Veteran’s Day Shenanigans – Aluminum Foundry and Blacksmithing

I’ve wanted to do some metal work for a while now but have had issues getting the coals hot enough to heat the metal for blacksmithing or a foundry.

My first foundry attempt last December didn't get hot enough to melt the aluminum

My first foundry attempt last December didn’t get hot enough to melt the aluminum

My first attempt at a foundry failed miserably. The air flow was not properly directed at the coals, so the heat did not circulate effectively and wouldn’t melt the metal in the crucible.

Don’t know what I’m talking about?
A foundry is used to melt metal to liquid for pouring into molds.
A crucible is a container (typically made of graphite) that holds the molten metal.

Metal working has been around for thousands of years and it’s not like they had modern day equipment. Instead they built bellows to supply air to their coals, getting them hot enough to work the metal.

I didn’t have a bellows, but it was one of the windiest days we’d had in years. Theoretically if I dug a fire pit and filled it nearly to the brim with coals, the 60mph winds would superheat those coals to the necessary temperature for metal work.

Safety Note: I live in the Pacific Northwest where it has been raining quite frequently. All the surrounding area was damp and there was little to no risk of a fire spreading via the wind.

craig and mike basket weaving and foundry

Mike (left) melting cans in the crucible while I weave a basket fish trap out of grape vines

In Veteran’s Day fashion, my Army buddy Mike came out to work on survival/self-reliance skills with me.

We dug two coal pits as we would be conducting several projects simultaneously;
– Melting aluminum cans (soda/beer cans, ok mostly beer) in a crucible
– Blacksmithing a railroad spike into a knife
– And firing some pottery I’d made from river clay
//

Foundry
We inserted the crucible as deep as we could into the coals with about an inch of clearance at the top to prevent coals from getting in with the molten metal. It took about 2 hours for it to really get going. Once molten aluminum forms at the bottom of the crucible melting cans only takes a matter of seconds.
mike with foundry melting cans
Our first mold was made of bamboo and the molten aluminum burned a hole through it. Our failed attempt was thrown back into the crucible to re-melt.
mike pouring molten aluminum into spearhead mold
The second mold was crafted out of river clay and was much more successful. We made an aluminum spear tip that we could later attach to bamboo shaft.
spearhead mold mike with foundry spearhead

Tools needed for Foundry
Crucible
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Crucible Tongs // Amazon.com Widgets

Blacksmithing
While on my adventure in California I had found some railroad spikes. While this is not the highest quality of steel, the idea was, “Could I blacksmith a cutting tool from something I scavenged with limited tools and resources?”
Railroad spike
I inserted just the tip of the metal into the hottest portion of the coals and with some help from the wind it turned to a bright cherry red. Using channel locks I pulled my heated piece from the fire and was able to flatten it out using a large hammer.
craig blacksmithing
I didn’t have time to finish this piece, however I will try to post pictures at a later date when I have a chance to finish it.
craig blacksmithing 2
The great thing about this experience was the cost. The hammer and anvil were only $55 on sale at Harbor Freight and I used a pair of channel locks from my tool box. Typically a forge costs at least several hundred dollars so this was a great way to do it for cheaper.

Tools for Blacksmithing
Anvil – http://www.harborfreight.com/55-lb-rugged-cast-iron-anvil-69161.html
Hammer – http://www.harborfreight.com/3-lb-Cross-Pein-Hammer-69049.html
Vise Grip or Channel Lock

Firing Clay Pots
This was somewhat of a success. You can read more about this project here.

If you haven’t seen my YouTube Channel yet you can check it out and subscribe below!

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About SustainableCraig

I am a military veteran, urban farmer, and financial coach whose goal is to spread knowledge of financial literacy and sustainability throughout the Pacific Northwest. I enjoy spending time outdoors where I frequently test my wilderness survival skills.
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