I had thought for a while wouldn’t it be great to get some old hay rake tines and make a Cajun triangle – or, more likely, have one made for me. From what I’d been told, it is best to use old iron instead of modern steel, for the nicer sound quality.
But then I thought, hey, for seven dollars I could buy a piece of mild steel and try my hand at blacksmithing! Who cares if it’s not the right steel! If I could hand-forge a triangle, in my wood stove, in my kitchen, that would be great!
I’ve got some inspirational music on – Lisa Leblanc, who played Snowking’s Winter Festival the other day. She had a triangle with her, and since I’d met her in Louisiana, the Cajun connection seemed strong, and I got inspired to have my own triangle…and why not make it myself.
A bit of background – most of the men on my dad’s side of the family have worked with metal somehow. My dad was a tool and die maker for over thirty years, and my uncle has worked as a serious artisanal blacksmith. I love working with steel – grinding, cutting, welding – there’s something satisfying about being able to manufacture things yourself with such a solid material. I’ve never tried pounding metal this way, so this will be all new to me. I don’t have an anvil, but I’m going to have to get one (or improvise something) to make the small-radius curves required in a triangle.
I didn’t know for sure if my woodstove would get the steel hot enough, but with some hardwood in there, the piece came out glowing. A few hits with the mallet on my makeshift “anvil”, and holy crap, the shape is changing!
I’d already thought about how I would approach this – I would start by tapering one end, then curl that end, then the first corner bend, then the last taper and curl. The idea is to maintain as much handle as possible while sticking it in my makeshift forge.
I’m burning hardwood pallet wood, and sticking the steel in for about two minutes at a time right now. The hotter the fire gets, the less time it will need presumably.
The old ball-peen hammer is getting a workout; I rarely know what else to use it for, so it’s great to have this purpose.
Progress seemed quick at the beginning…But now maybe I’m being too much of a perfectionist. I want to get a nice taper on the end, so it’s not as fast now as it was at first.
Got some more inspirational music on now, having made it through Lisa Leblanc’s album. Savoy-Doucet Cajun band with Bosco Stomp as first tune.
I have discovered now about over-working the steel, as I think I’ve kind of fractured my taper.
So, day two of the triangle project. I wasn’t able to buy a small anvil, at least not at the hardware stores, so I’ve decided to use a twelve dollar drift as a substitute. With a bit of luck it might work without snapping…
I was able to curl the end reasonably well, but I’m not sure how to really coil it. I decided to quit while I was ahead (even as it is the end is starting to split) and move on to the first corner bend.
I suppose I should have thought a bit more about the corner bend… It turned out ok but the hard part was bending it in the right spot, and in a tight enough radius, and to the right angle. Maybe I didn’t even need to heat it up for this part, but because I was getting it glowing red – and not always in the right spot exactly, I felt a bit rushed. Anyway I got the first corner not looking too bad, but now I’m extra nervous about the last curl and corner. Getting the length just right will be a challenge.
On my third session of construction, I put the curl on the end of the triangle which will be cut off to make the striker/mallet/hammer—whatever you want to call it. I did this work while it was still attached to the main piece in order to have a longer handle to work with.
After cutting that piece off with a hacksaw, and making my best guess at how much material to leave for the triangle itself (there are still one curl and one corner to make and it’s hard to know exactly how much length those take up), I started doing the last taper on the triangle in preparation for curling the end. I’ve done two curls now, so I know I can do it, but they’re both a bit different, and I’d like this next one to match the first one, for symmetry on the triangle itself.
I got the last curl on the triangle to a point that I was content with, and then moved on to doing the last bend. I thought I had a great idea when I decided to use a propane torch to heat up the exact point of the corner, instead of putting the piece back in the stove. The torch was barely able to get the steel red, but at least it was isolated at the right spot. It made doing the bend a lot easier, but then I wasn’t totally content with the look of it in the end. It’s cleaner than the first one, but lacks the character I think. Plus the radius ended up tighter, and it’s not quite as nice to hold onto as the first one.
After the moderate success of the first triangle, I decided I’d better try some more. I thought I had the process all figured out. But they all ended up looking and sounding surprisingly different. I think in the end I like the first one the best, but the third one is ok too. I could streamline the process even more with a better forge and an anvil. I think even a charcoal barbecue would make a pretty good forge, especially with some sort of fan to make it hotter.
So now I’ve made three triangles, but none of them have the quality or character of a real Cajun triangle. They don’t look or sound quite the same – the sound is more tinny than I like, and they just don’t look so polished and perfect. Something to keep working on.