Friday, October 13, 2017

The magic of muriatic acid

      I was working on a new coat hook design and working through what screws to include with the hook when I realized that there is no perfect screw that will work for every application.  This is sad. What follows is my attempt to help rectify this for the average person. Or perhaps the person with no fear and time on their hands.  

The coat hooks I'm working on.  These are made from scrap square bar. Slotted screws not hammered.  

Hammered Phillips head screws.  You can see how rough the slots are.

Hammered Phillips head screw. 

     I think if you are reading this you probably have a fantastically funky home and amazingly wonderful taste.  It follows that somewhere along the line you bought some forged hardware because's beautiful.  You may have gotten it online from one of the big players (or a small shop like mine) or at a festival or even from the local hardware store, but when you tried to install it you discovered that the screws aka mounting hardware didn't work for your situation.  They might have been the wrong length or the wrong type or maybe there wasn't any mounting hardware.  The supplier of the beautiful forged  hardware was no help, mostly because they are not me, so you went to the local hardware store and got some screws that would work.  Those new screws were perfect except they were bright silver and not the wonderful color of forged iron.  Rather than live with that you either returned the forged hardware in frustration or maybe you painted the screws, or if you are like me, you colored the screws with a Sharpie.  (This is not a paid endorsement.  I'm not opposed to paid endorsements so if you want to pay me to endorse something, drop me a note.)    I admit to using a Sharpie on occasion to fix a color issue on my hardware.  I'm helpful, not perfect.

     There are, however, a couple of other probably better solutions to the bright silver screw or bolt problem.  For this muriatic acid solution the screw has to be zinc plated.  I think it's also called hydrochloric acid.  It can't be stainless steel or nickel plated although you can darken both of those too.  I'll get to that later.  The easiest at home solution to darkening zinc plated screws is muriatic acid.  If you have a pool, you already have some.  If not, it's pretty cheap, comes by the gallon, and can definitely hurt you and possibly kill you if you aren't careful.  Also it's available at all the usual home improvement stores.  The important thing for this application is that it dissolves zinc. 

A really bad picture of zinc plated screws
      In order to get the zinc off the screws they need to be immersed in the muriatic acid.  The guy I learned this from used a piece of steel wire to dip the screws in the bottle of acid.  It only takes a couple of seconds.  I like the acid to remain fresh and I do this a lot so I usually pour a little acid in a plastic cup and drop the screws in.  For the samples in the pictures, I just put a little acid in the lid. 
On the left is the plated screw.  On the right is the screw with the plating removed by the acid.
     Once the plating is gone, rinse the acid off the screws and let them dry.  They will probably be a little rusty, but they will be the dull grey color of steel.  After that you can hold the head in the flame of your stove while holding the screw with a pair of pliers until the head turns black.  I would then dip the head in wax.  You can also oil it with kitchen oil.  Like seasoning a cast iron pan.  I had a buddy who seasoned his cast iron pans with Crisco ( Again, not a paid endorsement, for the buddy or Crisco). You can probably use that too.
     I think this is a fairly easy way to get a better look for forged hardware.  It doesn't give you a hammered look, but at least it's not bright silver on black.  
The plated screw.  The screw with the plating removed.  The screw heated in the stove and waxed.  My dirty hand.

     I'm trying to make hammered screws for my hooks.  I tried to find slotted screws at the big box home improvement stores.  They only have Phillips head.  Phillips head doesn't work that well when I hammer the head so when I have a big enough hardware order, I will add a box of slotted screws to supply with my hooks. I can clean up the slot after hammering much better than I can clean up a Phillips head.  Once I have the screws, I can list the hooks for sale.

    I should mention that there are a couple of caveats with this process.  You do not want to touch muriatic acid.  It's acid.  You also do not want to breath the fumes.  Do this process outside and don't stand over it.  I'm pretty sure breathing the fumes will mess you up.  Once you have removed the plating, the screws will rust. If you want to look at a list of safety tips, click here

    If you need blackened screws or bolts for a bathroom, you could try just holding a stainless steel head in the stove fire. This would also work for nickel plated screws.  Neither of those will rust as readily, but they are also more money.  Natural gas heat on the stove would probably be enough heat to make the head turn black.  It may take a bit longer. I don't know because I have a propane torch, and a forge and an oxy-acetylene rig. (google spell check wants to change this to foxy-acetylene.  What is foxy-acetylene?  Please tell me if you know unless it's going to scare me.)  I don't actually use the stove.  

   The best looking decor is consistent.  You want the mounting hardware to match the rest of the hardware.  This is a little step in that direction. 

    I hope this works for you without pain.  

    Now I need to get back to work.  Until next time


Monday, September 4, 2017

Helpful hints from hello, wheez...cough cough...sigh

The Raven

As part of my never ending effort to be useful, I decided to try a post with some potentially useful information.  At least I think it's useful.  It's always possible that nothing I have to say is useful and that's why I spend most of my time talking to myself.      ...Eh.

A long time friend of mine from a former life who suspiciously follows me on Instagram asked for this information.  Well, ya know, he asked how I did this and I said I'd make a video.  What I actually said was, if I told him I'd have to kill it's possible you will all have to die.  Probably not right away though. Anyway, I reconsidered and told him I would make a video.  Only, 1 - It would be 10 hours long and that's even too much for me.  And, 2 - I don't know how to make a video..... so the first part is just an excuse to cover up the second part.  Really though, 10 hours would be even more tedious than this explanation of why I am not making a 10 hour film.  Plus boredom would be a terrible way to die.  I decided to spare my fan and do a blog post instead.  So Bob, here's another post for you.

Anyway, back to the aforementioned somewhat useful information.  Chasing and repousse.  I will not, or probably not,  go into a long explanation of what each one is and how they differ.  Basically they are techniques that transform a flat piece of metal into a three dimensional relief.  Or something like that.  If you want the full explanations go to Wikipedia.  You can read that stuff there.  There are probably better places to find out about it but Wikipedia is concise. 

The definitions are less important to me than the technique.  Sort of.

Traditionally repousse and chasing were done in gold, silver and copper based metals.  I don't work in gold and silver and although I have some copper scrap, I mostly have aluminum scrap.  So that's what I have been using for my repousse and chasing.  One day I will graduate to steel and copper.  This is consistent with my life philosophy which is always start your day with gruel.  Otherwise it could go downhill.  Or sideways.  In other words, master every technique in the hardest possible material and then everything else will be cake.  Cake being dessert...and the last thing you eat in a day because you want to end on a high note.  Start with gruel.  End with cake.  Every day is a good day.

I feel like I should get to the meat of this blog now.  

As I said, I have aluminum sheet scrap.  I think it's 14g or maybe 16g.  It's scrap from a project I did probably 10 or so years ago.  I don't remember the exact gauge or alloy.  It's actually a bit scary because it's in jagged cuts off of the full sheets and the edges are sharp.  So I have these odd shaped pieces of aluminum sheet that I have been trying to come up with a use for.  My situation changed and I decided to do some repousse and chasing.  

Let me walk you through my process.  If you want to try this, you will need some things.  I'm just going to make a list of the things I think are useful or necessary when doing chasing and repousse.

  • A flat piece of metal sheet and an understanding of annealing and work hardening metals
  • A way to anneal the sheet.  I use a propane torch because I am working pretty small
  • A not hard surface.  This one is a little tricky.  There are a lot of things that can be used as backing.  Since I am working small, I use a pitch bowl.  There are several types of pitch and the type you choose is based on how you work.  My pitch is a combination because I keep trying new pitches.  But if you are just starting and want to try this without a huge investment, you could try using carpet or rubber or wax as a backing.  I met a guy last year who does all his chasing in wax because it gives the way he wants it too, and he thinks pitch is too hard.  The reason I use a bowl, rather than a box or some other thing to hold my pitch, is that I can move it and angle it as I work.  Dang, I gotta go take a picture of this.  BRB  hahahahah 
    Pitch bowl on stand
  • A hammer with a large flat face.  I have several hammers.  I use two most often.  I have a cheap cobblers hammer and I have an expensive chasing hammer.  They cost me about the same amount each.  You can get a cheap chasing  hammer for less than $10.  It will work fine and give you a chance to not spend all your money on tools that you will toss in a corner when you get frustrated and give up.  Not that you will.
  • Chasing tools.  Oh yeah.  That's a wide open thing.  I made most of mine,  You can buy them but it's pricey.  I don't think you need a lot of tools to start.  To begin you could probably get away with a liner, some kind of pusher and a planisher.  I made my favorite liner from a small cold chisel that had seen some rough use.  I have a doming block from HarborFreight that I use for pushing.  It may not work on other metals.  And I made a planisher from another broken chisel.  I do have a bit of tool steel around the shop, so I have made a few chasing tools over the last year.  Each situation will dictate the tools necessary, but for a basic form and to see how metal moves you can start very basic.  You could start with just a planisher that also pushes.  
  • Safety glasses and ear plugs.  Don't be an idiot.  
  • Good light
  • A surface to flatten the work between processes and when you are done.  I use an anvil.  
  • A soft hammer to flatten the work as above.  I use a cheap wood mallet, but some day I will probably invest in a paper hammer.  

I think that's all the tools.  The first thing you must do is anneal the metal.  As part of that process I heat the pitch so that the metal will stick to it and I can work.  Once the metal is stuck to the pitch, I can draw the figure on the face of the metal with a liner. That is the entire first step.  Easy.
All the tools and the Raven drawn with the chisel in the aluminum sheet. I used a curved and a straight liner and my cobblers hammer.

Just beginning the repousse using doming tools
Next I remove the metal from the pitch (this takes heat) and turn it over and reattach it to the pitch. This is the beginning of the repousse phase.  To be honest, I am still working on this.  I need to get better at not over pushing the metal and seeing the negative form.  While you are doing this you are working on the back side of the piece. I also work with the pitch warm.  I never want to do any work where I'm not sweating all the time.

Ready to be removed from the pitch and be turned over for chasing

The raven has been reattached to the pitch and is ready for chasing

Once the repousse is complete you need to heat the metal again to remove it from the pitch and dress the pitch by reheating it and moving it around so it's ready to hold the work again.  I often anneal the work again at this point.  I also put pitch in the back of the work so that it is fully supported for chasing.  

The aluminum needs to be flattened
The Raven has had the detail added.  I should have taken more pictures of the chasing process. This is after it has been flattened on the anvil.
Chasing is the most fun part of the process because that's when the work takes on it's final shape and begins to really look like your vision.  This is probably the most time consuming part.  I'm not entirely happy with this raven, but that's because I made a mistake in my thinking.  I am always learning so I hope I won't make that mistake again.  Usually by the end of the chasing, the metal has broken free of the pitch.  If it hasn't then you need to heat it.  If it breaks free too soon, you will need to reattach it.  
The Raven lifted off the pitch
The raven after the curve in the aluminum has been removed.

This should be fun.  Keep in mind that you are sculpting directly into the metal sheet.  You should work it until it looks the way you want it to look.  

The impression of the Raven in the pitch.  You can see some of the different pitch colors I use.
Oh yeah, your hands will probably hurt.  

And Bob, thanks for asking, I have all new teeth now and my jaw is mostly healed.

Back to work

Saturday, July 1, 2017

An artisan and a patriot -- a little something for Independence Day -- NOT THE MOVIE

I saw something that I have never seen before on my, I probably shouldn't run again until my broken jaw is fully healed, morning walk.  I swear, I will run again.  You know, once the swelling goes down and my jaw returns to its former home and my formerly perfect teeth have their new caps.  On a side note, I'm switching from boxing to aikido.  I need to unify my life energy........or something.

 Where was I?   

Oh yeah, this morning I saw a roadrunner fly.  Or what passes for flying for a roadrunner.  It smacked into the side of the building 3 times before it got to the roof.  There was a hummingbird hovering a few inches over its head.  Maybe the roadrunner was after the hummingbird's eggs.  Anyway the carnivore was no match for the agile nectar eater who seemed to be daring it to make a move.  I'm pretty sure the hummingbird would have bloodied the roadrunner before it could even spread its pathetic virtually useless wings if it tried anything.  Hummingbirds are fierce and fearless.  

That's the roadrunner who probably sustained a brain injury trying to get to the roof and the hummingbird ready to attack

And now for the awkward segue.  

The United States was a hummingbird once.  Maybe not the United States but the colonies or the colonists.  This fledgling nation was fierce, fearless and agile.  I'm killing it with the bird analogies today.   Or are they metaphors.  Not sure.  I do know that they are not semaphores.  Actually I don't have any idea what any words mean.  I'm just making all this crap up.  Because really a segue is supposed to be a smooth transition. Onward to what passes as my point fearless reader.

Drawn and engraved for the Society of Iconophiles, New York, 1899.

You may have heard of this guy named Paul Revere.  He was a silversmith who apparently practiced dentistry.  Hmmmmm..........probably can't fix my own he was able to identify the nine month old corpse of one of his dental patients from the wire he used to hold his false tooth in.  The guy had died in a battle and was buried on the battlefield. His family wanted him to have a proper burial and a headstone.  Digging up corpses, creepy and yet fascinating.   Revere also made gunpowder.  Eventually he got into iron casting and he opened the first copper mill in North America.  To me he is a testament to the adaptability of the skills of the artisan class in general but specifically in Colonial America.    He did live a really long life which gave him time for all of this.  At this point it doesn't look like I will have that kind of time.  At least not if I continue to accidentally try to kill myself.  For those of you who like Hamilton, Revere was a Federalist.  

This wasn't the guy.  Patrick Carr was killed in the Boston Massacre. Paul Revere did the engraving.  What a talented guy.

Print shows section of newspaper column with illustration of the coffin bearing skull and crossbones and the initials of Patrick Carr, who died from wounds received during the Boston Massacre. Revere, Paul, 1735-1818, engraver

The bloody massacre perpetrated in King Street Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regt. Boston : Engrav'd Printed & Sold by Paul Revere, 1770.   A sensationalized portrayal of the skirmish, later to become known as the "Boston Massacre," between British soldiers and citizens of Boston on March 5, 1770. On the right a group of seven uniformed soldiers, on the signal of an officer, fire into a crowd of civilians at left. Three of the latter lie bleeding on the ground. Two other casualties have been lifted by the crowd. In the foreground is a dog; in the background are a row of houses, the First Church, and the Town House. Behind the British troops is another row of buildings including the Royal Custom House, which bears the sign (perhaps a sardonic comment) "Butcher's Hall." Beneath the print are 18 lines of verse, which begin: "Unhappy Boston! see thy Sons deplore, Thy hallowed Walks besmeared with guiltless Gore." Also listed are the "unhappy Sufferers" Saml Gray, Saml Maverick, James Caldwell, Crispus Attucks, and Patrick Carr (killed) and it is noted that there were "Six wounded; two of them (Christr Monk & John Clark) Mortally." The print was copied by Revere from a design by Henry Pelham for an engraving eventually published under the title "The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or the Bloody Massacre," of which only two impressions could be located by Brigham. Revere's print appeared on or about March 28, 1770.

Paul Revere kind of amazes me.  He really filled his life.  He had something like 16 kids.  Who can participate in a revolution, run a silversmith business, create a gunpowder manufacturing facility because there was a need, create mass produced silverware with the use of a rolling mill , learn to cast iron and then bronze, and then use the rolling mill to mill copper?  Probably didn't even know his kids names. 

I do think it's fascinating that a guy who was depicted riding a horse and ringing a tiny little bell ended up casting giant iron and bronze bells.  This isn't one of them, but I couldn't find a picture of one. Seemed appropriate though.

The bell's first note....Woman with hammer alongside the Liberty Bell, in foundry. 
Repro. of painting by Jean Léon Gérom̂e Ferris.
-  This record contains unverified, old data from caption card.

Paul Revere never said "The British are coming"

The artisan class in colonial America was incredibly resourceful.  Not all were as successful as Mr. Revere, but they had limited technology and resources compared to manufacturers today. Even compared to the available technology in Europe at the same time in history.  They probably never had to say that their goods were handmade.  That was assumed.

Illus. in: Gleason's Pictorial, v. 6, (1854), p. 360.
-  This record contains unverified, old data from caption card.
-  Caption card tracings: United States History; Connecticut; Foundries; Shelf.
I realize I am jumping around in history and maybe someday I will bring all of this together to make some sort of point, but for now I am just sharing the discovery process. 

One last thing.  This is a poster from 1917 for something called Wake Up America Day.  It uses a portrayal of Paul Revere to recruit for military enlistment during World War I.

Wake up America Day - April 19, 1917 / James Montgomery Flagg.
Poster showing a woman, possibly Jean Earl Moehle (Möhle), dressed as Paul Revere carrying lantern and American flag. Moehle reenacted Paul Revere's ride for the Wake Up America Patriot's Day celebration in New York City. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2015 and The New York Times, April 19, 1917)
Flagg, James Montgomery, 1877-1960, artist
Enjoy your 4th of July and remember history has lessons and we need to study it and contemplate it to see if we can figure out what it can teach us.  Follow the threads.  Don't get duped by the present.

Back to work