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Silver inlay into steel


Alan Longmire

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Since there was some interest in how I inlaid silver sheet into a wrought iron tomahawk head (shown in this thread), I am posting this tutorial. The same method works with almost any metal, I just used steel in the title as that's the most common metal for us bladesmith types. wink.gif First, you need your item in which you want to do some inlay. It needs to be heat treated already and finished to at least 220 grit. Here's the hawk head after draw filing: Chuck_hawk_2.jpg Next, you need your silver sheet. I use .024-.026 inch sterling sheet, which in this case I purchased from ccsilver.com, but any precious metals supplier will have it. It comes in 6 inch by 12 inch sheets in half-hard temper. Now you need a pattern. You can draw it on the silver freehand, or you can use a template and carbon paper, or any other method of pattern transfer you like. The main focus of this tutorial is inlaying one of those rectangles on the eye of the hawk, which didn't require a fancy template, just measurements. At the end I'll show an alternate method I used on the square and compass inlay on the blade. Here's the rectangles cut out of the silver sheet using a jewelers' saw. They have been annealed and pickled. Annealing the silver is crucial to your success here, because you will be relying on the silver being pressed into undercut edges of the steel to hold it in. If the silver is any harder than dead soft it will not spread out like it should and your inlay will not hold. First, the rectangles: inlay_1.jpg Now, place the rectangle on the hawk and scribe around the edges. You can superglue it down if necessary, and then pick it off with an exacto knife after scribing if you want. inlay_3.jpg inlay_5.jpg Now comes the fun part. Using gravers and chisels, cut out the inlet in the steel to a depth at least half and preferably 3/4 the thickness of your silver. You could probably use a mini-mill on a flat surface, but on a curved one you're pretty well stuck with hand-held tooling. If you have VERY steady hands you could possibly use a die grinder or flex shaft tool. I just stick with my gravers. I used the following three on this project: inlay_6.jpg From left to right, they are a flat or chisel graver with about a 3/32" wide face, a point or onglette graver, which looks like a convex grind viewed from head on, and a #6 square graver. The first two I made from 1/8" music wire (1095). The last one is a commercial M42 steel graver. To find out more about these gravers, do a web search on the topic of graver sharpening, because it's more than I care to go into here. These graver are all driven with a 1" face chasing hammer, available anywhere you get silver or gravers. Mine came from Jantz supply. You can use a 1 or 2 ounce ball pein hammer as well, but the broader face of the chasing hammer makes it easier. Next, you must cut the recess or inlet. I used the point graver to cut a line just inside the scribed lines, then carved out the interior with the flat chisel graver. Here's a shot of the inlet about half cut: inlay_7.jpg I then squared the edges with the square graver, making sure I had enough room for the silver to snap into place. You can be a little large, but if your inlet is smaller than the silver it will not work. Test the fit, and when it's almost ready to snap into the inlet, stop. inlay_8.jpg inlay_9.jpg Now comes the hard part: You must take the point graver and undercut the edges of the recess all the way around, so it makes a dovetail. You can open it up a little by driving the flat chisel into the sides of your recess at a 90 degree angle. When you finish this step, the inlay should be able to snap into place. It won't stay, but we'll take care of that in the next post.

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Now, to set the inlay, you must firmly hammer it. On a flat surface, I use my regular forging hammer. On this curved surface I was stuck with a 12-ounce ball pein, using the flat face first. The idea is to upset the dead-soft silver into the undercut grooves in the inlet. You can use a graver to cut little barbs in the recess as well, this helps hold things. Using a heavy hammer with a firm blow not only upsets the silver into the undercuts, the process of undercutting will raise a slight rim around the recess that then gets driven back flush with the surface. This is why you want the inlay to be a little thicker than the recess is deep. That allows room to spread the silver out and lock it in firmly.

 

Once the inlay seems to be set with the flat face, switch to the ball pein of the chasing hammer and carefully planish the whole surface of the silver to make sure it's fully expanded into the undercuts. This process also work-hardens the silver.

 

Remember what I said about expanding the silver, and how it's best to use a large hammer face to force the silver to fill the space all at once? Well, here's what happens when you can't do that:

 

inlay_10.jpg

 

What happend here was that the long sides of the silver rectangle expanded lengthwise and forced the endpiece out of the recess. Many colorful words were said at this juncture. To fix the problem, we rely on one of the properties of the precious metals that made them precious long ago: the ability of CLEAN silver (sterling or above) and gold (14k or above) to weld under pressure at room temperature. The surfaces must be clean and free of oxides for this to work.

 

In the next picture, notice the end piece. I cut it out as a simple strip and hammered it into place, which left a tiny gap between it and the long legs of the rectangle. I filled these little gaps with small bits of silver and hammered them in.

 

inlay_11.jpg

 

Looks nasty, eh? When carefully filed down flush with the steel and sanded back to a 220-grit finish, you can't tell it was ever in more than one piece.

 

inlay_12.jpg

 

Next: complicated shapes!

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The Masonic emblem of the square and compass is a nice study in how to inlay a complicated shape. It was done a bit differently than the rectangles or the star on the other side of the blade. The star was done as one piece, just like the rectangles, except for the part about having to cut off a bit because of the curve. rolleyes.gif It inlayed like a dream, no problems at all. The square and compass started out as a bit of clip art, printed and then traced onto the blade with a bit of graphite paper (fine-grade carbon paper) in between. inlay_13.jpg inlay_14.jpg I then cut out the recess using those guidelines and the same techniques discussed above. I used this same carbon-paper tranfer technique to put the design on the silver sheet, which I then cut out in four pieces: The square, the top half of the compass, and each lower leg of the compass. The square was inlaid first, followed by the top and each leg. inlay_15.jpg Once more, this was carefully filed back flush and sanded to 220 grit. inlay_16.jpg After final engraving and sanding to 400 grit, we have the finished design. post-510-1226090199.jpg I hope this helps other get involved in some of the old techniques of embellishment. Thanks for looking! smile.gif

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Alan

Thanks for taking the time to do this tutorial:D . I am starting to get in the mood to finish my hawk now :lol:

 

Bob

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Thanks for the tutorial! There's quite a few different techniques on how to inlay silver or other metals. Another frequently used in history is damascening. This involves roughing up the surface by a rasp or scraper, and hammering thin foil onto the surface. The surrounding area is then either left as is, filled with niello (black) or hammered flat again.

 

I recently also did a small tutorial for how I did the silver inlays on a reproduction of the oldest known swords (Arslantepe, 3300B.C.):

http://1501bc.com/files/Inlaying_silver_in...ntepe_sword.jpg

That only works on very soft metals naturally.

Jeroen Zuiderwijk

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/barbarianmetalworking

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Great tutorial, thanks.

Ben Potter Bladesmith

 

 

It's not that I would trade my lot

Or any other man's,

Nor that I will be ashamed

Of my work torn hands-

 

For I have chosen the path I tread

Knowing it would be steep,

And I will take the joys thereof

And the consequences reap.

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Thanks for posting this, Alan. I'm just about ready to try some inlay myself, so the timing is perfect.

 

I suspect on a fully hardened blade, the cut-out would need to be done before hardening?

George Ezell, bladesmith

" How much useful knowledge is lost by the scattered forms in which it is ushered to the world! How many solitary students spend half their lives in making discoveries which had been perfected a century before their time, for want of a condensed exhibition of what is known."
Buffon


view some of my work

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I suspect on a fully hardened blade, the cut-out would need to be done before hardening?

 

I'd suspect much the same. The cutout AND the dovetailing. Unless you leave the blade a bit softer than your gravers, that is. At Bowie's hammerin this year I engraved a design on the spine of a differentially hardened blade. Best guess is the spine was around Rc 52 or so. I only broke the tip off my graver six or eight times... :lol: Speaking of Bowie's, what does it take to pry you out of northern Alabama? ;) You need to come to Harley's this coming spring.

 

Remember the medieval swords with latten (brass) inlay were not very hard to begin with, and as such were probably carved after HT. Once the renaissance hit a lot of the decoration is damascening, described by Jeroen (thanks, Jeroen! ;) ) above. Really well done damascene inlay can look like deep inlay. Koftgari is similar, if not another word for the same thing.

 

I got interested in doing this for gunsmithing purposes, as the East Tennessee style of longrifle I love almost always has the maker's name in a silver inlay on the top flat of the barrel. I've seen one knife made by the Bean family that had the silver inlay and signature on the spine, just like their rifles. VERY cool! Of course, I've only made three guns since I got sidetracked by knives and hawks, so I haven't used the technique that often. :rolleyes::lol:

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I'd suspect much the same. The cutout AND the dovetailing. Unless you leave the blade a bit softer than your gravers, that is. At Bowie's hammerin this year I engraved a design on the spine of a differentially hardened blade. Best guess is the spine was around Rc 52 or so. I only broke the tip off my graver six or eight times... :lol: Speaking of Bowie's, what does it take to pry you out of northern Alabama? ;) You need to come to Harley's this coming spring.

You're right, I do need to get out more often... :rolleyes:

Unfortunately my truck has been giving me good excuses lately to stay home, but Lord willin I'll be there.

 

I'd like to do a bit of copper inlay (yeah I'm cheap) on a piece I'm working on, I'm hoping I can do it after HT, but it will be a tricky getting the transition line just where it needs to be for that to work. Just like me to use 5160, alot harder to control what gets hard and what doesn't than 1084 or such (and it's a long narrow blade). I reckon I could sharpen up a few bits of carbide into gravers if necessary... If the blade's 57-58rc, and the graver 62-64rc, maybe it will work...

George Ezell, bladesmith

" How much useful knowledge is lost by the scattered forms in which it is ushered to the world! How many solitary students spend half their lives in making discoveries which had been perfected a century before their time, for want of a condensed exhibition of what is known."
Buffon


view some of my work

RelicForge on facebook
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Hi Alan,

Very nice tutorial on inlay. I'll have to try it some time.

Next time you do the Square and Compass both points

of the compass should be exposed if the recipient is a

Master Mason.

 

Just to pick a couple of nits. :D

 

Bill

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  • 2 weeks later...
Pretty good information in here,does the same hold true for Brass inlay's Alan

 

Yes, it does. Be sure you anneal the heck out of the brass, as it's harder to expand into the undercuts than annealed silver. Nonferrous anneal techniques on both, i.e. slowly heat to a low red without melting, let cool to black in a dark room, and quench in cold water. Pickle in warm Sparex or vinegar to clean the oxide layer off if needed.

 

Here's a brass inlay from an old hawk of mine:

 

2.jpg

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  • 4 years later...

I've never noticed a problem with temperature changes. The amount of movement is so small that yes, the undercut keeps it locked in.

 

Now, throw it in a forge and all bets are off! :lol:

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I've never noticed a problem with temperature changes. The amount of movement is so small that yes, the undercut keeps it locked in.

 

Now, throw it in a forge and all bets are off! :lol:

how about throwing? have you thrown those bad boys?

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No, and I don't imagine anyone who has paid what a silver-inlayed pipe hawk costs would throw it either. :lol:

 

I doubt the inlays would come out without destroying the head, unless you just sit down with a chisel and try to pry them up. I mean, I engrave the things in place and they don't move.

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No, and I don't imagine anyone who has paid what a silver-inlayed pipe hawk costs would throw it either. :lol:

 

I doubt the inlays would come out without destroying the head, unless you just sit down with a chisel and try to pry them up. I mean, I engrave the things in place and they don't move.

cool thanks for being so patient with me

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  • 4 weeks later...

Wow Alan that is a very informative. The tutorial not only shows how to do it but it also shows with a little imagination as to actually how labor intensive the process could be. This one is going in my files for future refrence! B)

C Craft Customs ~~~ With every custom knife I build I try to accomplish three things. I want that knife to look so good you just have to pick it up, feel so good in your hand you can't wait to try it, and once you use it, you never want to put it down ! If I capture those three factors in each knife I build, I am assured the knife will become a piece that is used and treasured by its owner! ~~~ C Craft

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  • 10 months later...

Hi Lloyd, sorry for the delay in response, I've been out of the country.

 

The square graver is a commercial 1/8" square #4 graver made from M42 high speed steel, purchased from Jantz supply. The others are made from 1/8" round music wire from the hobby shop. Grind your point, harden the last half inch only in water, and barely temper. A faint pale gold color is what I shoot for.

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