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Project Swage Block and Cone Mandrel

Dear Fred,
You always have informative articles in the Gazette which are helpful to all levels of the craft.  Might I suggest some information on the use of the blacksmith’s swage block.  Most texts simply mention the blocks in passing giving little information as to their application.  True; most folks can easily figure out how to use the outside edges and its’s surely not  hard to understand what a ladle or spoon depression is for.  But the varied number of square and round holes  may leave some baffled as to purpose and techniques employed say for tenoning or forming shoulders.  We may all use this tool but not perhaps to it’s fullest advantage  and surely not with the facility that some of the older masters could. Just a suggestion for an article or if it might be found, some reprinted information on the subject. Actually it would be curios to gather data similar to the “Project Anvil” but on swage blocks and cones for that matter.
Thanks, Bill Ker

Let's Start a Project Swage Block and Cone Anvil!!!

Well Bill, that is a great idea. I have been gathering information on Swage blocks for some time, and will continue to do so with an article in mind. We gathered and published quite a bit of information on the anvil through the formation of  “Project Anvil”. Let’s start a similar project for Swage Blocks and Cone Mandrels.
Ok, all of you guys and gals out there how about sharing the information that you have on swage blocks and cone mandrels with our readers. Reprints from old books, from old magazines, old newsletters, including text, photographs, and drawings. I really don’t know how much information may be out there on these items. They were however, very important pieces of equipment in the blacksmiths shops.
When we started “Project Anvil” I didn’t know that an Anvil Book was in progress and I made a statement if there was enough information we might put out a book on the subject. I do not believe there is a book underway on the swage block and the cone mandrel and I doubt that there is enough information to produce a book; however, if I am wrong and it turns out that a great deal of information comes in, we will consider assembling and printing a book on the subject. Let’s see what’s available! Send your input for this project to: Blacksmith's Gazette, 950 South Falcon Road, Camano Island, WA 98292 or e-mail to Fred Holder, Editor of Blacksmith's Gazette  at fholder@sos.net.

Dear Fred,
I am writing you about “Project Swage Block and Cone Mandrel.” As an aspiring smith who is still trying to set up a forge, I had a friend give me a book titled “The Art of Blacksmithing” by Alex W. Bealer (ISBN 0-7858-0395-5). It is an excellent book for anyone trying to ‘learn it on their own’. In any case, the book has the following to say:

(page 80 - 81 ) “ Another piece of equipment which stands on the floor near the forge is the ‘mandrel. ‘ it is no more than a cone of cast iron some 2- to 4-feet high on which the smith shapes circular objects such as nose rings for oxen and hub bands for wagon wheels. The better mandrels have a slot running from point to base on one side into which tongs can be inserted while holding the piece of work. Some also have a removable tip with a shank that can be taken off the mandrel and placed in the leg vise or Hardie hole for convenience.”
(Page 93 - 94) “Often the blacksmith whose work is fairly general equips his shop with a set of  upper swages, or makes them himself, and substitutes a universally useful ‘swage block’ for the lower swages. He is not qualified to make this tool himself but he can make a wooden pattern and have it cast at the nearest iron foundry.
“Swage blocks are generally 2 1/2 - to 3-inches thick and anywhere from 6 to 18-inches square, depending on the versatility required. Usually two of the sides are serrated with semicylindrical depressions ranging from 1/8 inch to 2 inches in diameter. When the block is placed on the anvil, or on a separate wooden block or stand, these depressions are used to shape round cape chisels or used in place of lower swages.

“The remaining two sides of the cast-iron block are usually devoted to V-shaped depressions of successively larger size which serve as lower swages for shaping square stock. Sometimes, however, depending on the needs or whims of the smith, the edges provide half-ovals, half-rectangles, half-octagons or hexagons, or half of any special shape a particular smith may need
“There is no waste of space on the flat sides, either. They are pierced with all sizes and shapes of holes — round, square, rectangular, heart-shaped, whatever — to provide a precise variety far beyond that offered by the Pritchel or Hardie holes in the anvil. Such holes go entirely through the mass of cast iron, but often on both sides the swage block has hemispherical or semi-egg-shaped depressions for shaping ladle and spoon bowls, for in eighteenth-century America and Europe the smith provided these items to other craftsmen and households.”

The book has a very nice history of blacksmithing and starts from the beginning of forge and fire and works through making tools to artistic forging. The author also points out the best written directions cannot replace hands on experience.
Enjoyed my first issue (October) of the Gazette.
—Bill Bennet

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This page last updated on July 7, 1999

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