Punch Lubricants

A bit on lubrication of forging tools. I have experience in both very large industrial shops forging millions of pounds a month, and in my own shop over many years. I will try to translate the industrial experience over to the home shop as I have done. In the closed die forging trade, lubrication or lack can make a die last 100,000 hits (forging blows in that impression) or a couple of hundred. When a set of large dies may cost $100,000+ this is very important. In the large valve shop I worked in, graphite in emulsion was the rule in the early 80's. Had been for maybe a century. But as time moved on the lube industry developed and improved a new better lubricant. These are the alkaline salt lubes. 
First lets look at the most severe forgings I have worked with and those are large heavy 6" flanged valve bodies. In these there is a 10" center mass, a 3" neck and the flange is 18" or so. The hot metal scrubs over that neck and tremendous checking and erosion of the hard H-13 dies occurs. Takes lots of tonnage as well. For these we used the industry standard of graphite powder in road tar mixed to the point that when heated with an open flame you got a toothpaste consistency. Every hit produced clouds of smoke from the tar, and dust from the graphite. That dust is respirable, which means it creates black lung in the operators if they breath it. The dies lasted maybe 4000 hits before a 1/4 to 1/2" was ground off the top and the die re-sunk. Since those dies were about 5' by 8' that is a lot of grinding and re-sinking. We switched to an early water based alkaline lube, and the smoke was almost gone no dust, and die life jumped by at least 5 times. In the early 2000's at the Upsetter shop they were using a brand new Henkle lube that was an alkaline salt and it was astounding better then anything I had seen. dies that had been giving 20,000 hits were giving 100,000 and filling out better. tonnage was less and these machines had tonnage monitors and the data was real not a guess. These machines were using a 5% ratio lube to water to pull the heat out of the dies which were making a hit every 6 seconds.

So how does this affect how my hobby shop works you ask? The forge engineers saw my blacksmiths plate on the car and were interested and shared the lube info. They suggested I drain some dregs from an empty tote and try it at home. I did and WOW! I had been using plain water to cool hot cuts and coal dust for punching. I had seen the graphite and soap mixes used by many and watched them just fall off. This stuff made a well attached coating and I can tell you the first hot cut blow sent the hot cut through the iron and into the anvil face something that had not happened before this lube. I experimented and found that a 50:50 mix worked best for how blacksmiths work vs how an industrial press works. Time went by and at a demo Tom Clark was showing how to make a hammer and spilled his graphite in soapy water. He had no more, so I told him that I had this industrial stuff and it was great. He tried it and boy was he impressed. Gave him the quart I had. (He gave me tongs:) ) A few weeks later I got a call and he asked could he drain some totes. I said yes if he had a jug. He drove 500 miles out of his way and got that lube from empty totes. The forge engineers saw us and offered him some early alkaline salt lube sample if I would not kill them for having sample without the MSDS as I was also the safety guy. He took maybe 20 5 gallon pails with him. Later he bought this product and resold it

Time went by, and Henkle became very difficult to deal with for tiny orders like a 5 gallon pail. Fuchs stepped up and they offered me a sample. Worked a treat and I have used it since. The BFH team has used it to carve wizards from 3" square stock to cool all the tools. We later did an anchor from 2" round bar and doing the mortise for the vertical bar to a 1.75" square hole was actually very easy with this lube.

So if you like smoke and flames and noxious fumes indeed continue to use coal dust or never-seize, or grease or table salt or heck just spit on it. If you want less effort, no smoke, non-toxic and tools that lat much longer, get your Fuchs on. This should be a 50:50 ratio, and lasts for a very long time. For short tools like hot cuts and handled punches a smaller amount works. For long drifts get enough to fill a deep but smaller diameter tank. If you don't spill it it will go for many years in a home shop. Just dip a hot tool in and pull out. if the lube is wet, not hot enough. if the lube sticks above and below the hottest spot redip it is still too hot.

Be aware that no lube can overcome the material properties of the tool. That is; if you get the end of the tool too hot and it mushrooms, it won't weld in but it will become an expensive ball and socket joint. I dip punches and cuts every few hits. The lube makes them move metal like they are on ball bearings so be cautious until you find out the change in resistance.

The product can be obtained from

Forge Ease 3512 steel forging punching lubricant. : DEMPSEYS FORGE anvilfire.com Store

A clean water soluble lubricant used for hot forging steel parts and blacksmith hand punching. FORGE EASE can be used for most…

Written by Jeff Reinhardt