No more prepaid orders?

I know it has been years since I have used my blog page here at WordPress.  But This seems like the best place to get my thoughts down concerning some upcoming changes to Black Bear Forge and the way I accept and process orders.

For years I have had a website with a simple shopping cart system that allowed people to order and pay upfront for a variety of items.  Those orders would then go into the queue and hopefully be completed and shipped in a timely manner.  While this works and allows the customer to secure their place in the queue, it has become a very burdensome way of doing business.  It was great when I had 10 – 20 orders in the queue and lead times of about 4 weeks.  But as more and more people started buying my products the list grew faster than I could keep up.  At one point I had nearly 100 prepaid orders pending in the queue.  Thats a lot of people with lots of expectations on receiving their order in a timely manner.  When you factor in the little things that life brings your way to keep you out of the shop, things like injuries, bad weather, family vacations and so on. the wait times can not only be long, but also extremely difficult to predict accurately.  Currently working a 60 plus hour work week, I anticipate lead times of about 16 weeks.

So the time has come to put the brakes on an regain control and hopefully a more sane approach to doing business and taking orders.  In the next month or so i will start the process of removing the ordering option form the items listed on my web site.  This is also to prepare for a completely new and revised web site.  Once all of the options for ordering and prepaying for items is gone from the web site I will concentrate on the current backlog of orders.  With no new orders being accepted I hope the backlog will start to clear out in a more timely manner.

Once things are back under control I plan to use a slightly different approach to making items for sale.  Instead of accepting an endless number of paid in full orders I will make items for sale so that if you pay for the listed item it is available and ready to ship.  To facilitate that system I am looking at simply using my Etsy shop at:  This will make my life and the listing of things for sale much simpler since Etsy is designed just for this purpose.

But I know that some people will miss out on limited production runs or one of a kind items unless they just happen to look at the shop at the right time.  So with that in mind I will also be starting an unpaid waiting list.  I will add names to the list with no deposit.  The list is not an obligation to buy nor does it guarantee I will make a given item when I get to your name on the list (so if you get on the list hoping for a sword or a driveway gate, you’re still going to be out of luck).  As the time allows between stocking the Etsy shop, building stock for shows and trying to live a life outside the shop, I will slowly take a few names on the list.  At that time we will discuss your project quote a price and accept a deposit with full payment due on completion.

I hope this all makes some sort of sense.  I also hope that it allows me the freedom both in the shop to make what I am inspired and excited about making at any given time.  But also the freedom to live life without feeling like I cannot enjoy a day off because the list keeps getting longer an longer by the day.  After all we have been building our home for 10 years and I haven’t done a full weeks work in the last two years due to the overwhelming amount of work in the shop.

Thank you for everyone who has been supporting Black Bear Forge.  I won’t be going anywhere, just destressing the process a bit.

Woodworking in America here we come.

Today Janet and I made the commitment to attend Woodworking in America this year.  This will be in Kansas City MO. September 25th – 27th.  This will provide an opportunity to introduce our products to lots of woodworkers.

Check it out at

Hope to see you there

The time to retire has come

I started working for a private ambulance company back in 1980.  Then was hired by the Aurora Fire Department in 1987.  I have progressed through the ranks from probationary firefighter to paramedic and for the last 14 years have served as a suppression lieutenant on an engine company.  Most my time as an officer has been at station 10.  I have had the honor of working with a great crew at 10s.  However after 34 years in emergency service, It is time to retire. from firefighting and emergency medicine.  It is with great excitement that I pick up my hammer to begin a new career as a full-time blacksmith.  I have been running the shop part-time for 20 years or more and the time feels right to make it a full-time job.  So thank you to all of those I have served with as a fire fighter and thank you to all of my customers past and present who have made this transition possible.  Wednesday October 8th will be the start of a new adventure.  Please come visit at

Axe forging at the Rocky Mountain Blacksmithing Conference

I have received a very nice bit of recognition recently.  I was asked to demonstrate axe forging at this years Rocky Mountain Blacksmithing Conference in Carbondale Colorado.

While this is a great honor and I am really looking forward to it.  I also am a bit nervous.  One of my blacksmithing idols, Peter Ross, will also be demonstrating this year.  I know Peter has made quite a few more axes over the years than I have.  In any case it promises to be a great conference.  We will also have Mindy Gardner and James Makely to fill out the demonstrators.  If you’re a blacksmith or simply interested please come and join us.

Planing Stop

Boy, have I been bad about writing this blog.  I don’t think any of the great bloggers have any competition from me.

Anyway,  Today I finished up a few planing stops or bench stops, I’ve also seen them called bench hooks.  These are a small fishtail shaped iron hook that had teeth filed into it.  Typically these are set into a wooden square 2″ – 3″ that is mortised through the bench top.  This allows the iron hook to move up or down to adjust to the board thickness.  These are a real improvement to most hand tool workbenches.

Three planing stops ready to be put to work.

Three planing stops ready to be put to work.

When you cut the hole in the wooden part of the stop, just make sure it is a good fit so you don’t cause a split like i did.

Here is the bench stop inserted into the wooden planing stop.

Here is the bench stop inserted into the wooden planing stop.

In use be sure to keep the iron stop well below the path of your plane iron.  This will dull your cutter badly if you’re not careful

The planing stop in use

The planing stop in use

New Heat Treating Kiln

New kiln

Last week I attended a knife making workshop at Scott Kretschmer’s shop in Loveland.  The workshop was taught by Steve Rollert from Dove Knives.  This was a full day of demonstration and discussion about hand forged knives.

One of the main topics was a the proper heat treatment of knives.  Blacksmiths have traditionaly judged heat by color and while this is pretty good it isn’t perfect.  Colors appear different in different ambient light.  It is also hard to tell the difference betwwen 1100 degrees and 1200 degrees accurately and that 100 degree difference can be important.  Hardening at the exact right temperature makes for repeatable results.  If you don’t like the results you can easily judge if it should be a bit hotter or a bit cooler.  But that is only possible if you can hit the exact hardening temperature you are aiming for every time.

Enter my “new” heat treating kiln.  This is an electric oven capable of very exact temperature control.  You can set the exact temprature you want, leave the knife or (any other tool for that matter) to preheat and soak – hold at temperature – if needed.  You can’t do that accurately with a torch or a forge.  This particular kiln is actually a small ceramics kiln that was being used by a silver smith for burning out wax for lost wax casting.  It is not ready to be a heat treating kiln yet.  I will need to add some higher tech precision controls to make it work the way it needs to.  But, since a new heat treating kiln costs close to $2,000 and this one was only $200 plus $100 or so for the controls, it will be a bargan.

Part of my long term goal is to make quality hand forged tools for woodworkers.  This new equipment will help me turn out consistent, predictable high quality tools.

It was too muddy to get the car, with the kiln in it, right up to the shop.  So it went up on the back of the ATV

It was too muddy to get the car, with the kiln in it, right up to the shop. So it went up on the back of the ATV.

The kiln was tranfered to the top of my welding cart, since there was no place else to put it, then rolled in under cover.

The kiln was tranfered to the top of my welding cart, since there was no place else to put it, then rolled in under cover.

Warm beer anyone?


A few weeks ago a friend was commenting on a TV show he had seen where someone took what he thought was an old style soldering iron, and used it to warm his cup of coffee.  While I have never actually seen this done, I have heard of a “flip iron” being used to make a hot toddy or hot buttered rum.  I felt pretty smug knowing what he was refering to.

Imagine my surprise when I recieved the following message a few days latter. “I’ve been searching for an iron tool that is used in the upper-midwest during spring bock beer festivals. The solid iron “head” of the tool is heated in a fire and then dipped red hot into a glass of beer. The result is a hot foamy head of beer.”

Here is the picture provided by the customer

Here is the picture provided by the customer

Now I really should learn from the way the old timers did things. It would save me lots of grief.  But not me, I have a 100 pound power hammer.  So why not just make these from a single piece of 1″ round bar?  Even under the hammer drawing 10″ of 1″ bar into 40″ of 1/2″ bar is a lot of work.  I suspect that this took about 3 times longer than the alternate and probably more traditional approach.  I am pretty sure the old timers would have used a shorter section of the 1″ bar with a short stub drawn out and the 1/2″ handle forge welded on.  But, live and learn.  My customer gets a great value and I got a great education.

I suppose I need to make a shorter one and try the hot toddy or hot buttered rum, but I’ll leave the warm beer for more adventurous types.

Here are the 43" long irons ready to make hot beer, Yum ;)

Here are the 43″ long irons ready to make hot beer, Yum 😉

The claw hammer gives some idea of the size.

The claw hammer gives some idea of the size.

Small turning projects for working on other projects

Small wood turnings used in other crafts

Small wood turnings used in other crafts

Yesterday I decided to do something a bit different.  I worked on three small and fairly simple wood turnings.

The smallest is a fid and is used in rope and cord work such as a splice making a loop in the end of a rope.  Historically these were a common item on sailing ships often made from lignum Vitae, a very dense hardwood.  They are made in a wide variety of sizes, this one is about 6″.  Small ones are usually of steel and are called a marlin spike.

The next larger piece is made of maple and is used to burnish the edges of leather.  The different sizes of  grooves are used for different thicknesses of leather.  In use it is rubbed vigorously back and forth to smooth and polish the edges.

The largest piece is a nostepinne.  These are for making a ball of yarn and are remarkably efficient.  I have been meaning to make one for Janet for several months.  The photo below is her first ball wound this way.