Antique cut nails are still available and make beautiful religious art pieces when brazed. These things make nice gifts to pastors and other friends, as well as to enjoy yourself.
The Jerusalem cross has a rich symbolism and history. Its five crosses point to the five wounds of Christ. That reminds us He died to redeem the world. It also symbolizes the Gospel going out from Jerusalem to the four corners of the world. That reminds us of the commission Christ has given to His people. I like to think of it as who we are and what we are to do.
Cut nails are available through: www.tremontnail.com I used #6d common nails (not galvinized). They are 2 inches long.
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Step 1: Prepare the Nails
Select 8 nails similar in appearance and without defects from your box of nails. Place them next to one another on a piece of brick. Use a MAPP gas torch or an oxy-acetylene torch or a carbon arc torch with an arc welder to heat the nails to red hot. Let them cool slowly in the air. They will need to be soft so you can cut and drill them later. The nails will have at least one sharp edge from the machine that cut them. Lightly grind away the sharphness.
Step 2: Lay Out the Main Cross
Place four nails end to end on top of a firebrick. Align them so they are 90 degrees apart. A piece of paper can help to get the corners square. Eyeball the layout from several directions and make minor corrections according to a pleasing appearance.
Step 3: Brazing the Main Cross
Use your torch to heat the nails so brazing rod will melt on the joint. Change the direction of the torch to guide the flow of the braze.
It is very easy to bump the nails out of alignment. Should that happen, heat the joint again and use a plier to position the piece that moved.
When slightly cooled, pull the main cross from the brick with a plier. Be careful. The brick and the nails are still hot enough to cause pain if touched. Set the main cross assembly aside.
Step 4: Cut Nails for the Smaller Crosses Assembly
Cut the head end from the remaining four nails. First put one in a vise and wrap a little masking tape around the nail. Measure 7/16 of an inch or 11 mm from the head and make a mark. Cut on this mark with a Dremel tool and a thin cut-off wheel. Keep each pair or pieces matched. Do not mix them with parts from other nails.
Remove the masking tape and grind away any burrs left by the cutting wheel.
Step 5: Begin Laying Out the Smaller Crosses
It is very easy to knock the smaller crosses out of alignment while brazing them. I have tried laying out all four nails and brazing the joints one after the other. The risk of knocking something out of alignment is higher that way. I now lay out one joint and braze it before laying out the second joint. The risk this way is that the first joint or two could be less than precise in their layout and the assembly will not look quite like you wanted it to look when finished.
Sometimes the braze does not want to flow as it should because of a coating on the nails. Here you can see that I touched the joint area of the nail pieces with a grindstone to expose bare metal.
After a joint has been brazed, some flux material will act as an adhesive to hold the piece in place on the brick. This helps reduce the chance something will be knocked out of alignment while brazing a later joint.
Step 6: More Laying Out the Smaller Crosses
Here the first joint has been layed out and brazed. The second joint is ready to braze. Even if everything is not in perfect alignment, it is not a problem. This is artwork, not precision machinery. Slight variations add to the visual appeal.
Step 7: Braze the Main Cross Over the Smaller Crosses
The flame on the MAPP gas torch does not show in the picture. Carefully position the main cross over the smaller crosses assembly. Look at it from several angles for the most visually appealing arrangement.
Sometimes the joint in the main cross has taken enough heat while brazing the main cross to the smaller crosses that the joint softens and a nail falls out of place. You can use extra nails like shims to add support at the outer ends. The best precaution is to be careful about the direction of the flame. Keep it on the joint you are brazing, but away from the center joint. Also watch out for stray heat directed toward the main cross joint when the flame bounces off of the brick.
Notice that the joint to the left has already been brazed. The same is true of the joint at the top. This photo shows the right side joint being brazed. The brazing rod will melt and flow when the metal is hot enough. Beware the temptation to push on the brazing rod to make it melt and flow faster. You only push things out of alignment.
Step 8: Brush Away the Slag
Use a wire brush wheel to remove the slag from both sides. Get into the corners as much as possible to remove the dry white streaks. Examine the joints, especially those on the smaller crosses. If braze did not penetrate the joints fully, a joint may be weak and a piece could break off with a little finger pressure. It is possible to braze a joint again, even at this point. The process may require adding braze material from the back side of the joint and then heating the same joint again with the assembly resting on the brick back side down. You want to have a finished product with the pieces in alignment and the braze looking as pretty as possible.
Step 9: Preparing the Cross for Use
If the cross is to be worn around the neck, as a pastor wears a pectoral cross, drill a 1/16 inch hole from the back side of the nail that is to be the top nail. Look carefully at the finished cross to determine which way it looks most appealing. Which side should be up? That will determine which nail to drill.
Drill at an angle so the loop for the cord is as high up on the top nail as possible.
I once made one of these for a woman who admired it. In her case, I mounted it to an 8 sided piece of finished walnut. I used four wire brads as stand-offs and very carefully brazed them to the back of the nails. That is a tricky thing to do because there is always the possibility braze material will flow around to the front side of the cross where there is not supposed to be any braze material. It worked, though.
Step 10: Attach a Wire Loop for the Cord
Get some suitable black cord at a fabric store. Start with 36 inches. Let the recipient shorten the cord by retying the knot and cutting it, if necessary.
Insert a wire brad 3/4 or 7/8 inch long from the back side. Lightly grind away any sharp edges on the point of the brad. Bend it around with a needle nose plier. Make the loop as smooth and round as possible.
Before attaching the neck cord, place the cross on some newspaper and spray lightly with an aerosol shellac to prevent rust. Do this several times from different angles, but only after the last coat has dried. Make a couple of applications from the back side, too.
These crosses are fairly simple to make, but they bring great wonderment and joy to those who receive them and see them for the first time.