I hope you are not bored with my writing about knife making yet. It is not that I do not care about other things, but knife making is where most of my focus is right now. And this week I had barely the strength to do anything else at all.
I have started a new batch of blades, 18 pieces altogether – 4 small hunting knives, 4 badger knives, 5 chef knives (prototyping new design), and 5 universal kitchen knives. So this whole week I was drilling, cutting, and grinding steel every day. I have progressed reasonably fast, despite being also slow. Because I simply cannot handle more than 6 hours net a day at the grinder, and I have to make a substantial pause every two hours. My hands are doing reasonably OK and I have been pain-free for a few months by now (despite never having a diagnosis about what was wrong last year), but even so, the vibrations are a strain on the fingers. And after two hours not only the glasses start getting foggy – the mind does so as well and thus the risk of injury increases.
Today was a big finale of that busy week and all knives went into quench and tempering. This time I have decided to use quenching foil on all blades, despite bad experience on some blades the last time. I have decided to do so because the protective coating that I have concocted did work well but also was a real pain in the ass to remove afterward. And that did cost me a lot of time and I destroyed two belts before I figured it out. But I have tried plate quench with on this steel with moderate success), and I have hoped, really, really hoped, that doing plate quench on newly ground and straight blanks will lead to straight blades without having to scrub off a hard crust.
And following the maxim of Scrooge McDuck “Work smarter, not harder”, I have done my best to make the plate quench easy and reliable – I have built myself a jig. The construction is very simple and it did only take me a few hours. I have used the locking pliers and aluminum plates from last time, but I have connected it all into one piece that can be easily used in one hand. So instead of one hinge in the middle of the plates, I have added two hinges on the sides. Then I have drilled holes in the fixed jaw of the pliers (and re-ground it a bit) so I can screw one of the plates to it with two M4 screws. The movable jaw is not fixed to the second plate, but it does fit into a groove cut in it and it was also re-ground for a better fit at the angle where most blades will be gripped.
The idea was that I will hold this jig in my left hand, with my right hand I pull a blade out of the forge, insert it between the plates (still in the foil), lock the pliers and dunk the whole thing into a bucket of water. And it worked well! None of the knives came out of the quench with a perm or as a banana-imitation, none have cracked either, at least I did not notice it yet. All but one blade quenched properly (and that one I have re-quenched OK the second time) with hardness above 55 HRC, most even over 62.
Hardening all these blades took me only 15-16 minutes per blade, so even with all that foil wrapping, I was well within a reasonable time. There was only one small problem towards the end – my new burner worked really well and I have reached and held 1.050-1.080°C without problem with four blades in the forge, but after a few hours, it started to struggle. I thought at first that I am running out of propane, but that was not the case. As it turns out, the propane bottle got too cold (just 10°C) after that long continuous decompression, and the gas was evaporating less. I am not sure yet how to solve that problem for the future.
Now the blades are in the second tempering cycle (each cycle two hours at circa 180°C) and they did not seem to develop any bends or curls in the oven either. So far, so good, let us hope it stays that way since I am going to try some new techniques with this project again.