Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Massey 2cwt "with-slides" Power Hammer Restoration, "BESSIE"

Early in July 2015, I received a phone call from John Nicholson at Massey in Manchester advising me that he had heard of a machine that had become available in Norfolk (about 90mins drive from me). It was fairly well known among the community that I had been looking for a machine for some time (even looking as afar abroad as Malaysia to repatriate a beautiful Alldays and Onion 1cwt,Germany for a Beche L4, Italy and France for other Machines. The reason for all of these instances not coming into fruition being the exorbitant cost of transport [particularly the Malay example,  as there are additional cost when something has to pass through port]) 

These machines are becoming increasingly  rare. With  dwindling numbers in existence thanks due to the "scrap everything" policy of Administrators when a business goes into liquidation-our sector in particular as many of the light and medium forging companies used to be fairly large employers, with numerous pieces of forging equipment under one roof. When those business fell through in the 70's 80's & 90's, alot of machinery was lost overnight. 

So there's that, but then there is also the fact that in the current climate of their scarcity, those who have these machines tend to hold on to them (I know I will!).  This all adds up to make their availability increasingly limited. 

So! With this in mind I was excited and surprised to hear of a piece of equipment  that was available and so close.  

The piece was being sold by a certain Mr Bill Corduroy- a well known name in the British blacksmith crowd (In fact, it was a real bonus that this hammer was being sold by Bill- it was such a treat that I got to meet Bill who is hands down one of the nicest people I have met). 

I made travel arrangements and went to view the hammer and bought it right away. 

This is the situation it was in- Bill had bought this hammer  about 25 years ago with the intention of "putting it in". However, the enormity of that task coupled with his busy, successful career meant that he simply never got around to it. It is often said these days that power hammers tend to be owned by two or three persons before someone actually installs it. They tend to become a "Feature" or "Yard Art". 

The Hammer had been standing here in Bill's yard for about 25 years and Bill though it had not run for a while when he bought it from an industrial smithy- so lets call it 30 years.  It had, however been under cover for all that time and greased somewhat  when put away. The grease will prevent the majority of water ingress, but it has the surprising effect of becoming quite adhesive when left to oxidise for years- effectively gluing the system together. 

After speaking to another staple of Norfolk blacksmithing, Nigel Barnett of Fransham forge (who has a alot of experience moving big heavy things around) I got the number of a guy with a flat bed and hiab and we got the old girl delivered to Leicestershire

Spending the money is the easy part, now came the real work.  I had zero movement in the fly wheel when pushing by hand so I had to take the cylinder covers off to have a look at what was going on inside.

The fly wheel is attached to the compressor cylinder by a large con-rod, so that when the wheel makes one rotation the compressor cylinder has made one full stroke- up and down, once.

I removed the cover on the compressor cylinder- as you can see I found quite a lot of well developed crusty rust. People tend to think of rust as soft, powdery  or brittle but when you have two well fitting surfaces next to one another and a film of corrosion, what you actually have is an incredibly strong adhesive.  In a components such as a large piston and cylinder these forces combined to make something fairly immutable.

I was glad that part of the cylinder was exposed as this offered me a "way in" - if the compressor had been all the way up to the top it would have been harder to clean and get back to free movement.  The best way to proceed was scrape clean all the exposed parts I could get into so I could begin to feed cylinder with penetrating oils and fluids (quite a lot of diesel went through it too which has quite impressive rust easing capabilities).

At this point I moved on to the hammer cylinder itself, which we discovered was pretty clean and after an arbitrary wipe out with a cloth, we decided to jack up the hammer head to see if we had movement- which we did. So we put an inch of machine oil at the bottom of the cylinder and moved on.

Its important to understand that these images are slightly out of sequence and that the amount of time taken on the project has thus far not been addressed.  Truth is, that I have too many images of the job for it to be interesting- I could have included before, during and after photographs of every single element but I feel that would in all likelihood become a bit boring for all but the most ardent machine enthusiasts. Also, many of the components are internal so the before shots would illustrate very little, other than the component being stuck inside.

A good example of this is the Valve, which spent over two weeks being fed with oil and gentle pressure before becoming unstuck.

This is the valve,  which in my Massey is the later "vertical type" (as opposed to the earlier models which had a simpler "horizontal" valve, which is much more common feature of power hammers across many different brands such as Alldays and Pilkington). The valve is about 30" long and comprised of multiple free- spinning disks some of which has small springs to maintain a seal. The disks are not symmetrical or repeating and as such their order of assembly was crucial. These disk all assemble over a central rod which is threaded at both end in  order to keep the piece together.  additionally, the disks are cast iron and are brittle.

This component was again totally fused together with corrosion which you can see in the image as the wet (oil) gritty material. It should be noted that this is only about 1/3 of the valve as the rest of it at this point was still contained within the valve cylinder.  I was lucky that despite the surface corrosion, that my valve assembly need little work other than cleaning.

I spent alot of time up here.

Sometimes there were ducks...

I got a friend to blast the most of the grime and paint of which was quite spectacular- i had not realised just how loud grit blasting was until that point.

We had covered all of the vent and access point up as best we could to make sure as little grit got in as possible.

Once she was naked I put some red oxide primer on which dried to a rather attractive salmon pink.

It was only after several weeks that I had managed to get enough movement on the piston to remove it and address the rust frozen piston rings, which need to be free spinning and able to expand. Again I was lucky that none of these needed swapping as they were all in good condition.

I will just explain how  I got the compressor cylinder free as it may be of use to someone in a similar position.

Because the cylinder covers are built to take the pressure of the machine in action- they are strong, this is your advantage. Refer back to the previous image of the piston when it was first exposed, there was a gap of about three inches between the top of the piston and the top of the cylinder. What you need to do is fill the cylinder with some kind of rust penetrating fluid, as mentioned before. Then use a large piece of timber that is thicker than the gap (in this case 3" gap = 4" timber packer) and place the timber packer on top of the stuck piston and then return the cylinder cover plate to where it should be, attach all of the bolts and carefully ratchet them all down so the cylinder cap is applying the pressure in a radial fashion. keep going round the bolts giving  a little tighten to each of them until the cover plate has gone all the way down. if you then take the plate off and add additional packers you will eventually force the piston all the way down to the bottom giving you free access to clean the cylinder. Oil it and try to manually push the piston back up using the fly wheel - if this works and you have movement (even slow stiff movement) then you are winning.  push the piston back up and prop it in place so that you can clean the cylinder behind it.

It not impossible that this method won't work and that your piston will remain stuck in position, but it should be tried first if you have a piston that is stuck or seized.  Other methods which work are to apply heat with small fires or heat guns- you do this at your own risk. I personally don't know anyone who has cracked a cylinder doing this, but it is possible. I would suggest however that if your power hammer cylinder cracks after lighting a paper fire in it- then it was probably junk anyway.  Also a cracked cylinder is not worth repairing in most cases unless you have facility fully testing a repair up to industry standards. I have first hand accounts of some of the largest industrial smithies having hammers with repaired or modified cylinders exploding and killing operators.

EDIT- Whilst I acknowledge that air hammers are essentially quite low in terms of their operating PSI of air pressure. I personally wouldn't buy an hammer with cracks or evidence of extensive repair. That said, I certainly wouldn't refuse a repaired hammer If i was offered it for free. 

At this point I had a machine which was mechanically ok (as best as I could evaluate) So it was time for me to proceed on to the ground work. Which was utterly exhausting.  I had told myself to hire a mini digger and smash the job just as quickly as possible. Brilliant advice that I soundly ignored.

Instead, I decided that I would just "have a go by hand and see how it goes". I think at this point I was trying to save a few pennies. I prepared the area for the ground work and cut the perimeter with a floorsaw and the then cut then interior into 12" squares. At the corner of each square I drilled right through with a sds 20mm bit. When that was all done I thought -"that's probably enough- I will have compromised it for sure!". So, with full confidence I lifted the 24lb sledge we keep for just such emergencies right above my head and brought it fully down to the middle of the well--perforated crisscross.

No effect. I tried again and again for half an hour hitting the same position (the centre-where I assumed to be "weakest") and the floor of the workshop just laughed at me. It was a this point I phoned the tool hire people and got a kango floor breaker in which was, frankly miraculous, but still incredibly exhausting to use!  When I eventually found my way through the concrete (which turned out to be a bit more than 8" thick, with steel re-enforcement) and exposed the earth underneath, things became a little easier as you are suddenly able to nibble away at the edge of the hole you've made. The added bonus then is that the tip of the breaker goes very easily into the soil, becoming stuck each time.
After I had cleared away the one ton of concrete floor rubble, it was time to start excavating. It was at this point I should have got a digger in as the sub soil turned out to be pure red and blue clay (no actual soil whatsoever) with large granite stones throughout. It was very difficult going as the clay totally absorbed the impact of the spade making it very hard to pick up any meaningful amount at one time.

My brother stopped by for some encouragement- I was about dead by this point.

Despite being hard going, it did make a beautiful hole! 

The bottom was filled and leveled with sieved hard core. Large ply wood board onto this, then alternating layers of cork board and dense conveyor belt rubber matting. this was an ad-hoc solution to isolate the vibrations. Proper fabreeka matting would have added a few grand and was not called for given my location.
on top of this we built a water tight board container, and isolated this from its surroundings with 50mm polystyrene.  We fabricated the cage that held the floor bolts and the recess for the anvil and lowered this in place.  This was welded in situ to prevent movement during the concrete pour- the bottom of the anvil recess was removable to allow for removal of air bubbles. 

two pack self leveling floor compound poured onto the raw concrete. Ready for the machine movers! 

Some more paint

Three musketeers.

After all that I 'spose I should show you what she does.

After all that I spose I should show you what she does. 

The dates on the photographs tell me how long it took. 

The first image when I just met her for the first time is the 7th of July 2015 and the first image I have of her running is 15th December  so that is five months of work and organising others. 

A big labour but a major benefit.

Oh, and my Daughter named her "BESSIE", her serial number is 11253 and she is 95 years young. 


  1. Amazing machine. I hope to see it personally one day, and maybe, give it a go!

  2. Josh, great article! FWIW, I do not know that there is any way a self-contained (motor-driven) hammer can explode a cylinder, or ever has. There is just no significant pressure inside. I think the old-timers were referring to STEAM powered hammers, which can blow off their cylinder heads at just about any time if water (condensate) is allowed to accumulate in the cylinder on top of the piston. If the tup is then raised suddenly, the water (which is not compressible) will act like a solid object between the piston and the head, and the momentum of the tup will blow the head right off. This is so common that most large steam hammers have safety chains bolted to the center of the head and the top of the hammer, in the hope of keeping the busted head from dropping onto the operators. In any event, great job. I know that was a lot of work. I'm sure the hammer will pay you back in work saved very quickly. Cheers!

    1. Hi Tom, good comment. I would agree that normal air pressure is too low to be dangerous. I dont want to be too specific as it might be a bit litigious, but the event i am thinking of occurred last year with an industrial forge in the UK. But thinking on it a bit harder now- I did only provide half of the anecdote. The hammer I think had been prepared previously but what caused the failure was that it had also been modified with an additional in put of compressed air. anyway, it popped and killed a fella.

      I will concede that in normal use pressure is likely too low to be a problem, but i still personally would not buy a hammer that was visibly cracked.

      Interesting points about the steam hammer. Thanks for that

      your feedback is much appreciated!

  3. Wow, I never heard of adding pressurized air to a self-contained hammer. Thanks for explaining. I'm going to imagine (hope) that that was an isolated event? You mentioned "hammers" and "cylinders" like it was a common thing, so I thought maybe you were referring to steam hammers, where blowing a head or splitting a cylinder is a fairly common thing.