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Cranbrook stakes

Hi gang,

Somewhere rolling across the great plains at this very moment, is a
giant crate, full of all the stakes and hammers I’ve had mothballed
in Ohio for the past 13 years. (600 pounds worth…(ask me how I know
this…)) I finally decided that my 18 month stay in California is
going to be extended long enough to make it worth bringing out the
serious tools.

Buried deep in the bowels of this crate is a partial set of Cranbrook
stakes. Once upon a time, many moons ago, Cranbrook had an iron
foundry, and lo, the metals students used it to make rough castings
of a variety of silversmithing stakes. (Many, many moons. Like say
before 1980.)

These were available in the student store for years afterwards. I
think I’ve got about the last nearly full set, but there were a
couple of them that were sold out before I went through in the '90s.
I’ve got 4 different types: two giant “T” stakes, a funny curved bar
stake, and a pair of “Victoria” stakes. (They look like V’s.) The T
stakes are a typical big “T”, and another one with giant positively
poised curves on it. (think teapots or breastplates.)

Anybody else got (or heard of) any others? I believe there were at
least two other large T stake designs, and at least one set of
castings available for a vertical acting vise for holding bar

I’ve also got most of a set of the old Casting Specialties stakes
(the raw castings that were once available from Wisconsin.). Some of
these still need to be finished. Is there any interest in a “How to
(re)grind and polish your stakes” handout or page?


PS–> Has anybody managed to either contact Casting Specialties
lately, or find out what happened to them? I had a phone number that
was at least connected to a machine as recently as 2005, but I
couldn’t ever get anybody to call me back.

I have a set of the casting specialties stakes and hammer castings.
I had a time talking to them but they did furnish them. This was
about 15 years ago Several years later(about 10 years ago) I tried to
get some more sets for a group. The phone number still worked and the
message on the answering machine still worked and was identical to
the one When I bought mine.

I was unable to get a reply… The business was a home based affair
that sold to school shops.

I gather they stayed business but only sold to school shops. I
referred a fellow in Milwaukee to them but he didn’t get anywhere. If
I still lived in the general area I would have knocked on their

They are not the Cranbrook stakes but are smaller. I do have
pictures of the Cranbrook stakes in Richard Thomas’ Book. At one time
I did have info on the casting specialties stuff. [probably still do
but where ?)


Buried deep in the bowels of this crate is a partial set of
Cranbrook stakes. Once upon a time, many moons ago, Cranbrook had
an iron foundry, and lo, the metals students used it to make rough
castings of a variety of silversmithing stakes. (Many, many moons.
Like say before 1980.)

These were available in the student store for years afterwards. I
think I've got about the last nearly full set, but there were a 

Brian, maybe things changed later, but when I was there (76-78),
these stakes, designed by Richard Thomas and called the Cranbrook
stakes, were made in batches, every two years. Cranbrook did NOT have
(and I don’t think did later, either) have it’s own iron foundry.
They used a local Detroit area cast iron firm which kept the sand
casting models “on file”, and the reason for the two year cycle was
that the foundry wanted a certain minimum sized casting run, since
the nickle iron alloy used was a bit different from their usual plain
cast iron. Students put in their order, and got the stakes, as raw
castings, when done. At the time I was there, there was no “student
store”. Again, perhaps that changed later. Dunno. But not while Mr.
Thomas was there, I don’t think… My recollection is that at that
time, the set cost something like 200 dollars. Sigh. Of course, that
money was worth a lot more then that it is now, but still. Now,
sheesh, some hammers cost almost that much…

So far as I know, there were four or five designs in the set. Don’t
recall which. Three or four large T stakes, and one that looked a bit
like a boomerang, vise held. Every one of these was substantially
larger than anything you could find commercially made at the time,
and one still sees them as treasured and irreplaceable tools found in
many of the metalsmithing schools/departments around the country,
usually where a founding or later faculty member happened to come
from Cranbrook and brought the stakes with them…

Oh, and Brian, should you ever wish to sell one or more of those T
stakes, let me know. (Yeah, I know. but a guy can dream, can’t he?
When I was there, for a year and a half, I left for personal,
financial, and health reasons just before a casting run was
scheduled, and somehow, never quite got an order in. Dang. Been
regretting that since…)

Peter Rowe

Hello All,

Cedarburg, Wi is not too far from me…I was not able to locate them
on the net, but I could poke around on my next trip to Milwaukee
from Sturgeon Bay. The trick is to find the master patterns, not the
job shop that cast them.

Though I am a blacksmith there are just some good reasons to use
other than forging techniques for such things…like keeping costs
down for odd shaped items. I know of several casting outfits here in
Wisconsin and other places. If there was a demand for a set…maybe of
five or six shapes I would be willing to shop them around to see who
had the best price for casting them.

I have thought about doing so with small anvils (60 pound) and some
other odd blacksmith bits and pieces. Ones or two can be forged much
cheaper than casting, but numbers in the 20s and larger it is often
simpler to cast them.

Let me know your thoughts folks.

Ric Furrer

Hi again Peter,

Actually, there was an iron foundry at Cranbrook. The Sculpture
department had it. I’m not entirely clear on exactly when it
operated, but my guess would be 55-65ish. That’s where the
psychedelic cannon came from, along with that great huge “round
nose” anvil that was back in the blacksmithing shop. I just assumed
Thomas had his kids team up with the sculptors for a pour every year
or so to do the stakes.

Funny how little of the history survives.

Hi Peter,

You can have my stakes when you pry the pallet jack from my cold…
Actually, I’m looking for the other two big stakes that I don’t
have. Good luck, eh?

The boomerang stake is what I always heard referred to as the
"victoria" stake. I know I got the last two of those. (there was some
sturm & drang about that.)

A very useful goblet making stake. (I got (the last) two because I
wanted to put different radii on them. This didn’t make sense to

I didn’t know about them being a funny alloy. Worth knowing. Any idea
what it was?

When I was there (92-94), there was a slowly shrinking pile of them
in the back of the student store. I don’t remember what the prices
were, but they weren’t cheap. (Cheap by modern standards and
perspective, but one couldn’t have known that then.)

Since posting the original message, I’ve had several people contact
me with musings about maybe doing a small casting run of stakes. I’m
not sure I’m interested in playing ringmaster on such an operation,
but maybe we should find a way to coordinate.

What might be useful is to come up with a CAD library of stake
shapes. Maybe SAS could host it, and everybody kicks in models of
their favorite stakes? That way we end up with a record of the
shapes of various stakes. With modern 3D printers & CNC output
systems, it becomes reasonably easy to gin up patterns to use to cast
any particular stake, at need.

I have access to a 3D scanner. I’ll see about trying to get point-
cloud models of them when I get the time. (don’t hold breath.)


Funny how little of the history survives. 

Interesting indeed. Much of the practices at any given time were of
course dependent on the current faculty. As I recall, when I was
there, the sculpture department wasn’t doing any real casting beyond
occasional small bronze stuff. But the students were real good
welders…, those, at least, who were even working in metal at all.
Times change.

As to history, it’s still there, but in bits and pieces, in the
minds of the many who passed through the place. It would be neat if
someone someone could put together a comprehensive history and set of
recollections from all the various individual departments rather than
the usual generic history of the school itself. But there are at
least, clues to be found. Remember that the library has a complete
set of all the written theses done by those departments which
required it. Lots of info hidden in that treasure trove. Sometimes
surprises too. I recall being intrigued upon reading Stanley
Lechtzin’s thesis. Given his later fame for work with electroforming
and with plastics, (and of course, then digital methods) I was
surprised to find no clue to this in his thesis, which explored,
instead, methods of granulation.

funny that I still remember that. Ghod that seems like a long time
ago now… By the way, another Cranbrook Alum you might try emailing
for info on the stakes might be Linda Weiss, who was at Cranbrook at
the same time as I. I’m pretty sure she follows Orchid, and know she
did a lot more with hollow ware after Cranbrook than I did, So her
memory and knowledge of the various stakes is likely better than


You can have my stakes when you pry the pallet jack from my
cold.... Actually, I'm looking for the other two big stakes that I
don't have. Good luck, eh? 

Wish I could help ya, but as I said, I never got a set. And a few
years ago I might have been tempted to try that "pry the pallet jack"
bit, but it’s been a while since I last did any raising that would
have needed such stakes. I seem to be working a good deal smaller
these days. And my wrists and shoulders aren’t as able to handle
hours of hammer work any more either.

It’s interesting that you say they had a pile of em when you were
there. Someone must have put in a large order without immediate
buyers. That didn’t happen when I was there, but by the time you
went, not only was Richard Thomas no longer there, he wasn’t even
alive any more (a real shame. The man was a treasure…). But anyway.
As I said, when I knew the place, there wasn’t even such a student
store, at least not that I recall. I do know, though, that at the
Philadelphia SNAG conference, visiting the brand new digs for Tyler’s
metals program, their raising room had a nice row the the old
Cranbrook Stakes. Same ones that had been slightly more scattered
around in the old facility; who knows when they were actually
acquired. I got photos of that studio, if you want. Perhaps there’d
be some minor clue on my photos that would help you.

Also, I still have most of my set of the casting Specialties stakes.
Only the stakes. I gave away most of the hammers before moving to
Seattle. (I’m still scratching my head trying to remember what on
earth moved me to do that…) The stakes were/are better than the
cast hammers, though. The hammers had a nasty tendancy to break now
and then. The stake set I have never got fully finished. I only
finished out the few I needed most, and somehow never got to the
rest, but I still have em all. If you wanted to use em to make
models, we could arrange to do something about that when you’re here
in Seattle for the SNAG conference (I assume you’re coming, right?)

I didn't know about them being a funny alloy. Worth knowing. Any
idea what it was? 

Keeping in mind that this was roughly 35 years ago for me, I recall
something like a fairly simple 5 percent nickel cast iron. That could
be wrong, but that’s my recollection.

When I was there (92-94), there was a slowly shrinking pile of
them in the back of the student store. 

Geez, I wish I’d known. I’d have snuck up there and bought some. I
was living just a bit north of Dearborn at the time, so Cranbrook was
just a short drive up I-75… And I’d have had the chance, perhaps,
to meet and get to know you too, before ya got famous and all…
(grin). Oh Well. Coulda shoulda didn’ta…

Peter is correct, I am “lurking” on Orchid, and I am a Cranbrook
Metals grad 1977 - and I do holloware (as well as jewelry and other
various metal endeavors), and I have some of the large cast Cranbrook
stakes from the '70’s - and i had patterns made from them that I sent
to “Bill” at “Anchor” tool in the late 70’s (I met him at one of the
SummerVail sessions) to make up solid hand forged ones ( no weld at
the “t”) in similar shapes/sizes.

I usually use the cast ones for basic preliminary forming and the
forged ones for final planishing. I think some how Allcraft may have
acquired those patterns - but I am not sure?

Hello All,

I have not been able to locate the old foundry in Wisconsin…I’ll
look again at the end of the month when I’m in that area.

If I am to pursue the manufacture of a similar set of stakes I may
have to carve the master set of patterns myself.

To that end I ask that you do a bit of the homework for me: What are
the shapes you folk will find the most useful? It makes no sense for
me to make what I find useful…I can make my own stakes anytime I
need them (I don’t do that enough though as I “make do” just like
many of you).

If I go ahead with this I would most likely do a run of sets at one
time during the year. I am not convinced that casting in ductile iron
is the best route for all the shapes as forged tools out of medium
carbon or even low alloy steel may lead to much better service life.
I know of a few Wisconsin foundries which cast steel in various
alloys and this may be a far better solution in the long term.

At any rate I am exploring the possibilities. I do not wish to
infringe on any Cranbrook stake sets designs (or anyone else for
that matter), but at some point a shape is a shape…how much can
you alter the radius of a mushroom stake before it can be called
"unique"? Should anyone have some photos of a the Cranbrook stake
array set I would like to see it…or if anyone in Wisconsin has
such a set do let me know. I seem to recall a nice collection at the
UW-Madison when I was there for a few basic art metals classes
taught by Fred Fenster…many years ago.

Without permission I can not take patterns off any existing stake,
but it is always good to see everything first.

Ric Furrer
Sturgeon Bay, WI

I’ve been following this thread intently. I too would love a set of
cranbrook stakes. I have some photos that I took of a set in

As some of you may know, I make stakes. I have done a lot of research
into getting stakes cast and have run into some pretty big hurdles. I
haven’t found a foundry that was willing to use hand placed patterns,
they all require match plates. Most of the foundries insist on using
patterns made by them. That makes the cost REALLY high (thousands of
dollars). Another problem was the quantities. I wasn’t able to find
anyone to do less than 50. All of these hurdles can be overcome with
lots of money but the cost per stake could easily be over $1,000
each. Cranbrook stakes, as some of you have probably seen, weigh
about 100 pounds. Most foundries are charging over $10 per pound for
cast steel in small runs. You can buy regular steel in bar stock for
under $1 per pound.

I make some stakes that are 18" long but could easily make much
larger. I machine all of mine from solid steel. How big of a stake do
you guys want? This might be a good way to go. I see no problem with
a 24" stake, that is perhaps 2 1/2" to 3" wide. I have to do some
work on some cutters to go to 3" wide, but if a few of you want some,
i would be willing to do it. I’m sure this would be a lot less
expensive than casting, as least that’s what I’ve found. But if any
of you find a way to get them cast reasonably, I would love a set.

Kevin Potter

Hello Kevin and All,

I’d like to see photos of the stakes in question.

A few opinions:

I am not convinced 1018 is the best choice for longevity. If it were
case hardened it may serve well.

Casting can be costly…many do ductile iron for less than cast
steel. A few foundries I have spoken to did wish to have their
pattern-maker do the pattern…one company has an automatic mold
machine and as such the patterns have to fit the machine in a
certain way. Others I see hand ram the molds and can work with most
anything you give them.

Another option is to forge them…in which case they would vary a
bit from one to another, but the general line would be the same…and
they could be heat treated tool steel or even stainless.

I should have an induction furnace online here in the shop by the
end of the year (the machine is here, but I am working out power and
coolant issues)…in which case casting becomes a process matter.

Richard Furrer
Sturgeon Bay, WI

Hi Kevin,

I’ve actually got most of a set of the Cranbrook stakes. None of
them is anywhere near 100#. The biggest of them is probably in the
30# range.

Several of mine are still raw castings (as they were sold by CAA),
but they’re finally in the same state with me for the first time in
15 years, so I’ll clean them up and photograph them soon. (or at
least I will once we catch up with KC saw orders…sheesh…)

The ones I have:

A pair of the “Victoria” or “Boomarang” stakes, (5#?)
The serpentine bar stake. (3-5#?)
The gawd-awful huge teapot “T” stake. (That’s the 30 pounder)
and the “big T” stake. (20#?)

There may have been one or two more of the big “T” stakes, but
that’s most of them.

Several of them have pretty limited utility for those not doing
vessel sized silversmithing. They’re big. Several of them are also
very similar to commercial designs, it’s just that it was cheaper to
cast them for the students than buy them straight up from Dixon.
(back when you could.)

(the “Big T” is just a beefier version of Dixon’s biggest “T” stake,
for example.) (The 18x3x3 T stake.)

The Teapot “T” would almost have to be forged. Doing it by milling
would be insane. (You’ll understand when you see it.)

The most useful of them is probably the boomarang stake. Those are
great for goblets and other deep vessels.

I’m not sure what you mean by a “Match plate” for casting them.
Please to explain?

I’m trying to track down the original foundry patterns for them. My
spies tell me the odds are good that they went away years ago, but
there is one slim lead that I’m still pursuing.


I’m not sure we are talking about the same stakes. The ones I saw in
Philadelphia were absolutely huge. They were permanently mounted.
They were over 24" long and 4" wide and were easily over 100 pounds
each. They didn’t have any boomerang stakes, they had very large
T-stakes. I was told they were Cranbrook stakes so I just assumed
that’s what they were. I guess I need to see some pictures of yours.
I’ll try to find the pictures I took.

My 18" long stakes are approximately 40 pounds. I’ve had really good
results using mild steel, it’s alot stronger than any of the cast
irons. working with any of the heat-treatable alloys is really
costly and difficult to machine so I’ve stayed with mild steel. Most
artists are not using steel with their stakes, they are using copper
and silver. The stakes should last many lifetimes.

How much metal can your induction melter pour? That would be so
cool. I don’t have enough electricity at my house, even if I tapped
into the neighbor’s house, we dont’ make enough power to run that.

I have forged some. I have a 100 ton hydraulic press and I’ve
machined diesto forge different parts of my stakes. It’s a really
nice way to go. It just takes a lot of effort to get all the dies
made and get all the forging equipment up and running.

Match plates are the back and front of the pattern split in half and
mounted on a board so that they don’t have to hand place it. It can
be put in a machine and rammed up. You will save alot of money by
having match-plated patterns.

Tell me about your induction furnace, it sounds great.

Kevin Potter

Kevin and All,

I have seen stakes which are larger than my anvil and some smaller
than a thumb…I guess it depends on use and what folk want made.

I would like to see photos of the stakes if someone has any.

Induction units come in a wide range of power outputs (hertz rates
and voltages). The smaller import models from China are getting more
popular due to costs, but they are tuned for a certain size of work
and often the hertz rates are so high that the heat zone is limited.

My induction is a 50kw Tocco US made unit with a 3,000 to 10,000
hertz range at 500 to 850 volt. I am waiting for Spring so I can
bury the natural gas line to fuel the generator to power it. Local
power company wanted $56,000 to run 480 volt three phase to me…a
tad bit high if you ask me. Due to possible harmonic issues I can
not run the thing off of a large rotary phase converter/transformer
set up.

The amount that can be made liquid depends upon the metal and the
coil…for steel it will be about 100 pounds max per hour or so. A
general rule I have seen:

"Steel. 3lbs per for melts over 100lbs. and 2lbs. per
for melts under 100lbs. Brass. 7 to 10 lbs. per Aluminium. 4 to
5 lbs per "

As to casting patterns…you could get a mold board set from the
foundry and split one of your stakes down the midline and attach to
the boards…make sure of proper draft on the halves for release.


Hot clay…that is all metal is when forging…hot clay. I have a 3B
Nazel forging hammer and and the 45 ton hydraulic press moves at
about .66 inches per second…fully capable of forging hot metal
quite well.

I can heat and forge a rather large amount of metal with those
tools. Tool steel provide only slightly more resistance when at
proper forging temp.

Videos of both in use are on my website.

Ric Furrer

Due to possible harmonic issues I can not run the thing off of a
large rotary phase converter/transformer set up. 

Have you investigated Inverter technologies? I converted a 3 phase
220 volt rolling mill to single phase supply using such a thing. What
did the trick for me is a small unit half the size of a Kleenex box
bolted right to the mill and wired into it, which recitifies the
input single phase input to DC, then converts that to three phase, in
your choice of Hz, which gives me speed control over the mill too.
Now, your use needs much higher power levels than my one HP motor,
but those inverters are available a LOT larger than my unit too.
Check with Wolf Automation Co.,

Is the URL to a page on their site with the sort of thing I suspect
you need. But I’m not sure. Call and ask. The unit I bought cost
under two hundred, cheaper than any other option I could find that
would work well. Your need might be costlier, but still boatloads
cheaper than what the utility company wants. Their engineers were
very helpful to me in figuring out what I needed. I’d not known about
this option for power conversion other than the rotary phase
converters (which as you note, have problems), until finding out that
Durston power rolling mills are built with 3 phase motors, but need
single phase power supplies, because they have this type of inverter
controller built right in. (Thanks to Durston for that info, by the

Peter Rowe


Inverter…I know those as Variable Frequency Drives (VFD) and they
do a wonderful job…one large enough to operate the induction unit
I have would be about the cost of my house.

For smaller motors they are the way to go…absolutely. Especially if
you wish to have a a variable speed motor without the costs of a DC
motor as it turns any AC three phase motor into a variable speed

In my situation it would be a generator or nothing…and I rathe
like the idea of having some tools off the grid.

Ric Furrer

Have you investigated Inverter technologies? I converted a 3 phase
220 volt rolling mill to single phase supply using such a thing. 

Unfortunately inverters of the size Ric would need run off 3 phase
input not single phase. Any AC Variable Frequency Drive (aka VFD or
inverter) larger than about 25-30 Amps output per leg (7-10 Hp) needs
3 phase input.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts

A while ago, I think there was a question on this blog about
Cranbrook stakes. I was at the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair earlier
this month and asked a Cranbrook-educated blacksmith about them. He
has several and knows someone with a complete set. Contact James
Viste, EdgeWise Forge in Detroit. For more email him:
[grumblejunky at hotmail dot com]

Betsy Lehndorff