Tong Maintenance

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By Roy Bloom, CJF APF-I

Tongs are used to hold material too hot to hold with our hands. Maximum control is possible only if the tongs are set to the size of material being used. Photo 1 shows the jaws set correctly for the material. Compare this with photo 2 & 3. Photo 2 shows the jaws too wide for the stock. Only the tips are touching. Photo 3 shows the jaws too narrow for the stock. The tips are gapped. Any gaps will allow the material to slip and make it extremely difficult to control.

If your tongs have either of these gap problems you need to reset the jaws. Place the tongs in the fire and heat the jaws. Place a piece of the desired stock size between the jaws. Place only the jaw area on the anvil and lightly tap the jaws against the stock as shown in photo 4. When you have them making full contact set them aside and allow them to air cool. Don’t quench them.

A helpful hint. In photo 5, the pencil is pointing to a very critical area in any pair of tongs. If this area does not have adequate bulk it will bend too easily. This bending will occur in use from the heat absorbed from the hot material and even a slight squeezing of the reins. You will continually have to reset your tongs if they do not have enough material in this area.

Once your jaws are set you can address the reins. All tongs should be made from some form of spring steel. This adds a certain amount of memory to the reins and strength to the jaws. Without this memory or strength your jaws or reins can not hold the set you put on them.

The gap between the reins should allow a grip that matches your hammer handle grip. Photo 6 shows a good tong gap. If the dimension is too narrow, as in photo 7, the rein ends meet before firm contact is made with the material. If the dimension is too wide (photo 8) your hand is spread too far to effectively and easily grip the tongs. Either problem forces you to squeeze the reins to be able to hold your material. If this is occurring you need to set or fix the rein gap.

In photo 9 the pencil points to the area where you should bend the reins to adjust the gap. Don’t just heat this area and squeeze the reins to set. Unless your heat is even, one side will move more than the other. If your heat is too high you can distort the rivet.

To widen the reins, place a piece of 1/2” stock in the area shown in photo 9 and set the jaw to the dimension of the stock. If 1/2” is not enough, use a larger size until you get the rein gap you need.

If the gap is too large put a piece of stock in the jaws and then place the tongs (Photo 10) on the end of the anvil horn and tap just behind the shoulder of the reins. Switch from rein to rein as necessary to keep the reins even until you have the proper gap.

A final note. In addition to setting the proper gap of the jaws and the reins you have to consider the condition of your rivet. If your tongs start to bind, won’t open or close freely or are extremely loose it’s time to change the rivet. Heating the rivet and working the tongs or hammering the rivet will never fix it. It has become worn and needs to be replaced.

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