Thursday, July 30, 2009

Shooting Rest

While I've been making really good progress on finishing up projects - finally got the ceiling tile up in the parlor - I couldn't resist starting another one. I built a bullet trap for my 22 rifle a year or so ago so I wouldn't have to make a trip to the range when I wanted do a little plinking but I didn't have a rest to shoot off of. To sight your gun in, a rest is the only way to go. I made a trip to the Bass Pro store a few weeks back and looked at what they had. They had a pretty good selection both in styles and price range. Me being the consummate tinkerer, however, I figured I could make one and save myself a few bucks. Of course, I rarely put a value on my labor for a job like this because I just like making things.

The photo shows the parts I've got made so far. Quite a bit of machine work but I find this type of work much more enjoyable than a lot of the home handyman crap I've been doing. The remaining work is pretty straight forward - make the legs and the top plate, then weld things together. I'm going to fixture it up on a piece of OSB to keep everything lined up while welding. I should have it done in a few days, depending on the weather. This is a good rainy day or evening project. This would actually be a good project for a kid in a high school machine shop class if every one wasn't so damn touchy about guns.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Race Weekend

It was a pretty good weekend for my races. Even though I didn't have a lot of time for training, my time spent in the gym has served me well. I finished second overall in the two mile race walk and first in my age division in the bicycle race. It's not that I'm a stud, it's more like a big fish in a little pond.

Race walking is not real popular around here. There's a very active and competitive running scene but most of the walks are just for exercise and fun. Not that that's such a bad thing, mind you. Anything to get people up on their feet and active is a plus. There's a 5K run/walk in two weeks and I'm going to race walk that one as well. I need to work on my form a little bit. I think I could shave some time off with a little bit of work. It would be nice to have a little coaching from someone who knows what's going on but I don't want to get too serious about this anyway. At my age I'm never going to be a world beater but the racewalking is a little easier on the knees than running.

The bicycle race was lots of fun. It's part of a little festival and the people are very nice and professional who run the thing. It started exactly on time and they had the course patrolled real well. I faded a little at the end of the race but was pleased with my performance. I finished about 45 seconds in front of one of the boxers from the gym who came along on his really nice new Trek. He's just starting to get in shape and only had a few miles of bicycling under his belt prior to the race, so he did a real fine job. If he continues to train at the gym, I look for big things out of him next year at the Gloves. We both got spanked by the spandex crowd, which was expected, but the real surprise was the guy who came home in second place. I think the guy was 66 years old and finished about 20 seconds behind the winner. The guy was standing in front of me when they were handing out the medals, and I never would have pegged him as a bicycle racer, especially a really fast one. Chalk one up for the old guys!

Now it's back to finishing up some more projects before the start of my 34th year of teaching begins.

Friday, July 24, 2009


I finished my part of the cross the other night. It's made from 1/4" x 2" x 2" angle with 14 gauge stainless plates that will be riveted on after painting and engraving. Those are the "Pop" rivets in the detail photo I stuck in the holes to hold the stainless plates on for the photo. The finishing touches and installation are going to be handled by someone else. I'm pleased with how it came out, just sorry that it needed to be made. It's for a 21 year old former student of mine that got hit by a car. I'm working real hard to get my stuff done but I couldn't say no to this job.

The design idea came from a back issue of The Anvils Ring magazine. The quarterly magazine is one of the primary benefits of being a member of ABANA. I'm not a member any longer but should probably join once again. The dues are a little salty but if you're interested in either blacksmithing or art smithing, it's the place to start. They have a conference every two years that has some of the finest smiths in the world as demonstrators. Next year it will be held in Memphis the first week of June. I just might have to check that out myself. It's been a while since I've gone to one.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Downhill Fast

I saw this at The new Cafe (racer) Society.It's a GPV or gravity powered vehicle. If a guy lived someplace with a big hill, this could be fun. I went to the site where the picture originally came from and there was a link to the rule book for these things. We've only got about one hill in the whole county, so the chances of needing rules or these things catching on here are pretty slim but going downhill fast can be a gas - unless you're talking about your health, that is. I remember years ago when I was working for a blacktopping outfit, we were paving a driveway about halfway down this big hill. I looked up and some little buckaroo on a tricycle went whizzing by me with his feet kicked out to the side and a big grin on his face. The street turned a hard ninety at the bottom of the hill, so the little buckaroo just road it out into the weeds. He had to be going at least twenty by the time he hit the weeds, giggling all the way. He managed to get a couple of trips in before his mom figured out what he was up to and drug him home. Even though he knew he was in trouble, he was still smiling when she drug him past me.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fair Days

I finished my stint at the fair on Friday. The weather was so cool in the afternoon that people were wearing sweatshirts. Man, what a blessing for a blacksmith! I made a crowbar for a guy from a piece of 1"rebar. I wasn't sure when my helper was going to get there so I went solo on this one. I could have used a little help with the hammering but it came out looking pretty good. This guy had seen a crowbar made out of rebar and thought it would be pretty cool to have one made from a piece taken from an old dam from his area. Sort of an historical keepsake crowbar, as it were. I'm not sure how much carbon is in the steel but I hardened it up and drew a temper on it so if he actually uses it, it should be functional.

When I first started teaching it was pretty common to make crowbars in school. It taught you a litttle bit about forging and heat treating and you ended up with something that would last you a lifetime. The only tricky part is putting in the relief for the nail head on the bent end. On this one I shaped a piece of 3/8" square and drove the end of the crowbar down over it to form the relief, split the end of the bar with the hot cut and then opened up the tapered slot for the nail to fit in.

The other photos are of one of two candleholders I made. Pretty well covered both ends of the blacksmithing spectrum. Artsy-fartsy and industrial. Next year I need to make something for myself. I'm always making crap up for other people and don't really have anything that I can point to and say I made. I did finish the fireplace tools - at least the brush, poker and shovel. The Missus has been after me to make a set of tongs so I should do that if nothing else. I also need a stand for the tools. We've got some fireplace tools that came with the house and they're OK but I'd just as soon toss them out and have something of my own manufacture to use. Maybe that will be the job for next year. Or better yet, maybe fire up my own forge this winter and put it to use.

All in all, it was a pretty good week. It's nice talking to the people who stop by and Craig and I work really well together. He hammered out a wood chisel blank from an old file on Friday. I'm anxious to see it when he gets it done. We made a cross this week as well and as soon as I put the finishing touches on it, I'll post a photo.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Forge Weld

Things were a little slower than I expected last night at the fair so my helper Craig and I decided to try our hand at forge welding. The ring shown in the photo is 1/2" round stock that we scarfed the ends on to make a lap joint, got it hot, fluxed the surfaces to be welded, got it and hit it. Simple as that - a forge weld. You can see a little crack in the one edge that didn't quite fuse and I got it just a little too hot but not too bad for my first time. Craig made a couple welds on a piece of square stock that he folded the ends over back onto itself, a faggot weld if you will. The other pieces in the photo are a shovel and brush for a set of fireplace tools. I'll finish the poker today.

The tractor parade went off without a hitch as well. Lots of old iron for a small county fair. My older brother used to have one of those John Deere Model G's, I think. We had a couple of Case and Allis-Chalmers at one time or another as well. Lots of fun learning to run all that stuff when you're young. Of course, lots of opportunities to get hurt as well. No roll over protection or slow moving vehicle signs and most everyone knew someone that had lost a body part to a cornpicker or PTO shaft. The good old days, indeed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

County Fair

Things have been going pretty well at the fair. I started Sunday afternoon and there was a nice steady stream of people stopping by. The ringing of the hammer on the anvil is like a magnet for young kids and old men. Monday and Tuesday the traffic slowed down but still enough people to justify being there. I'm working this evening and there should be plenty of traffic due to the tractor parade and the nice weather we've been having.

The photo shows a couple of pieces we made up - a candle holder, one of three pieces for a trivet and the handles for some fireplace tools. The other photos are a little tractor porn for Unk.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Making and Painting

I've got the corn hole game about finished. I always blanch when I use that word - it had a much different connotation when I was a youngster. There's actually a web site called If that doesn't sound like a porn site, I don't know what does.

I cleaned up and painted the old milk cans as long as I was going to have paint in the gun. They look pretty good framing the doors on the shop. I've been painting pretty much anything that doesn't move. Sort of like the saying my Old Man had from his Army days. I need to split the hosta and plant some on the left side of the door for symmetry's sake.

Gearing up now for the annual stint at the fair. This will be my fourth year in a row of running the Blacksmith Shop. I work four hours a day, basically for my own amusement. There are several old buildings on the grounds, a log cabin, school, post office, and the blacksmith shop which is really a one car garage. The local historical society mans the other buildings and the Retired Iron club runs the blacksmith shop and displays a bunch of old tractors. Not sure yet what I'm going to make but my helper and I always have fun hammering and pounding. He's getting to be a pretty fair hand and he's an excellent helper. Not too many young guys are willing to work that hard just for the opportunity to learn a little something. I ordered some welding flux so we can try our hand at forge welding so we'll have to make something that's forge welded together - or burn up some steel trying.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bicycle Race

Photo from SandSpeedWales

There is an eight mile bicycle race in about three weeks that I'm thinking seriously of entering. I raced the same event about four years ago and it was a lot of fun. There was a mixed crowd of racers - serious and definitely not serious. I was second in my age group and I didn't really try too hard. I've haven't been able to race it since then because there was always something else going on. With the training I've been doing at the gym, my lungs are in pretty good shape. If I can get the legs to catch up, I should do well, at least by my standards. There is also a two mile race walk the day before the bike race that I want to do. I haven't done any serious walking yet this year, so I'll have to see if I can get enough training in to make it worth my while. Finding the time to train for one is going to be difficult enough but for two different types of events might be more than I can handle. Plus I'm going to be working the Blacksmith Shop at the County Fair next week. One nice thing about my athletic events though, when you have reasonable (some would say low) expectations, you can't be too disappointed with the outcome.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The 3 T's or Two Dollars and a Blister

I've been busy the last few days machining parts up for several different projects. The top two photographs are the brake carrier I made for the midget. I was originally going to put a scrub brake on it but decided it deserved better. This of course required some think time as well as machine time. It came out looking pretty sexy, though. I machined up the hub and the carrier plate from two pieces. They have a light press fit together and they are screwed together with the screws holding the bicycle brake disc on. It bolts to the two piece wheel with some longer bolts running through some spacers. I just have to swap out the stove bolts that are holding the disc on for some good socket head fasteners and it's set to go.

The next photo down is a roller for a belt sander. My wife suggested I make up one of those bag toss games for an upcoming family reunion. I have plenty of wood left over that was either a part of or stored in the old barn so I figured I could knock that out in short order. The only problem was the plywood I had needed to be sanded down. I've got two belt sanders but both of them needed repair. Of course, that's why I ended up with them in the first place. One of them is a Milwaukee 4" that needed a front roller. I had bought the other parts to repair it about fifteen years ago but didn't want to pay the price for a new roller. I still didn't the other day, either. The roller assembly was almost $46.00 plus shipping. The bushings were over $8.00 a piece. So I decided to make the roller and knock another project off the list. I had to order some other stuff from ENCO anyway, so I ordered two oilite bushings at the same time. 95 cents a piece! The roller was supposed to be 2-3/16" diameter but the only stock I had was 2" so I built it up with the TIG and machined it up. Two bucks and the job was done. Makes me wonder why I waited 15 years to finally get around to it.

Next up is the axle for the high mileage car. Pretty straight forward here. Cut three key slots for the chain, brake and flywheel. Shouldn't be much more machine work on the car other than hooking up the steering. I know I'll have to shorten the tie rods we have but that's no biggie.

Last but not least is a picture of my middle finger and the big ass blister on it. When I welded up the piece of round stock for the sander that evening, the TIG torch handle got pretty hot. I was wearing gloves and I felt the heat but didn't figure I was doing any damage. I felt a little tenderness when the job was done but no visible evidence other than a little redness. I got up the following morning and no redness and no blister. About ten o'clock up it popped. I've never had a blister with a 14 hour delay before. As I write this three days later, it's still here and actually a little bigger than in the picture. I figure if I'm careful, it might last a couple of more days. I always try to make them last as long as possible before breaking. They seem to heal up faster and there's less chance of infection.

So there's the weeks output of machine work. It's amazing what a guy can do with the 3 T's - Time, Talent and Tools - and since I had all the stock on hand, all it cost was two bucks and a blister.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Shop Class as Soulcraft

I just finished reading Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford. I first heard about him from the Wisdom of the Hands blog. He has a somewhat condensed version of the book in an article published in the New York Times Magazine that can be read here. There's also a good review and bio here, (Thanks Unk).

The book is a short but good read and especially relevant to an old shop teacher who has been saying similar things for a long time now. My problem is I've been saying it mostly to people who feel the same way I do anyway. Mr. Crawford actually took the time to write a book and got it out to a much larger audience and did a much better job than I could have, at a time when a lot of people are starting to rethink our individual and collective values. A motorcycle mechanic or a weldor would not have been writing mortgages to people who had no possible way of paying them back. In his book, he explains why that is so as well as addressing some of the educational issues that contribute to the nonsense that is going on in this country today.

Shop Class as Soulcraft makes a good case for working with your hands, not just to earn a living but because it's good for the soul and a ton of other reasons. Check it out.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Life in the Country

Beautiful weather the last couple of days and the garden is starting to come in. I picked the first of what will be probably hundreds of cucumbers this morning, right after grabbing an egg straight from the chicken's butt - technically, that would be the vent in poultry speak. I should have peppers and tomatoes next week. I got a little bit of a late start on the melons but I can wait them out. The gooseberries are ripe and the red raspberries are about there as well. There used to be a big patch of black raspberries across the railroad tracks from me but the railroad sprayed everything with Agent Orange or something. Pretty well took care of the raspberries as well as any other living thing. There are some blackberries growing wild around here as well. I've been eating a few mulberries off the tree when I mow underneath it. They're OK but just not enough flavor. Of course the birds like them and you know what happens next.

The apples are looking good but the peach trees are pretty much vacant. I don't know what happened there. Usually they're drooping from the weight of all the fruit right about now. But as you can see, the day lilies are blooming. With the temperature about 70 degrees, it couldn't be nicer.