Forged in Fire

Forging and forming is an elective course within the MME department where the first lab teaches students how to forge a nail.  Over the past two years this lab has expanded and developed into the Mines forge shop, located in the high bay area of Hill Hall.  This program has been heavily funded and provided for by the Forging Industry Education and Research Foundation (FIERF), and several motivated MME students. Over the last year shop expansions have included a hydraulic press, and many tools forged by students for the shop. 

Two of the smiths in the shop, Stuart Shirley and Ben Ellyson have been very interested in forging ice axes for mountaineering.  The Oredigger asked, why forge an ice axe? 

“This forging was based on a photo that we saw at Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, it looked like a challenging and fun project! Ben is a very active climber, and interested in building climbing tools” -Stuart Shirley

(Left) the photos that inspired the ice axe project with the beginnings of the ice axe resting on top of the image of the associated step in the forging process. (Right) the nearly completed ice axe produced by Stuart and Ben.

The style of ice axe these students are forging is the predecessor to the axe popularized by Tom Frost and Yvon Chouinard. Since starting on the ice axe project students have also forged climbing hammers and pitons, showing there is more to forging than making knives or shoeing horses. 

A forged tool such as an ice axe will be inherently stronger than a part that is machined or cast from the same material. The increased strength of the part is due to the preserved “flow” of the crystalline grains within the forging. Many tools and parts today are still forged, albeit in a more automated and industrialized setting, due to the superior mechanical properties produced by the process. 

Education is the primary goal of the forging space, and over the last year bottle opener demos have been the main class offered by the forge.  Expanding this learning experience in the fall of 2019, a beginning forging class was offered to MME students with sixteen students completing this course. 

Now in the coming spring semester the forge shop will open up to campus eight slots for students to learn the basics forging; bending, drawing, shouldering, and punching. This class takes place over an eight week period, at the end of this first Module students have the opportunity to test into open shop user access. Keep an eye out in the DailyBlast for the sign-up sheet at the beginning of the Spring 2020 semester.

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