Hearth Vader

Last year, I started turning a dilapidated shed into a workshop as part of setting up working from home as a blacksmith. The forge has been here since 1840-something, but I needed somewhere to put all the more modern machinery.

Fire burning in old blacksmith's forge
It lives!

The work started early in January and being environmentally aware, the first thing I noticed was it wasn’t very warm. Some sort of heating would be required if this workshop was going to be year round.

The work started with tip runs and bonfires because all good sheds eventually become dumping grounds for things that may come in handy. And once they are log-jammed with paraffin heaters and enamel vases for showing flowers (that is, for putting flowers in to show them, with judges and such, not to say “Oi, Dahlia, look at these vases!”) and bits of wood too long to throw out and old rope too short to use, they become rat-infested hell holes.

It is the way of things.

The tin roof leaked, the walls had worrying cracks in them, the back had fallen out and the front was about to go.

By the time the weather got better, the shed was sound, dry, secure and looking a lot better, but I hadn’t done anything about heating it. “Wood burner?” you say…

Well yes, in an ideal world, that would be ideal, but have you see the price of wood burners?

“You’re a blacksmith, why don’t you make one, then?”

Now we are getting somewhere. I’m not one for plans, so looking around the interweb, asking silly questions and being nosey went on for a while. There are some really nice homemade wood burners about out there, so if they can make one, so can I.

So I did.

While all this was going on, I kept seeing burners that passed a reasonable resemblance to certain film characters, but they weren’t very good. I don’t like things that aren’t very good. Something had to be done about this..

Pictures were printed out, and entire episodes of Blue Peter’s worth of card, tape, marker pens and a grown up with a sharp knife were assembled.

Several prototypes later, I had a set of templates. In the fullness of time, these proved to be miles off, but you have to start somewhere.

The next step is the big one. In order to make a gas bottle stove, you need to make a hole in a gas bottle. Gulp.

This is not for the faint-hearted.

The bottle was vented, flushed, flushed again, left, come back to, flushed again, and eyed suspiciously. A small hole was slowly drilled. Tea was drunk.

It was left to once side again for a bit.

But there comes a point when you just have to do it so… I cut a large hole  with a plasma cutter. This basically creates an electrical arc, and then blows it out at some speed through “anything that conducts electricity”. I’ve not tested that aspect, but it keeps you on your toes…

The actual temperature and speed involves lots of zeroes, so if it hasn’t gone bang by the time you have cut through, it never will. That’s a relief…

The card templates were also cut this way, but without the elevated blood pressure.

Darth Vader wood burner
The Forge is strong in this one

There was grinding, shaping, swearing, a number of parts were remade, some more than once. Slowly, a familiar face appeared.

At times other faces appeared, and I may come back to them later.

Eventually I had a garden burner. In the meantime I made an enclosed wood burner for the shed, in case you thought I’d forgot about winter coming back…

Would you like one of these? I make them for others, too, you see. Otherwise I’d have a garden filled with heavy-breathing wood burners…

Get in touch here. I’m not actually that grumpy.

Edit. I feel I must now confess I have installed a wood oven that I didnt even make in place of my little bottle burner.  There may be workshop recipes along at some point

Once Upon A Time…

Once upon a time, every village had a blacksmith.

They would, as you would expect, shoe horses, but they would also repair almost anything. The idea of replacing something just because it is broken is one of those modern silly ideas.

Some of these repairs would be invisible, some better than new, and some done in a quick and cheap manner that doesn’t bear close examination.

Then the car came along and this changed everything for the blacksmith.

Some turned their skill with metal to repairing cars and selling them fuel, some used this new found mobility to work away from their reputation and some to enlarge it.

Some shut up shop and worked for others. This would have been something of a trial.

In this village my family supplied the blacksmith. We resisted progress as long as possible and my grandfather finally gave up around 1961. My Mother shod the last horse here, and the forge became just another cold shed.

A blacksmith's forge with an unimaginable amount of crap in it
A slightly more imaginable amount of crap

Showing a distinct lack of imagination it took me until 2010 to think about clearing out the forge and seeing what was left. It was rammed to the rafters with an unimaginable amount of junk.

It took two years’ worth of spare time to empty it. Once emptied, we found the forge itself, the anvil and quench tank, a set of bellows that still worked…

Well there was only one thing to do: light the fire.

Except we couldn’t, because back in the 70s the chimney had fallen off in the storms, and it was capped off. Arranging a new cut-stone chimney and some frankly terrifying scaffolding took a little while and a lot of money. Still, the house doesn’t look lopsided now.

Now, I’d never set foot in a proper blacksmith shop… but we had some steel about the place and it was a wet day, so why not have a go?

I spent five hours in the forge, mangling and burning bits of steel, and myself knowing the shape I was after, but having no idea how to get this straight piece of 6mm bar to behave…

By the time I gave up, I had ruined about 30 feet of steel, I was burnt, bruised and exhausted, but I had learnt more than I have ever learnt before in a single day.

Oh, and I had five simple hooks, and I was well and truly hooked.

I can make you some hooks, if you’d like. Or almost anything else, in fact. You can get in touch with me here.