Welcome to the Kellogg & Sons Blacksmith Shop

Our traditional Blacksmith shop located in Northern New York. We do custom Blacksmithing work focused upon traditional 18th and 19th century hardware and tools.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Blacksmithing in Cold Weather: Part II - Staying Warm

Up here in the North Country blacksmithing in cold winter weather isn't really optional.  The old-timers  say we have, "Only ten months of winter and two months of poor sledding".  Working in cold weather has some major drawbacks.  It helps to know some tips and tricks to make it easier.

5 foot wide sidewalk, 7 feet of snow!

            One is to create a safe working environment.  In bitter cold you have to bundle up.  But most modern cold weather gear is Nylon, Polar Fleece, and other synthetics.  They are a major danger around hot metal.  Sparks go through them like water through tissue paper.  If they get too hot and burn they not only melt but also shrink.  That coats your skin with 300 degree molten plastic.  Not good.  The solution to this is two fold.  First, create a warming spot in the shop.  If you are using a drafty, uninsulated building like I am heating the whole shop isn’t practical.  But you need a spot that is warmish.  I’ve seen wood stoves and propane heaters used to good effect. 

            Second, wear traditional fiber clothing.  Cotton canvas jackets are stiff, but are also predictable around fire.  They scorch before they burn, and if you catch it on fire it is easily put out.  Isn’t that the hallmark of a Blacksmith?  That being a little on fire isn’t that big a deal?  I like two layers of wool shirts.  Very warm, easy to move in, and very spark resistant. 

But what about your tools?  Can they get too cold and break?  There has been a great deal of discussion among Blacksmiths about how cold is too cold to use an anvil without breaking it.  I don’t know the answer.   I do know it is hard to do good and timely work on an anvil that is below 20 degrees F.  It sucks the heat right out of the hot iron on contact.  Notice the ice in the bucket and the frost on the anvil?

Frosty Kohlswa anvil.

I usually preheat a slab of steel and put it on the anvil face to warm.  A five pound bar won’t warm the anvil much but it will take the chill off.  Once the anvil face is near or above freezing it works better and is probably less likely to suffer damage.  Another solution is a Magnetic Block Heater.  This is a magnetic hot plate designed to warm vehicle engines to around 50 degrees.  Stick it to the side of your anvil and it will keep it warmer.  Others use a foam box and a light bulb.  Whatever works!

Frosty windows!

Extreme cold.  Since we have pretty serious winters up here in the North Country I’ve done work in the shop with inside temperatures well below 0 F.  At those temperatures you have to work carefully.  You are more encumbered with heavy clothes and can be more clumsy.  Light leather gloves are a good idea since 0 F. steel tools will stick to your skin.  Once you are warmed up you may be able to shed layers.

These are just some tips I have found helpful working in cold weather.  Do what works, have fun, and stop when you can't feel your feet!

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