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Joshua Snead

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Posts posted by Joshua Snead

  1. Perhaps this is a new development since the last post here in April, I just ordered the book through shop.histofakt.de. The link to this shop was provided on the museum website. I was able to make my payment using PayPal which was very quick and reasonable. The only tricky thing was shipping to the US was not an option on the drop down menu on the checkout page, but a couple emails with the company straightened that out (they do ship to the US regularly, there's just some bug in the system).


    After seeing a copy of the book last week during a wonderful visit with Peter, I am very excited to examine it more closely when I get back to the States. And here's a big thank you to all those who helped put this together, what a wealth of information!

  2. Thank you Peter! That makes a lot of sense. I may try to find a torch and see how it works while I am here. I love the small, efficient setup of the forge. The metalworking heritage in Sweden is fascinating to me. I'm hoping to learn as much as I can on this trip.


    I also just found a couple wonderful mechanical shears today. I've never seen one this large before.





  3. I have been traveling in Sweden and came across this small firebrick forge or furnace of sorts. It is located in a woodworking shop which used to be a school here on the west coast of Sweden. It opens similar to a clamshell design and has 3 openings in a T shape. I imagine it was heated with a torch or gas burner of some kind but I have not seen a torch yet. There are a lot of plumbing supplies around being stored in this area; the forge was hidden underneath them.






    There are some other metalsmithing tools nearby, including an anvil, several forming stakes and wooden sinking blocks for forming sheet metal. I don't know if the forge was ever used for working iron, there does not appear to be any forged iron nearby, but there are some white metal ingots lying around (possibly lead or pewter or just melted solder). I should note that there is a book of blueprints for simple blacksmithing projects in the shop.






    Has anyone here seen or used a forge like this? I haven't been able to find any information on it but I am curious how it would have been used, and particularly how it was heated.

  4. Hi everyone,


    I was just searching for some info to help me decide what files to get for draw filing and I came across this wonderful little guide and thought I would share it with the forum here.


    It has a lot of information on files from how they are made, to their shapes and cuts, and when and how to properly use them in a variety of situations.




    Downloaded from:



    Hope you find this helpful!

  5. Thanks for the kind words everyone!


    This sword is certainly not perfect, but for being my first I am very pleased with how it turned out. I hope to make many more of these in the future, unfortunately I've had to clear out my bench at school and my 3rd story, 70-year-old apartment is not exactly ideal for bladesmithing, so it will be a little while before I can get a proper shop setup. Nevertheless, I don't plan to stop any time soon!


    I wouldn't have been able to get this done without the information shared on this forum, and the kind advice of various members, so thanks again!

  6. Thanks for the kind words everyone! Now it's time for the final update!




    This is the Sword of Lucis, my vision of the weapon wielded by the white knight in "The Ballad of Lucis and Umbra," which can be viewed on my blog if anyone is interested.
    In case you missed it in an earlier post: The blade was forged from 1075 steel. The guard and pommel are white bronze cast in a sand mold, with faceted white quartz crystals set into the pommel. The handle has a hickory wood core with hand stitched stingray skin wrap for the grip.
    The sword measures just over 43" in overall length, with the blade being about 32", and weighs just over 3lbs with the balance point at the tip of the ricasso, less than 2" from the guard. I can't say the balance is perfect, but it feels very light and agile in the hand. The guard is about 9" across.
    This piece, along with my first seax will be on display at the Folk Art Center, located at milepost 382 of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville NC, from May 17 through September 14 this year.
    Handle closeup
    Closeup of unstitched side
    This is a digital copy of the geometric framework used to design this sword. (Special thanks to swordsmith Peter Johnsson for sharing a bit of his theory on medieval sword design.)
  7. Seax1FS.jpg
    This is my first interpretation of the viking style blade known as a seax. When making this knife I tried to use as many traditional techniques as possible, and materials that produced an archaic look. The blade was made from my very first piece of homemade steel, lightly etched in a vinegar solution. The guard and pommel are cast bronze, and the handle is bog oak. This piece comes out of Russia and is said to be over 5000 years old. All of these elements are held together with a natural pine pitch glue made from pine sap that I gathered from the tree.


    The guard was made using the traditional process of sand casting. The texture from the sand is still present on the upper portion of the guard. The sides were cleanly polished and stamped with handmade tools to produce a leaf and vine design.


    The pommel of this knife is the only portion of this blade that was made using a more modern process. A rubber mold of a handmade model was used to create the wax that was cast to create this pommel. The techniques of chasing and repousse used to create the model however, along with lost wax casting, are very ancient.

    This piece will be a part of my graduate exhibition from Haywood Community College, and will be on display at the Folk Art Center, located at Milepost 382 of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, NC, from May 17 - September 14 this year.


  8. Hi,


    I had a similar looking crack on a draw knife I was making not too long ago. The issue was that I hardened the blade and then let it sit overnight before tempering. it cracked before the temper however, so this may not be the cause of your problem. Like you said it is possible there was a micro fracture in the steel that propagated during tempering, but there's really no way to know. However, I think the problem is more likely due to grain structure. If the blade was overheated the grain will grow causing excess stress which can lead to cracks like this. Make sure to use a magnet or other indicator so not to overheat the blade before quenching.


    A couple things I notice from your description of the process: first, like Orien said, make sure you normalize (bring to critical and air cool) the blade several times before hardening. Normalizing reduces the grain size, whereas annealing once may not. Annealing only needs to be done once, after normalizing, if done right. I've heard some very prominent bladesmiths do not anneal at all, at least not the traditional way. Second, 400 degrees sounds like too low of a temperature for spring steel. When I make blades from leaf springs I temper at 450 or until it reaches a pretty purple color and it works well for me.


    I'm not sure what you mean by, "was kinda tough getting the blade to be wide enough with the tank being flush with the spine." I'd say that looks like a pretty shape for a cleaver though.


    Hope this helps!

  9. Things are winding down here in the jewelry studio with the grad show deadline quickly approaching. This will likely be the last update before the sword is complete, so enjoy!
    Here is the guard after much cleanup and filling of major holes. I think it turned out rather nice.
    The pommel came out rather nice as well, but is a little dirty in the photo. A 10mm faceted quarts crystal is set into both sides of the pommel. This was a tricky setting to do because the stone is so large. Below is a diagram and explanation of the process.
    I began by drilling a 10mm hole in the metal just deep enough that the table of the stone was about flush with the surface, then cut a bevel down to just above the girdle of the stone. I then used a reciprocating hammer to create a bur of metal over the girdle to hold the stone in place. It was necessary to coat the stone with mineral oil as a hydraulic cushion to prevent it from chipping when accidentally hit with the hammer.


    The handle core is complete, made of two pieces of hickory wood which are pinned together. This will be wrapped with ivory color shagreen (aka same, or stingray skin) when all is said and done.
  10. I need the guard and pommel to be a white color for sake of the design. Stainless steel would work, but it is also very hard on files and a pain to forge so I decided to use white bronze instead. This material can be easily cast in a sand mold, which requires a model for each piece.


    Here is a picture of the completed models for the guard and pommel along with wooden cores. (I should note here that I do NOT recommend using wooden cores for sand casting, more on that later.) Each model is made in two parts so that one half can be packed in sand then the other half added to it and the second layer of sand is packed.


    Here you can see the models put together as they would be on the hilt. By the way the pommel model is made from soft poplar and the guard was carved from hickory wood.




    Here's some shots of the blade with the models in place. It's beginning to look like a sword now!


    This is the blacksmith shop at Haywood where much of the fun happens. Now on to the good stuff, casting! I want to give a big thanks to my friend and classmate Jamie who took the next few photos for me. Thanks Jamie!



    Step 1 is to pack and prep the mold for casting. I covered the process in an earlier post so I won't go into detail here. You can see the importance of a two piece model in the second photo.


    Next I get the metal ready. In order to know how much casting grain to use I calculated the density of the two pieces of wood from which the models were made. (This is done by cutting a cube from some leftover pieces of that wood, measuring the sides and multiplying to get the volume, then dividing that by the mass after weighing.) Then I weighed the models and divided them by that density to get the volume of each model. Then I multiply this by the density of the metal (provided by the manufacturer) to get the weight of metal. Naturally, I added about 40% extra to account for the sprue and vents and had quite a bit left over after the pour.


    Next I melt the metal in a coal forge, using borax as a flux to keep it free from impurities. Periodically I would stir the metal with a carbon rod to remove excess flux and ensure proper melting.


    Remove the molten metal from the fire and then...


    It's time to pour!


    Here I am pouring the excess metal into a recess that I carved in the top of the sand for that purpose. You will note that the mold is tilted at an angle. Because the guard was such a long piece I was afraid to do a straight horizontal pour lest the metal not fill the entire cavity, so instead I put the sprue at one end of the guard and tilted the mold so gravity would help it fill evenly.


    Here we are after all is cooled. Time to remove the model. I don't have any pics of the guard immediately after casting. But here is the result after a little clean up.



    There was actually a major flaw on the bottom half of the guard, where the core was burning and gasses from the wood caused a large air bubble. This is why you should never use wood as a core for sand molding. Thankfully this material can be welded with an oxyacetylene torch and my instructor showed me how to fill in the hole. There are a few small pits that will also need filling, but otherwise it came out good.




    The pommel came out much better, at least the second time I cast it it did. I tried coating the wood core with clay the first time and the result was rather scary but no one got hurt. Again, DON'T use wood cores. The second time I made a core from a piece of hard carbon (basically hard pencil lead, only bigger), and it worked out much nicer. The only visible flaw is a crack at the bottom of the sprue which will hopefully not be a problem.

    That's all for now!

  11. I have been very busy working to catch up from snow days, and am still a little behind schedule. However, I think now is a good time for an update so prepare for some exciting stuff.


    To heat treat this long of a sword blade (around 32 inches), we filled a long piece of pipe with motor oil.


    The school has several of these monster gas forges. We lined around the opening with firebrick to help get a more even heat. The blade was then slid back and forth through the forge until the entire blade reached hardening temperature (a cherry red or dull orange color), at which point the blade was dunked point first into the oil. Next the blade is tempered to relieve stress and make it more flexible.


    To temper the blade I used an atmospheric acetylene torch, primarily used for jewelry work, because it puts out a softer flame than oxyacetylene and would be less likely to overheat the blade. We don't have an oven long enough for swords. The blade is laid over an I-beam and is raised by bolts to keep the I-beam from sucking too much heat away.


    The blade was polished a little after the quench so that when heated I could watch the colors form on its surface. The colors correspond to the temperature of the metal (in this case 1075 high carbon steel). I wanted this blade to be more flexible than a typical knife so I brought it to a bright blue temper. This corresponds to somewhere around 540-590 degrees Fahrenheit.


    I then polished the blade again and tempered one more time to ensure the temper was uniform. You can really see the blue color in this photo.

    After this I had to straighten the blade again as it warped due to a number of factors, including uneven heat. The blade actually warped width wise. In order to straighten that out I had to hammer the concave edge to pinch and expand it until it became the same length as the opposite side. A light coating of mineral oil on my hammer and anvil helped to prevent hammer marks from the straightening. Next step was to cast the fittings.

  12. Thanks everyone!




    Nice work! Really interesting seeing the sword coming to life.


    And while we're on the snow subject.. ;)


    Hmmm... and I thought school cancellations were crazy...



    The test will be in how stiff the blade is in the thrust and how "whippy" it feels in use. Glad to hear it made it through heat treat and good luck on straightening. Too bad about the inlay but, it may have been pushing things too much if the blade is that thin.


    What day is your birthday? Mine was Thursday!


    Lots and lots of alcohol would be needed to get me into water as cold as that looks. The evidence is there, right next to the chainsaw. Oh, yeah, chainsaw. Lets do the math here... Chainsaws + inebriation + skinny dipping + ice cold water = Those Finns are lunatics!




    The blade is a little more "whippy" than I had hoped, but not terrible. I'll know a little better once the guard and pommel are cast and fit. Mine was Thursday too, happy B(ruce)-day! :)


    I actually had a width-wise bend in the blade due to uneven heating, but careful hammering on the concave edge finally got it out. The guard and pommel models are done and ready for casting next week. I hope to post a more thorough update after that. But for now, back to sanding!

  13. This week has been quite a rolller coaster ride. Monday school closed early due to snow. Tuesday we miraculously had school all day, an unusual occurrence here when there is an inch of snow on the ground. I accomplished a good bit that day, but with a little disappointment. Wednesday it snowed all day and school has been cancelled through today. We got about 5" of accumulation and a lot of ice so the entire town shut down and I haven't had internet access until today either. And my little point and shoot camera died, so I will not be able to document things as well in the future I'm afraid :(. I also became a year older this week, the big double two, Yay.


    Anyhow, time for a more interesting post.




    Here is the blade after shaping to the outline of my design an flattening the edges. Also in this picture is the ivory dyed rayskin I plan to use for the handle wrap and a bag of white bronze casting grain for the guard and pommel. (Oh, and in the upper left corner is a geometrically designed, 8" chef's knife I am working on.)


    After this I carefully laid out a center line and the stopping points for the edge bevels. Although I attempted to forge these in, my forging was not accurate and I ended up grinding them away to get a proper distal taper.




    First I coat the blade in layout dye. To get an accurate center line that matched on both sides of the blade I did not use any measurements but simply took a pair of dividers and opened it just far enough that when slid down the side of the tapering edge it would make a line that would pass through the center. Then, without adjusting the dividers I scribed a similar line from the opposite edge. Where these two lines intersect is the center of my blade. I did this both at the ricasso and at the tip to get two center points from which I could construct the center line.




    Then connect the dots with my big yellow straight edge.




    After laying out center lines on both sides I used the dividers again to layout where the bevels meet the flat section of the blade. Then it was off to the grinder.


    LABS grinders.jpg


    The benefits of being an ABS school, 6 lovely Bader grinders :D .




    To rough grind in the bevels, I clamped a steel plate to the rest while using a flat platen. I then lean the blade so that the upper edge is being ground while the lower edge rests against the block to keep a relatively consistent angle.




    Here's the blade after rough grinding the edges. I did not bring them all the way to the lines I had scribed lest I accidentally go too far. So the rest of the grinding was done via draw filing.




    This old horseshoe rasp made things go a little quicker.




    I used my handy dandy inlaid block as a filing guide for the plunge lines.






    Here we are after draw filing. At this point the blade is about ready for heat treat but first I wanted to put in the grooves for the wire inlay. After about an hour of carefully laying out the geometric pattern for the inlay I grabbed my chisel and tried to start the cuts, but to my surprise the steel was much harder than I expected. My chisel cut into it but I couldn't go deep enough, and at that shallow depth I didn't feet that I had enough control to produce the design well.


    All that being said I decided after much thought and disappointment to not do the inlay in the blade. I'm sure another, more careful annealing cycle would help, but I am already behind schedule so I decided to go ahead and heat treat the blade.


    The heat treat was successful, with no pings or visible cracks but a little straightening will be needed. More on that will come soon.



  14. It's finally time for another update! I have been frantically working to catch up after missing about a full week of classes due to weather. But this week the snow is back again in full force so I don't know how much will get done. I am officially behind schedule at this point, so I have decided to put the second sword on the back burner until the first is finished.




    About 2 inches already, and the big storm isn't supposed to come 'til Wednesday, Yikes!


    Prior to flattening the edges of my blade I made a paper template based on my design and ground the edges on a belt sander to match the design.




    In order to get the edges of this blade as straight as possible, I taped a broken 2x72" belt sander belt to a very flat surface.




    I then coat the edge with permanent marker and slide it back and forth over the sanding belt to reveal the high spots.




    The shiny spots are high so I clamp the blade in a vise and file them down, then repeat until the blade is flat.




    It's a long process, but well worth it in the end. This was especially important for me to lay out the center line and edge bevels later.


    At this point I realized I had made a big mistake during forging. Because I had to widen the base at the ricasso that section became quite thin, but I didn't forge the rest of the blade to be even with that thickness. The result was a reverse distal taper, which I spent far too long grinding to a proper distal taper. The blade is very thin at this point, about 3.4mm (under1/8") at the thickest, but it feels okay to me, in fact the thinness makes it very light which I like. Anyhow, lesson learned - forge in distal taper.


    I will post more in a day or so.

  15. Very nice Scott! Have you checked jewelry suppliers. They often carry a variety of chemical patinas for various alloys. Rio Grande has one for nickel: http://www.riogrande.com/Product/Midas-Nickel-Oxidizer/331051?Pos=2. I'm sure Jax chemicals would probably have one too. Not sue how it would react with the copper though. If you're looking for something natural you can make yourself I can't help you there. Folks generally use nickel to resist patina ;) .

  16. Very cool piece! I have a good sized bit of hearth steel that would be fun to try this with.


    Thanks everyone! The secret of the serpent is in a thread on this board (probably one of the best ones) Jeff Pringle describes how to do it with no material removal, just forging ;) it's a lot simpler than you think......


    I'm not aware of that thread and am not having any luck searching for it, do you have the link by chance?

  17. We've had another big snow this week. This time with lots of ice on the roads. I live in a central area of town and can't even drive a mile from my apartment without slipping and sliding. I'm not sure when I will get back to the shop, maybe tomorrow if it warms up a little.


    Before the snow, on Monday, I worked on flattening the edges of the first blade as they need to be as straight as possible. It's a time consuming process but I think it will be worth it in the long run. I need to have the blade ready for heat treat by the end of next week to stay on schedule, but I have a feeling that won't happen. We'll see.


    Thanks Alan! I tried the onglette again with better success, however I still think a V graver will work better. The curved sides of the onglette tend to push up the top edge of the groove or cut into the opposite side if leaned at too shallow an angle when cutting parallel to the groove (this is what I meant before, hope it's a little more clear).


    I found my camera, so more pics are on the way as soon as I get back. :)

  18. 4140 and 1045 will not harden well as they are not high carbon steels. It may work for a hammer, but it will probably dent easier than high carbon that is properly heat treated.


    What Lee Sauder mentioned about the eye shape is very important. The inside of the eye needs to be hourglass shaped. This keeps the hammer head from sliding off the handle because the wedge expands the wood forming a kind of flush rivet. The image below is a little exaggerated but gives the general idea. This shape can be filed in after milling, or will naturally occur if the eye is punched with a tapered punch from both sides. (I should note, most mass manufactured hammers do not have this feature.)


    Hammer eye shape.JPG


    Hope this helps.



  19. Josh, Very cool stuff!!!



    Well done.

    Find some finer sand for your casting. HD sells the pool filter sand. Its pretty fine.


    Thanks Mark, I'll look into that. The sand I have is as fine or finer than most play sands sold at the hardware store, not sure about pool filter sand though. I've heard some grades of sandblaster sand are really fine but I'm not sure where to get them.




    Make yourself an onglette graver to do the undercuts sideways. The edges of the cut deform less.


    I actually have a little onglette graver, and tried to use it but the side of the graver cut the top of the opposite side of the channel. I may just need more practice :rolleyes: . I'm thinking a sharp V graver will give me a little more room to work with, maybe.


    Last night I spent far too long, 8 hours, forging bevels into the second sword and didn't even get a center line all the way down. I will straighten it a little more and likely do the rest on the grinder. I also misplaced my camera, so no pics today. Now I have a lot of long grinding work so it may be a little while before my next update.

  20. Thanks for the encouragement everyone!


    Unfortunately more snow has arrived and I couldn't get to the blacksmith shop yesterday, and it may be closed tonight as well. :( We shall see... But at least there's a little more snow this time.


    More Snow.jpg


    Nevertheless, I now have time to write about some of the other progress I have made. So prepare for a long, picture-intensive post.


    I have begun practicing wire inlay, which will be used to decorate the blade on one of the swords. This is my first attempt at this technique.


    Inlay Tools.jpg


    I started with a thick plate of mild steel and some O-1 drill rod which I forged flat and proceeded to grind a 1/16" flat graver from. I hardened the graver and tempered to a just barely straw color, twice. The bevel on the bottom of the graver helps it to sit flat against the surface to maintain a constant depth.


    Inlay chisel cutting.jpg


    Here I have cut the basic design and am evening out the depth to near .6mm deep.


    Inlay Undercut.jpg


    I used the same chisel to make the undercuts to hold the wire in place. I also cut straight down into the channel for added texture to grip the wire.


    Inlay Hammering.jpg


    I then hammered some fully annealed 12 gauge copper wire into the channels. I start hammering with the peen and then use the flat hammer face to spread the wire. I cut each piece with jewelers wire cutters.


    Inlay rough.jpg


    After hammering.


    Inlay Filing.jpg


    Filing down the surface.


    Inlay Complete.jpg


    And viola! A nice piece of wire inlay. Actually, it's a little rough around the edges. I think I will make another chisel to help me get cleaner undercuts without deforming the sides of the design so much. But it's not bad for my first attempt at inlay I think.


    I also managed to mostly finish one half of the wooden model for the pommel, and do a test casting in pewter. Later on I may not have time to document the sand molding process so I will go ahead and discus that now.


    Pommel Model rough.jpg


    Here is the model. I still need to even out the flutes a little but I need to make a sanding stick of the proper radius first.


    Pommel Molding 1.jpg


    To begin sand molding I place the model right side up on a flat piece of aluminum and lay the bottom half of my flask (the drag) over it. You should dust the model with a fine parting dust like talcum or baby powder so it will not stick to the sand. (I forgot that part.) The flask is upside down at this point. Also I made all my flasks and molding sand myself. The sand is a mixture of fine white beach sand from the gulf coast of Florida, powdered bentonite clay, and water.


    Pommel Molding 2.jpg


    Now I pack this with sand.


    Pommel Molding 3.jpg


    Then flip the flask and attach the top portion (the cope) so that it lines up properly. By the way, notice the hole in the bottom of the model, that is very important as you will see in a moment.


    Pommel Molding 5.jpg


    Again, pack full with sand.


    Pommel Molding 6.jpg


    Now I remove the cope so I can take out the model. To remove the model I put a screw in the hole mentioned above and use that as a handle so I don't ruin the mold. However, I had some issues because I forgot to powder the model, so I had to fix things a bit.


    Pommel Molding 7.jpg


    And here's the mold. I try to shake out all the loose sand that gets into the low spots of the mold before casting.


    Pommel Molding 8.jpg


    Pommel Molding 9.jpg


    I then cut a sprue, inlet, hole for pouring the metal and two small air vents. The sprue is cut with a drill bit and the vents with copper wire. And now it's time to pour!


    Pommel Casting 1.jpg


    I used pewter for this test casting. It melts at around 575 degrees F. and is great for practicing casting. It also saves your sand from drying out.


    Pommel Casting 2.jpg


    Sorry, no shots of the actual pour (working alone here) but here is the mold after the pour. I stop pouring when I see metal pop out of the air vents. Because pewter has such a low melting temp it is easy to over heat in which case the inside will cool much slower than the outside causing the button to cave in. (A good button should be flat. If it is convex then the metal was too cold, or so my jewelry instructor tells me.)


    Pommel Casting 3.jpg


    Next I remove the sand mold and break it apart to reveal the model. I made this flask so I could make multiple molds at once, hence the locks on the corners of the cope and drag.


    And here's the final product:


    Pommel Casting 4.jpg


    Pommel Casting 5.jpg


    Pommel Casting 6.jpg


    I didn't quite get all the loose sand out of the mold, so some of the high spots between the flutes are very rough. I will be sure to fix that next time. Also there is a slight depression beneath the sprue where the metal sucked in due to overheating. Other than that I think this casting came out well. At this point there is a lot of clean up to do, but I will not be finishing this since it was just a test.


  21. I think that blower will work just fine. Jim Hrisoulas is a great bladesmith! His work is far beyond my current level. He's been in the business for a very long time and no doubt learned to forge weld from blacksmiths who often use sparking as an indicator. Blacksmiths do not typically worry themselves about carbon content and heat treating. He has a great deal of experience and control over his methods, unlike most beginners.


    I happen to disagree with Jim on that point because you are literally burning carbon out of the metal and can risk totally destroying a piece of steel. A good number of the ABS Master Smiths and Journeymen that teach here at Haywood will immediately cut off a piece of steel if it sparks, if not throw away the blade entirely. Furthermore, it is not difficult to reach that yellow-white temp needed for welding without burning the steel. Like you said, it just takes a bigger fire. In case this helps, here is a diagram of the forge I use with it's various atmospheres at a general forging temp.


    Coal Forge Atmospheres.jpg


    As the air flow increases the oxidizing layer comes closer to the top, but generally if I keep the work above the firepot it will not spark, even at a white heat.


    And your welcome, the chemistry bit was a good review for me. It's easy to forget that stuff. (Now I just need a refresher on calculus... maybe later :P .)

  22. Wow, thanks you guys. A lot of good stuff. I think I am getting a better idea now. So basically I need to have a big clean fire that is big enough to bring the work to weld temp. Big enough that I can keep the work in the neutral layer and away from the oxidizing layers of the fire.


    That's correct, you really want to keep the piece towards the top of the fire. It can be tricky to adjust the temp in a coal forge to get the right atmosphere but you will learn with experience. How far up it needs to be depends on the depth of your firepot and your air flow. Do you have an electric blower, or hand crank? Electric is nice because the amount of air will not fluctuate, but it will use more fuel unless you turn the air off after every heat.


    One sure sign that you have too much air is if your work sparks while in the forge. In that case the steel is burning and rapidly oxidizing. (It may spark a little as you pull it out into open air though.)

  23. Very nice carvings Rob! Looks like the liver of sulfur did its job. Out of curiosity how are you sanding the blade? (ie sanding sticks, stones, by hand?) I've found round sanding sticks to be useful on knives because I can rotate the stick as I pull it down the blade to have continuous access to sharp grit, but I'm not sure how well that would work on a sword.

  24. Mtodd, actually I think this is a great question for beginners to understand. You will come across that term a lot in a number of different situations. To put it simply, the term "reducing" is usually used to describe an atmosphere inside a forge, kiln, oven, etc. that will not cause the metal to oxidize and form scale or rust.


    A fire can have one of three atmospheres:

    1. Oxidizing: more oxygen than fuel (Carbon)
    2. Neutral: just enough oxygen and fuel that both are entirely consumed
    3. Or Reducing: more fuel, and hence more carbon, than oxygen

    However, it's a little more complicated than that. It is actually a chemistry term that comes from oxidation-reduction reactions (or redox reactions). Rust and scale are forms of "oxidation," the opposite of which is "reduction." Wikipedia defines the two this way:

    • Oxidation is the loss of electrons or an increase in oxidation state by a molecule, atom, or ion
    • Reduction is the gain of electrons or a decrease in oxidation state by a molecule, atom, or ion.

    Iron (Fe) in its elemental state has 2 or 3 electrons that are at a high energy level and want to react with other elements. Oxygen on the other hand has 6 and only needs 2 more to make it stable. Thus, common rust occurs when iron gives it's two electrons to oxygen in the following reaction: 4Fe + 3O2 → 2Fe2O3.

    If iron rusts this way far enough you get a mass of iron ore called Hematite (Fe2O3).


    I won't bother fully describing the reduction of iron ore, as I believe this site, http://www.chemguide.co.uk/inorganic/extraction/iron.html, covers it very well. But to sum it up the excess of carbon causes CO, or carbon monoxide, to form. The CO and Carbon in the furnace react with the hematite to produce pure iron and CO2.

    In the case of a forge it is good to have a reducing atmosphere because the steel will ideally not oxidize and grow scale while it is in the forge. Once a piece is pulled out into the open air, however, scale will grow which is the reason for flux. But in the case of a nicely stacked billet flux may inhibit welding more than the fire scale that grows between the layers. I've never welded without flux, but the discussions here and elsewhere make me want to try. An oxidizing atmosphere, will actually cause scale and rust to form more quickly than naturally in air. A neutral flame is hard, if not impossible to achieve in a forge hence a reducing flame. It is possible to carburize (add carbon to) a piece of steel in a reducing atmosphere, but typically you have to really try to accomplish that feet and even then the higher Carbon layer is only on the surface, unless the steel actually melts (which is often the goal of hearth melting wrought iron or mild steel).


    I hope this helps without being too confusing. Let me know if anything is unclear (or just plain wrong :) ).

    ~Josh S.

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