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The philosophy of axes with a minor component on welding mild to mild

Steffen Dahlberg

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I've made a habit over the last two years to attempt a mild steel faggot weld every time I do some work.
My literature gives an example of this as a way to building up material for a ball end of a doorlatch. (And yes, the example is with mild, not wrought)
And if you could forge a ball from it, it should have to be a rather good weld.

But I've never managed more than sticking it together so that when I put it in the vice and bend, it pops open showing the matte and clean surfaces
I've tried a range of temperatures, all the way up to burning the corners.
I've tried a range of mild steel origins of different dimensions.
I've tried sand and glass flux, but even when mixed with borax I haven't been able to find a sand or glass that flows, it's rather like cold syrup.
I've tried from scaly with lots of flux rinsing, and I've tried from laboriously clean ground surfaces coated with wax and borax before heating.
I've tried Coal, Coke, Charcoal and Gas.
No luck.

My own hearth material -which is made from mild steel scrap- welds beautifully and strongly. But it sparks higher and higher every time I fold it, I'm beginning to suspect I've been carburizing it since I have a tendency to be more cautious of air blast than most (because I use mainly charcoal), and that this carburization is making it easier to weld.

This winter I got hold of a Wrought wagon axle, and this wonderful experience is what has lead me to think that there is something awfully wrong with the mild steel I've been working with.
Also, the wrought and my hearth recycled material welds beautifully to the steels I use, UHB-15, UHB-20 and 1095. If I weld a three-layered billet and go to work the edge, it feels like solid material.
The mild does not. That is, it welds, but there's always some point I have to go over a few more times, and working edgewise is seldom safe until I've drawn out the billet quite a bit, at least not at anything less than high-orange to yellow heat. Also I tried welding 15n20 to mild, and that didn't take very well at all.

Could all this trouble be down to Copper in the presumably recycled mild steel, or is there some measures I could take to improve?

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It's good of you to provide so much/so detailed info when asking for help.It does sound rather curious,seeing how you're not exactly a stranger to the process.


Frankly,i'm puzzled,and can only grasp at some barely-likely straws:


I'm not sure if the first thing in the beginning of a forging session is a great time for welding.Let everything,the forge itself and all,come up to heat.Do some short project first(that's what i do,and i may not be too much closer to the Arctic circle than you :).


If you're trying to bend-test a faggot-weld after just one welding-heat it'll probably break every time.Give it 4-5 welding cycles first.


I presume that the same literature has informed you as to the importance of proper scarfing of assorted forgewelds.The main idea is the convexity of both surfaces.Try serrating one or both surfaces with a chisel ,raising a few sharp points,those help the weld to start bonding.


The fluxes may differ,but plain borax should work,if not,chances are that something else is wrong.


Lastly,something that i myself use and rely on a lot:Sharpen a thin rod to a point(use something that you know will weld in your set-up),and keep testing the pieces in the fire as they're coming to heat.

It's a great way to learn when the welding range begins(and ends) in your particular set-up.

Do this using something that you know to be ok to weld as analog,see if your mild is any different(of course,the weldeble steel that you have may differ from mild by any number of factors,but it may still give you some idea/-s).


Best of luck,and good on you for keeping on trying,you'll get there.

God is in his heaven,and Czar is far away...

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Hi Jake!

Yes, I've tried at different points in a forging session, always with a clean pot. And I've tried grinding the surfaces sligthly convex.
I'm a bit hesitant to serrating because I'm afraid of inclusions, but I'll give it a try. On this note, I guess a light sprinkle of filings in the borax would do much the same?

I've heard about using a thin rod, but since I feel I'm on top of things with the other steels I've never seen the use for it. But of course you are absolutely right, that would make a good diagnostic tool!
And the 4-5 welding cycles is a game changer! I've never done more than two, and that was because I could see delamination somewhere. I will give that a try!

Thanks ever so much!

Also, there's something I'd like to raise for debate. I have this feeling when I'm drawing out a knifebillet that the weld becomes more and more secure, and I imagine pristine spaces of material opening up like a honeycomb in a vacuum between the previously welded spots, and that this new area welds perfectly under these conditions even at slightly lower temperatures. Maybe some of you who own a rolling mill or other power tooling has a more distinct impression of this?

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A metal filings mixed with borax have ever made for the "magic...",and "super..."and such commercial flux mixes.I believe it's exactly the way you put it,but frankly i have very little formal knowledge of physics and chemistry,and speak,when i do,strictly as an empiricist.

(As such,i've swept steel filings from under my vise into flux,in the dirtiest and most cavalier manner,and it did seem to've improved the flux...).


I commonly make very dirty,but very large and complex welds.There's normally a % of bad sections in them,but it's small.

What it continues to demonstrate to me is that the inclusion problem is not really as it seems to us,it has a fairly complex mechanism of being dissolved and carried off by flux.


I'm not explaining it well at all;there's a solid theory,we all familiar with it,and it's not as if i've seen it violated,yet,there's more to it all than meets the eye...


Anyway,serrations,and fairly radical convexity,were historically a well-established forging method.Conversely,it is the very flat and spacious seams so common to pattern-welding that are on the verge of being not quite kosher according to the general theory,as the exclusion of flux+impurities is somewhat hampered,yet-we know it works...


The diffusion welds have everything to gain from spending maximum time at ditto temperatures,by definition!:),+ a little bit of pressure to help them along.

That's of course the other half of the proper scarfing requirement,is to start out with plentiful mass at the weld,to allow for a several heats worth of refining(pounding :)that weld.


Again,the very best of luck with it all!

I think that there IS a small chance that there's something Evil in all your mild,but it would be rare.The approach that you're taking,to seek the information to get to the bottom of it is admirable,and should benefit you greatly,even if it'll turn out in the end that something is wrong with this material.

God is in his heaven,and Czar is far away...

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A little feedback, I tried the feeler rod and I was amazed at how low of a temperature it started sticking, I'd say middle orange but then that depends on the beholder.
(This particular piece of 1"x5/16" mild actually broke on the anvil as I was opening the weld for inspection. It had been quenched, and it sparked in the high 30 point range, which would lower the welding temperature somewhat I guess)
Also 5 welding cycles made the weld much tougher, I had to put my weight and my largest hammer into breaking it open.
Thanks again :D

Edited by Steffen Dahlberg
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Right on,Steffen.


And let's also remember(as painful as it is to admit...):


The diffusion weld is invariably flawed,doomed,by the inevitable difference of structure of the joint,to %100 breakage along the weld in testing.


That radically separates it from arc,and several other electric weldind methods that NEVER break along the weld itself...


And so,(yet another) part of the scarfing theory dictates the importance of engineering the weld in such a way that it resists it's intended loading preferably in the shear plane.

An elegan example of this is the way that the chain-link is(was...:)welded.

There,the shear,and even some other m mechanical principles are utilised in a support function of the weld itself.

God is in his heaven,and Czar is far away...

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Good to see you posting again, Jake!


Also timely, as I too sometimes struggle with the mild-to-mild weld until I sit back and recalibrate my brain. Axes can be trying at times...

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Likewise,good to be in touch.

I'm still reeling after that flood,no electrical or internet,so getting more feral even then normal.

Wore out my poor old LG25,working by hand again,and on the purist diet of spruce charcoal...


Builds character,you know(though not necessarily skill):)


I still remember our pact to build a Goosewing,so hope that you've been practicing too!


Here are some cool photos of an old one,that's the direction that i've been pursuing,as far as the quality of weld-seams...









But working in a somewhat different key,here's my last monstrosity,6-part weld,3+ lbs...(sorry,Steffen,i'll make this quick)

Emulating the above weld quality...









God is in his heaven,and Czar is far away...

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That's a beauty, both yours and the goosewing! One of these days...bearded axes are what's been messing with my head these days. I am about to use Jim Austin's trick of slipping some 1095 shim stock in the weld to get the assymetric eye with no dipping on the seam. Cheating perhaps, but desparate times and so on.

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Hey,that sounds like an interesting technique(i really should keep abreast of Jim's stuff better).

Not the simplest deal,assymetry,no sir

And i swear,there's no more complex shape than even the "simplest"(ha!) axe....


VERY best of luck,Alan,and lets do that goosewing sometime soon!:)

God is in his heaven,and Czar is far away...

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(sorry,Steffen,i'll make this quick)

No problem, do go on!

I didn't mention the full reason for wanting to be able to do this weld. One major goal is a folded axe, since I will not be able to make a punched and drifted one by meself any time soon.

Rather, I should say it -was- a goal. The experience with wrought and hearth probably means I'll forgo the mild for such a project.

Edited by Steffen Dahlberg
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I wouldn't write off mild steel too soon(provided that it is proven not to contain some evil anti-welding deamon).


Very often,alloys act very different being welded back to themselves vs to other alloys.


(Actually,it'd not surprise me if the very design of some welded axes was not based in part on that very principle...)


WI is,or can be,very stubborn also,the great experiences with it only lure you on,sooner or later it'll turn on you,mild is so much more reliable,and consistent...

And,often the welding temp difference of WI and higher-C steel is much greater... Becides,it should go without saying,that "WI" is really such an amorphous term as to be nearly meaningless.


So,it's a good idea to get on good terms with mild,at least GOOD mild,like 1018 or 1020,a KNOWN quantity.

God is in his heaven,and Czar is far away...

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I had a look around, and it seems only S235 and S355j2 is available here, and they are in the .4 to .5 copper range (max), which I believe is even worse than A36.

The situation is actually rather awful. I can get small strips of UHB knife steels, but if I want anything bigger I have to turn to farriers rasps and automotive stuff.
Most steelyards I call have never heard of anything other than Mild steel and possibly Silversteel, and anyone who deals in tool steel won't sell anything less than 5 tonnes.

When I got fed up with scrap chisels and punches I had to order H13 from the states, and even though I got a special shipping quote it came to more than twice the amount of the steel. If I don't get a quote a quite small parcel will easily push 1000$ shipping for a 100$ order. (And I've seen the national rates in the US, I don't know how you put up with it)

But I'll keep on looking, maybe put word out locally

Very nice axe, by the way! What's it's intended use? It looks like it would be a decent axe for boat building, a tad on the heavy side maybe.
And the old one (german origin?) looks like bloom iron with those cracks to the left of "Anno Domine"?

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Steffen,that's a tough situation with material...I wonder if you could appeal to the fellow ferro-freaks in the surrounding countries...John Newman coop in Latvia,or other smaller manufacturers like Svante Djarv or the like...Where the shipping would be less,and close enough where they may suggest something even more local?Sorry,i'm at a loss here.


The axe i built for a friend that wanted a more or less universal tool,for land clearing,and felling,as well as for the basic timber work.He's a very large guy,comfortable with one-handing a close to 4 lb axe,but thus the short blade+massive poll,to keep the center of balance close to the eye(makes the blade easy to pivot around the axis of handle.

He lives a considerable distance from me,and requested a standard,store-bought handle,for ease of replacement.He'll cut it short,for his comfortable handling,so you're right-it's a basic carpenter's/boatbuilder's axe,with a drop of felling axe in it's origin.


The old goosewing is a typical germanic broad-,or side-axe,the photo was taken from a russian auction site where the seller was advertising it as an "executioner's axe"...(of course,and if not that,then it's got to be a battle axe for sure,comic-books thinking permeates our (undereducated)society on all levels...).


It does appear to be some lousy-grade bloomery steel,actually rare to see in tools of germanic origin.Possibly,high-S,or P,and incorrect forging temps...Hard to say,but i'd have loved to handle it,or even pay for an analysis...


I'll be speaking out my ear now,but must say that i believe the copper scare,"a penny in the forge" et c.,to be an old-wife's tale.

There's a mention of the Japanese admixing Cu into a steel alloy,at,seems,1000/1(which would make what-%0,001? my brain is fuzzy right now...)


But in any case,when we weld some nasty old leaf-spring,it takes practically an extra heat to burn off that filthy Cr oxide...Would %0.4-0.5 Cu really make THAT big a difference?

If it's similar to A36,than i'd say that you're ok,(as iffy as THAT stuff is,it works fine)...

God is in his heaven,and Czar is far away...

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So, I'm a little late to this thread, but I would say that wherever you would use "mild" steel (here in the US that's the devil A36), just substitute 1018. The problem with most structural steel is that it's all melted down hubcaps and sewer lids and while it does have a chemistry range on paper, who knows what's actually IN it. I learned to forge weld with A36, and it was AWFUL. I never did really "get" it. It took temperatures so high I was almost burning the steel, and the quality of the welds was still garbage.


Once I turned to known knife steels everything was easy. When I moved to using 1018 in decorative pattern welding, it worked without a second thought. After years of pretty heavy pattern welding, when I tried to weld a loop at the end of a piece of A36 to make the end of a fire poker. It WORKED, but not well, and I know that the weld would have pulled apart if I tried.


I guess what I'm trying to say is "Life is too short to fight losing battles". I mean, sure, you might eventually master some weird process to weld dirty, unknown, mild steel, but once you've done that, what have you gained really? You could have simply used "cold rolled" (1018) and saved yourself years of struggle.


Just my $.02.



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hi deker :)

Yeah, the next logical step is to track down some non-recycled mild of a known grade.
Easier said than done here, since the last pigiron mill shut down in '89 and the associated steel mill began recycling instead.
(If only I knew I was going to get into blacksmithing while I worked there, I could have hauled tonnes of old odds and ends from the '50s out from the cellars, guaranteed pristine steel but the exact grade and S and P content would be an unknown)

Actually I have eight inches left of some 1/4" round 1018 nail stock that I had flewn in from the US, I could do a very small test at least..
I have some feelers out, I'll just have to wait and see.

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Steffen,Deker is absolutely correct.


I had a twinge of guilt for encouraging someone to pursue such unconclusive experiments.These are "loosing battles" indeed,and you're probably WAY better off just tracking down correct materials.


I'm old,and crazy,and do believe that the adventurousness in metalwork is good for inspiration,but i've no moral right to advocate it.It has brought mo nought but trouble and grief....

(Some moments of intense satisfaction,but those rare as hen's teeth).

Edited by jake pogrebinsky

God is in his heaven,and Czar is far away...

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(I'm listening in on this conversation with big interest, keep going guys!)

Steffen, if you need some hints on where to find toolsteel and knifesteels, give me a shout via PMs. I'm sure we could trade information on some sources in Scandinavia/Europe.



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It's ironic that in the land long renown for the purity of it's ores,and the plentifulness of wood for charcoaling,that a good man should be starved for a bit of iron(and that for axe-making,for crissakes!:)


Steffen,may i ask what your plan for that axe project is,and wether there's any way that you could maybe get around these store-bought,essencially sterile and boring materials?

(You sound like you're not a stranger to the assorted alternative processes...)

God is in his heaven,and Czar is far away...

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Jake, there's no definite plan, just a wish to be as self-sufficient as possible and hopefully make a small contribution to the household budget on the side.
Since I'm on the move, a baby is on the way and I'm looking for work this is all just gathering information and resources for later. But it seems I'm not the only one wondering these things so I'm glad I asked now rather than later.
Axes are mainly part of the self-sufficient plan or for gathering a crowd at markets, for sales I have other niches in mind.
Some of these involve Bloomery and Wrought (some etched), but most needn't be which is why I'd like a reliable supply of homogenous mild to save labour and uncertainty.

To put it this way, I have one boatbuilding axe, a modified Hultafors Agdor. It serves me well, but it will never perform better than the medium carbon it's made from.
And having worked with borrowed Dalmo axes for hewing and log building sort of raises the bar.

I'd start small with camping or viking shape axes, which could be made in wrought or with the edgesteel all the way into the eye, but even if the material is modern I want to hold true to the tradition of saving steel, for some items also because that means I won't have to differentially temper the things I make.
(One could argue that bloomery material would be the most correct choice for most of the tradition, but laminated knives, scythes and axes were made with bessemersteel in our factory forges right up to the 1950s or maybe 70s, and anything that can be done and has been done I want to try.)
Then I'd want a new carpenters axe, an adze, and a small hollowing adze.
If all that went well I'd move on to hewing and logbuilding axes of north-norwegian pattern.

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Steffen,that sounds like a very sensible plan(and very interesting,to me personally at least).


It sounds like Deker's advice and take on things was right on.


I'd volunteer to ship you a Flat-rate box of 1018(last i checked it was about $40 for 20 lbs to Europe...that was some time ago though),but unfortunately i'm poorly situated for this,as i'm in a village that you can only fly to,the steel yard is 400 miles away,they don't like to mess with cutting stuff up short,and many and sundry other impediments...

Moreover,i'm minus the internet nowadays,at home(am writing now from the cancer-ward in the city where a very close friend is in deep trouble).


I'd be happy to shoot some WI your way,once i get back home(in a week or so).That i have aplenty,much of it in mil-spec anchor chain,1 1/2" dia.,it's not very exciting etch-wise being pretty clean,but is good material otherwise,very consistent.

Send me your address,and i'll attend to it when i can,if you think it's something that can help.


If at all possible,could you talk a little about the aforementioned Dalmo axes?Not much information about working axes from Norway is available at all,every little bit of regional information especially is precious,or any other kind,really.


The axe itself,along with the techniques of it's use,are rapidly disappearing,the immense wealth of Scandinavian axe-lore is becoming more and more obscure,even the world-famous Hjartum is hanging by a hair,and i've never seen a serious discussion on it's specifics and use.

Not that i see much being off the grid(and not speaking any of the regional languages),but what i do catch is very disappointing.

Recently i've seen a musem-produced video on lafting,(actually from the Helgeland).The axes looked great,but their use,and the product of (the obvious volunteer participants)was sadly unconvincing...


I always thought that the still-living tradition of axe use can teach us MUCH of what the written history,Hollywood,and pop-culture simply cannot.But i find myself pretty isolated in all that...(sorry to come off so whiny :)

God is in his heaven,and Czar is far away...

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Jake, I was thinking the same thing but once I checked usps online I realized sadly I cannot do it. A priority mail international flat rate medium box is 61.75 and is limited to 20lbs. I'd ship some myself if I could afford it but too many other things need that money, sorry Steffen.

Can you clear up how your name is pronounced? Is it Steffen as in Steffon or is it somethin else? Sorry had to ask cause I'm ocd about names and a few other little things. Lol

Michael Cochran

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Thanks for the offers! I might be interested in some sort of arrangement (where I pay, of course) when I'm settled into a place of my own, I can't haul along more than I have now in the moves that will come the following months or a year.
I'd be interested in any advice about services like "jetcarrier", although I find that particular one expensive.

Michael, the ff's are like gh in "toughen", and the second E is pronounced the same as the first. (I'm not clear on how Steffon is pronounced, but I guess it's something like that).

Jake, Dahlmo is a working smith in Helgeland, more precisely in Drevja of Vefsn municipal. His axes are renown in Norway, and I've seen them mentioned internationally also.
They might not be true to all tradition, but I can vouch that they are very good tools.

Here's a video taken in 1933 in Vefsn, Hewing axe at about 3 minutes in.

Edited by Steffen Dahlberg
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PS. I just saw that "JetCarrier" has rates for sea shipping also, I wasn't aware of that. They are a totally different animal, quite agreeable, actually.

(btw Michael, how do you pronounce "ghoti"?) ;)

Edited by Steffen Dahlberg
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