axis of the 3/8" rod. This is difficult to avoid. Really skilled smiths would probably have a way to fix this by hot-forging; I just ground it off on a bench grinder.
Both pulls have to be about the same length. I figured out what would be an ideal length, then cut them to that length.
After that, the shanks have to be threaded with a 3/8" NC die. (Offhand I think the correct die wrench is Hanson 11026
After threading, I'm going to weld or braze washers so the pulls will stay at the correct depth. Either that, or build up small welds around the diameter. This is one job where I might use 6013 rods in 1/16" diameter. (Not sure, though. I like 7018 much better.)
Then, the tool box will be ready.
This was a look at making hand-forged drawer pulls. Here I made them for a vintage toolbox, but you could make drawer pulls for almost any purpose.
These drawer pulls are basically solid rivets, without the other end that gets "set". Instead, that end just gets threaded. (Read Part 2 for that.)
Hand-forging rivets and small drawer pulls tends to be very labor-intensive. If you sell your work, it might be difficult to recoup the time-cost. The big challenge, I think, is that non-blacksmiths may not understand or appreciate the amount of labor that goes into these kinds of things. There was a day when even nails were hand-made, individually.
For a job like this, it's just nice to be able to make custom hardware. It's also good for improving your skills, not that I have such great skills... but this was a good learning experience.
This article has shown one way to make drawer pulls or round-head rivets, with minimal equipment and learning curve. If you found this article helpful, please help me out by purchasing your stuff through these links. Your support is greatly appreciated and is the only way I can keep this website on-line and adding helpful articles to it.
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