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John Page

Historic Wolf's Tooth Pattern

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Hello all! I'm very excited to share some details of a recent experiment in recreating a historic wolf's tooth pattern with Emiliano Carrillo and Luke Shearer. The general goal was to try and recreate the similar tooth shape, depth, and spacing as found in historic pieces, mainly referencing the spear found in Lapland (p.151 in Swords of the Viking Age). All of the steel used with exception of a bit of old wrought iron is home made, and there were a few things we learned specifically because of this which I'll get into. Because I took a copious amount of photos, this'll have to be a few parts, so bear with me!

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The first thought was to use a rack to press into a bar with which to form the teeth. Based on the tooth shape having a slight trapezoidal profile on one side, it seemed like the perfect fit. The above bar is 8 teeth per inch, and in person looks like it would make a nice tight pattern. However, the depth is too shallow and the spacing too tight. For reference of what that looks like in steel, look at the below sax blade that we made as a test piece.

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There is a faint strip of wrought between the twists and the edge, and although difficult to see at first it has a slight wiggle. Part of the problem with the rounded bits is that the blade was drawn out a little during forging, and even that deformation was enough to turn the squared corners into a sort of sinusoidal deal. Due to the spacing, another reason that this is not ideal is that the cut depth of the teeth is too shallow to reasonably achieve with a chisel without bending the previous teeth over and closing the gap. That leaves cutting them with a hack saw or modern equivalent, but looking at the originals the continuous grain patterns are mostly suggestive that they were mostly not done that way (not to say that some of them couldn't have been).

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The next one we tried was using a 6 tooth per inch rack. The spacing and depth is much closer, but still too tight for the reference spear. I would expect this to work better than the 8 TPI rack because of the extra depth making the weld more resilient to shape changes, but we wound up discarding this due to its size and regularity. Also, the rack forms a sort of positive die where we need a negative one. The wrought almost universally has the flats in its troughs and the edge bar has points in its troughs, the opposite of what would be formed by pressing the rack into the edge billet. While you may be thinking that we could simply press into the wrought instead, I do not think that is how they were made for four main reasons. First, the wrought is incredibly thin (not from grinding) where it joins with the next inward bar, and would not be strong enough to support being used as a die. Second, the wrought itself is fairly soft compared to even a hot edge bar, and the teeth would deform opposite how it appears in the historic patterns. Third, the tooth points are sharp in the wrought, which is very suggestive that the edge bar started with a sharp groove that the wrought filled into, which is reasonably the order it must have been done given the available technology. Last, the grain of the wrought in the teeth is very obviously continuous in most cases, which means the forging of a toothed bar at such regularity would be absurd with the relative ease of instead notching the edge bar... All that is the long way of saying that we abandoned the racks and went to something else.

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To get the spacing as accurate as possible, we took a 1:1 scale print of the Lapland spear and measured the tooth spacing. Because of the other indications in the pattern, I found the sections which would have been drawn out the least by subsequent forging and averaged the geometry from the two halves. The final result is a hair under 4 TPI and a depth of 4mm. 

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On the test bar, all of the teeth were cut based on the tooth previous so any error doesn't compound and gradually increase the size the farther down the bar. Doing this enough, it would not be difficult to maintain an acceptable accuracy doing it freehand, which eliminates the need for dividers. 

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With the lines scribed, I took a cold chisel and cut just enough for there to be an easy surface to register against. The idea is that these lines are just a guide for a hot chisel.

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And finally, cleaning it with a file for the sake of being tidy. Not necessary, and again another thing that would not be needed to do this with a more limited toolchest.

Next post will be how we handled cutting the teeth with a three man striking team. 

 

John

Edited by John Page

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To cut the teeth, we made a hot chisel with a taper close to the final shape but a hair steeper to accommodate the distortion from material spreading. 

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Once we got to cutting the teeth, Emiliano called the hits, Luke struck with a sledge, and I held the chisel. Each heat we cut between 3 and 4 teeth, each to roughly 80% depth. I think this was critical for a few reasons. For one, it made us a lot more aware and had more control over how deep they will be. But it also minimises the deformation of teeth side to side (closing the gaps of the tooth before it) and leaves room for fixing any closure that may have happened during the second pass.

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Something that became an issue later on was making sure the edge bar is square and, most importantly, that the top and bottom are parallel. Holding the chisel straight up and down and control of the depth by adjusting the teeth via striker were both fairly easy to correct as we went. 

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For the first pass, we cut to the aforementioned depth, and without a scribed depth line it was all strictly by eye and in reference to the previous teeth. By the end, we were a bit more confident in the process and one end came out a little better than the other, but all in all remarkably consistent for what it is.

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This is the edge bar after the first and second passes. What we did during the second served both to make the depth more uniform as well as ensure that the cut from side to side did not vary. Luke struck more lightly for obvious reasons, which fine tuned how far we able to recut each tooth. Overall, the forward/backward distortion was far less than I expected, and the reopening of any skewed tooth was almost an after effect. Even now the occasional slight rounded tooth is evident, almost exactly like in the Lapland spear. 

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Because we are using home made steel, there was a little bit of splitting that happened across the grain. It did not prove to be detrimental in any way, and eventually either welded closed or was filled partly with wrought like the teeth. 

Next we used this as a sort of die for the wrought after a number of largely unsuccessful tests.

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In order to hold everything together, Emiliano and I held it with tongs on either end while Luke and Eli forged the wrought into the teeth with sledges. The test sax in the first post was done using the press, and worked better because it was so short. By comparison, the length of this one was too much for the distortion that comes from the spreading as it fills the teeth. It can certainly be done in a press, taking care to go slowly and straighten/align everything throughout, but strikers ended up being the most successful. 

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Having parallel surfaces now is where it really matters most. A slight cant to one side or the other makes the wrought extremely prone to shifting during the forging. To counteract the deformation of the wrought, we tried starting with a wider piece so that there would still be something covering the teeth if it skewed out to one side or the other, but that difference in width also made it more difficult to hold tight to the edge bar. Since the edge is cold and acting as a die, simply tack welding the ends doesn't work. 

In order to get the teeth formed, we took the first pass and hammered the entire length so there was always something to register against. In the subsequent heats the forging was more localised and worked from one end to the next. The approximate depth is fairly easily judged by the cooling patterns in the wrought. As a sort of byproduct from the original proportions, the thinness of the wrought above the teeth allows the tops of the edge bar to cool that same pattern into the wrought as it is worked. Similarly, that final thickness of the wrought is almost the same as the overall starting thickness. By having the layer fairly thin (~5.5mm for a 4mm deep tooth), it deforms into the edge bar far easier than it would with a thicker bit of wrought. 

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Thankfully that wide tooth on the first end we cut on the edge bar served as a solid reference point for realigning the two halves. After forging, there was a bit of flashing left over where the wrought curled down over the edge bar. Based on the previous test pieces, the outside corners are were any weld flaws accumulate, the tiny pockets trapping flux or scale. However, grinding the edges flush significantly reduces this. From what we were able to see, the wrought teeth make first contact in the centre of the edge bar during forming, working outward to the edges. This is extraordinarily convenient because it does not trap anything inside the welds if there is a space for it to escape.

We also found it quite helpful to forge the wrought teeth up, but then during the final pass flip it over so the wrought was on the anvil and use the stability of the edge bar to straighten everything out.

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Prior to welding, the bars were soaked briefly in muriatic acid to dissolve scale and then wire wheeled. Cleanup of the teeth with a file does not seem ideal due to the irregularity of the cuts.

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Post-weld, the teeth looked fantastic. There were a few slight pockets on the outside of the tooth corners, but only to a depth of half a millimetre or less, and disappeared when we forged it into a blade.

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Those few voids near the centre teeth look alarming, but were actually quite shallow. With this edge bar and wrought welded, we took some additional steel and made a few opposing twists and more wrought for the spine.

Edited by John Page
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The meat of the project was home made steel, and in the end we used what would have been the tooth layer as the spine. For the core, there were three layers of opposing twist.

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Most of the steel was unconsolidated prior to the project, and the above is a bit of shard steel from Scott Roush's hammer-in several years ago. 

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The twists were a little precarious and sheared in a few places, but that is part of the uncertainty of using home made steel.

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After twisting and squaring, the bars got the same treatment with the wire wheel and were ready for welding. At this size, the bars are more or less the same thickness as the tooth bar, which is to say fairly small. Minimising deformation of the teeth is the main goal, and the few welds that it endures all serve to stretch it out.

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All three bars welded up without much trouble, and with another bar of wrought to serve as the spine, the three pieces were ready to be welded for the final pattern.

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Above, you can see another hint of teeth in the spine bar. This was the piece we tried to make for the teeth on the edge, but because of the deviation and twisting of the wrought as the teeth pressed into it, it was unable to be used for that. So, because it was already folded hearth steel, we just forged it back on itself to square. 

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And here is the final blade weld!

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Post weld, everything looked solid. Because of the relative preciousness of material, we forged a stub tang and welded on a piece of wrought.

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While forging the last bit of wrought, a quick spark test/trimming the tip showed that there was still a good amount of carbon left in the steel in spite of so many welding/folding/forging cycles.

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A little more forging, and this is what the rough billet looked like. 

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An etch of the cutoff from the tip provides a good look at what the steel is doing inside. It's a little difficult to tell because of the tack welds showing in places, being so near the end. However, the twist bars are all very solidly welded and the weld line of the tooth is very clean.

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For the tang, we jump welded the wrought to the body with a single solid blow with a sledge while the other two held it in place. 

That's it for now! Emiliano did a little more forging and proceeded to grind it to reveal what's happening in the steel, but here is where my photos end. The final tooth geometry is almost spot on with the original, although it did stretch out just a hair. Hopefully this is a good starting point for further examination, we learned a considerable amount in the process! I'd love to hear what you all think!'

 

John

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Very cool!  

I made a wolfstooth last fall and had success cutting shallow notches in the bar to serve as guides, then using a hot-cut hardy to cut them to the final depth... Very similar to what you guys did, but backwards.  I too have tried using a rack gear with very dramatic failure, though I think it still has potential...

Looking forward to seeing the final results.

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Very nice!  With the crew you have assembled success is inevitable. B)  I am both jealous and looking forward to the rest of the pics!  Love the way you guys are reverse engineering this most complicated of styles.

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Thanks gents! It was a riot to make, and although there were a good number of attempts at a lot of the processes prior to the final sax that were irrecoverable, they were all valuable in figuring out how to do it. I think it would be interesting to try making a two-toothed chisel with one of them at half depth to index the cuts off of and serve as a hard stop for depth, sort of like a mini-rack but made to the right geometry. It'd be fun to go back and make the Lapland spear once the process is a little more tested B)

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Hey guys! So I have the rest of the photos so far (and some video) so I'll fill in the rest.

 

First is from when we were refining the edge material. It's some hearth material Luke brought from several years ago at Scott Roush's place. I forged the puck into a solid bar and folded once, then began accordion folding in 4 sectioned increments. I switched directions after the first accordion and then did two more rounds of folding. We ended up at 244 layers. From my study of original artifacts, and what I have been able to see in photos of polished artifacts this doesn't seem like an unreasonable level of refinement for Viking Age work. I generally fold until the material bends easily at the thin end whilst folding and shows no tearing, which with this material was rather quick. 

 

 

This is a shot from when had just begun to forge the teeth into the edge bar. It is next to the billet which I folded and forged out to become the twists for the body of the blade. They are essentially 7 layers of two different pieces of refined iron bloom.

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The initial pressing of the iron teeth. 

 

 

And the end! This was before allowing to cool and wire brushing.

 

 

A shot from when I was in the middle of welding the teeth to the edge bar. Here you also see the twist bars in progress. 

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This is a particularly interesting pattern as most of the work happens with stock removal. The basic shape is forged and the rest is ground in as not to distort the teeth too much. I believe it was done this way historically as well, with the minimal amount of distortion seen on these pieces. It also seems most spears have two layers of pattern welding, with perhaps two twisted bars on each side and an iron core between them. Here you see the twists in good detail as well as the wolf teeth! So far so good. At this point I have normalized twice.

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Once I was about the thickness of a dime I normalized again and quenched in water. 

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The next part of the process is pretty standard, I ground the blade to 220 and began hand sanding. I only made it to 400 and etched several times, unhappy with the definition I am bringing out in the twists. I will polish again and bring the blade to maybe 1200 and see what I can bring out. The blade is wonderfully clean. There are only a few teeth that did not fill 100% and these are still very clean. The blade is 9 inches long, 1.25 inches wide and .25 inches thick. It has a wicked distal taper. This is very much like I would expect the seax of Charlemagne to feel in hand, almost ethereal.

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Next to a life sized print out of the Helsinki spear!

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I'll take more photos like this when I have finished the polish so that the details can really be seen. You can see the characteristic flow of the iron into the depressions in the steel. 

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Hope you guys enjoy where we've gotten to so far with this collaboration! The plan now is for me to finish the blade and handle and send it to Luke for sheath work

 

Edited by Emiliano Carrillo
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The very essence of Fiery-Beardedness!  John may finally get his with this project if the other two of you agree. B)

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Indeed, I second the nomination.

 

 

Edited by Richard Furrer

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Magnificent.  

I love the character of the steel, the subtly of it.  About a year ago a friend sent me a patternwelded Indonesian spear to clean up, the amount of contrast and the character of the steel looks very similar.

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:ph34r:

 

The close up of the teeth through the loop is fantastic! It's particularly striking how evident the wrought grain is as it was forged into the grooves. I'm curious to see if the division between the tooth wrought and the contrasty wrought of the twists becomes any more clearly defined. In a few places, the thickness of the tooth wrought from the top of the edge bar teeth was probably ,5mm in places!

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John deserves the fiery beard so hard!

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I think we all agree! I fourth the nomination! It was an honor working on this with Luke and John, probably the coolest piece I've ever had the pleasure of playing around with

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Thanks gents! It was a riot working on this and I think Emiliano has me hooked on all this home made steel stuff ;)

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Then so it shall be!  John, You are hereby a member of the brotherhood (and sisterhood, there's two females!) of the Fiery Beard/Bangs.  Feel free to light yourself up, or to have any other photoshop-equipped smith do so for you.  It's been a long time coming. B)

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Thanks!! It's an honor to join the ranks, and I will do my best to carry on the tradition and pay forward all the community has done in sharing skills, knowledge, and brotherhood!

Edited by John Page

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On ‎5‎/‎2‎/‎2018 at 7:53 AM, Alan Longmire said:

Then so it shall be!  John, You are hereby a member of the brotherhood (and sisterhood, there's two females!) of the Fiery Beard/Bangs.  Feel free to light yourself up, or to have any other photoshop-equipped smith do so for you.  It's been a long time coming. B)

Yeah baby! That is well deserved. What a cool project. Thanks for the videos guys they are the stuff envy is made from.

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Thanks folks, much appreciated!

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Thanks for sharing guys! I saw that Emiliano had shared some pictures via Instagram and we talked about it a bit and I have to say, I’m glad he pointed me here. I really enjoyed reading all of this! I learned a lot and the blade is absolutely beautiful! I do have a question though, and I might have misread, but was it just the edge bar with the teeth? Was the iron just hammered on by force or was it given wolf teeth as well? 

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Thanks all!

The teeth of the edge bar were cut in by hand, and the wrought hammered down into it once the edge was cold again. Having the wrought of the teeth start out as an extremely thin layer coupled with working hot allows for the wrought to fill all the way into the teeth of the edge bar. It acts sort of like a one use die to shape the wrought, and because there is naturally going to be variation in the edge bar grooves because of how they are cut, the wrought will theoretically always perfectly match each tooth. Hope this helps!

John

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@Coulton ClineUsing a big sledge or a press is key to getting the teeth to fill in, you cant have a blow that only forges the outside of the 'teeth' bar, it has to drive all the way through and move the metal at a depth equal to the depth of the cut teeth.   You'll see the originals have better welds the thinner the 'behind' of the teeth is, because there was less material in the way to prevent it from filling the teeth all the way.    When I demonstrated creating wolfstooth pattern at ashokan last year , doing it by myself with hand hammers, I tried to use as small a piece of wrought as I knew would cover the width of the billet when flattened out, but still found i was getting little voids in the very center of the bar if i wasnt using my press to key the pieces.   Since then I have found that using round stock ontop of the edge bar works real well by hand because the center drives in more and then mushes out to the edges.   Unfortunately i cant find any evidence in the originals as to if they started with flat or round stock for that particular part!

 

Most awesome work guys, very inspiring !      I need to make some stuff with the tooth bars iv'e got lying around my shop... i'm bad at finishing things =D    Let me know next time you're in the area John!  Emiliano is only 45 minutes away from me !

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