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Nico Harpole

Help with Forging as Science Project

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I am 12 years old and I want to include Damascus knife making in my Science Project for School.  By chance would you have an idea about how I could use the Scientific Method with Damascus Knife Making.  I need to find a PROBLEM to test,  then create a testable EXPERIMENT.   I realize it will be hard to control variables, but would love suggestions of how to use scientific method with bladesmithing. 

 

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Welcome to the forum. :)  A good question to ask first is, are you equipped with the tooling and skills required to forge a billet of Damascus? And do you have any experience with forging?

Edited by Conner Michaux

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what a great project! - as conner has mentioned you will need some kit to do the experiment! 

 

You could test, and prove something simple, like does excess oxygen prevent a forge weld from taking (and why). Run 2 simple welds with different forge atmospheres, and compare the results.

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I've been bladesmithing for about a year now and its been super fun.  I'm still learning the ropes as you know there is a lot to learn so I haven't invested too much money into this hobby yet, but I'm getting there.  

 

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The first thing that popped into my mind (other than knife + school = cranky administration) was something involving an etch.  If you limit your project to forge welded billets, that eliminates the "knives are dangerous, you can't bring that to school" aspect, and you can still turn them into knives later.  Perhaps etching processes to yield a specific outcome in terms of resulting color or topography.  You can test different alloys, different etchants (including concentrations), and/or different cycles (vary number of cycles, soak times, soak temperatures, etc.).  Also keep in mind that etching can produce different colors before and after heat treat.  

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Thank you for the suggestions there are so many different theories.  I'm going to take them all into consideration.  

  

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I think Jerrod's suggestion is probably the most feasible/school appropriate since it doesn't involve a blade of sorts. Especially for a beginner. Also maybe less of an investment up front, while still allowing you to obtain some very helpful knowledge that you'll be able to apply moving forward. Plus- it's also a little more "visual" and more interesting to viewers

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Along that "not a knife/weapon" line of thinking, there's also this:

 

Doing a few five-to-seven layer twisted bars and grinding to different depths to show the differences in patterning you get.  You get to make damascus, and it's not sharp or pointy so you won't get suspended.  B)

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Plus you can demonstrate the concept with two colors of play-doh, slicing off layers with a popsicle stick.  The ultimate school-friendly demo!  Steel's a lot more fun, of course. :lol:  I would have to think of a way to apply the scientific method to this one, though...

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2 hours ago, Alan Longmire said:

Plus you can demonstrate the concept with two colors of play-doh, slicing off layers with a popsicle stick.  The ultimate school-friendly demo!  Steel's a lot more fun, of course. :lol:  I would have to think of a way to apply the scientific method to this one, though...

you could compare the helix formed by twisting to a true bladesmiths DNA, see if there are any differences :D

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I second the suggestion of grain growth; you could cut one bar into identical pieces, then do different temperature/time treatments and normalizing/annealing routines to learn what happens. You'd probably need a microscope though, and it's not as visually interesting as the damascus/play doh idea would be, but I think it gives a few more things to measure, and that's usually what they are looking for if it's a science fair. But if it's a demonstration they want rather than an experiment, then the damascus would be a better choice.

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Nico, I unfortunately read your post right before going to sleep last night and the research scientist in me kept me up all night thinking about your question. Having judged science fairs in the past, the first thing you need to keep in mind is keep your project “age appropriate”. Meaning there are a lot of science fair judges out there (usually volunteers in the STEM field) who will accuse the participant of “having an adult do the work” if it seems that the work is beyond the scope of your typical 12 year old. It happened to my son when he was your age, and his project wasn’t anything as complicated as forge welding. As unfair as that is to very talented 12 year olds, it is a possible reality. You may be perfectly capable of doing multibar twist pattern Damascus – but my guess is you would be in the minority :). Having said all that, there are still many things you could do involving Damascus and science.

 

Jerrod came up with very good suggestions and I would expand on them slightly (sorry for hijacking your post Jerrod).

 

One question you could ask is “Why is Ferric chloride the etchant of choice?”. Your hypothesis would be something along the lines of “Ferric chloride will etch the same as hydrochloric acid, will etch the same as sulfuric acid, will etch the same as vinegar.” (remember a hypothesis is a null statement that you then preform tests to disprove). Think along these lines and see if you can come up with experiments around that hypothesis.

 

The second thing Jerrod came up with concerning different alloys was great too. Everyone that does Damascus “knows” what you need to get a pattern, but do you (or even they) know why? Question: “What properties /alloys of steel will produce a pattern in Damascus and why?”. Hypothesis would be along the lines of “1080, 15N20, 5160, 80CrV2, etc. will all etch the same.” What experiments could you do to disprove that hypothesis. You could also go into the chemistry of the steel reacting with the etchant to produce the different colors (which ties into the why as well as the first hypothesis above); “What is the chemical reaction that produces the difference in color?”. Now, think of a hypothesis to test…

 

If you are unable to make Damascus (for whatever reason – lack of skill, lack of proper equipment, etc), my guess is, if you put out a request on this forum, there are a lot of people that would rise to the occasion and would be willing to send you bits of cut offs that you could polish up and etch. Or if you go the alloy route, pieces of different steels so you don’t have to outlay a bunch of money to buy different steels. Just get permission from your parents before PMing anyone your address if you go that route. If you do request (and receive) samples from the forum, it is always polite to acknowledge that the material “was a gift kindly donated by _____”.

 

Sorry for the VERY long post. Again, that is the scientist in me (why give a simple one- word answer when 20 will do just as nicely) :D:wacko:

 

Lastly, whatever you do end up doing, I personally would love to see you coming back to the forum with your experiment and results and posting them.

Good luck and welcome to the forum.

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These all sound like exciting experiments, and I second (or third) the suggestion that billets instead of blades should be used for a middle school project.  Unfortunately you will need some pretty high end test and fabrication equipment and/or safety equipment for some of the suggestions:

  1. Checking grain growth requires polishing, etching and high end microscopes, ideally with capability for photo microscopy (see Kevin Cashen: http://www.cashenblades.com/images/lab/lab.html)
  2. Etching using a variety of different acids requires a good selection of identical billet pieces to test as well as the dangerous acids in different concentrations.  Ideally you should test these under a proper chemical fume hood, or at least in a room with extremely good ventilation.  Please don't make the mistake I did when your age and trying to pickle a piece of jewelry I made...  Maybe your science classroom has one?  Also, how will you evaluate what is a "superior" etch?  Will you be measuring the depth of relative etch between the steel types for each acid?  What tool will you use for that (they certainly exist, but do you have access...)?
  3. Forge weld testing in the presence of more or less oxygen requires that you have the capability to reliably forge weld, a method to accurately determine the oxygen content of your forge at the point where the billet is being heated, a method to maintain the heat of the billet at a extremely stable level with forge atmospheres varying...
  4. I really like Alan's suggestion of using colored clay to mimic the results from cutting into a good pattern welded billet.  You can get visually interesting results that are easy to show in a science fair using Fimo or Sculpy polymer clays, they directly mimic steel pattern welding, and can be baked in a toaster oven (for your report/presentation I suggest you pass on using the common "Damascus" tag for pattern welding.  I'll leave that for an exercise for you to find out why...).  However the problem is that the various outcomes are somewhat aesthetic, and may not be easily adapted to the scientific method.  Perhaps you could do something on the order of "An investigation into how the number of different layers affect the pattern in Raindrop Damascus",  or: "Use of 3 or more material types in Mosaic Damascus patterns", or: "Alternatives to the Ferry flip for displaying Mosaic patterns in pattern welded billets", or: " Use of Millefiori techniques to develop new Mosaic pattern welded surfaces".
  5. Of course the classic pattern welded blade science experiment would be to look into the whole etched "micro-serrations" issue and how it influences cutting capabilities verses an equivalent mono steel blade (i.e. 1084/15N20 tested against monosteel 1084).  I think this has been done a number of times, but you could put your own spin on it.  It does demand some fairly high precision grinding and polishing for equally sharpening multiple blades and repeatable heat treatment, not to mention a method of test cutting that follows some form of rigorous procedure, but that shouldn't be too hard to effect. Still, before I went down that rabbit hole I'd check what has already been done.

Good luck.  Also sorry for the long post (engineer, not scientist, as may be obvious from the post...).

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Bill - those were great additions.  I didn't want to steer Nico down any given path, so I left it fairly generic, but I think you did a great job giving options without guiding in a certain direction.  

 

Dan - Some fair points, and here are a few comments on yours.  

1. Not at all!  Grain growth can be seen with the naked eye, to varying degrees.  Certainly enough for a middle schooler's science project.  Just heat treat (properly and varying degrees of improperly) and break the sample.  The fracture surface is all you need to see to get the idea across.  

2. Many etchants aren't too terribly bad, but adult supervision is wise.  Ventilation is also important and noting the efforts gone to in the report would be great.  A photo of the samples in solution under a fume hood looks great in a report.  Just doing it outside is acceptable, too (just not as "fancy science-y".  

3. Again, for middle school level this isn't too big of a deal if using a gas forge.  Oxygen presence can be left pretty generic as determined by unburnt fuel igniting outside the forge opening (AKA: dragon's breath), ranging from a lot, a little, and none.  There are other variables as well, and too many to really make some concrete findings.  Personally, I would avoid this one due to the complexity of it all.  

4. I definitely agree that anything involving patterns is going to be a little too aesthetically based, and not a good application for the scientific method.  

5. Cutting performance definitely makes this not very "school friendly".  It is also one that I have yet to see anyone produce anything very meaningful on.  

 

Nico - Clearly there are nerds out there that would enjoy something along these lines.  If it is something that you are interested in and can bring you joy to your schooling, I think it is great.  There is a lot of science in bladesmithing, as well as plenty of art.  Have fun and please do keep us posted if you are able to do something forge related to bladesmithing.  

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I shared this pic of grain growth with Nico just before he joined the forum:

grain 2.jpg

 

I think that qualifies as being easy to see. ;)  Those are from a demo I did on heat treating simple steels this spring.  It's the same bar of W-1, forged into about 1/4" square, notched, then overheated for maybe two minutes at a low yellow heat.  Quench, snap, that's the grain on the left.  Triple-normalize using decalescence, quench, snap, that's the one on the right.  The distance between these two snaps was about 3/8".  I like this one because it demonstrates two important and fun phenomena in steels: grain refinement through thermal cycling AND quantum fluctuations during crystalline phase change (decalescence/recalescence = photon emitted or absorbed when an electron jumps or drops one energy level).  I told my guild that using decalescence is practicing quantum physics without a license. 

 

Nico, if you want use this one, you have to do the work looking up what the heck it was I just said!   B)

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Nico,

You live in the same town that I do.  Which school do you go to?

 

Science fair was my life when I was middle/high school, and I have done a bit of judging over the years. 

 

I have some left over bits of damascus that I could give you if that would help with your experiment.  I also have a small oven that you could come over an use if you want to do something with grain growth.

 

Best...

-Brian

 

Edited by Brian Dougherty

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