Published in ABANA’S “Hammer’s Blow” magazine Summer 2001 Vol. 9, #3 under title of “Bow Tongs for Small Stock” and with line drawings by Editor Brian Gilbert instead of these photo’s.
How To Make: Lightweight, old style, hollow bit tongs for holding 3/8” square or round
These tongs are similar to a pair of versatile tongs made by Toby Hickman as he was video taped when at Joe Pehoski’s Shop in 1991. That video is available for rent from ABANA. These instructions differ from that video primarily in that these are designed to be made using a hand hammer. They can also be made using a power hammer as did Toby Hickman.
To make these tongs several blacksmith processes are used: i.e. conceptualizing the final product, marking the stock, isolating the different parts, drawing out the shank and reins, upsetting the bit, slitting the bit, bending the shank, punching the rivet hole, riveting, and putting on a finish, if desired.
A good tong steel, particularly for beginning tong makers, is the common mild steel called A36 that typically has a maximum of .29% carbon. More experienced tong makers sometimes like to use a medium carbon steel such as 1045, 4140, 8640 for a stronger tong. An advantage of mild steel is that if at a red heat and then cooled in the quench tank, they are not as susceptible to cracking as they might if made of a higher carbon steel. A36 is also inexpensive and easy to work. A36 is slightly stronger than 1018/1020 (the typical cold rolled) which will also work for tongs. Remember that the stronger the steel, the lighter can be the tongs and vice versa. With this style of tongs, which hold both round and square stock in a very satisfactory manner, it is often not necessary to own tongs which only hold round bar stock.
The dimensions given in this article are for tongs made from bar stock 1/4” by 3/4” by 11”. This size is suitable for tongs designed to hold 3/8” material. The same 1/4” by 3/4” bar can be used to make tongs that will hold from 1/4” up to 1/2” material, although these tongs are a little lightweight to be holding 1/2” iron. For this size tong a bit of approx. 1” in length (marked at 3/4” on blank bar before forging) and a boss length of 7/8” to 1” is typical Since the reins and the shank (space between the boss and bit) will be drawn out, their final length will be approximately 2 times as long as the original marked distance. The shank on these tongs is marked at 1 1/2” and will stretch with drawing out to approximately 3”. Once familiar with the steps in this process, the size of the tongs can be altered depending on the dimensional characteristics you desire in the tong. Larger tongs can be made using larger bar stock with the same approximate dimensional relationships such as 5/16” by 1”, 3/8” by 1”, 1/2” by 1 1/4” etc. The key factor in determining the size of stock to use for a particular pair of tongs is to determine a suitable size for the boss. The boss does not change in thickness or width during the process of making the tong. An approximation for determining how long a piece of bar stock is needed is to simply use 1/2 the length of the desired finished product. Keep in mind that the shorter the shank the greater the holding power, but at the expense of versatility. Rivet size is not critical except that generally the bigger the tongs the bigger the rivet. A simple guide is to use a rivet at least as thick as the boss on the tong blank.
Both tong halves are made exactly the same. There is not a left and right half except if and when punching the hole, as later explained. Blacksmiths often make tongs to be used either in the left hand or right hand depending on which rein falls in the palm of the hand when the tong is opened. Another consideration sometimes discussed is whether, when in use, torque is applied counter clockwise or clockwise. There are a good number of blacksmiths that don’t worry about left or right hand and this article doesn’t either. An easy solution if right or left handed is of concern, and the tongs seem to be for the wrong hand, is to bend a jog in each rein near the boss. Make the bend so that one rein is directly on top of the other allowing equal fit for either right or left hand.
To isolate the different parts of the tong, first mark with a silver or other marking pencil the junctures of the bit, boss, and rein as shown. Then indent the bar on those marks by driving the cold bar into the corner of the anvil to make a small indentation. This indentation, if adequate in size, will make it easy, when the bar is hot, to feel those marks on the edge of the anvil in preparation for the next process. Without the indented marks, and with the iron hot, it is difficult to find and forge the right spot. Mark and indent both pieces, side by side at the same time, which helps in making both tong halves the same.
Isolate the different areas for processing. At a forging heat, notch the bar on 3 places previously marked by driving the bar onto a small radius edge of the anvil. Hold the hot iron above the face of the anvil at an appropriate angle. Holding the bar at an approximate 45-degree angle will work. Then hammer the bar over the anvil edge to the proper depth. Notch no more than 1/3 of the bar width ( ¼”) at the juncture of the reins and the boss, 1/3 of bar’s width at the juncture of the boss and the shank, and 2/3 of the bar’s width (1/2”) at the juncture of the bit and the shank. Care must be taken in not making these notches too deep as they then become weak areas. Also, the tong is stronger if those notches have a rounded inside corner rather than a sharp square corner.
A. Draw out reins at a forging heat. The reins can be drawn out first in order to provide a built-in handle eliminating the need for a pair of tongs to hold the work. Be careful not to make the reins too thin or too narrow near the boss. Keep the reins rectangular with the width wider than the thickness providing extra strength in the direction needed. Maintain the original bar’s 1/4” thickness at least near the boss. Try for a nice even taper, wide at the boss and narrow at the end. Knock off or round up the edges so the reins will feel comfortable in the hand. This 1/4” by 3/4” bar stock tong is easy to draw out by hand although a “welded on handle” is another suitable option. Drawing out this small stock with a hand hammer is good practice for blacksmiths looking to increase their hammer control and, with practice, should be relatively easy and quick. A power hammer is my method of choice when available.
B. Draw out the shank (between the boss and the bit) at a forging heat. Hammer on the back of the bar over a narrow corner or spot on the anvil to keep the previously forged boss and bit out of the way, avoiding damage to them by an errant blow. While maintaining the original 1/4” thickness, maintain a width of 1/2” near the boss and taper the shank down to a 1/4” width right before the bit.
C. At a forging heat, forge the bit width down to approx. 9/16” in preparation for splitting. The bit will lengthen to about 1” and become a little thicker.
If, by chance, a cold shut develops anywhere, grind or file it out, as cold shuts are the beginning of a future crack!
A. Split the length of the bit, at a forging heat, approx. 1/2 the width. Take care to keep the split centered and straight along the length of the bit. This may take some practice on scrap pieces. A hold down device is necessary when working alone. Making this centered slit usually works best for me by standing in front of the bit so that I’m looking down the length of the tong. Begin at the shank end of the bit and chisel toward you. Stick with the chisel on the ¼” bar stock to preserve the thin bit, but on thicker stock it is also possible to make the slit with a hacksaw. Making the split now while the shank is straight is much easier than after the shank is bent.
Additional note: Another good way to split the bit is to take a pretty high heat on the bit and shank. Then put the shank in a vise (with a vise jaw protector which puts a rounded edge on the sharp vise jaw), place the tong 1/2 with the bit up and sticking above the vise, and bend the bit down so the bit lays horizontally in the crack on the vise top - with the side to be split up. Then we have a bit that is at an approx. 90 degree angle to the shank, and is supported by the crack in the jaw protectors. Then take the chisel and make the split. This process is easier for some and since the bit is eventually bent anyway, this system works well.
B. Open the split, at a forging heat, to the proper 90-degree angle by carefully hammering onto a sharp corner or edge of the anvil.
A. Heat the shank from boss to bit then quickly cool only the bit in water to keep the bit from being distorted by the hammer in the next bending processes. Then bend bit end back approximately 70 degrees from the shank. The bend is easily made if the heated shank is placed in a post vise with the bit sticking up and out and then hammering the cold bit over. Use a cover on the vise jaw with an appropriate radius on the top edge to keep the jaw from dinging up the tong and preventing too sharp of a bend.
B. Heat the boss and shank area and bend the boss end of the shank approx. 70 degrees (cool boss, if needed, to keep from damaging it). A quality bend is easy if either the shank or the boss is placed in a vise with jaw covers.
A. Bend the shank at a forging heat between bit and boss into a half circle curve using a hammer and the horn of the anvil, bending forks, and/or another pair of tongs as needed. Try to line up the slit in the bit with an imaginary line running through the place where the rivet will go.
B. Punch and drift hole (or drill) in the center of the boss for the rivet. A drill leaves a nice uniform hole, but a punch leaves more material in the boss. If only a punch is used and not a drift, the rivet joint is inferior due to the tapered hole made by the typical punch leaving only a small surface touching the rivet. Therefore, punch a small hole, at a forging heat, and carefully drift to size (1/4” for these tongs). Drift over a 5/16” bolster (hole in a piece of iron). Set the rivet either cold or hot. Rivet should stick out approx. 1.5 - 2 diameters before pounding down. Make a nice domed rivet head with a small hammer. Using heavy hammer blows, and/or hot rivets, helps expand the rivet inside the tongs filling up any slop or space. Note that when punching, punch and drift from the inside of the tongs to the outside of the tongs. Punching and drifting will push metal and raise a ridge on the far side of the drifted area and around the hole. These raised areas, if allowed to face each other inside the joint, or unless filed down or in some way eliminated, will result in a loose-fitting joint. Figure out how the tongs will go together ahead of time and keep the abutting sides of the pivot joint flat and smooth. Since sometimes the rivet can be damaged in the ensuing adjustment and alignment process, it is often safer to use a bolt and nut temporarily, and then set the rivet in the final stages of completion.
A. Heat the tongs from boss to bit to a orange heat, then roughly adjust shank and bit as necessary so that the tongs hold a scrap piece of 3/8” square bar in the bit. Adjust bit around the scrap piece by squeezing the bit in a vise and/or finessing with a hammer on the anvil. While in the vise, adjust or bend the reins so they are open to the distance that will, when in use, fit comfortably in your hand.
B. Using the same heat or, if necessary, again heat from boss to bit. Quench to cool the newly fitted bit leaving the shank, boss and upper reins hot. Then, while holding the scrap of bar the tongs are intended to hold, place the reins in a post vise with tongs vertical and bit end up. Then bend shank, etc. where appropriate to align everything so the scrap bar stock remains tightly held and also lines up along the tong’s length with an imaginary line running through the center of the rivet and the bit. Bending forks, pliers, or another pair of tongs and a light hammer could be useful in this adjustment process. Continue the alignment and adjustment process until satisfied with the results.
If the reins are hard to move due to a tight rivet joint, heat the joint and open and close the reins several times until they loosen up. Finish with your favorite finish (wax, oil, etc.).
It is handy to cut or file a V grove toward the end of the bit so the tongs can be used to hold bar stock across the tong as well as in line with the tong.
Additional note: It is handy to have the tong reins hang straight down and not spread apart when the tongs are hanging on the tong rack. To accomplish that effect, during the process of making the tong, bend the reins next to the boss so that when assembled there is a space exceeding the width of the rod upon which the tongs are to hang. If correct, the reins will hang straight down and take up less shop space. This bending is easy to do if the rein is put in a vise, with the boss next to the vise, and then with the hammer bend over the boss at a bending heat. This concept is optional and is not represented in the tongs in this original article. See chart mentioned below.
There is a good chart on tongs showing dimensions and boss design at: http://www.anvilfire.com/bookrev/indpres/tongschart.htm. Note that the tongs style in my article above are referred to as “Goose Jaw” Tongs in the chart. Also in addition to dimensions, carefully note the construction of the angles etc. in the boss/pivot area.
Written & photographed by: Dick Nietfeld, Shady Grove Blacksmith Shop, www.blksmth.com, Grand Island, Nebraska USA - 6/5/2001