Introduction: Blacksmithing a Railroad Spike Adze / Garden Tool
In this instructable I'm going to show you how to blacksmith a hand adze / garden tool from a rail road spike! After a long year of not publishing anything I've finally gotten around to writing one. I originally made this for carving wooden bowls and I started selling them at craft shows. And I ended up selling more as garden tools then hand adze. So even though my plans for this is be a awesome wood carving tool witch it is, most people like it as a little hoe.
Thank you all very much for your support and looking at my instructables! And I would love to hear your feed back and questions, I tried to do my best to make this from a beginners view and included a lot of info about blacksmithing in general. So to all you newbies i will try to answer your questions as best as possible.
Step 1: Basic Tools and Materials
- Ball peen
- Cross peen
- Adjustable wrench for twisting
- Wire brush
- Grinder with wire wheel
- Chisel or cutter
- Rail road spike
Step 2: Forges and Anvils.
There is a lot of speculation over which forge is best, so I'm going to narrow it down a little. If you already have a forge set up, you can just skip this whole step. Or if you have one and just want to read all my ramblings, then by all means read it.
There are two common forges: coal and gas.
Coal forges have been around for thousands of years and have stood the test of time in the forging industry. They put out a higher carbon content and can heat any metal as long as you keep your fire well maintained. Coal can have a lot of negative health issues listed and I've listed them here:
- Reduction in life expectancy
- Respiratory hospital admissions
- Black lung from coal dust
- Congestive heart failure
- Chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, etc.
Just to clear things up, I used a coal forge for 3 years and with proper ventilation the health risks are next to none. But if you're breathing in a significant amount of the dust and smoke from the coal it can have negative long term affects on your heath so keep that in mind.
Gas forges, which is what the majority of people use now, burn cleaner. Carbon monoxide build up is about the only health concern with gas forges; and again as long as they are ventilated it will not be an issue. Gas will put out a carbon content like coal but will heat the steel well and burn cleaner, but only if they are well built. From a monetary stand point, in the long run gas costs less to run, unless you can buy coal by the dump truck load.
My current forge is built with a Becket oil burner from an oil burning furnace, with a fire brick fire box on a steel stand. I have been burning a used motor oil and diesel mix which burns at about 1/2 gallon an hour. Way cheaper than coal.
So in the end, it all comes down to personal preference. Both forges work well and are relatively simple to make. There are several good instructables on building both coal, and gas forges, so if you need to get yourself a forge take a look!
Anvils have a very important role in blacksmithing, and when used properly they do a lot of the work for you. Over the years, the anvil has become the symbol of the blacksmith and metalworking trade and have successfully stood the test of time. But the good news is, you don't need an anvil to start blacksmithing. An anvil is just a smooth surface that is hard: you can use a hammer head, railroad track, I beam, or piece of thick scrap iron. And if you're really desperate, get yourself a boulder.
If you are an entry level smith on a budget, don't worry about buying a anvil. Right now $2-4 a pound is considered a good price. And when your talking 130 lbs. that adds up fast, then you have to explain to all your family why you just paid $300 for a hunk of metal. The best thing you could do is get section of railroad track from a scrap yard or auction, or even a vise with a small anvil on the back. The point is, you do not need an anvil to blacksmith just use what you have.
Step 3: The First Bite
Firstly, there are a few types of rail road spikes. The ones you really want will have HC stamped in the head. The HC stands for high carbon. This is important especially for anything that you want to hold a strong edge. You can use other spikes, but the steel and quality of the finished tool will not be as good.
If there is any rust, take a wire brush and get as much off as you can before you heat your spike. Its always better to start with clean steel that way you have less pitting.
When you get a good heat that is cherry red or hotter, then your're going to take a bite. To do this, hold your spike on the far edge of the anvil at about a 25 degree angle, then pound the back of the spike right into the edge of the anvil. This creates a step so that you can make the blade without messing up the rest of the spike.
Remember to keep working your steel hot through this whole process, so heat it up as often as you have to.
Step 4: Roughing Out the Blade
Now that you have your step, your're going to rough out the blade. To start this, take your cross peen and flare out the tip. If you don't do this your blade will stay long and skinny and you wont have a hand adze at all. You should end up with lots lines all over the tip of the spike.
After this you're going to flatten out the tip. You can control where the steel goes by angling your hammer a little. There's really no one right way to do this... you have to feel the steel out as you go. You're aiming for a 1 1/2 inch square give or take a little, and about 1/8th of an inch thick.
Once you get it all flattened out, take a chisel or cutter and square off the end. I use a cutter because it's easier to hold. Try to keep everything as straight as you can throughout the process of forging, that way nothing gets out of alignment.
Step 5: Start the Shaft Part 1
Next, you will need to start thinning down the shaft.
To do this, you will need to start right behind the blade. Using the edge of your anvil, take another bite. it is important to keep everything as square as you possibly can. So keep everything straight, and make sure you're always pounding from all four sides, not just two. If you only pound on two sides of the square you wont get as even of a finish.
Step 6: Finishing the Shaft
You're going to want to make a second notch up about a 1 1/2'' to 2'' up from the base of the blade. Then start thinning out the section in \between. While you're doing this you can taper the handle slightly. That way the handle and shaft all flow together. You're aiming for a little over 1/4'' thick on the shaft. Do not go any thinner. If you do, the tool wont be able to take the stress of cutting the wood.
Once the shaft is drawn out, you can round the edges of it. This is optional, I just think the hexagon shape looks a little smoother.
Now we get to twist some steel!
Step 7: Twisting!
Now we're going to twist the handle for the adze.
Getting your spike hot is everything in this step. If it's not hot enough you won't get an even twist. In this picture the spike really is not hot enough. It should be almost white hot. Or you will end up giving yourself a headache trying to twist it. I did one full rotation, if you feel like really going for it, you can do three. But I think one has a nice look to it.
Once your spike is hot put it in the vise, then grip the other end of the handle with a wrench or channel locks and give it a good turn. It is important to try to keep the twist as straight as you can, that way you do not bend the whole thing over.
Now that your spike it twisted, heat it up and use a smaller hammer to pound it out straight and even with the shaft. Do this at a lower temperature so you don't flatten out the twist.
You should end up with something like the last picture, which has a slight curve to it and all the parts flow right into each other.
Step 8: File Away
Before you go bending or tempering, it's best to do as much of the final shaping you can when the steel is still somewhat soft. Especially if you don't have a grinder. I like using double cut bastard files (yes that's what they're called) Don't ask why. They do the best job for quick removal of stock.
Your main focus is to get the blade even and smooth. Once that's done you can take and go ahead and file an edge on it. Do not make it sharp yet though! If you make it sharp you will have a greater chance of melting the edge in the forge.
Step 9: The Gouge
Now your're going to shape the blade into a gouge. You could leave it flat but for the hand adze to work properly you need to make the blade convex. The best way to do this is to use the horn of your anvil. If you don't have an anvil take a piece of round stock or another cross peen hammer and use it instead.
Once you get a good heat, take your blade and shape it around the horn or round stock. It takes a little adjusting to get gouge shaped consistently, but you should end up with something like what's in the picture.
Step 10: Bending the Hook
Bending the hook in the adze is a very critical step in your tool. When bending steel you don't want to beat the crap out of it for two reasons: one, if you put too many dents and divots in the shaft it will be more prone to break and two, when you're bending such a small shaft you don't want to force it into shape, it should bend and flow on its own. It's hard to explain if you haven't ever worked a forge before, but each piece of steel has its own personalty. By letting the steel curve the way it wants to with slight adjustments, it should end up almost perfectly balanced once you're finished.
Using the far side of your anvil, start pounding on the base of the shaft. This should cause it to bend back thus starting the base of the hook. Then use the horn of the anvil to bend the blade over the rest of the way. It's really personal preference as to the angle of the adze. It takes some adjusting and might take a few times of quenching re-heating to get it just right.
Step 11: Quenching
The quench is a very important step of the process: arguably the most important. When you quench this tool you want the whole hook and blade to act like a spring. If it is too soft it will bend and if it's to hard the moment you hit something with it, it will shatter like glass.
The fluid you quench it in is a very important factor of your adze as well. Water is what most people assume you should use and you can get away with it. Water was all that blacksmiths used for years. Now-a-days, most blacksmiths use oil, and I'll tell you why. Unless of course you don't care.. then you can skip over it. :P
When you quench in water it cools the steel almost instantly. Any time you cool anything down that's that hot really fast, one of two things will happen. One, it will shatter. Or two, it will turn hard and the moment any pressure is applied, it will shatter. A lot of this also varies by the type of steel you're quenching.
Oil is thicker and instead of instantly, it cools it slowly. This adds strength to the steel and instead of making it hard as glass, oil gives it more flexibility and doesn't put as much stress on the steel. I use a mix of linseed oil and turpentine. Even though oil is flammable and can be potentially dangerous, it hardens the steel more effectively than water can.
First, you want to heat your adze. It's best to heat the whole thing from the center of the handle to the blade. The best way to tell when you're ready to quench is to take a magnet and once it doesn't stick to the hot steel you're ready. Once your ready for the quench take that adze and put that tang in there! then once it stops hissing and making sound take it out and set it somewhere to air cool. its still fairly hot at this point so do not touch it yet.
Step 12: Cleaning
To finish the adze you can ether leave it as it is out of the quench. or if you have access to a wire wheel on a grinder take and polish it up. this smooths the whole piece out and gives it a little bit of shine.
A very important side note on grinders and wire wheels. They are VERY dangorios you need to make sure that you wear long slaves, good thick leather gloves, and a face shield. the wire wheels can throw peaces of steel and wire right at you and in some cases penetrate the skin. So please be careful and safe!
Step 13: Finish
Congratulations! you have now reached the end of this long winded instructable about forging and rail road spikes and making a hand adze / hand plow/ little hoe, out of it all!
Thank you all for checking out this instructable! I hope you found it educational and fun to read, i would love to here all your ideas, questions, or criticisms.