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wking

Newbie San Mai EDC etch???

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So I'm a newbie and I was finally able to successfully crank out a small San Mai billet of 1084 core and 15N20 by hand. I was excited to see what I could do with it after looking at work by guys like Josh Fisher. I profiled the knife, put bevels on it, then threw it in ferric for the test etch which revealed a pretty neat pattern.

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I decided I'd like it to be fairly nice looking, being that it is my first San Mai blade, so I took it up to 3k grit with hand sanding. I then followed etching processes that I had researched, with very bad results in the ferric. The acid left the surface of the blade dingy and dirty looking. I switched to a less aggressive etchant, lemon juice with a drop of dish soap. The lemon juice seemed to leave the 15N20 a bit brighter and the 1084 a little cleaner. This is where I started having problems on the finish of the knife. Since I am so new I do not have a lot of experience with etchants and etching processes even though I have researched a lot online. When etching in lemon juice, I tried several rounds, rubbing with steel wool in between, then cleaning, then re-etching. I also tried several rounds using mother's mag polish in place of the steel wool. Both seemed to give the same result, wiping away the contrast between the 1084 and 15n20.IMG_20200112_180354.jpg

 

After doing this several times, I couldn't tell what it was doing or when it was supposed to end :lol:so I abandoned it and decided to do my "final etch". It looked great out of the etchant, so I flooded the blade with Windex to neutralize the acid. When I wiped the blade it left lots of streaks on the finish.

IMG_20200112_214537.jpg

 

When oiling and attempting to remove the streaks, they didn't go anywhere. After oiling I used my thumb to try to rub the streaks away. When I rubbed the darker finish of the 1084, the dark grey turned to a very light dull grey and my thumb was dark. My question is, is there something wrong with my process? It seemed to get the best results as far as contrast, but it doesn't seem like the contrast is permanent if the dark finish of the 1084 can just rub off. I am very inexperienced, I welcome and greatly appreciate any advice, guidance or criticism on making this blade stand out! Thanks in advance

Will King

:D

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First, welcome aboard!

 

The lemon juice and Mothers' thing is for hamon, not san mai, which is why it left everything shiny, but distinct.  Nice look, but not what you were going for.

 

If you want high contrast, which you do, you need to set the oxides, which can be done several ways (boiling water, holding at 250 F for a few hours, etc.) but recently the community has discovered the instant coffee etch, and it works better than anything short of hot bluing to get strong contrast.  Clean the oxides off again, then dunk the whole blade in a jar of at least 5X normal strength instant coffee, and leave it overnight.  When it comes out, gently wipe it off with a soft cloth, then oil it.  I think you'll be pleased.  One caveat, though: Any oxide-based color will eventually rub off in use.  It's not permanent, in other words.  It's also easier to keep contrast on very high layer patterns than it is on san mai, because those get etched until there's a distinct topography where the shiny parts stand slightly higher than the dark parts, which protects them from abrasion.  Big open areas like this knife don't have that protection.  It will develop a patina over time that will be fairly stable, though.  The guys who want permanent strong contrast on their san mai use stainless as the outer layers and hot blue the core.  

 

With all that said, that's a nice little blade!  Be sure to get the whole thing finished, tang and all, before you do the final etch.  

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Thanks Alan! I am glad to enter the community, and have an opportunity to learn! I don't have any real training or experience so I am excited to be able to hear from experts.

 

I will keep the mother's around for when I attempt a hamon in the future, but in the meantime I will most definitely be trying the instant coffee etch! One question, after the etch in instant coffee, do I need to "set the oxides" by boiling it in water or holding it at a certain temperature as you mentioned?

 

I greatly appreciate the advice and the explanation of unprotected oxides not being permanent as well as topography of Damascus vs. San Mai, it was a huge help!

Will King

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No, no setting of the oxides needed.  I will tell you I have not done it yet, since I only heard about it a few months ago and I haven't made any damascus since then, but everyone I know who has tried it likes it.  Hopefully someone who has done it a few times will chime in.

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I understand, I have completed my first instant coffee etch and you were absolutely right... I was very pleased with the results! The 1084 was MUCH darker than it was with any other method I have tried. I may have made it a little too strong and it discolored parts of the 15n20, so I removed the oxides once again and I am going to try a second time! I will post a picture when I pull it out of the etch. Thank you again!

Will King

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1 hour ago, wking said:

I may have made it a little too strong

I'm not sure that's possible, but I'd like to hear what others have to say about this....

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It may not be, the 15n20 had a brownish tinge in areas when it was in the etchant for about 4 hours. Being that it is my first time using it, that may be normal and what others desire. I cut the instant coffee with a little more water, and reduced the soak time by 2 hours and the result was more to my liking for what I was going for :DIMG_20200113_223844.jpgIMG_20200113_223954.jpg

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