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Florian F Fortner

Heat Treating Complex Welded Hilts

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Hi folks,

I need some advice on heat treating of a rapier hilt. It's the one from my current WIP. As I will use this hilt in sparring it will take some abuse, so I chose to use 1050 steel for it so it can be ht'ed. All the welds are done with TIG with the same steel as a filler. I use an electric kiln and anti-scale compound.

Do I need to normalize it before the quench cycle? if yes, how often and how long? (the thickest diameter is about 1/2") Will this help from warping due to stress in the welds? Do I need to reapply the anti scale stuff between cycles?

After quenching (definitely in oil, to prevent cracking), I will temper it. Which temperature is a good compromise between hardness (to prevent burrs) and toughness (to prevent weld-ruptures) for this kind of steel? Around 300°C?

If have only heat treated blades so far and have no experience with more complex shaped pieces, so any advice would be greatly appreciated!

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Get a scrap of the 1050 and forge it out to the average diameter of your hilt pieces... 10-12" maybe. Just normalize it... no hardening.

Secure it in your vise and give it a little abuse testing. You might not need to harden at all.

I'd rather see something that beautiful bend a little than to break.

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I would strongly advise against heat treating. What I find works well is simply normalizing. That makes it fairly tough, but not near as soft as annealed stock. The primary reason for heat treating fittings is because they are damascus and they benefit from the HT in terms of color, but it doesn't make sense to risk your piece for a little extra durability

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I'll third just normalizing.  1050 is very tough, and I can't see a way of quenching that hilt without warping it badly.  Do use anti-scale liberally!

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I would suggest at least 2 normalizing cycles (correcting any warps after each), then a fan cool.  The fan cool can be after the second cycle if the first gave no significant warps, or after a 3rd cycle if there were significant warps to work out after the first round.  Think of it as a rigorous normalize.  Don's suggestion of a trial with a scrap piece is also a fantastic idea, given what is at stake.  Maybe even weld up a couple bent bars just to see what the normalization does to your bends and welds.  

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Historically, I don't think complex sword hilts ever were heat-treated. If the guys who used these in fights didn't see the need, then I wouldn't bother.

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Thank you all for your replies! I didn't know that normalizing makes a difference to annealing regarding toughness. So I will do a test with a mock up hilt and compare the results. The fan cool sounds like a good "soft" version of making it a bit harder! Will try that too!

The idea came up because my last hilts were also made from 1050 steel and after some time the surface gets marred. Bending was not a problem, just the surface hardness (The hilt gets hit with spring steel blades constantly in training and sparring). So I thought this could need some improvement...

Of course the period hilts were not heat treated. They were usually made of wrought iron. And really nice elaborately decorated hilts usually didn't see any action at all. It's just my vanity that makes me want to fence with a beautiful hilt :D

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3 hours ago, Florian F Fortner said:

 

Of course the period hilts were not heat treated. They were usually made of wrought iron. And really nice elaborately decorated hilts usually didn't see any action at all. It's just my vanity that makes me want to fence with a beautiful hilt :D

I think the fellows carrying broadswords in Prestonpans and Killiekrankie might have had an elaborate hilt or two.

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I had time to do some tests today.  First I welded together a mock-up hilt consisting of various bars of diameters between 1/4" and 1/2" in a configuration that resembles an actual rapier hilt.

Then I covered part of it with anti-scale and heated up the kiln.

First I normalized at 850°C with still aircooling. Warping was nonexistant. Then I tested the surface with a heavy, somewhat sharp chisel and a falling weight of about 3 pounds from a set distance (to get an appr. idea of the hardness/toughness).

Next up I normalized again at 850°, then cooled with compressed air. Still no warping, yet also no improvement in the depth of the chisel mark. The areas with anti-scale on them performed a bit better than the raw ones, but only a little bit.

Finally I heated it up again and quenched in water (the worst stress that i could apply on this thing). Warp was still minimal (max. 1mm), no chisel marks of course, it bounces right off the surface. 

 

So I am even more unsure than before... I could either do nothing to the hilt, as normalizing does not improve the surface (just blacken it at 550°C, with min. risk of warping) or go the full way with quench and temper. 

I'll post a picture of my current hilt that has about 1000 hours of training on its back tomorrow, so you understand my worries...

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I know that the quench would really help it harden nicely, but it could also cause it to snap in areas that are thinner and sharp angles due to all the filing and engraving on your hilt. Second, I would say that it might cause stresses later down the line that would damage it more. On the other hand, if you leave it normalized it will work well, but it won't be as hard which shouldn't be such an issue unless someone is taking a longer and heavier sword and giving good hard blows to the guard. If you did want to quench it, I might try quenching in a mixture of 40% vegetable oil and 60% lard so that it has a slow quench and also will only partly harden it. Just my two cents..

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I thought about it and decided to heed your advice and not do a quench. The risk is bigger than the profit. After looking at the hilt I have been using for a long time now, I realized that it doesn't look too bad after all that abuse. 

So thanks again to everybody who chimed in!!

P1070740.JPG

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Quite honestly I do like that 'used' look too :)

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