Friday, March 16, 2018

Seeking the 'Three Wise Men'...

Knowledge / Skill / Experience

This commentary is framed up against a number of similar first contact requests and questions I've had over the last month (especially).
"My 12 year old (son) has been watching 'Forged in Fire' and is keen to learn blacksmithing. Is there a one day course you teach?"
Or some variation on this theme.

No. No. No.

Right off:
Go and read 'Teens as Students'
then come back to the rest of this...

Knowledge can be had through study.

'Extensive research' is often suggested - this most commonly stated as 'hours spent on YouTube'. You watch 'Forged in Fire'? See my commentaries on that mess.
Problem there is complete lack of 'peer review' and commonly no attempt at all at to indicate the background of the presenter. Everyone is an 'expert', even if they don't actually have a clue! Status is indicated by 'click views' - not by actual achievement level.
(I went to YouTube, and did a general search using 'blacksmith knife' *)

See the title? FORGE a knife.
• The illustration of the forging process is only the first 5 minutes of a 25 minute video.
• The forging process illustrated are not so much wrong - as poorly carried out.
• The hammer technique used is horrible. Too heavy a hammer, grip choked up as a result. Thumb on top of the handle (will lead to tendon damage).
• The heat treating is effectively minimal, certainly not 'best practice'.

Ok, the presenter is attempting to simplify, de-mystify, encourage...
But :
• Briquettes are not the same as charcoal.
• Scrap wood will not produce effective forging temperatures
• Sure, you could use a small piece of scrap plate. Or a rock.
The core purpose of an anvil is *flat* and *stable*. None of the alternatives suggested are effective (even if that small plate had been bolted down to a wood stump - it would have been massively more effective!)
• A woodworking claw hammer? Seriously??
Sure, you *could*. (In Africa, I've seen video of using a fist sized rock as a hammer!)
There is a *reason* metalworking hammers are a different shape. ** 
• "I've only been forging for about 6 months"
Draw your own conclusion...

My overall recommendation:
• Do not start inside YouTube.
• Go to accomplished blacksmith's personal web sites.
See what kind of work they are able to create. How long they have been involved.
Find those with practical experience, proven ability : then look for those who may include tutorials.
• See recommendations on effective reference books for the novice blacksmith

Skill and Experience are somewhat linked.
But they are not exactly the same thing.

Skill is developed though simple repetition.
You have to do the thing, to become any good at the thing. Make 100 long points - and you will become effective at making long points.
Now just how fast a given individual will become effective at a physical task can vary a lot between individuals. Consider how long it took you to learn to ride a bike, or accurately throw a ball.

Experience is a wee bit different.
This is the 'well, that worked a lot better' factor. I can tell students that digging in the front of the hammer while making points will speed the process. How much to increase speed, but also not so much that you create creases you have trouble removing? Just exactly which hammer style and weight works best for you - for which forming step? An individual has to just get the feel for all this for themselves.

I normally suggest the most effective way for a new smith to progress is :
• take a basic course - by a well experienced instructor ***
(so you have some clue to what this is about and how to start)
• get simple working tools set up at home
• take another weekend course
• practice
• repeat, repeat

* Lest you think I am attempting to pick on specific individuals, these are the very first selections presented on the defined search.

** In the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto) is an early Egyptian hammer for metalworking gold or copper. It is a square face with a cross peen, about the same size as the hammers I have in my shop. Date is roughly 3000 BC (predates human iron by at least 1000 years!)

*** Inside Ontario, there are three individuals who each have been teaching since the mid 1980's - and who continue to offer a range of weekend courses:
Obviously myself (!) at the Wareham Forge
David Robertson (
Robb Martin (
Both the others are also excellent teachers, and will approaches their programs (and content) a bit differently. Also a differnent range of scheduled dates that will give more options.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018



I am upgrading my own air hammer to a heavier weight, both built by David Robertson of Hammer & Tongs Studio. (go here for description)

To that end, I (HAVE SOLD) my current air hammer (Imperial measurements) :

50 lb head weight
• built on ABANA 'lift / drop' system (by R. Kinyon)
• requires separate (larger) compressor

This video shows me working on railing elements using this air hammer

This hammer is 'rated' for working up 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 inch stock.
I have worked material as large as 1 1/2 x 4 (admittedly - slowly!)

click for larger views for all images

Side view
3/4 view
front view
• Base plate = 30 deep x 22 wide• Total frame height = 88
• Total weight (approximate) 450 lbs

Closer view of working area - plastic safety shield down
- working height = 33 1/2 (floor to top of lower die)
- throat clearance = 12  (back edge of die to frame gap)
- die size = 3 1/2 x 1 1/2
- total stroke height = 9 inches
(note effective working gap between the dies is really about 4 inches)

close up of the die set up
The dies are currently set up with the bottom die having the rear half with rounded edges (to act more effectively for drawing out) See the close up image.

- head block = 4 x 4 x 10 inches
- cylinder type = heavy duty hydraulic (replaced the original lighter duty air type)
- cylinder shaft diameter = 1
- cylinder interior diameter = 2
- supply hose length = 5 feet (as existing - from compressor)
- foot peddle type control, on roughly 4 foot hose (to allow for standing back when working longer bars)


- input air control (water trap, gauge, oiler)
- full air lines (compressor to hammer)

additional die blocks made to fit this machine:
- 'Hoffi' style bottom 1/2 crown die (for spreading, seen used above)
- centre mount 'hardie hole' die block for one inch (would allow use of existing anvil hardie tools)
- centre shaft bottom die to front hardie hole (fits above)
- bolt in place front hardie hole attachment

This machine is basically 'plug and play' - fully working and ready to go.

- Requires a larger (40 gallon / 2 HP) air compressor for input air
- Air flow required is 10 cu/ft/min @ 90 PSI

It may be possible to take some of the pieces apart. Originally the bottom die block section bolted into place. This has been re-enforced with some welding - which likely could be separated with an angle grinder / zip disk. This support is made of two pieces of square tube, which I had filled with lead shot to improve the stability of the machine.

I have the machine mounted on a raft made of 4 lengths of rail tie, each four foot long. This sitting on top of four inches of sand. (All dug in to ground level).


(posting retained for history!)

Monday, March 12, 2018

Don't Call US...

... or how NOT to court a voter.

Readers may remember a couple of recent posts related to Carbon Loading, Policy, and Canadian Political Parties.

After that brush off from the Ontario Trillium Party (which instigated this whole thing) : I thought I would contact the other Political Parties.
Face it, there are elections looming first here in Ontario, and not so far off for Canada.

So this is the letter I drafted:

An open letter to Political Parties

There are elections on the horizon for Canada, and within Ontario. As members of the electorate, each of us will be attempting to draw some balance between the various issues brought forward, and policies intended, by the various Parties in contention. Each of us will have different items of greater or lesser personal concern, and in the end (hopefully) make the best choice possible between the alternatives presented.

I write to ask for specific clarification within a fairly narrow topic area:
Environment - specifically Carbon Tax.

I personally have held the value of ‘The Land’ as massively important for my entire life. I was involved, at least in a small way, in the Environmental Movement of the early 1970s. We most certainly where quite aware of the increasing human impact on our surroundings even back then. I most certainly know of my own life experience that at least the Weather patterns are shifting, locally, regionally and world wide. That the Climate is Changing is certainly a proven scientific fact. Just why this is happening may be open to interpretation. That human activity has had a measured impact, regardless of other factors, is also proven by both short term and long term records - demonstrable facts.
The truth that many of us were aware of this possibility, of the effect of human actions, for such long time, creates an ethical responsibility in my opinion. I will not reasonably live long enough to experience the worst of the Climate shift now clearly underway. That trauma will be born by the current generation of young adults. They will be faced with how to deal with the mess created, in large part, by the excesses of my earlier generation.

To that end, I see that efforts all of us, including Canadians, make now are clearly our responsibility to future generations. Now it has become the time to clean up after the indulgent party that is ended. Smaller inconveniences now may reduce massive efforts certain to be needed so very soon.

To my situation - and Carbon
(sorry this appears a bit long winded - but I’m trying to explain via figures)
I have supported myself as an Artisan Blacksmith, inside a small business operation, since 1992. I require the burning of fossil fuels to heat the forges necessary for this work. There still is no effective replacement for the use of some solid fuel. Please accept the science that weight of carbon X produces Y amount of thermal energy. A fixed amount of energy is required to undergo forging operations. Obviously this all is created by oxidizing (burning) the carbon fuel. (There are wiggle factors based on the operation of specific forge types, but this is the basic equation.)
I have made some attempts in the past to calculate exactly how much fossil fuels to carbon release I am personally responsible for in my normal operations. The calculations are arcane, with different fuels using different measurements, also switching between Imperial and Metric, Industrial and Scientific units. I am completely unable to account for the ‘raw source to workshop’ production or transport elements.


In my workshop, using the equipment available, I can generate the required temperatures by consuming the following (CDN $):

Propane = 9 kg @ $2.50/kg = $22.50
Bituminous Coal = $13.6 kg @1.20/kg = $16.30
Metallurgical Coke = 14 kg (@ ??)
Charcoal = 13.6 kg @ $2.50/kg = $34.00

However, this does not accurately reflect actual consumption over a working period.
Although propane may appear to consume less, in fact over a given hour, considerably more propane is burned (a propane forge is on 100% continually). It also does not reach the same peak temperatures, so takes longer to reach forging temperatures. So coal consumption is actually lower over the same working task / time. Also with coal the air blast (so burn rate) on a coal fire is continually shifted on and off.  This beyond the clear reduction in ‘cost per hour’ for coal use.
This certainly may be balanced by mining and delivery costs - the coal is trucked up from West Virginia. Propane from my local farm co-op location.
So, in a typical year of operation, I normally consume the following totals :

Propane = 365 kg
Coal = 450 kg
Charcoal 135 kg

This makes for a total CO2 loading of  2,007 kg (so two metric tons CO2 = about 450 kg carbon )

* Charcoal could be utilized here as an alternative. Although the needed wood could be considered ‘renewable’, the creation of charcoal itself produces significant amounts of various green house gasses. Trees could be re-grown with enough time (decades), so potentially at least use of charcoal avoids releasing fossil carbon. There is considerable ‘low ball’ in these numbers. Charcoal does not produce a high a total temperature as the other fuels, so in fact takes longer to reach temperature, in turn effectively consuming more fuel per hour. In practical terms regardless, the raw cost of the needed volume of charcoal as a replacement makes too expensive as an alternative.

In comparison, I travel considerably related to my business operations. A typical year would see me consume about 3000 litres of gasoline, which itself generates roughly 7000 kg CO2. (About 1575 kg carbon!)


Given that I fully support the implementation of some form of ‘user pay’ carbon tax.

Given that my business related carbon loading is a total of an estimated 2025 kg (carbon). Of which 450 kg applies beyond gasoline use.

What is the intention of your Party, moving forward currently, or beyond winning the next election?

Importantly, how will this policy apply directly to my situation?

Thank you for your patience in wading through this message.

Darrell Markewitz
Wareham, Ontario (lower Grey County)

PS - A related secondary factor may be my use of a home wood stove.
My home, constructed in 1987 came equipped with electric baseboard heaters only. Living rurally, there is no natural gas available. I might be able to renovate for propane central heat, but the building would not easily accommodate this system, and the cost would be considerable.
I did install a air tight wood stove in the upstairs main living area, which easily cuts my yearly electric bill (seasonal heating aspect) by at least 50%.
I consume roughly 3/4 a standard bush cord (4 x 4 x 8) of hardwood each year to accomplish this.

Carbon cost??

If you read the last posting here 'Carbon Loading at Wareham', you can see where that raw data came from.

I sent a copy of this letter out to each of the four main parties here, to the Ontario and the Canadian levels (so Progressive Conservative / Liberal / New Democratic / Green) - a total of eight separate copies. This was done through the 'contact us' information on the individual party web sites. In most cases this function is a 'form fill' on that web site.

This was done on Monday February 26.

I got 'auto reply' responses (ie: 'Thank you for your inquiry') back that same day from: National NDP / Ontario NDP / Ontario PC.

It has now been two full weeks.


Now, I'm quite willing to cut the Ontario PC party some slack, given the mess they have been going through over the last two weeks!

But everyone else?
Beyond those few 'robo-responses' there has been nothing. 

(Especially GREEN - given that is is a core issue for your Party. And that I did send a second follow up to the local Ontario candidate directly.)

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Carbon Loading at Wareham

This is not the first time I have attempted to get some handle on the amount of Carbon Loading created by the Wareham Forge - and my own personal life :
(7/7/2008) Carbon and the Forge
(12/4/2015) Carbon Loading

Please take it as a statement of principle that I consider *my* generation (end of Baby Boomer) has been mindfully negligent, self indulgent and irresponsible in terms of the impact of our collective lifestyles on the Environment. 
Although I have little alternative to the use of fossil fuels for my chosen profession as Artisan Blacksmith, I clearly know that I must pay some cost for doing so.

CARBON at Wareham

Forge Fuels:

Propane = 365 kg
Coal = 450 kg
Charcoal 135 kg

This is a typical amount for my year’s operations.
- Coal is bituminous coal, source is West Virginia. It is shipped via truck to Robb Martin’s in Floridale (near Kitchener/Waterloo) and I drive down to get it from there. Typically I purchase about every 18 months.
- Charcoal is ‘Maple Leaf’, which is maple, produced in Quebec. It is purchased at my local Home Hardware.
- Propane is purchased at my local Co-Op, loaded into my own 40 lb cylinders.

Gasoline :

Two vehicles :
1998 Honda Odyssey / 2 litre x 4 cylinder @ 14,500 km
2008 Jeep Grand Cheroke / 3.6 litre x 6 cylinder @ 16,900 km
Total Consumption ≠ 3000 litres

The total fuel consumption given above is honestly a bit of a WAG. I took the total dollar amount for the year and divided by 1.10 (as the rough ‘average’ cost per litre over last year).
- In 2017, there was a major trip out to northern Newfoundland. This amounted to over 6000 km on its own. This kind of distance only happens once every 2 - 4 years.
- With travel to the USA now eliminated, it is expected that consumption for 2018 will be sharply reduced.

Air Travel :

For the last decade, there have been several business related trips to Scotland. Roughly every second year. Last year the flight was Toronto to Edinburgh / Aberdeen to Toronto.
Total Air Distance = 10,700 km

Air travel is a huge greenhouse gas generator. These working trips have all relied on grants or travel costs supported by the hosting institution. There is no air travel expected in 2018. Hopes are strong for a return to Scotland in 2019 however.

Other Carbon Loading

Workshop Consumables:

Includes tools, sundry items, materials, research related 
Total consumables = $7300 *

I have no realistic way to assess the carbon impact of my purchase of things like raw materials (primarily steel) or durable goods (tools, books) or disposables (paint, sandpaper).


In the workshop, I have several major electric tools:
- Compressor - 2 HP / 220v
- MIG Welder - 220v
- Hydraulic Press - 2 1/2 HP / 220v
- Table Saw - 1 1/2 HP / 220v
At best any of these are operated for 'less than 50 hours' over any given year.

As mentioned above, the building at Wareham uses electric baseboards.
Only a small part of the workshop is heated (!), about 200 square feet, with temperature set at roughly 8 C.
The main residence is roughly 1800 square feet, on two levels. The construction is basically frame with exterior wood planking, with 6 inch Fiberglas in the walls. The second floor ceiling has been upgraded to 10 inch Fiberglas. The main heating is controlled by two separate set back thermostats. The lower (studio / entry / library is normally set at 12 C. The upstairs great room is set at 12 nighttime, 18 day time. Of course the wood stove used on most days increases that temperature past the electric setting.
In addition there is an electric water heater (admittedly now 30 years old), with extra thermal wrapping.
One big electric element is the well pump (easily the highest use after heating).
All the major appliances are electric.

Total Electric Consumption = 11,000 kwh

Note that in Ontario, almost all the electric generation comes from nuclear (60%) or hydro (30%), with natural gas supplying only 8% of the total.

Wood Heating :

My home, constructed in 1987, came equipped with electric baseboard heaters only. Living rurally, there is no natural gas available. I might be able to renovate for propane central heat, but the building would not easily accommodate this system, and the cost would be considerable.
I did install a air tight wood stove in the upstairs main living area, which easily cuts my yearly electric bill (seasonal heating aspect) by at least 50%.
I consume roughly 3/4 a standard bush cord (4 x 4 x 8) of hardwood each year to accomplish this.
Wood Consumption ≠ 1090 kg

'Administration' Costs:

Some fractional amount would apply to things like:
- Communications (internet & phone service)
- Bank service charges, mortgage
- Insurance (business / home / health)

I have no realistic way to calculate my small element of the operations of Bell Canada, my bank, or my insurance broker.  Some calculators place huge carbon loading on to things like mortgage payment amounts (??)

Personal Purchases:

Into late middle age, the number of personal purchases I make is extremely limited:
- Electronics are only replaced as they fail (as infrequently as possible!).
- Clothing as it wears out (mostly work clothes, typically second hand).
- I am almost legendary for ‘shopping at the dump’, the majority of household items are scrounged, second hand or self built.
- Food purchases may be an element here.
Typical monthly food expenditure is about $250 / $3000 yearly (and that is for two of us)
Total Personal Expenditures (all purposes) = $4700

One carbon footprint calculator placed my total amounts at consuming 35% ABOVE the average for other residents of Ontario. Others have suggested that my loading is considerably BELOW the average.

If any readers can suggest a useful - and realistically accurate - carbon footprint calculator - I would certainly appreciate a reference!

* 2017 figures used throughout

February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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