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Tuesday December 7, 2021

Making Forepunches

Written by Bob Gillanders
Category: Shoe & Tool Fabrication
Hits: 5804

Frustrated with folding and or breaking your forepunches? At wits end with their care and feeding? That's where I was on May 10 when I showed up for a hands on clinic with Roy Bloom and Dave Farley. The following is what I heard Roy say, any misinformation is mine.

Start with a length of H-13 1/2' round (available from Valley Farrier's Supply). At this point it is necessary to abandon any fear of this stuff. It's simple, not magic. Heat it up and hit it. You want to make the forepunch in three heats (not so tough if you abandon your fear). Get the piece good and yellow. Keep in mind you don't want to go to lunch while the steel is in the fire, but with an atmospheric forge, it's real hard to hurt H-13 in a few heats.

For an E nail of drift punch, bring the steel out and square it up on the horn with the flat side of your heavy hammer (Figure 1). Flip the piece over 90 degrees after every 2 or 3 blows to get a square piece going. The taper can start to show up for you in this heat. The end of the steel will get a ripple in it, do not put this back into the steel, you grind it off later. When the steel is too cool to work it will tell you, "You're beating cold iron" and it won't go anywhere. Get it good and yellow again and square it up more, remember that eventually the finished product will be slightly rectangular.

The third heat should give you your finished shape and size. With the flat side of your hammer use the top of the anvil on the far edge (fig 2). When you want to move steel in a hurry, use the horn of the anvil, as you need more finesse, move to the face of the anvil. By now, what you have should be what you want. Now you're ready to grind the final touches on your forepunch and tidy up the end.

Let it cool off and then use a chop saw to cut the forepunch to length. Too long, and the tool can be tippy, too short and it can be harder to use when making a shoe. Visualize the bar stock with the forepunch and make it suit yourself. After you cut the forepunch to length, grind a bevel and slight roundness on the hammer end (fig 3). Using the round side of your hammer on a rounded tool gives an amazingly sharper smack to your swing.

Now if you want to make a city head forepunch, the major heats are the same, except on the first heat you bring the steel out and smack that baby flat on the horn. Flip 180 degrees every two or three blows. After one heat you want figure 4. On the second heat, you shape the city head shape on the anvil top (Fig. 5), flipping the piece 180 degrees every couple blows or 90 degrees whenever things start to fold. By the third heat, you can shape up the forepunch to match your brand of city head nail. Air cool and grind the final touches.

To weld a handle on your punches, cut lengths of flat bar stock and dress them up. I used 11" of 5/16" X 3/4". Using stainless welding rod, tack the handles in place. Put the tool head in the fire and heat to a dull red. Bring it out and weld up the handle. Put the tool back in the fire and heat it up to a good yellow heat. Bring the tool out and put it in a coffee can full of wood ash or lime. Preheat the can of ash of lime on the top of your forge so it's not too cold. Let it all sit over night and you've got a forepunch. Never put it in a fire again. If it needs dressing up, grind it.

Having done all that, I used my new forepunches to make some shoes and it was glorious to get neat, clean consistent nail holes. Completely worth the effort!

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First published in FAWS Newsletter, Summer 1998.

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