Thursday, May 10, 2012

A few weeks ago at Tillers International, we held a small foundry class. Students learned how to construct a small foundry, source metal, make green sand moulds and cast soft metals such as aluminum, brass and bronze. 

The forge requires a few extra skills to build, but essentially it is a metal bucket with a hole in the bottom, lined with fireclay. You can then build a simple lid by packing wet fireclay into circle of sheet metal tack welded together and reinforced with some thin wire which acts as rebar. 

You fill the forge with charcoal ( we make our own ) and introduce a forced air source to the hole in the bottom. A hair dryer works well. This system will attain temperatures well over 2000 degrees. A crucible is set in the forge on top of the charcoal and scrap metal is added to the crucible.

Here we are making two-part green sand moulds.. Its just two simple wooden frames that latch together on the sides. The green sand is wet enough that when packed, it does not need to be supported on the bottom. The method requires some planning, but is fairly simple. The trick is too think about where your center line will be. If you look at most cast objects, you will notice a line running down the center, where two halves of the mould join.You press the object you wish to mould into the packed sand halfway to the centerline. You then repeat the process using the opposite side in the second mould, adding a tapered tube of some sort (we use a piece of pool cue ) to the top mould which allows metal to be poured into the cavity created. Remove the objects, and you are left with two cavities which each form one half of the mould. Stack the boxes and secure the latches. The wet sand holds the shape of the object you pressed into it even when turned upside down.

Now the fun part. Pour the molten metal into the moulds through the holds left by the pool cues.

Let it cool, then bust it out. The sand can be sifted and reused. 

That's my sweetheart "Ol' Faithful" on the right. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Gold Bug

After a long summer of drinking Painkillers and reading Charleston History books on the beach, it is time for the big fall project.  Here it is. A 9 ft fiberglass dinghy that needs a 3.5 hp restored outboard, some custom teak gunwales, and maybe some teak benches. I already have a name for her. The "Gold Bug"

Tonka Trucks

A standard Spring Project is building fences. Here we are using a bobcat to drill a 4 ft hole. Then you just grab an 8 ft railroad tie off the wagon with the front end loader and drop it in the hole. A plumb bob and some high tensile wire later, you have a corner post.

It takes about a minute to drill a four foot by one foot hole with that auger. 

Heading Home

The Way Back Home

To begin, let's go back a little. 

Several years ago, a good friend and mentor told me about Tillers International one afternoon, saying, "you need to at some point go out there. It's everything you are looking for." 
In 2008, while living in Boston, MA, I took the train out to see the place and take a blacksmithing course.
Volunteering one very picturesque evening to help bale some hay, I felt that rare and elusive emotion of complete serenity. There was something about this place. I begged for an internship and two weeks later, I left my job, sublet my apartment and was back on the farm. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I've made in a long time. I reluctantly returned to Boston in the Fall to continue school and normal life (normal for me anyways). Four years later, after moving from one thing to the next, exploring the depths of myself, I remembered my Eagle Scout training. "When you find yourself lost in the woods, Stop Moving. Look around for landmarks,  try to get your bearings, and if possible, retrace your steps." So in February, I took the train back out to Kalamazoo, Mi., and spent two weeks at Tillers volunteering my time, and convincing the staff, why I belonged there full-time. Here are some photos of that trip. 

I spent most evenings reading or playing around in the wood and metal shops. Here is my second wood turning attempt. The first snapped in half. 

That's Pip the Mule, a rescue, and a flock of merino sheep, We also keep cashmere and angora goats.  

Two Belgians,  Bob and Tom having breakfast on a foggy morning. 

 The gate on the chicken coup was a project I built 4 years ago as an intern at Tillers. The task was to create a gate that chickens, guinea fowl and ducks could fit through, but goats and sheep could not. Happy to see it still in use.

My new apartment on the farm the first night was sparse, and bathed in moonlight.
A first evening project should be a side table or maybe forging a fireplace set. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

With the clamps now off, it was time to inspect our work. To use up leftover Marine Tex, we went ahead and  ran a bead top and bottom around the metal gunwales. Thirty years of dings and dents had left some suspect spots and the last thing we needed was more holes in the boat.


Not bad for the first coat.

Ol' girl's looking good.

William was in town from Hawaii just in time to remount the tiller. Remember that the oversized tiller mount was the root cause of the entire structural failure. The tiller post had rubbed a hole in the transom gunwale which resulted in catastrophic failure that fateful day in Charleston Harbor. The trick was to remount the old tiller without causing the same problems. The solution? A plywood spacer block.

William reaming the 3/8 hole with a 1/8 bit 

I decided that since we had the whole thing taken apart for the first time in thirty years, we should go ahead and replace all that corroded hardware. Well at three dollars a piece, those six bolts, washers and nuts added up to almost forty dollars! 

We applied a nice layer of silicone behind the mount, in the holes and along every wooden edge.

There she is boys.

It was cloudy and windless last day in town for William...that is until the sky's opened and 10 knots of wind showed up just in time to load up and head to Sullivan's.