Thursday, June 17, 2010

Link by link, chain by chain.

Traditional blacksmith’s work is particularly satisfying when the item to be made is real and needed. Such is the chain maker’s lot. Forged chain was an essential tool that was in demand. It was used with horses and oxen to pull farm wagons, logging sleighs, and stone boats. Chain was used to anchor ships in the harbor. A forged chain was even strung across the Hudson River during our Revolutionary War to keep the British from sailing up river. Chain today is largely made by automated machines. But for over 1000 years (900 to 1900AD) chain was made link by link through craft and skill.

I have been making chain for the farmers to use with the oxen. Each link starts out as a 7-inch length of 3/8th-inch round bar. It is bent to a U shape.  Next, the link is prepared for forge welding. The ends are scarfed to a wedge shape and overlapped. They are heated and fluxed with borax to prevent iron oxide from impeeding the weld.  Working on the anvil and over the horn, the link is welded to a solid link and forged to a nice even oval shape.

When the smith has turned two-thirds of his pile of U-shaped links into nice welded ovals, the chain assembly begins.  Two welded links are scooped up with an open U.  The ends of that link are welded making a 3-link chain.  Once all of the links are joined in sections of three links each, then the smith starts joining sections of 3s together with an open link to make chains of 7 links.  Then, he joins two 7s with an open link to make 15s, then those to make 31s, and finally two chains of 31 with an open link makes a chain of 63 links.  Then, he might add a nicely forged hook to each end.

If all went as planned the chain is now 63 links, two iron rings, and two iron hooks!  It should be very close to 12 feet.  That is just right to use with oxen to haul the stone boat or the harrow in the field.
Throughout history chain was needed and highly valued. But it was also utilitarian and commonplace. Therefore, the chain maker’s work was essential and difficult, but carried no great prestige. If a swordmaker produced a blade with 500 layers of forge-welded steel, they were respected for having created a masterpiece. If a chain maker produced a chain with 500 forge welds they have made a 100 foot chain. It is just a half week's work.  Tomorrow, he would begin to make another chain link by link, foot by foot!  And be careful with those welds because everyone knows chain is only as strong at it's weakest link!

1 comment:

  1. Can you tell me about this chain? IMG_0121.JPG

    ReplyDelete

Blog Widget by LinkWithin