Making a Rondel Dagger – Interlude 3 – Dubbin

With the work done, I have to protect both the leather covering of the scabbard and the iron fittings against the elements and medieval appropriate medium for that is so-called dubbin or leather food. Google does yield some recipes, but I did not bother searching for or following an exact recipe much – once I have known the rough composition, I plunged right into it as is my wont.

Ingredients in the mug.

So I took a stainless steel mug, put in it a piece of lard, about the same amount of unrefined beeswax (twenty years old, btw.) and I poured an “adequate” amount of olive oil on top of it. Then I lit the fire and stirred until it all melted together. It was quite interesting to watch – the pig fat dissolved of course first and the big beeswax piece last, but it did not take too long. In fact, it was over in mere minutes. I have measured the temperature and when it all was blended together the liquid had about 80°C. High enough to be dangerous, but not so high as to melt plastic or hiss in contact with water. It remained liquid long enough to touch with bare hand.

Finished dubbin in a plastic container.

Even so when pouring it into a plastic container for keeping, I have put said container in an even bigger one and poured cold water around it just to be sure. As you can see, the liquid has had a honey-like colour that I have found rather pleasing to the eye. It does not smell too bad either and when the product cooled enough to be touched by bare hands, I have simply dipped my fingers in it and applied it to the scabbard in no small amount. In fact I sloshed liberally all over it, making an uneven layer that was in parts over 1 mm thick.

Dubbin applied to the scabbard.

That of course does not look very pretty, so I took a heat gun and melted it all until it sunk into the surface. I was careful however to not heat it too much – just about to melt it and no more. Leather does not respond too well to heat and I did not want to damage it.

When that was done I rubbed the scabbard first with a paper towel which took off some of the excess dubbin, then simply by hand. The dubbin is actually relatively pleasant to touch – not unlike a hand lotion in fact, although it is more solid.

The leather strap tied around the scabbard unfortunately did not survive this – it was made from recycled leather of poor quality and tore off. I have cut a new one and this time I plied it with dubbin before tying it around – and that seemed to have worked rather well. The dubbin made the old leather soft and pliable and also sleek, so it was much easier to pull it through the holes and tie the knots than in my previous attempts.

I intend to buy a soft bristle brush at nearest opportunity that will be used for this substance exclusively. It has hardened into a yellow mass that looks like refined beeswax but is much softer to the touch – but not creamy as a hand lotion. I have labeled the lid of the plastic box and I have stored it in my workshop for future use. I think I got carried away a little here and made possibly a life’s worth supply.

If it goes rancid I will let you know. I hope not. And next time you see the “Rondel Dagger” title, there will be pictures, I promise.


Youtube Video: Nurgle Plague Sword Build

Michael Cthulu is not a smith, he is a welder. And he does not make historically accurate replicas, he makes ridiculous, humongous swords from computer games that have no chance whatsoever to being actually functional in the real world.

But he is entertaining to watch and he has shown some tricks in his videos that are valuable to me in my workshop – like his unique working goggles with replaceable glasses.

He also seems to be a genuinely nice person, at least judging by the ammount of his products he auctions for charity ever since he makes enough money for comfortable living.

Mild content warning – the video takes almost an hour and contains half-naked and very hairy dude in his fifties doing dangerous things with fire, electricity and fast spinning machinery.

Making a Rondel Dagger – Part 16 – Chape

I had a very busy Sunday. My vacation is nearing its end and I have been hell-bent on finishing this project already, but things got in the way all the time.

The biggest problem with the chape was that I could not find any information about how to do it properly. There are some pictures of finished products  and some info about casting them from bronze, silver etc. but not about how to form one out of steel. So I had to start from scratch.

My first two attempts were completely unsuccessful. I do not even have anything to show you  – you are free to imagine some vaguely rectangular and bent piece of metal. What I am going to show you is my third – and final – attempt. I do not call it a success either, but it is at least big enough part of a success to yield a usable product. But I am not satisfied with it and I had to repress the urge to hurl it out of the window with great force.

In retrospect I think my biggest mistake overall was using too thick steel. The shovel that I was recycling was ca 1,5 mm thick and for this purpose probably half that thickness would be appropriate. Unfortunately I did not find any suitable piece of steel in my scrap pile.

Should anyone wish to avoid some of the mistakes I have made, here is the most important thing I learned: do not try to do it without dies and templates. It is a complete waste of time. Chape is a very complex piece of metal, bent and formed in multiple directions at once.

I wanted only the front face to be pretty, but even that has proved to be beyond being doable without a template, definitively without  a skill that I lack. And since I  also lack screw press, I had to do with my vice. So I have built a set of jaws – one formed approximately as the tip of the scabbard, and one with a matching hole about 2 mm bigger on all sides. After this I have heated a piece of steel, put it between the jaws and pressed it as quick as possible. After a few repeating and some repairs/adjustment of the jaws I have finally got a  shape that at leat partly fitted the tip of the scabbard. I might be on the right track here.

However, after a few presses the metal had nowhere to move – so I have cut it into stripes that I have intended to bend around the scabbard. I have again made the mistake of trying it first without a template. Again, complete waste of time.  I have only managed to bend them so they point straight to the back of the chape. I could not achieve the second bend to close the flaps around the backside.

So I had to fish around in my scrap pile some more. Two cuts that were left over from making the jaws have proved to be useful here – when put back to back, they were the same thickness as the wooden scabbard, therefore I reasoned I could make a template out of them.

So I took an angle grinder to them and made two nearly identical halves that mimicked the wooden scabbard. A few touches with a file were also needed in order to round the edges etc. I am not going to toss these, I am going to keep them as well as the jaws in case I need to do similarly shaped chape again.

I have deliberately made this template so most hammer blows will be perpendicular to the vice jaws. No matter how strongly you close the vice jaws on anything, hammering or filing/sawing it will eventually loosen it or break it. That is actually a reason why specially formed jaws with a groove have to be used for holding round stock.

With this I was finally able to bend and hammer the steel flaps all around so the fit more or less snugly around the tip of the scabbard. I did not want to close it all the way around and I intended to leave the stitching visible, because it was more or less clear that I will have to hammer and ever so slightly bend the finished chape onto the tip so it holds and does not fall of. However, I wanted to at least braze the gaps on the sides. I failed to do that, because I run out of silver solder and I will be damned if I spend another 10 € on this. At this point, I was starting to hate the thing. So I brazed as much as I could and sod the rest. Here you can see it all black, covered in solder and slag and scale. I have again carefully ground the excess solder with fine file and collected the silver dust, but I still did not feel like experimenting with making solder out of that dust.

This is when It I have got the only idea during this whole process that I consider valuable – I have found out that old, nearly worn angle grinder wheels are excellent for scraping of the scale and the slag – both of those are harder than files and they tend to smear abrasive papers. So a bit of water now and then to wash of the dust and a bit of scrubbing with an old wheel and I could proceed to polishing without covering my belts with grime. Polishing I have performed the same way I did with the throat. During this I have found out that the chape is much more asymmetrical than I was hoping for and that there are two poorly brazed spots on the sides. leaving unseemly spots, but as I said, sod it, I am not going to do this thing again.

When the chape was finished, I have put it and the throat on the scabbard and gave both parts a few wallops with a wooden mallet on a wooden board so they hold in place (for the throat I had to put a piece of leather on one side between the backside of the scabbard and the throat for better fit). And then I walloped it all some more so it holds.

So now the project is almost finished. All that is left to do is to sharpen and sign the blade, tie a leather strap around the scabbard and treat it with dubbin and make pictures. Neither of those things should pose any big problems and except the signing they cannot destroy anything. I hope.

Despite being a non-believer, I do understand the desire to be able to pray – a desire to have some control.

Blade Braider

Earlier this summer Marcus Ranum and Kestrel gifted Caine with a very special knife. Marcus custom made the blade and then sent it on to Kestrel who hand wove a beautiful braided leather handle for it. It was a gift that Caine treasured. Today Kestrel is sharing with us the story of how the handle was created. I’ll let Kestrel take it from here:

Marcus made Caine a knife as a gift, but first he sent it to me so I could cover the handle. I chose to use black and red kangaroo leather. Kangaroo leather is incredibly strong and durable, and I knew that Caine would like that color combo.

©Kestrel, all rights reserved

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Making a Rondel Dagger – Part 15 – Troat of the Scabbard

I have decided to make the fittings for the scabbard from the same shovel that provided steel for the rondel. It is good carbon steel of appropriate thickness and I reasoned that after I grind it to remove all pitting from the outer side, it shall be thin just right. However, because I wanted to bend the steel at least in part whilst it is cold, I had to first anneal the shovel – in case you do not know, shovels are hardened and tempered. So I have decided to burn some more rotten wood, bbq dinner and anneal the shovel at the same time. Luckily the droughts in the place where I live are less severe than in the rest of CZ, so we do not have ban on fires (yet). Nevertheless, despite how it might appear, I am actually careful with fire – I always watch the direction in which the wind is blowing, I have water prepared and I douse all coals when I am done. And I have portable fireplace that I position in the middle of a gravel field¹.

I proceeded to make a paper template by wrapping it around the scabbard and adding about one cm for length. That I transferred onto the shovel and I cut the rough shape with angle grinder.

My improvised bending setup did not work as intended. The main problem being, that this steel proved to be extremely tough and hard, even annealed. I tried and tried, but it just did not work. After a few attempts I gave up and had to think up another way. I have decided that I have to do what I did not want to – forge it hot.

I could not go outside and make fire, because firstly it was way too hot outside for that and secondly because my improvised anvil for this delicate task was an old annealed file held in a vice. As a source of heat therefore I had to do with handheld propane torch and a few fireclay bricks as an impromptu forge. Unfortunately I forgot to make more detailed pictures of this process so you have to be content with red-hot glowing steel on fireclay brick laid on a granite paving stone laid on wooden bench. I see you cringe with my mind’s eye and I agree. For subsequent works I moved the whole assembly onto the circular saw table (also seen in the picture) which is made from metal and therefore fireproof. Needles to say, bucket of water was on standby the whole time and I checked the workshop a few times after I finished. I do not like doing these things inside, I will have to get some better setup, perhaps a mobile vice? I will have to think about it.

The bent strip did not fit neatly around the scabbard whatever I have done, so I decided in the end to shorten it even more so the ends do not meet, but lay just outside the stitches in leather. And to cover that gap with another slim strip of steel. this proved to be a very good fit all around.

I was thinking about whether to make the throat covered in steel or whether to let it be just the wood and leather on the inside. I decided to go for steel, which of course meant third piece, flat piece covering the throat with cut-out rough shape of the blade. Very rough. I was not even trying to aim for a good fit and I left a good 0,5-1 mm free space on all sides.

When thinking about how to connect those three parts in the most authentic manner I decided to go for silver brazing. I do not know how much silver is actually in the brazing rod I bought, but it costs 12,-€ a piece. Compare that with brass brazing rods that costs 5,-€ per five (or more) pieces. Whew. But I wanted to first try it with the more expensive silver rod because it has lower melting temperature than brass and my welding, brazing and soldering skills are not top-notch, to put it mildly. I also hoped that the silver solder will have less profound color contrast with the steel than the brass one would have. Which it does, but the color contrast is still very strong.

It took three attempts to braze the thing together with no gaps anywhere and I used up almost the whole rod. Oopsie-daisy, this is proving to be expensive. So when removing all the excess solder, i was filing it carefully and slowly onto a piece of paper and collecting all the silver dust into a little plastic bowl that I later have sealed with a lid. I hope to be able to mix that dust with boric acid and use it for brazing the chape. I certainly would not like to spend another 12,-€ on the chape alone.

As far as I know – and I would love to inspect some medieval originals sometimes – medieval craftsmen did not take particular care about the “back side” of the scabbards and scabbard fittings, or even swords for that matter. After all what is the point in finely polishing something that will not be seen? Today the aesthetics sense is slightly different and people expect things to look just perfect from all angles. I have decided to not overtly polish the back side, but I did somewhat polish and buff it for the sole reason that polished steel resists corrosion better. But, unlike on the front, I did not remove all pitting and I did not bother about some minor file scratches remaining visible there. And here you can see the result of my works these last few evenings. I will buff it with hematite befoe fixing it ont he scabbard for good.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The most important lesson of this exercise was perhaps that I should do these metal fittings before I shape the scabbard to its final shape and cover it with leather, and not the other way around. In retrospect it seems like something from The Collected Sayings of Captain Bloody Obvious, but fitting a piece of soft wood and leather into a steel tube should be easier than to form a steel tube around a piece of soft wood and leather. I tried to google how to do scabbard throat before I did anything of this, but I do not remember seeing this mentioned anywhere.

Last piece in the mosaic is the chape then. And then there will be pictures.

1 – The bough you can see is one that I “harvested” near the road, where it broke off of an elderly apple tree. The city seemed unwilling to clean it up, so I confiscated it for knife handles.

Youtube Video: I Smoke Armour

Metatron is not my favourite YouTuber, for some reason he rubs me the wrong way and on occasion he made me cringe when he opened his mouth about feminism (but to be clear, there was no obvious malice there, just cluelessness). But some of his videos are relatively good and I consider this to be one of them. Partly because my sister in law and her family are all heavy smokers who nevertheless looked at me in the past with derision for “wasting” money on books and time on bonsai trees.

Making a Rondel Dagger – Part 14 – Covering the Scabbard

So whilst I am coating the dagger handle, scratching it with 600 grit paper and giving it each day a slight buff with acetone diluted linseed oil, I can continue to work on the scabbard. It will take a few weeks for the linseed oil to harden really properly, so there is no rush. However some of the works shown here were done in parallel with works already shown.

First thing to do is to properly shape the scabbard, leaving only about 1 mm thickness. Because the poplar wood that I have used is extremely soft, I was afraid to cut it for fear of taking away too much material. The most important rule in woodwork is – you can always cut, but you cannot ad. So I did not use chisels or a rasp, just an 80 grit sandpaper on a padded sanding block. My sanding block is a piece of wood with old carpet glued on the faces, and I am spanning on it endless belts that I used for my now dead small belt grinder. A wine cork is an excellent spanning device, allowing for quick change of belts and giving me the option of slack belt as well. When sanding around the throat of the scabbard I took care for the throat always face downward, so no loose grains fall into the scabbard and ruin the blade.

Next thing that I have done was to soak the whole surface with hot hide glue, priming it so other materials can be glued on. After the hide glue has dried, I have covered the scabbard with linen, which I have again thoroughly soaked in hot hide glue. I do not know whether this was actually done for scabbards (although from some of the images that Caine has posted it seems plausible), but I know for sure that the technique was known from early medieval times through to the modern times. Covering wood in fabric soaked in hide glue is very effective way to prevent the wood from splitting and twisting. Firstly it adds fibers that are perpendicular to those of the wood, secondly hide glue shrinks significantly as it dries, effectively pressing everything tightly together. This is one area where real hide glue has an irrefutable advantage over any modern glue. After the hide glue has dried up, I have again sanded the whole thing with 180 grit sandpaper to smoothen all knots and irregularities in the fabric.

To remain true to the game, I should use plain vegetable tanned leather, but this is one of the instances where I deliberately choose to stray away from my template and do something differently. For years I have a piece of dashing red leather that I wished to use for this project from the very beginning. It was of very irregular shape, but I was able to cut a piece big enough to cover the whole wooden scabbard from tip to throat. First I have cut a rough rectangle and then I continued to cut away tiny strips here and there until I had a piece that could be wrapped tightly around the scabbard with just about 1 mm space between the edges.
Then I had to make holes for stitching. This is fairly thin leather, so I had to make the holes very close to each other for fine stitching. I have made leather sheaths before, but I have never done this, so I did not know how exactly spaced the holes should be. I reasoned that about two-three times the thickness of the leather space between the holes and from the edge should be about right in order to be able to sew the edges together tightly without the leather ripping.

I could not find my awl, it seems that I have lost it. Luckily I had this super old knife whose blade was almost completely eaten away that could be quickly modified for the task of pokey-holey. About 200 holes. Oh boy.

For sewing I was going to use thick thread that is used for sewing jeans. For thicker leather I would have used thick linen thread, but that was a bit too thick for this job. Other threads we had at home on the other hand were too thin.

Before sewing, I have soaked the leather in lukewarm water (about 37 °C) for an hour so it becomes more stretchy and pliable. And I prepared the thread with the use of the unseemly mixture you see on the picture to the right. That mixture was made by boiling pine resin and beeswax and it was used by medieval shoemakers and saddlers to coat the thread before sewing. What are the advantages of that, you ask? Well it makes the thread bugger to work with as it becomes all sticky and latches onto everything – hair, pants, fingers, itself… Oh sorry, you asked about advantages. The thread does not split or fray during work, it is firmer and sleeker, despite the stickiness. If I coated the thread in advance and let it dry for some time It would not even be tacky, but I forgot about that. And I did not know how much thread I will need – it transpired that about ten times the length of the scabbard is about right.

When the leather was all soaked, I have prepared a small batch of hide glue again and started covering the scabbard. First I have sewn together the tip and about 1 cm of the length. Then I painted that part and the whole face of the scabbard with hide glue and inserted it in the leather pocket and started sewing and adding hide glue all round for each sewn piece. I have used a two-needle technique that I have found on the internet. It has the advantage of pulling the edges together very regularly and equally on both sides, so it does not warp and zig-zag as it could had I used just one thread. I must be honest with you – my needle work leaves a lot to be desired. I was doing my best, but I was losing the holes in this very thin leather and I skipped a few here and there without wanting to. It took me two hours to sew the whole scabbard – about 100 stitches on 27 cm length. My back ached and I was happy when it was over.

Last step was to poke and wrap holes for the straps. For these I have simply cut holes with a scalpel and inserted in the wet leather three skewers. The thread wrapped around will make visible grooves when it all dries up. If I wanted to, at this point I would also stamp and press the leather to decorate it. But I did not want to bite more than I can chew, for this project plain leather will have to do. I also formed the leather around the throat a bit, although I will have to get back at it once more – when it dries, I will have to cut all excess, wet it again with hot hide glue and form it better.

The scabbard is now nearly done, but the most challenging part is yet to come – I want to make metal chape and throating. And that is something I have never done and I will have to be really, really careful to not botch that up. And also think hard about how to do it, before I go cutting, bending, banging and soldering metal pieces together.

More about that next time. In the meantime you can admire my irregular stitches.

Absolute Perfection.

An amazing gift, from Marcus & Kestrel, who collaborated on this little slice of perfection. It wouldn’t be perfection to some one else, but it is to me – absolutely gorgeous, fantastically sharp, my favourite colours in that magnificent braiding, giving a wonderful grip, and the beauty of the blade. Fits my hand perfectly, and is properly sharp and lethal. Honestly, I was speechless when I opened this up, and I still just babble about it. I will cherish this, always. I couldn’t possibly come up with enough of a thank you to you both for your work, especially such finely done and thoughtful work. Thank you, thank you, thank you.  She definitely needs to be named, but I have to spend more time with her to find what’s right.

Clickety for full size.

© C. Ford, all rights reserved.

Making a Rondel Dagger – Part 13 – Assembly

Let me tel you one thing upfront – this was the most nerve-wracking part of the whole job. For a moment there I thought that I have destroyed the whole thing and I will have to start all over again, which I am not completely sure I would be able to.

First setback was the guard – look on the picture, do you see it? I did not notice it when I have made it, and it escaped my notice for quite a few days, but when trying the assembly I noticed a sizable gap between the guard and the tang. It is only about 0,3 mm, but the mirroring of the blade and the guard make it visually double that size. I thought that I will use it anyway, but it pissed me off and in the end I reckoned that having a botched project on which I have already spent probably about 50 or more working hours due to a part that takes about 3 hours to make is not worth it, so on Friday I have made a new guard. The fit was still not perfect, but this time it was good enough for me to live with it.

As I said, the wooden handle was a bit shorter than intended. Original intent was to have the bowl-shaped rondel fit snugly onto the end of the handle. But since I had to make the end of the handle flat, I had to do something to prevent the rondel from collapsing. So I needed not only the knob/nut into which the tang will be peened, but also a washer between the handle and the rondel. Both of these I have made from an old window hinge. which I first have polished with angle grinder and soft abrasive pads and then cut off a piece with hack saw. I drilled a 5 mm hole in the middle (badly) and cut the piece into two parts – the washer flat on both sides, and the nut flat on one side, and rounded on the other. I have also chamfered the outer edges on the hole in the nut, for the peening to hold on to.

Then came the fitting of all the parts together. You might think that since I have burned the hole with the tang, there would be a perfect fit, but you would be wrong. It had quite a lot of radial wobble and charcoal dust kept falling out of it. So I have taken a rat-tail rasp and filed the burned wood away, which of course made the wobble even worse.

But I had a solution to that in mind. I remember that in Ivanhoe it is mentioned that tangs were fitted into handles by a mixture of glue (resin) and crushed brick. That makes sense – crushed brick is chemically stable, compression-strong material that is nevertheless porous enough to be effectively glued. Crushing brick was no brainer, just wrap it in a rag and let a 2 kg hammer fall on it a few times, letting the gravity do the job, and then sieve it to get fine dust. However since I run out of resin and have not yet managed to get to the forest to get some new, I have decided to use hide glue instead.¹ It did not work out as intended.

To be fair, I think the idea was sound, it is my execution of it that was wrong. I have used paper masking tape to protect the blade against scratches during this work, but the guard and the bolster were completely unprotected. Further I knew that this paper tape does not protect against moisture and rust, so I had to do the whole assembly in a few hours so I can remove the tape afterwards and oil everything. Had I used molten resin, that would be possible (probably – we will see next time), but hide glue needs of course time to dry, and I did not dare to let it wait for fear of rust getting on the polished surfaces.

Here you can see that I had a lot of tang before my first attempt. Until this point everything went smoothly and I did not expect any trouble. Oh was I wrong, yes I was. In addition to the glue not being hardened I have made a few bloopers.

First was that I have not secured the rondel with tape – it fits properly only one way around and could not be rotated willy-nilly without unseemly gaps appearing. The side that is supposed to point towards the cutting edge of the blade was marked, but only on the inside, not on the outside.

Second was that I have not hammered the nut sufficiently on the whole thing and it remained hanging on the tang a few tenth of a mm above the rondel without me noticing it.

Third was to not shorten the tang sufficiently.As a result the tang was too long and its end has bent during peening.

The result was a handle that wobbled and was out of center and a rondel that did not fit and was askew like drunkard’s hat. I did not take a picture of that shameful display. Nor did I make pictures of following works, because I was too stressed out to think about that.

Because his was the point where I thought that I have botched the job and that I will have to at the very least try to weld on a tang extension. I ground off most of the badly peened end and after a few minutes of work with a vice I managed to rip the nut off. Luckily it seemed there is enough tang left when I make the nut a bit thinner. So I have filed the nut about 1 mm down and tried again. The trouble was the centering of the grip. The mixture of glue and brick was just not strong enough in such a short time to get the grip center and hold it there. In the end I had to hammer and file three small (circa 0,5 mm thick) steel wedges that I have positioned around the tang before hammering the handle onto it until the bolster met the guard. I had to pull it of and monkey around with the wedges three times, filing them and hammering them thin, before I was satisfied.

For second attempt at peening I have not only made a mark on the outside of the rondel with a sharpie, I have also fixed it with tape before peening. And before peening I have put aluminium tube on the nut and hammered it down so it lies tightly on the rondel. This time peening the end of the tang with ball peen hammer went smoothly and without problems. There was a teensy bit too little tang for  the peen to completely hide during polishing, but I can live with that. Here you can see the peen before polishing.

The dagger is now nearly complete. Now I have to re-polish and re-buff the rondel, because I have scratched it, and to soak the handle with linseed oil. That will take a few days to polymerize properly, and in the meantime I will continue work on the scabbard.

1 – I could of course use epoxy and save myself a lot of trouble, but from the start I wanted to do this project using only materials and methods that are appropriate for medieval-ish dagger. I have only used modern things where that saves time, but does not have an effect on the composition and aesthetics of the result.

Making a Rondel Dagger – Part 12 – Rondel

For second attempt I have decided that the tools that are at my disposal are not sufficient to do what I want to do. So I have made a tool.

I took a piece of wood from my late cherry tree that had about the right diameter and I rounded one end with an axe and a rasp to desired shape – a cylinder with the outer diameter just slightly smaller than the actual dagger handle has. I have put it in a bucket of water so it does not burn too quickly and I proceeded with the forging.

First I made the same shallow bowl shape that I have done previously, but when making it deeper I did not use the ball peen hammer anymore, instead I have inserted the prepared cherry tree block and whacked it with 1 kg forging hammer (also courtesy of my late uncle).

It has worked rather well. Not as well as a metal die would of course, but reasonably well. After only a few whacks I got a shape with which I was content.

That was not the end of the usefulness of this highly sophimasticated tool. After drilling the hole for the tang and rounding the edges on belt sander I nailed the bowl on the cherry wood for polishing.

To avoid too excessive material removal I did not do it on belt sander this time, but I have used my angle grinder with lamellar soft abrasive wheels. It has worked very well and in mere minutes I had sufficiently polished surface. Some pitting remained, but I have decided against removing it completely to avoid one of the mistakes from previous day (making the steel too thin in places).

Now for the grooves. I could not forge them hot, because for that I would need a special die. I could make one of course, but that would be extremely time-consuming and my anvil cannot hold dies yet. I had to hammer them into cold steel and from previous day I knew that I need support and space for the bend at the same time.

So I took a rasp again and I filed grooves in the end of the very useful cherry log. They are intentionally asymmetrical, because that is the look I was aiming for.

On thus prepared support I have fixed the bowl, this time not with a nail, but with a fairly long and thick screw.

A lot of banging has followed, first with masonry chisel to mark the groove, then with the smith’s hammer and old file used as a flat surface, and with small cross peen hammer. The steel was a lot tougher than I thought it will be so the cherry wood collapsed a bit. The result is that some grooves are better looking than others and some are nearly symmetrical, but that is actually correct as far as the 3D model from the game goes – the grooves there are notably different and one even looks like botched. And whilst I am not aiming for exact replica, I am aiming for the general look of the thing.

The rondel has circa 50 mm in diameter and is circa 10 mm tall. Grinding that out of solid block of steel would take an inordinate amount of time, eat a lot of abrasives and definitively weigh way too much. So I think this is mission accomplished.

Next time I will be doing something like this I will most definitively do a better job at it, but I do not think this is all that bad and I will use it. Now it will be polished and buffed together with the bolster and the guard as long as it takes for all three components to have the same look to them. That will probably take a few evenings. However I will not remove all pitting from the rondel, because I fear that it might destroy it.

And then comes the assembly. I literally cannot wait…

Making a Rondel Dagger – Part 11 – Rondel Fail

This was my first attempt at making the rondel on Saturday. Also my first attempt at forging something. I failed completely to achieve my goal, but I learned a few things.

The rondel is supposed to be circular with ten asymmetrical grooves. The simplest way to achieve that would be to take a piece of 4-6 mm steel and cut the grooves with angle grinder. It would also lead undoubtedly to the prettiest looking result I might add, with the crispest lines and smoothest surface.

However I do not want to do that for multiple reasons. One is that it is not historically correct – AFAIK that thick steel was rarely used. The other reason is that it would make the dagger very heavy towards the butt of the handle, and that would make it very uncomfortable to use and it might tend to overbalance in the scabbard and fall out off it.

So I wanted to go the more historically accurate way of making bowl-shaped rondel. With the equipment that I have (not to mention total lack of skill and experience) that unfortunately means I will not be able to make crisp and deep groves, but you can’t always get what you want. Maybe some other time.

I have decided that this old broken shovel is about the right thickness (about 2 mm). It is also good and strong steel that should withstand hammering and bending etc. Unfortunately it is also strongly pitted, but I have decided to use it anyway.

My anvil is a simple piece of rail screwed to a log, and I have not modified it yet for any kind of attachments. Therefore in order to be able to forge bowl-shaped object I could not use it at all and I had to improvise. I fixed a cut piece of thick-walled steel tube to my wood chopping block.

I also lack tongs, so I had to use adjustable pliers.  But at least I have proper ball peen hammer, one of the few usable things that I got from my uncles’ derelict and trash filled house (you would not believe how difficult it is to buy ball peen hammers around here, nobody is using them and therefore nobody sells them).

For fire I have not used charcoal but half rotten dried wood. Not for any practical reason, but because I have a pile that I need to get rid off and I do not want to burn it in the stove so I co not carry the rot into the house. It is possible to heat steel with wood fire quite easily, temperature is not a problem. Problem is smoke and long flames. If you ever try to do it, be aware that it is dangerous and I advise strongly against doing such a foolhardy thing.

I thought these tools will be sufficient to achieve my objective, but to be honest I was not overly optimistic. I assumed skill will be a bigger problem.

It started promisingly and I had a bowl-shaped object in a jiffy. It was after this that it all got wahoonie-shaped.

The problem was the diameter of the ball peen hammer, which was slightly too small for the task that I wanted to do. When trying to correct this, the bowl only got deeper, but its bottom did not get any wider. I ended up with a shape that was too deep, too thin-walled with too small bottom and completely wrong shape – I was aiming for a shape like a bottle cap and I ended up with a miniature dog bowl.

Nevertheless I have decided to try and finish it to see how it looks on the dagger. I cut off all the excess with angle grinder, drilled a hole in the middle and shaped the whole thing on belt sander, removing all rust and pitting in the process and preliminarily polishing the surface to 320 grit.

It did not look all that bad on the dagger, but I did not like it very much anyway. It was not the design I was aiming for at all, not even close, and despite looking kinda good it has completely changed the character of the dagger. I knew I will have to compromise on this part, but I was not willing to compromise that much.

Nevertheless I have tried to make the grooves, just as an exercise to see whether my intended way of making them will work. It worked, sort off. It also completely destroyed the part, because I have made it too thin-walled and the walls were so thin in one place that the steel crumpled like paper instead of bending nicely.

That was it. Time to rethink my process. With these lessons learned I went to sleep on Saturday, completely tired, but determined to give it another shot right next day morning.

Making a Rondel Dagger – Interlude 2 – Measuring the Hardness

I am not done with the “Behind the Iron Curtain” series, but right now my mind is way too focused on other things.

One such thing was the conundrum of measuring hardness of steel. There is no way I can spend thousands of € on measuring equipment. And the cheapest “sort of” evaluation of hardness is a set of five needle files that costs over 200,-€. I would rather spend that money on materials, but I do not mind spending a few hours of work.

So yesterday I had my first shot at this issue.

First thing I have done was to find in my scrap pile old and damaged hack saw blade. I have heated it piecemeal with handheld propane torch to orange heat and quenched it in a bucket of water. Since it is uniform thickness, the water does cause no cracking this way and quenches the steel very nicely and without flames or stink.

After quenching each segment I broke it off (it breaks really easy) and proceeded further, untill there was no unhardened steel left. After that I broke all the pieces into much smaller pieces until I had a nice little pile of extra hard steel shards.

These I have dunked straightaway in a pot with about 1 cm of sunflower seed oil and proceeded to my kitchen. There I was heating the oil very slowly to temper the steel whilst measuring the temperature with my IR thermometer. The higher the temperature, the lower the steel hardness, so I had  temperature steps predefined at which I took a few pieces of steel out of the oil bath.

For that I have found this site on the Interwebs that was kind enough to post a table of  hardness versus tempering temperature with not only the silly units the USA uses but also the sensible units the civilised world uses¹, so I could actually understand what temperature ranges we are talking about. I wrote the temperatures from the table on pieces of paper and put them into small receptacles in which I have placed the tempered shards. I did try to hold the temperatures for about 15 minutes, but for a steel this thin that is not completely necessary.

At 260°C I stopped, because after that the oil could ignite, and I made the remaining temperatures on a fireclay brick with handheld torch. For these soft rangers I do not need much precision anyways.

With all the shards tempered and hardened I have cut ten pieces of hardwood from old spokes from my crib.  They are a bit too thick, but I had no wooden dowels of the right thickness in my pile and I did not want to use wood set aside for arrows. I cut a groove in each piece and marked the pieces 1 to 10 with roman numerals (because those are easy to carve with a knife).

After that I glued one shard in each groove with fast healing epoxy. The softest one in the I and the hardest one in X. Once the epoxy has healed, all that was left was to sharpen the shards on my belt grinder and I was done.

I have tried whether the hardness progresses from I to X and it does. 10 is able to scratch everything, I scratches nothing, and each higher number seems to scratch the one below but not the one above. Here they are (one is missing in the picture, I do not know why, how typical of me to miss-lay things in a matter of seconds).

I measured the dagger on the tang where it is hardened but will not be visible later on. VIII scratched, VII almost scratched, VI did not scratch at all. The hardness should be therefore somewhere around 58 HRC. That is hard enough to keep an edge, but not so hard as to shatter or break easily or eat sharpening stones.

As a proof of concept I would call it a definitive success. I have a set of tools that allows me to estimate the hardness of steel from about 40 to 65 HRC. Not with great precision, but well enough to be useful. After I get my hands on some suitable high carbon steel (about 1% is needed) of thickness about 2-3 mm, I will make better ones, chisel-like, with not only a tip to scratch, but also an area to be scratched.

A little backyard scientist project.

1 – I hate that USA insists on using the silly units and infests half the internet with that nonsense. Finding well written articles on the internet that are not in English is difficult and when something is written in English, it is often US-centric. As if USA did not spread enough misery as it is, it has to keep poisoning sciences and engineering with this utter garbage.