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Whatever style you have or prefer doesn't matter, just make certain the tool is sharp (where applicable) tightly handled and near to hand. If you are using old top tools, from a flea market or some resale source, chances are they are huge! That's all right though, they still work but will require more effort to use. When you strike a top tool you must first overcome the tools innate inertia, the tool will absorb whatever it needs to begin moving and transfer whatever is left to the work piece. A smaller tool absorbs a great deal less energy and thus does more work per hammer blow. I have become a great fan of metal handled tools of the sort promoted by Rob Gunter. A 3" long, 1" diameter bar is generally more than adequate for any top tool you may need. An article about these tools appeared in the previous UMBA newsletter. For smaller punches or slitting tools you may use an even smaller piece of parent stock, that saves you money.
If you are going to be making your own tools for the job consider setting the handle at a diagonal. Typically the handles are in the line with or perpendicular to the cutting edge or face. I find that a diagonal allows my hand to assume a more comfortable position, relative to the work piece, and increases my accuracy. When slitting or punching an oval shaped eye for a hammer accuracy is extremely important. Whatever you decide upon is completely up to your personal taste and whatever it is you are trying to do. The only factor that you should keep in mind is the steel type you choose. Hot work tool steels like H-11, H-12, H- 19, Atha Pneu or even "S" series steels are so superior to traditional "O" or "W" series steels for hot work that there is no comparison. Jeffrey Knight uses leaf springs from semi-trucks for most of his tools. I don't know what they are made of but I have seen them come out of workpieces glowing red-hot and still have a sharp edge. That stuff is tougher than whale-poop!! (yes you read that correctly).
One aspect of using top tools in larger pieces is the occasion when the punch or chisel gets stuck. Trust me, it will happen. There are several approaches to solving this dilemma, one is to keep some powdered coal or coal dust near the anvil. Carbon is an excellent high temperature lubricant and coal dust is mostly carbon. I you briefly we the tool and then dredge it through a can of coal dust, enough will stick to lubricate the tool and allow free removal. The other option is to sprinkle a little dust or even small coal nuggets, directly into the whole. I don't find this to work as well or as quickly. If the tool gets stuck anyway you will have to free it by either tapping it out, a brass hammer is handy for this, popping it out by flipping the work piece over and giving it a sharp rap on the anvil with the tool overhanging the edge. Or last but not least is prying it out with a knuckle buster tool similar to what mechanics use to spread ball-joints. Be sure to keep a bucket of water nearby also, you will need to cool the tool every few blows to avoid running the tools hardness. Know your alloys!!! Some steels will water shock if allowed to get too hot and then rapidly cooled in water. If your tool shatters and ends up sitting on the bottom of your water bucket it will ruin your day. Remember to organize all these items around your anvil efficiently. You need them handy but not as trip hazards.
To review: Make certain whatever tools you need are handy and securely handle mounted. Keep a bucket of water nearby for cooling your tools as well as a can of coal dust to lubricate them. Have some plan in mind to free a tool if it gets stuck, and keep these things organized in such a way as to be available to you but not in the way !!! Until next time !! Keep plugging away !!
Franklyn D Garland
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