Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Portland works- Andy Cole.

I have known of Sheffield' Portland Works for sometime but a few months ago I decided to head down and check the place out for myself.

The heritage of this place is impressive, being the main building associated with original conception and implementation of stainless steel.

The premises is also unique as it is the only property of it's type still standing in its original use as a site of metalworking and cutlery. all others having been demolished or converted.

This time, I came to meet with  tool maker who occupies the original 19thC smithy in the centre of the courtyard- Andrew Cole.

Andy first started working at this forge in 1978, first under Wigful Tools and later his own company.
Whilst I was there we discussed the kind of work he had on at that time, which included forging several hundred socketed wood carving chisels.

I took some footage of him working that shows his well rehearsed and impressive "spinning" technique that means the work is put into "closed dies" that are each one half of the final form you are making. By keeping the work turning evenly you create a smooth finish on the work.

Loud video


I had some real envy over some of Andy's gear, particularly his larger Paterson mech hammer but his more unusual equipment included his old fashioned saddle grinder.

These large wheel stone grinders used to be common around Sheffield and other blade making centres around Europe but have now largely disappeared. Its always impressive to see them running...  and to think that there used to be many, very much lager stone wheel in use.

Andy's knowledge and breadth of experience is impressive and his workshop is pretty much an ideal set up for forging tools.

Im a little jealous....

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Forging a Tudor Hammer

Once again I find myself apologising for a long rest between postings and a promise of more regular updates from here-on….


Months ago, a customer and friend asked me to make him a carpenter’s claw- hammer head with a form strongly based on several historic examples from the Tudor era.

Whilst not having the opportunity to study any of the originals myself, I was provided with a range of photographs that clearly showed the dimensions of the object. 

Not being able to view the original also means not being able to determine exactly how they were made, but it can be a safe bet that they were not made from a single piece of steel, more likely an iron body with forge welded steel face and claws.

It just so happens that, at the time, I had some antique “shear steel” that was a close approximation of the steel that might have been used on the original hammers we were trying to emulate. 

The first job was to fold and weld the shear onto itself to produce a piece of stock large enough to form the face and the claws.  


also made up a piece of wrought by the same process of “stacking” and welding.


Both the face and the claws were welded on by forming them into a “staple” shape wrapping around the wrought- they were hammered tight and then forge welded together.

After both ends of the hammer had its steel parts attached, a hole was punched and worked until it was the desired shape.



The whole hammer was the filed and details added as seen on the original examples.

Most of these great pictures were taken by Robert Nicholson who also happens to be a very skilled Greenwood worker. Here’s his Fb page.


Thanks Rob!

Thursday, 17 April 2014


Many tools have gained peculiar names over years of use, evolution and passing between cultures.

The Twybyl, is a corruption of “two bill” meaning two blades (one axe like and the other adze like.)  Anvils have a Bick (not horns…) from Beak- but I cannot say what the root of the “Spud” is.

What the tool is, however, is a bark- scraper for de-barking a felled tree prior to hewing, riving or other process.  It consists of a single bevelled blade with a sturdy socket at an angle or “cant”. A long handle, helve or haft is driven in to the socket by ways of carving a closely matched taper and the tool is pushed along the log with the single bevel naturally biting in-between the harder timber and the bark, prying it away in great lengths.

Tools like this have also been used where the bark itself is the product.

When I was first asked to make a “Spud” by a friend and correspondent in the Netherlands, I did at first think of a potato.

 Misleading and slightly silly the name may be, but I think it is important to keeps the old names alive. It’s the facets of an object that intrigue and excite me- by using the correct terms for traditional tools, we are not pedants but instead allow a thing to sit in our culture, heritage and language with its own distinct character.  It also makes me smile.

So a spud it shall remain!

The customer wanted the blade to be a laminate, with a closed socket. The blade also had to have a spur forge welded on- this aids turning the log.

The first part to be made was the socket; this was cut from 4mm mild steel sheet and formed into a tapering tube with the aid of my big fly press before being forge weld over a tapering hexagonal mandrill I had forged.

This picture is taken out of chronological order, but it shows the material cross-section once the welding was completed.


One of the reasons there has been no blogging from me for a few weeks is that I have been very busy! This is also the reason why I haven’t been as thorough as I used to with photography, so there are unfortunately no pictures of the welding on this project. But I must ask- how many images of hot metal does the internet really need…?

Apologies all the same.

Back in the order of process, two pieces of steel were forged to the same sizes, one of 0.6 carbon steel and the other of mild. These were forge welded together and a protrusion was forged at the back, to be inserted into the socket.





Once the two parts were suitably fitted, I heated the blade and inserted it into the cold socket, with the whole arrangement in the vice the “tang” was spread inside the socket, essentially “riveting” the structure together.  This fix was preliminary to the forge welding phase that firmly bonded the pieces together.

The spur was split away from the body but also re-enforced with additional carbon steel, forge welded all together and drawn out to a sharp point.

After the piece was finished it was wire brushed and thoroughly waxed to protect it.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Gogmagog (The Giant)

I have a friend and now repeated customer who lives in the heart of rural wales. He keeps coming back to me with proposals for interesting projects. Most recently he asked me to make a really big felling axe, around 7 lbs.

 Most modern axes used for forestry are between 1.5 and 3 lbs, with the large Gransfors “American felling axe” coming in at 3 lbs- so 7lbs is quite a lump.
I should add that a 7lbs axe is not a “fantasy” axe. There were many manufacturers from before the age of the chainsaw who made felling axes of 7 or 8lbs- I’m sure there are examples out there of even bigger axes made for serious work.

I’m always excited by projects that are outside of my current experience.  Attempting something dramatically different to what you have done before forces you to work in a different way. With an axe this large every aspect was more difficult with factors like the radiant heat setting fire to my hammers and top sets, the large weight held in tongs making moving the work more tiring and awkward, the large surface area being forge-welded needing particular care to avoid inclusions and again the size of the piece being larger than the flatter on my power hammer.

I have over the past few months been working exclusively with welded eye (as opposed to punched eye) techniques for producing my axes, mostly using variations on the “bowtie” or symmetric wrapped method where thick starting stock is divided either side of the centre (which becomes the poll) the two thinner projections from either side are folded forward and welded together to form the eye.  Because of the size of this axe, I decided that the wrapped method was not the way to go, instead I wanted to use a method I had read about in Jim Kauffman’s “American Axes” which described forging two separate halves in symmetry then welding them together with the edge steel as a third piece. The benefit of this method would be the good access to the interior of the eye, allowing it to be carefully formed.

I had tried this method once before with a nano 2oz  axe and it worked well. So, I was keen to get on it- it also meant that fifty percent of the axe was being heated whilst the other was being worked, this makes sense with large pieces of steel as it takes much longer to work and you can only work so much before it is too cool.

The starting stock was two pieces of plate, 20x 120x 75mm. These were marked at the centre then an area 30mm across was marked out off-centre, this division is what would become the eye, if it was marked out centrally, then you would have an even amount of mass either side of the eye, meaning that the point of balance of the as yet un-steeled axe would also be in the exact middle of the stock. This would be ineffective as the stock will be forged out, redistributing the weight, causing a hafted axe to droop in the hand as it would be “bit heavy”. To compensate for this and also to move the point of balance (hereafter referred to as POB) forward to the first quartile of the eye, the stock was divided thusly.

Because the material was too wide for my power-hammer ( I currently only have the one block which is divided into a fuller and a flatter.) we had to work the metal traditionally, with striking and the use of “top-sets”- firstly fullering to divide the stock then set hammers and flatters, all interspersed with direct hammer work, manoeuvring all about the anvil. It is a pleasure to work like this with my father, it is too noisy and too quick to talk between blows, so cat calls, shouts and yelps signal stop-an-go, heavier, faster, slower- I wish that there was enough work for us to forge like this often, which is why I so enjoyed this chance to have at it.

Heres a quick video which is, as usual, very noisy!

Once both sides were fully worked, they were offered up and found to match together well. Here they are shown with my Gransfors for scale. We begin to get the impression for the scale.




The internal faces were ground clean to give the welding the best start, they were brought together with the steel inserted. The piece was then brought up to heat and welded under the hammer.

Loudness abounds, man.

After the welds were set, it was a case of pulling the steel into the right shape.


Here it shows the point of balance being the front of the eye, as anticipated.

Here’s hardening.

And here’s finished.

The customer was really keen to haft it himself so he felled an ash tree and cut a piece a few weeks before the axe was ready and dried next to the stove, weighing it each day. When he received the head and the haft was ready he put it together and sent me these pictures. The haft is 44 inches long and weighs a few pounds itself.

I think the axe finished up beautifully, it has great character and presence and cuts beautifully too. I’m proud of this piece but also grateful to have been given the chance to work in a new way 


Gogmagog is a giant from British mythology, given the size grandeur of this axe and its Celtic Locale, I started calling it ‘magog from an early stage in its life.

It seemed to suit.