Shaping a Grip

Blacksmithing uses two operations to transform mild steel or wrought iron: forging and shaping. Forging is using a hammer and anvil to alter a piece of steel’s dimensions. Shaping is changing the piece’s lines in relationship to the air around it. A line becomes a circle, a spiral, or an abrupt bend. The tools employed in shaping can be as simple as a hammer and anvil or as complex as a series of blacksmith-engineered jigs. This post will be about the shaping involved in transforming a length of forged stock into a grip.

In this photo the ends of the piece of stock have already been forged and the hole punched for the screw before the shaping process begins.

Two work areas are involved. The primary work area is the forge, shown above. The forged pieces before being bent are to the lower right, beside the tongs. In the fire we have two groups of forgings being heated. The group to the left is being heated prior to the first bending and the group to the right is being heated prior to the second bending. Grips that have been through both first and second bending operations are out of the fire, to the upper right of the tongs.

In this photo the HF20 grip is being bent after being heated in the forge. A second bend is required to make the grip.

The other major work area is the vise bench, just a step away from the forge. The vise holds a special jig used for bending the grips. The vise table is used as a cooling surface and to support the metal block used for leveling the grips.

After reheating the stock, the second bend is made and the piece is measured to make sure it is the proper size, 2 5/8 inches long. We try to get the grips close to this size, plus or minus a little. Blacksmithing is not an extremely precise art.

Further heats for the grips are made in a “soaking” fire. This is different from a normal forging fire in that very little air is given to the fire. The aim is to achieve a gradual heat which soaks from outside to inside, producing an even heat throughout the piece. In this case we are using a soaking heat because we have 30 items in the fire at one time.

Coke is placed around and over the grips and they are left to warm slowly. We turn the blower handle only now and again to maintain the fire.

When heated thoroughly, the pieces are removed from the fire one at a time and twisted open using two pairs of pliers. After all the grips are opened, they are placed again in a soaking fire, this time with the forged ends downward for best heating.

Next the grips are taken from the fire one at a time and the forged ends are shaped over a tool held in the vise. We use a hammer to flatten the forged ends against the tool.

The rest of the work is primarily done cold. This is the process of getting the grips to sit properly upright on the forged ends without tipping or wobbling. Here George is leveling the grip by using a small French pattern hammer’s peen to strike a forged end. A master grip is sitting upright to the right of his hands.

We use forge masters and templates for all the production work we do. These provide a comparison. In the case of this grip style, the master grip reminds us how much to open the grip in the step shown earlier. Another template shows to what size the grip ends are to be forged. There will be variation, but we try to keep what we make within fairly narrow boundaries of size and shape.

A final soaking fire is used to reheat the grips before putting the finish on them. The aim of this heat is to create an even layer of scale to take the finish, without blisters or bubbles. For this heat, we first place narrow pieces of 16 gauge mild steel in the fire, to partially block the air coming up from the tuyere. The grips are placed on the steel pieces and covered with coke. They will sit in this reducing fire for about 20 minutes, and be given air only now and again from the blower.