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Experimenting with inlay

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I have inlaid guite a few items in the past with pieces of mosaic steel, arty pieces like bowls and lids for boxes. What you see below is something I have wanted to try for ages. Recently Ric and I have been exchanging emails about swords and stuff and inlaying came up in the conversation. He sent me a link to myarmoury and in particular the Appearance of Iron Inlay thread.

So having read through that and looked at the wonderful work of Jeff Pringle and all the work Mikko Moilanen has done on the subject. I have had a go.


To test out a few ideas I found a scrap of damascus with about 20+ layers to use for inlaying a letter into. I made some small rods out of carbon steel and pure iron with 10 layers in. The rods were 5-6mm diameter. From previous experience I know that there is no way you can keep pieces in place on hot steel when the flux starts to melt. They just skid around all over the place. With the arty pieces I usually drill through the steel and plug weld the mosaic in place, then forge weld them in. The thread on myarmoury mentions various ways this could and has been done. I choose to hammer dents/grooves into the bar so the rods just laid in place. All this was done in gas forge. In a coke it would be difficult to use this method as there is the likely hood of the knocking the inlay pieces out with the coals.


Here is the first piece,




The splits in the layers are from trying to weld the two iron layers together when I folded the small billet. I learnt two things doing this. No 1 is don't try to weld iron onto iron, make the billet up to the layers you need, then weld up. No 2, the iron and steel inlay has become alot softer with the addition of the iron so it feels "soggy" to weld. I think it would be better to use similars steels for the inlays as the piece being inlaid into. The M has been made from 4 rods cut to fit into the grooves.


This is a cross section through the legs of the M showing how the layers have moved with the hammering of the grooves and the welding of the inlay.





Now with this small success I have decided on something far more ambitious. I have always wanted to try putting MAXEN MEFECIT

into a pattern welded sword. I have one thats welded up but decided not too use that for pratice. Instead I used some left over bars from this and welded them up into a 3 core bar 30mm wide. Each of these bars has about 15 layers and is an interupted twist with alternating clockwise and anticlockwise twists (does that make sense, I'm not sure I understand it myself).


I made the rods out of 15N20 and 20C, the same steel that the 3 core bar is from. The rods have 10 layers in. I made about 9 feet of 6mm bar out of a billet that started out as 30 x 30 x 130mm. I have plenty left over. The next photo shows the stages of making the rods. As the letters are about 20mm tall the rods need to be tightly twisted and I think there is about 3-4 turns per inch. The piece of tooling at the bottom of the photo I knocked up quickly so that the bars were all a similar size of 5mm.






I carefully hammered the grooves into the 3 bar. This was a bit nerve racking as any screw up was going to leap out as a big mistake. Thankfully all went well. The length of + MAXEN MEFECIT + is about 10" and the letters are 3/4", 20mm tall.









The rods were ground down to 4mm and cut to fit the grooves. There are 42 pieces in all. I did knock the bar once and 4 of my letters dissappeared as they fell onto the floor. This is with all the pieces resting in place. The grooves are about 2mm deep.






I have messed about for what seems like ages with all these small rods and now I need to move them, as I have decided to weld them up in groups of 3-4 letters. All I can see happening now is when I move them they are going to roll off the bench. Then I had a brain wave, I got a piece of tape and layed this over the rods, pressed down hard and carefully pulled the tape away with all the pieces stuck to it. The best idea I have had in ages. The all I did was remove the rods in order and put them into the grooves ready for welding.


This photo shows all the letters welded up. They are probably about 1mm above the surface now.






All I am thinking now is has it worked or been a complete waste of time. I shot blasted all the scale of and ground the bar down to 80 grit, the finest I have at the moment. Must order some more. I then hand sanded the bar down to 400 grit. There is something quite pleasing doing this by hand as you can see the progress and the faint outline of the letters appearing. Breathing on the bar as well gives you a fleeting glimpse of what there is within. In total there are about 7 small areas that have not filled up with the inlayed rods. Strangely enough these are all at the top or bottom of the vertical parts. Perhaps the chisel has a differant radius on one end.


So now I am like a kid in a sweet shop with eager anticipation as I wipe down the bar and get ready for the ecthing.

Here is the finished bar.










The bar was very difficult to photograph as the letters seem to be lost in the pattern, but if held at the right angle the letters show up better.

I don't know what the ratio is to pattern inlays or plain iron inlays in swords are. But as a smith all those years ago who wanted to show off their work, the pattern inlays are fancy but plain iron inlays would leap out at you and be able to be read from a distance.


On a more historical note, I wonder when this sort of work was last done in England.



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Nice work, I've been trying to get a similar result by using a pantograph engraver to mill through the outer layer of a billet of plain 1080 laminated with pattern welded scales. The pattern does distort when the engraved billet is hammered flat but I will be able to reduce distortion by using a rolling mill. I can compensate for the linear distortion of the rolling mill by adjusting the pantograph.

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Very clean well thought out work there....very well done.


As to how the old English smith's did it (if they even did)...well we'll have to cut up more old work to see cross-sections, but I think yours is better suited to the modern shop.


Be proud.


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Really nicely done, Mick!


I've been planning on that myself, but it sucks to have a long name. :lol:


I had been planning on cutting the letters in cold with a caping chisel, then undercutting just a bit, then cold-hammering the letters in place before welding. I like your method better! B)

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This turned out really nice. Congrats on a wonderful success!!!


by the way here is a cross section taken from an original showing the inlay. It is from a PDF I saved from somewhere,


Metallografisk analys av inläggningar i vikingatida svärdsklinga,

inv. nr SHM 907 Go, Hogrän sn, Ålands

Av Mille Törnblom


Edited by Michael Pikula
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Thanks for all the kind words about this.


Niko, all this welding was done by hand. I didn't want to bury the inlays too deep, knowing that the best part of the twist is in the centre of the bar. So I left them raised a bit so that when I cleaned the bar up the finished surface should show the twists nicely. Doing this and then forging in a fuller I think I would bury the rods into the surface more.


Alan you surnames only got 3 more letters than mine, go for it. Saying that the hardest letter to get right was the C because of the curve. That was formed hot to match the groove. The O and the G in your surname would be the trickiest ones to get right.


Kerry, this was only an experiment to see how it would come out. The main bar is about 4mm thick in places so it won't be getting any edge welded on.


Michael, the picture is interesting. That was one of the reasons to cut up the single letter to see how the layers had moved.

Unfortunately it would be difficilt to tell how the inlay was done even knowing what the layers look like under the inlay. To bury the cold letters into a hot bar, before welding, would show the same effect as the way I have done it. Also if the letters were chiselled out in the bar for the inlays to drop into, there would be a similar effect when they get welded in. Come to think of it, the disruption to the layers would only be directly under the inlay, the layers at the side would show they have been cut.




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i always wondered how they did it. i came up with a much more complicated, much less practical, and utterly doomed idea of how it should be done. i'm glad you did it first so i didnt try my way. looks great too. i've always wanted to do one that said "ulfbehrt ne me fecit" in honor of the germanic bootleg blades, if you wanna use that alan, be my guest. i cant see me actually doing this any time soon.

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yes good show.... thanks... I agree ,plain would have stood out more or maybe if you made the letters in straight damascus and used the damascus on edge so all the layers were following the shape of each letter....I suppose that would be a little more tedious to get everything oriented correctly but it would jump off the blade from any direction of sight.... Then again it is cool to have a pattern that shows only when you hold the blade in a specific way...

sounds like you are not done playing with this idea.... I look forward to seeing more....


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Here is another photo of the bar at a different angle. The inlay stands out more,




I have done another piece using the same 3 core bar. This time the inlaid rods are pure iron and about 3mm round. The contrast is much greater and can be seen from any angle.






This design is about 5-6" long. I had all the rods, 13 in total, all resting in the grooves as I brought the bar up to welding heat. The first weld was light hammer blows along the whole design, just to make sure they would not jump out with the heavier full welding blows. As the rods are pure iron they have filled up the grooves really well.

There is an interesting effect showing from the grooves being hammered into the 3 core bar. If you look at the middle bar as it goes through the design, it narrows as it dissappears under the inlay. If the grooves had been chiseled out for the inlay you would not get this effect.



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Excellent work! B)

If you are not going to work that +MAXENMEFECIT+ inlay into a blade, you might consider bolting it to the door of your shop - let people know who they are dealing with right up front B);)

Getting the inlay to show correctly in a fuller is also fun, but it looks like you are up for it ;)

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  • 4 weeks later...

I have been playing with this idea some more. I wanted to know what the contrast would look like with pattern welded rods in plain material.

The photo below shows inlaid rods in pure iron. Also this time I have not been so fussy with fitting the rods to the hollows/grooves, which shows in places. All the rods in these two pieces are the same as I have used in the previous work. 10 layers of 20C and 15N20.






The next two are inlays in 18th century wrought iron,







The inlays in the pure iron are crisp and easily seen from any angle, but there is a certain quality to the wrought iron piece with how the grain of the iron has moved around the inlays.


One conclusion I have come to is, its alot easier to inlay rods of a similar hardness as the bar. In the case of the 3 core bar at the start of this thread, the inlaid rods are from the same material so there seems to be some resistance to being moved which allows you to work the inlays in. Also the grooves that I chiselled in are neater.

Inlaying the pure iron rods into the 3 core bar was easy as the iron just pushed into the grooves, as it was softer.

If you look at the two close ups you can see how the first triangle shape has got rounded corners as both the wrought iron and pure iron are soft and the corners have pulled in when I forged in the grooves. With the pattern welded rods being a harder material there was not much chance of them filling these voids.




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Still awesome! B)


Now you just need to do it in the fuller of a sword blade... ;)


would those fullers have been forged in afterward or were the inlays just deep enough to compensate for the grinding?

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would those fullers have been forged in afterward or were the inlays just deep enough to compensate for the grinding?


I think the fuller was forged in after the inlay, but Jeff Pringle is the one to ask. Remember the "Pringlerii" sword? :blink:

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