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Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

by Mark Aspery of Springville, CA

Stock: For this example 8 inches of 3/4 inch square A36 Hot rolled bar is used.

Rationale and Method

Box jaw tongs offer a number of advantages over open jaw tongs under most circumstances. Primarily the smith can take a relaxed grip on the tongs when forging without fear of loosing the piece. The piece will not shift during the forging process when secured by the box. Making a pair of tongs was a milestone for a lot of blacksmiths. In times gone past a Journeyman Smith meant just that, a smith that went upon a journey to learn more skills before taking a masters test. When the smith appeared at the door of a prospective employer, he/she would be required to demonstrate their skills. A yard stick for this was to make a pair of tongs.

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

Box Jaw Tongs example A

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

Box Jaw Tongs example B

There are a number of skills used in making a pair of tongs. An understanding of the Cow Poop theory of Blacksmithing is a must.

The Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

Imagine a freshly placed patty of cow poop at your feet. If, per chance, you were to jump into this with both feet, where would the poop go? Out! 360 degrees out. If we call the face of the anvil the field and the hot metal the cow poop, your hammer becoming your feet; striking a blow on the hot metal with your hammer will yield the same effects as jumping in with both feet. The metal will spread in 360 degrees. If you were aiming to draw a taper on this piece of metal, then the metal that did not move in the direction of the taper will have to be hit again in order to force it to cooperate.

Let us go back to the cow poop. Suppose that we now hit the cow poop with a Cricket (baseball) bat. Where would it go now? We may get a little on our gloves, but most would move perpendicular to the bat. We have directional control of the metal.

We can apply this to our forging in a number of ways. a.) Forge the piece over the bick or horn (a built in baseball bat), and b.) we can use the peen of our hammer (a smaller baseball bat), or c.) we can draw out with a fuller, or any combination of the above. In this way we are limiting the amount of metal that we have to move twice. We do more with less effort.

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

Figure A

When you drive a piece of metal into the corner of an anvil (as in Fig. A) it yields the same result as driving a fuller into the metal. The fuller is shown for clarity. You will be using this technique in the first step in making these tongs. The jaw of the tongs will be only as wide as the parent stock, 3/4 inch, thus any gain in the width will have to be forged back into the stock. In using the corner of the anvil in this manner, we employ the baseball bat side of the “Cow Poop” theory and keep any growth in width to a minimum.

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

Figure B

In Fig. B the piece is held flat on the anvil and a half faced blow is delivered. This results in the metal supported on the anvil being spread 360 degrees and the metal that is unsupported being driven down the side of the anvil. The result is termed a “set transition,” as if it were put there by a set hammer. You will use this, the “both feet” use of the Cow Poop Theory when you set down the boss or hinge plate.

There are a number of ways to make a pair of box jaw tongs. Some have the box extending all the way down the jaw. Others have half the box on each jaw. In this example, the box is about 3/4 inch long. In having a sufficient gap behind the box we can pass stock in from the side, as shown in example B. This is useful when we want to hold a bar for upsetting purposes etc.

In the following example it is assumed that the smith does not have an abundance of tools. There are other ways to achieve the same end results, but they are more tool intensive.

Hammer control is an issue during this project, and the smith is advised to make sure that the hammer being used is well dressed, with no sharp edges. That will aid in delivering blended, overlapping blows and improve the overall finish of the piece. The measurements given are approximate.

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

Step 1, A thru C

1 – Working on the near side of the anvil, place a chalk mark on the anvil at about the 1 1/ 4 inch mark. Place the end of the bar against this mark, lower your tong hand and match the angle of the stock as you deliver the hammer blows.

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

Step 2, A thru C

2 – Turn the bar over 180 degrees and work on the offside of the anvil, place about 3/4 inch over the edge. Keep the stock flat as you deliver your blows. Take care to avoid hitting the shoulder that you formed in step 1.

Go back to the nearside of the anvil and work out the resultant kinks formed by step 2. At this stage do not adjust any gain in width as shown by the arrow in step 2C, You will reduce this dimension in step 3.

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

Step 3, A & B

3 – No matter what you do to the jaws of a pair of tongs, go back to your initial starting place of step 1-C and if you hold your tongs in the left hand, turn the top of the stock 90 degrees to the left. If you hold the tongs in your right hand, turn to the right. Move out to the offside edge of the anvil and while holding the stock flat on the anvil, orient the piece by sliding it to the left to approximately 45 degrees with the edge of the anvil.

The stock will tend to creep a little over the rounded edge of the anvil, so start a little further back (about 1/8 inch) than you would like. The direction of the creep is shown in step 3A by the arrows. Photos in step 6 shows the result of the creep in the slope of the transition.

Deliver a mix of half faced and moving further back onto the anvil, full faced blows. Stop when the stock is an even 1/8 inch thick.

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

Step 4, A thru C

4 – From step 3, turn the stock 90 degrees to the left (or right for the left handed smith). Move the bar out about 7/8 inch (Photo step 4 A), lift your tong hand and deliver your hammer blows, matching the angle of the stock. This will form the back edge of the boss or hinge plate.

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

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