Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Bladesmith’s Shop: Past, Present, and Me.

English: A typical smithy in Finland. Shot dur...

Typical modern view of a smithy. Quite often correct however, most modern smithies are more open, lighter, sometimes cleaner, and more organized (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of you probably think of a smithy as dark, very smoky, with a huge bellows and coal forge, and a burly blacksmith pounding away on an anvil.


That may have been true at one point in time, and it still is in several places, but the modern bladesmith, though still using the same techniques, has slightly different tools. Here’s a list of some of the more essential tools, along with the version of those tools used in the 1800s, and also what I currently use.


  • A blacksmith's coal forge

    A blacksmith’s coal forge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Forge, or heating source. Modern smiths normally use propane forges; which is basically a rounded tubular cavity and a torch blowing in from the top or side. The rounded sides swirl the flame and keep it in the forge, and so heats up the steel very quickly.In the 1800’s a coal forge was used. Many modern smiths use coal as well, but most have switched to a propane forge because of the ease and the smell. A coal forge consisted of a type of basin, filled with coal, but with a hole in the bottom for an air source. Through this hole air is pumped which increases the heat of the flame. I myself use a propane forge, which I made from a soup can, plaster of paris, sand, and a propane torch. I’m currently making a bigger one from a paint can.

  • English: Anvil, photo taken in Welsh Museum, S...

    English: Anvil, photo taken in Welsh Museum, St. Fagans, Cardiff, Wales, UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Anvil: a surface to pound on. The anvil is said to be the only tool a blacksmith cannot make himself. The anvil has not changed in hundreds of years. Normally it is forged out with huge machines, or specially cast the heat treated. I myself have been hunting desperately for a good one. What I use for a substitute currently is an old sledgehammer head. Many smiths who cannot find or are too cheap to buy a commercial one (seriously, a good anvil will average $500-$700) use small sections of railroad track, as they are both hard and strong. Seriously though, any of you who are local, lemme know if you have an anvil your great grandfather left to you or something. *sigh* I wish I lived in the 80’s; according to the movies made then, anvils fell on people regularly.

  • Hammer. Like the anvil, this has not changed much at all since the 1800s.I will say though that a common tool used by most of the modern professional (rich) smiths, is a Power
    English: A typical smithy in Finland. Shot dur...

    A Finnish Smith, using a Power Hammer. These machines are hugely expensive, thus the reason I don’t have one. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Hammer. I’s basically a huge hydraulic-powered machine that you hold the steel in, while it goes BANGBANGBANGBANG. It’s normally operated by a foot petal. As for actual manual hammers, the most used style of hammer consists of one side the the head flat, and either round, octagon, or square, and the opposite side of the hammer a small protruding ball (as in picture A) or a sort of wedge (B or C). Lucky old me, I got a hammer type C at a flea market a month ago, and just a few days ago managed to get type A that was

    English: Various peen hammers. Key: A. Ball-pe...

    English: Various peen hammers. Key: A. Ball-peen hammer B. Straight-peen hammer C. Cross-peen hammer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    hand forged by a blacksmith from an antique shop, for only five bucks! Really these two types of hammer are all that are needed.

  • A Grinder. This HAS changed quite a lot from the 1800s. Normally in that time, the bevels (the slope of the blade from the spine to the edge) were done with a
    Deutsch: Nassschleifer mit Schleifstein im Fre...

    An old grinding wheel. It would normally be operated either by a foot petal, like a spinning wheel, or a hand crank. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    hammer. Because of this, the edges were normally not very straight and were pretty uneven. If grinding were to be done, a grinding wheel would be used (right).

    IMG_2201 (Large)

    Belt grinder (Photo credit: ladzhari)

    Modern smiths use a motor-powered system, normally a Belt Grinder. A belt grinder is powered by a motor, and pulls an abrasive belt over a series of wheels, sort of like a escalator, albeit an escalator at a couple thousand RPM. Now MY grinder is what I call, “Ingenious” and “redneck”. I use an angle grinder held upright in a vise. Nice and secure, I use a face mask and heavy duty gloves to hold my workpiece. I’m hoping to upgrade once I get the money, but for now, it does the job.

  • Tongs. These have not changed practically at all from the 1800s. Because it’s just supposed

    Tongs… (Photo credit: Gary Huston)

    to hold things, the quality does not have to be a big factor. Most smiths make their own tongs, so they can specifically fit things to their own preferences. I’m currently working on a pair myself, but until then, I’m using a large pair of pliers. They’re basically the same thing.

So there you have it: The basic tools of a bladesmith. Past, Present, and Me. It does look pretty simple and easy to get these (excepting the anvil AUGH!!), but remember, what makes a good knife is not the tools, it’s the skill and knowledge of the smith. Thanks for reading.


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Forge Welding- The Basics


The Forge

Forging out large billets normally takes heavy blows, and so many times a striker team is needed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most welding (fusing two pieces of steel together) nowadays is done with welding torches, such as TIG or MIG torches. Torches such as these melt both steels whilst a third metal (normally in the form of a rod) is melted into the cavity. Forge welding was mainly done in the 1800’s, before torches of that heat were invented. Still today many bladesmiths use the ancient technique to weld bars of steel together to make patternweld, or damascus, steel.

In forge welding damascus, the individual bars of steel are laid one on top of the other and given a simple weld with a torch to keep them all together. This stack, called a billet, is then placed into the forge to get up to welding temp. Every few minutes, the bladesmith takes the billet out of the forge and sprinkles a flux (normally Borax) over the hot surface. The flux melts, and flows between the individual bars, keeping the oxygen out of the way. Once the metal is up to welding heat (where the steel looks like it is just barely melted; looks shiny and almost watery) the smith forges the billets together with heavy whacks of the hammer. The force and incredible heat cause all the bars to fuse together, and are completely welded into one firm billet. The smith then forges out the bar, twists it, cuts it, and does whatever is necessary to get a beautiful Damascus pattern in the steel.


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Friction Folder Pocket Knife

Here is my newest creation; a friction folder pocketknife. It started out as a small piece of 5160 I had cut off while trimming a larger blade (I’ll post pics when I’m done with that one). I forged it into shape, did some trimmings here and there, straightened it, then I did the curls in the friction lever by heating and curling with pliers. Once all the forging and hot work was done, I normalized twice (which basically means taking out all of the stress formed in forging, and reduces grain size), then began the rough shaping using an angle grinder. Once the shaping was done, I ground in the secondary edge and brought the whole blade nice and thin. I left the friction lever alone, however, so I could keep the rough forged look on it.

I had, of course, started the process by drawing out a design to follow, which I tweaked and modified as I went through. Near the end of the forging process, I started to work on the general shape of the handle, which is made from maple wood. I would forgeforgeforge, and when I waited for the steel to heat up, I would trade off and start shaping the handle.

Back to the blade, near when the handle was at its final rough shaping, I drilled a hole for the pin. Then I went on to heat treating. Just for fun, I decided to try clay hardening, which I have done a few times before.

The clay I used was a simple mixture of ash, charcoal, plaster of paris (for the stickyness) and water. I covered the spine of the blade with the paste, and proceeded to heat to critical. For sake of time, I won’t go into the details of how the clay heating works, but I’ll just say that I have to heat the blade to critical temperature (the temperature the steel no longer sticks to a magnet) and then quench it in water or oil. The faster the cooling, the harder the blade. The clay slows down the cooling of the steel it covers, and so that area is much softer than the steel it does not cover. I didn’t bother tempering any further as it was a small blade and wouldn’t go under much stress (unlike some people, I don’t use knives as crowbars).

I then began cutting into the wood so the blade could be inserted, starting with the back of the handle so the lever could be inserted to a little hole. I then drilled through the wood where the blade would be held in place with a pin. I finished all the carving, and proceeded to pin the blade in place. Unfortunately, I should have made the wood pin a little smaller, because when I pounded it in place it split the maple a little. I was able to fix that up with some elmer’s wood glue though. Once that was in place, I decided to add a little sterling silver pin further down for decoration and support. I then did a little bit of further shaping, and sanded down the maple. I also polished the blade. Unfortunately, because I was working with 5160, no Hamon showed up, despite constant rubbing with lemon juice. Anyway, I then sharpened the blade. I think I did something right in the heat treating, because I was able to sharpen this baby up enough to shave hair off my arm. Most commercial knives I can only get to slice paper.

So there we go! My first friction folder (so called because it stays closed or open with friction). Side note: it stays open very well because I carved a special hole for the curl of the friction lever. One has to push hard to push it in and out of the hole. IMG_0708 IMG_0710 IMG_0711 IMG_0712 IMG_0713 IMG_0715

Alloy Steels- What Do The Numbers Mean?

English: nickel steel alloy

English: nickel steel alloy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the bladesmithing world, there are a lot of different types of steels being used, and they are referred to as numbers- the type of steel I commonly use is 5160 steel, from an old car spring. Other common steels used in bladesmithing are 1095, 10520, etc.

These numbers always have confused me, so I asked questions around a bladesmith’s forum, did some research, and I think I have the answer.

The first number refers to the type of alloy the steel is. The chart below shows which number refers to what alloy. For example, 5160 is a Chromium alloy, and 1095 is a plain Carbon steel.

The second number refers to what percentage (by weight) of that element is in the steel. For example, 5160 has approximately 1% Chromium. 5260 would have about 2% Chromium.

The last two numbers show what percentage of the steel is Carbon. The point is always two digits from the end of the number; 5160 would be .60% carbon.

In total, 5160 is around 1% Chromium, .60% Carbon, with the rest Iron. Often there are a few other trace elements added, such as Nickel, but the numbers refer to the majoring elements in the steel. If the steel is a plain Carbon alloy, like 1095, the second digit refers to a little more than just the carbon content (that’s the job of the last two digits) and that gets a little complicated, but if there’s just a zero there, it turns out nuetral.

So for some practice: 52100 has 2% Chromium, 1.00% Carbon. 2380 (I’m making this one up btw) would have 3% Nickel, and .80% Carbon. 4037 steel is actually a trick one, as the 0 indicates there is, well, 0% Molybdenum, and .37% Carbon.

SAE designation Type
1xxx Carbon steels
2xxx Nickel steels
3xxx Nickel-chromium steels
4xxx Molybdenum steels
5xxx Chromium steels
6xxx Chromium-vanadium steels
7xxx Tungsten steels
8xxx Nickel-chromium-molybdenum steels
9xxx Silicon-manganese steels
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English: Element mercury (Hg), liquid form.

English: Element mercury (Hg), liquid form. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now in this post, I’m not talking about the planet Mercury, nor the Roman god. In fact, the god Mercury had the nickname “quicksilver”, which was the old name for Mercury. He was called quicksilver because he was said to have fluid, silvery motion, just like quicksilver. The god had the name Mercury first, so eventually the element was just named Mercury.

Mercury is one of the only totally metallic elements that are molten at room temperature (if you freeze it, it would have about the same properties as Aluminum), and so are, or were, very fun to play with. Mercury is very dense, and so when one sinks one’s hand into a bowl of it, one can feel the pressure squeezing in on the hand. Unfortunately though, Mercury is toxic, and attacks the brain functions, meaning you’ll go nuts. Literally.

It was only about 60-100 years ago that it was discovered that Mercury was poisonous, and it sure was disappointing. Imagine playing around with that silvery fluid. Before it was discovered that it was toxic to the brain, kids on factory tours used to stick their whole arm in a barrel of the stuff. Too bad I’ll never be able to experience that *sniff*.

Have you ever heard of the term “Mad as a hatter”? This is because Mercury used to be a common product in creating the red tints in hats. Hatters were in contact with Mercury quite a lot, and thus were, well, mad as a hatter!



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20 Of the best Bladesmiths

Here’s a list of 20 of the top bladesmiths, not really in any order.

  1. Don Fogg (creator of the Bladesmiths forum)
  2. Owen Bush
  3. Aaron Wilburn
  4. Dave Stephens
  5. Jake Powning
  6. Petr Florianek
  7. Peter Johnsson
  8. J Arthur Loose
  9. Michael Pikula
  10. David D.
  11. Murray Carter
  12. William F. Moran
  13. Don Hastings
  14. B. R. Hughes
  15. Kevin Cashen
  16. Bill Burke
  17. Tom Ferry
  18. Steve Koster
  19. Rick Furrer
  20. Jesus Hernandez

Market Research

As some of my readers know, I have been developing an E-book and kit designed to help people determine what jewelry would best complement their appearance, personality, and other features. Before beginning to create the product though, I had to make sure that there were people that would be interested in buying such a product.

In general, people want to know what would enhance ones appearance, (especially young ladies), so I was pretty sure of a go there. Just to make sure that people would actually want such a thing, I also posted a topic on a public (homeschoolers) forum and said that if they would send me a picture of themselves, I would tell them what jewelry would look best on them. At first, just a couple of personal friends sent photos just because, but after a little while more and more people, including some I didnt know, applied, and I would tell them what colors, shapes, and styles would look best, and for those I knew better I could work off of their personalities as well. I mustve worked through at least 25 people, and as more and more kept applying, I began to consider the piece to person kit.