More Mokume

The last run of mokume was nearly a disaster. This time, it was nearly a cakewalk. For me, that’s the fun of doing crafts: figuring them out and getting better and understanding them more. And not hurting myself.

I don’t have a TV and since I have metered bandwith I don’t watch stuff like Forged in Fire but from some comments on one of the knife-makers’ forums apparently the most recent episode included someone burning their forge down while quenching a blade in oil. Yes, that’s why you don’t use flammable oil. One of my friends uses bacon grease from a local diner; maybe he’ll switch to using a better-designed quench oil. I use a stuff called “matrix 50” which, from the smell, is a mix of some light machine oil and some alcohol and glycol. One thing it does is smell. One thing it does not do is burst into flame. I also have an extinguisher standing by: you’re not dealing with a large thermal mass of welding-hot metal, so a fire extinguisher would actually help.

My last attempt at Mokume was so-so. [stderr] It melted and splashed on the floor. This time I did it differently:

Chomped up the copper and nickel on the chomping device.

Wrapped it with bronze wire that would serve as a melt-sensor: when the bronze wire disappears it’s time to watch closely.

Tighten the bolts until they scream. Some mokume-makers insist you should use a press at this stage but I think they don’t understand how much pressure you can apply with plain old bolts. In this case I don’t care what happens to the bolts because they are going to get cut off with an angle grinder – so I just clamped them and went after them with a big socket wrench.

I am eventually going to set up a camera on a tripod so I don’t have these big lapses. When you have big gloves on, you can’t work an iPhone. I need to bring my laptop and my DSLR along and do some time-lapses.

“There was a great deal of heating and hammering.”

I also took it over to the milling machine (!) and made a bunch of dimples in the surface with a ball end mill. That was when I discovered how crunchy copper/nickle can be – it did a fine job but the bar wanted to disintegrate. So I brought it back up to welding temperature and very gently tapped it to set it. A bit of copper drooled out the side. That made me think I should make a polished stainless anvil-cover for doing stuff like this – the surface of my anvil usually has fine bits of steel scale dust on it.

Etching the surface with ferrous chloride. I brew my own ferrous chloride out of muriatic acid, steel wool, and hydrogen peroxide. Don’t breathe the fumes.

I keep thinking of making a damascus cross so I can shoot a photo that looks like Piss Christ except I can call it Ferrous Chloride Christ. And now you see why my career in the arts has not been stellar.

Water and baking soda to neutralize it.

A little Brasso and it’ll look great. The bar is about 1/8″ thick – a bit small for a guard, but plausible for a dagger or a piece of jewelry. As the size of the work-piece goes up, the cost of the goods skyrockets and the potential for failure goes up, too. There are people who make entire sword-guards out of mokume: there you’re looking at a 5/8″ thick piece, 4 or 5″ around. Ancient Japanese royalty had mokume made of gold and silver, naturally. Because they didn’t have to polish it.



  1. says

    That’s gorgeous!

    Ferrous Chloride Christ.

    That I would like to see. It would be worth it for the outrage alone. That said, is there a swarf trashcan with my name on it?

  2. says

    is there a swarf trashcan with my name on it?

    There’s some stuff. But I don’t generate much swarf – unless it’s accidentally pouring molten metal on the floor. I’m going to try to pick you some damascus scraps and polish them up, send them your way. Maybe I should beat them into some kind of shape.

  3. says

    When forge-welding anything, everyone always emphasizes that the surfaces must be flat and clean. There is a lot of truth to that but it seems that once you go high enough temperature, there are no “edges” on a puddle. One thing I may try to do is just take a graphite bowl and an oxy/acetylene torch, and some imperial coin, and do some puddle mokume. I figure a bunch of quarters and some strips of nickel for contrast, just drop ’em in and melt ’em up.

    (If I keep it on a fire-brick in the sand-pit I don’t have to worry about dropping anything. Graphite ingot molds are only $9 on ebay…)

  4. kestrel says

    Wow you got some nice patterning in that piece! Your surface looks pretty good too. You will be able to make some amazing stuff out of it, and glad to hear it’s easier the second time. The puddle mokume sounds really interesting.

  5. felicis says

    Have you given any thought to experimenting with different etch solutions? I would think with a copper-nickel block you might want copper chloride, or maybe a balance of nickel and copper salts (to get the exact reaction you want)…

    Sure – the FeCl bath worked fine, but while you are experimenting…

    By the way – should you ever be out Oregon way again, please feel free to drop by. While my forge setup is not nearly so large and well-equipped, I have also not spent nearly so much (I think my total expenditure to date is about $700 – and that includes $360 for a class and $150 for a propane regulator)…

  6. says

    The puddle mokume sounds really interesting.

    There is a thing that is interesting but seems very sketchy, to me. People appear to be smelting metal in microwave ovens: you have this insulated mass that holds the crucible, put it in the microwave and bring it up to melting temperature, then remove the whole mess and dissassemble it to pour. [I assume that they do not use the microwave for popcorn after that] Seems like a great opportunity to drop a bunch of molten metal on one’s foot. I will not be trying it. Besides: oxy/acetylene. I ought to be able to just put my stuff in a graphite crucible and let the torch dance on it and not stir the puddle, let it cool, then beat it into shape using normal forge (non-welding) heat and anvil.

  7. says

    By the way – should you ever be out Oregon way again, please feel free to drop by.

    I may be going back out to Dragonfly Forge next year, depending on whether certain things occur. If I do, I’ll definitely make a point of coming by to pester you.

    My setup is extreme and, yeah, I have sunk some money into it. So far, to be completely transparent, I spent more on dumpster service clearing the room out, than on any other component, though the press was about par. Most of the gear was sourced by stalking ebay for good deals on specific items. But, yeah, I have about 10x what you spent on your forge sunk into mine. That’s half of what my annual bonus used to be at the company where I used to work; and I always used to squirrel the bonus away and not spend it – so I see this as “not so extreme”… Well, kinda.

    Let me also mention another thing: in the last few years I have lost 5 friends to various cancers. None of them, as they were dying, said “I wish I had spent more time in marketing meetings.” They all said “I wish I had just gone and done ${whatever}” it was they really wanted to do. That made me look at the money I had been squirrelling away for my retirement and I realized that my retirement plan was to do stuff with machinery that I may as well buy now, while I can still use it. I do not ever want to be on my deathbed muttering, “I wish I had…” I want to be the person who says “do you remember the time when we…?”

    I enjoy learning and setting stuff up tremendously. Building an Ideal Workshop is also a form of art, and expresses the builder’s understanding of the overlaid art-form that is practiced in the workshop. My wet plate darkroom that I built over the course of 2 winters in 2008-9 is the Ideal Darkroom. It was a pleasure just to build the place, and it has been a great pleasure for me to build out my forge. I’ve learned so much – I never thought I’d be pushing a 2,300lb machine 100′ before, or welding, or any of this stuff. It’s like going back to school, for me, and it’s much more interesting than getting a degree in marketing…

    I also have a doctrine that good tools are safer than cheap ones. I do not know if that is true, but my grandfather drilled that into me very thoroughly. So, when I am looking for equipment, I don’t hesitate to spend $100 more for something that’s really solid. I also plan my tooling to automate tasks so that I am not doing the dangerous bits by hand. For example, while the milling machine is old and funky and could turn me into a spatter of meat, it’s probably safer to be working with my work-piece in a bolted-down machinist’s vice that I am controlling with hand-wheels 3 feet from the cutting head than holding the work-piece up against a sanding belt with my fingers. I factor all of those considerations into my equipment configuration; that’s half the fun. I also get tremendous pleasure out of figuring out where the grinder goes and where the anvil goes… everything for maximum safety and then efficiency.

  8. says

    The end result looks gorgeous. I’m looking forward to see what you’ll make from this.

    Also, Ferrous Chloride Christ sounds promising. In 2015 in my country there was an art exhibit with paintings of Ítalo René Expósito. Local Catholics hated this exhibit; they collected a bunch of signatures and requested local politicians to close the art exhibit. Christians couldn’t stand to see paintings like these:

    I’m already used to Christians complaining about everything. That’s nothing new. What really annoyed me about this whole situation was the fact that people in charge of the art museum actually took Christian complaints seriously and didn’t just tell them to fuck off.

    Ever since this case I have been thinking about how to make artworks that annoys Christians as much as possible. How to desecrate the image of Christ as badly as I can. Apparently, “crucifix + nudity + sex” works well to piss off Christians. I have been wondering what I could do with that. Sex on top of a broken crucifix maybe?

    Anyway, the world needs more artworks that annoy Christians. Hence, Ferrous Chloride Christ sounds promising. Any idea for an artwork that is intended to annoy Christians must be realized!

  9. says

    Regarding quarters…
    They, by themselves, make great mokume as they are already layered nickel and copper. The tricky bit is keeping them in place and not going everywhere. A hydraulic press is very handy for that.

  10. says

    Regarding Ferric Chloride Christ…
    There could be quite a lot to unpack from such a thing.
    The corrosive nature of being steeped in religion.
    Reality, being harsh and unforgiving, slowly corroding away religion

  11. says

    The tricky bit is keeping them in place and not going everywhere. A hydraulic press is very handy for that.

    I was thinking of just drilling a hole through the stack, putting a piece of 12-ga copper wire and a thin piece of solder down through it, then peening it down. That’d hold the stack together long enough, I think. And some solder would act like flux.

    Elsewhere, on Ebay, there is a scary thing: you make a refractory jacket to insulate a crucible, put your stuff in it, and pop the whole thing in the microwave for a while. I … I …. guess that would work. But I don’t like the idea of pulling a glowing hot crucible out of a microwave and trying to disassemble the jacket without spilling anything.

    On the other hand, I did just ask my friend with the CNC machine if he thinks his machine can cut graphite. Graphite blocks are cheap on Ebay. And there’s apparently a cottage industry carving cool shapes in them for people to pour molten stuff into. A sword-guard blank and pommel blanks seem like an obvious application for CNC, though I could do it on the Bridgeport if I knew how to do it on the Bridgeport.

  12. says

    Ferric Chloride Christ is going to happen.
    It is only a matter of time.

    And I will be left with a nice damascus steel tactical cross(tm) that I can polish up and stab the fuck out of vampires with. This appears to be an all-around win/win/win situation.

    Edit: actually, I bet damascus crosses with jesusy stuff water-jet cut through them would be a popular item. As long as the water-jet guys didn’t cut jesus in upside-down or something. Joking aside, stainless damascus is primarily used for jewelry…

  13. Dunc says

    I do not ever want to be on my deathbed muttering, “I wish I had…” I want to be the person who says “do you remember the time when we…?”

    “Live now. Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.”: Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Inner Light”

  14. Reginald Selkirk says

    Dunc #14: “… Now will never come again.”

    That’s dumb if you stop to think about it. It’s always now.

  15. says

    Reginald Selkirk@#15:
    More meteorite:
    These are the world’s most expensive handguns: £3.2 million pistols made from 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite

    Nowadays I believe the CNC programs for making a .45 are not hard to come by. So, basically, someone annealed and tempered a meteorite then water-jet cut it apart and CNC milled the chunks. That’s cool, but the valuable thing was the meteorite.

    It’s kind of cool that the material is older than planet Earth, but I suppose all material is – anything ferrous is a byproduct of a stellar core and the only way stellar cores wind up flying around in chunks is a star’s exploding. But the same applies for all the gold and pretty much all the metal that’s interesting. (You can tell I am not an astrophysicist)

    The story is incorrect that those are the most expensive handguns. I have a very nice 9mm that I would part with for $16 million. There, it’s now the most expensive handgun in the world (I refer you to the discussion of price versus value [stderr] We don’t know what those guns are worth unless someone pays the 3.2 million pounds for them.)

  16. says

    “Live now. Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.”: Jean-Luc Picard

    Henry Rollins once said, “You spend time. Even if you’re sleeping on the couch, you’re spending time that you will never have again.”

    By the way, I also think it’s important to decide “I am going to spend a few hours playing World of Warcraft and not caring about the real world.” I think that keeps me sane.

  17. says

    Marcus @13

    crosses with jesusy stuff

    …Are always popular. Back when I tried smithing for fun and profit, I got an awful lot of christiany commissions. Sent me down quite a path of moral introspection.

  18. avalus says

    Beautiful Piece! I love the patterns.

    I share Caines view. Religion is very corrosive!

    #6 @felicis
    “Have you given any thought to experimenting with different etch solutions? I would think with a copper-nickel block you might want copper chloride, or maybe a balance of nickel and copper salts (to get the exact reaction you want)…

    Sure – the FeCl bath worked fine, but while you are experimenting…”

    Please do not etch with nickel salt solutions. They are very unhealthy/cancer-y/allergenic-y. (But they are a vibrant green to blue colour!)
    Iron(III)chloride will do the job just fine. As far as I understand, all you need for etching is a metallic acid (strong lewis type acid) and iron as Fe(III)-ions is just that.

  19. felicis says

    Too true – I do not fault you at all (I hope my comment did not come across that way!) for spending money on good equipment!

    Our goals are significantly different, even if we are pursuing a similar hobby – I love the idea of technological bootstrapping, as well as the craft of toolmaking. My goal is specifically to create as many of the tools I use as I can. The class I took (as Bridgetown Forge) was a toolmaking class – we made a centerpunch, chisel, screwdriver, tongs, and hammer-head. My current goal is to make the additional tools we used to make _those_ tools so I can make any of them at home (almost finished! I need a tool for rivet heading and to finish my punch). I am also making a nail header tool so I can make nails.

    Next step – hand made files and rasps, followed by saws, planes, and other woodworking tools.

    I’m not sure where it will end… Probably around the steam age somewhere…

  20. StonedRanger says

    I sent an email a couple of weeks ago asking if you were interested in a free copy of machinery’s handbook 23rd edition. I used to be a machinist and it has lots of valuable information in it. I haven’t heard back so maybe I got caught in your spam filter. If youre interested let me know, Its just gathering dust and I would rather it had a home where it would get used. Let me know if you want it.

  21. Raucous Indignation says

    Well said, Giliell, well said.

    Marcus, I haven’t seen anyone use the term muriatic acid in like forever.