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Quench Tank Ideas

Tim Tracey

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Hello everyone,


So I find myself with several projects I'm not able to heat treat as my quench tank is too small. Currently I'm using an old ammo can and up until now it's been perfectly fine.

In the past months I've made blades that are much to long to fit in my small ammo can, so I will be needing to build, or buy something to serve as a new one.

I've also recently been commissioned to make several large draw knives for the National Park Service to used on Isle Royal. (Google it, it's the most beautiful place I've ever been) The draw knife blades will be about 14-16".

Since these blades are a bit different than knives that leaves me with an interesting challenge, so all ideas are welcome and heck I invite you to post photo's of your own set up.


Thanks in advance.



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Hey Nate, glad you weighed in.

I was considering using a mortar can too but then I had wondered about losing the benefit of a horizontal quench for things like the draw knives and longer single edged blades.

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I welded together a piece of plate steel to the bottom of a 2 foot length of 4 inch square tubing. Welded some legs on so it wont tip over. I think it holds about 2 gallons or so of oil. It, of course, doesnt help with your horizontal quenching, but it certainly can do long pieces.

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer."  -Albert Camus


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Hey Tim!


Congratulations on the commission!


I have a friend who did research up on Isle Royal a few years back... She said the ticks were bigger than the moose.


If space isn't really a concern, you could go to your local lube shop and see if they have any empty 35 gallon drums with the lid in tact. Angle grind a slot along the side of the tank so you can lay it down and make sure that sucker won't roll!


Good luck!

Catch up with you in June!

The fundamental cause of trouble is that the stupid are cocksure, while the intelligent are full of doubt. -Bertrand Russell, philosopher
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A great quench tank can be made from a used soda keg. Look for a homebrew supply store. Home brewers utilize used soda kegs to keg their homemade beer. Since you don't need it pressurized you can ask if they have one with a dented lid and usually get it for next to nothing.


They are stainless steel. About 3 feet long, and have a tight lid that you can use to keep dust out when it's not in use.


They're a bit too short for swords, but plenty big for large knives and daggers.






"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly." -- Theodore Roosevelt


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The trouble with drawknives (glad you mentioned that part!) is the handles and the wedge-shaped geometry that just asks to warp. This is one of the VERY rare instances I'd suggest using a semisolid quenchant like Goddard's Goop (roughly equal parts paraffin wax and bacon grease/Crisco with a bit of ATF thrown in, mixed warm and allowed to set) in a shallow pan long enough for the blade but short enough for the handles to project over the ends. You do not want to quench the handle tangs, so an edge quench in the goop with the handle tangs hanging down might work. IF you use a steel that hardens well in goop, which limits you to an alloy slow quench steel like 5160 or O-1. I'm just thinking on the keyboard here, but it may also be you could quench spine-first, but then there's the problem of the handle tangs hardening at the bend so you'd need to draw those back with a torch...


My quench tanks are a horizontal steel trough about 5x5x18 for single-edged knives and all axes and a vertical 6" pipe 48" long for double edged blades and swords.


So: use the slowest quench you can get away with for the warping issues and a steel that works with slow quenches. Modern commercial drawknives are usually air-hardening alloys with separate handles bolted on, but they're ugly as all get out to me.


Again, just random thoughts, I have not made a drawknife since I have a perfectly good antique one I use.


edit: It just occurred to me that the geometry of my antique drawknife is such that the spine is a thick rectangular cross section with a hollow ground section about half the width of the blade just before the flat-ground edge. I suspect this was done to control warping in the quench. Slightly over 1" wide blade, 3/8" of rectangular spine 1/4" thick, 1/2" of hollow grind that looks like it was done on a 4" wheel, then the rest flat ground.

Edited by Alan Longmire
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I made a draw knife a while back (and accidentally broke it before tempering) and I edge quenched it with the handle bits going in with it. After it was hard, I just drew them back to dull red with a torch, keeping the edge in water. It worked well enough to stop any warping or sabering. I use a larger ammo can too, it holds about 8.5 gal and is just tall enough for shorter swords, but the opening is also large enough to edge quench knives if I hold them perpendicular to the tongs. Can't find a picture at the moment, but I think it was for a pair of artillery shells or something.


Another idea might be, if you have the time and motivation, to laminate a high carbon edge onto a wrought iron spine/handles so it won't matter if you have to quench the whole thing. Would probably look pretty neat too ;)



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Thanks for all the replies! I've got some pretty good ideas from everyone so the post was a total success!



I've got several corny kegs but those are reserved for beer! But for sure a neat idea, I'm just paranoid of fire hazard and having the lid really appeals to me.



Nice thoughting on Goddards goop. Might just be the trick to avoid warps, as much as possible anyway.


I didn't expect this to turn into a draw knife thread but what a cool side effect. All tips and tricks are welcome. I've already had experience making a draw knife and wow they do seem to be made to warp, but since this is a much larger one(s) I'm hoping the thickness of the blade will help limit that.

I was lucky to have the last draw knife blade fit nicely diagonally in my ammo can quench tank so I didn't have to worry too much about the tangs. Though I did draw them back with a torch anyway.

This commission is to copy an existing draw knife that they know and love, so I may be limited in artistic license, and especially if it's government funded. I can't get too fancy, but I do love the idea of the wrought iron spine. I should be getting some pictures pretty soon but I'm hoping to take a hop out to the island to see first hand.

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Stainless steel steam table pans that restaurants throw away after they scorch the bottom to often work great for edge quenching. they come with lids so if things get carried away you can put out the fire. The lid also keeps things clean.

For a vertical tank I cut the top off an aluminum 80 cubic foot scuba tank that failed inspection. It holds 3.5 gallons and is about 30" tall.

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Most industrial gas houses will have unserviceable oxygen tanks that can be had; cut a slot with the bottle horizontal and fill with quenchant of your choice. I use one like this for sword quenching.

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