Something seems to have clicked and I’m getting good results forming welded bar-stock, now. I’ve started to consistently and easily (it’s still work, it’s becoming predictable work) get forge-welds and I’m producing bars that harden nicely, don’t warp or blow apart, and seem to be very tough with good edge-holding properties.
It’s encouraging. I haven’t been doing anything with stainless/carbon welding lately, because I don’t have any stainless steel handy, and I’ve been getting good results just tack-welding my bars together and smashing them under heat. The last couple of runs I’ve done have come out very well, and I’ve mailed various damascus chunks and bars off to knife-makers I know who may want to experiment with them.
I’ve noticed that knife-makers tend to find something that they like, and then they work with it until they get tired of it and move on; maybe it’s a blade-shape or a handle material, or a blade-metal; it takes a little while to get it nailed down and then you can produce enough of it to get boring.
Unfortunately, I didn’t shoot pictures of this whole process so I can’t illustrate it completely, but basically, I am trying to figure out how to pre-program the steel to produce what I want when it’s cut and shaped. The first part of my process was experimenting to see “does it work at all?” and once I had that nailed down then I can start to think a bit beyond “oh, whew.”
It seems that preparation is most of everything – in this case, getting the bars to be about the right dimensions and lengths. I’ve been doing most of my cutting with a diamond-wheel in an angle grinder, or a bandsaw. The bandsaw is nice for making things into chunks but the angle grinder is better for more complicated cuts.
That’s a piece of 1/4″ thick 1095 being made into a narrower bar. Once I get things sorted out, I’ll start buying bars that are pre-sized to eachother, so I can just bandsaw them together, clean them up, and weld them.
This is what I’ve been hooked on, lately. That’s a couple of chunks of old victorian (1890s) wrought-iron fencing – it’s dendritic puddle iron full of impurities and slag. In the middle is a nice piece of modern 1095, and two pieces of nickel. The wrought iron is very tough and can be etched to bring out a crazy grain (like you saw in the pictures of my hammer that Michael Hoops made for me).
The idea is I’m going to make a steel sammich.
That’s about a half hour of grinding with the belt sander, to get the surfaces fairly smooth and flat. I need to get past the pits in the wrought iron. Grinding the nickel was a pain; it’s very light and thin and therefore sharp and it heats up quickly (less thermal mass than a great big chunk of iron) – so I alternated between doing one piece or the other as they cooled.
Then I clamped them togethher in the vise, squeezed tight, and ground a bit of the rust away so I could tack-weld the whole mess together with the MIG machine. My embarrassingly bad welding with the MIG makes no difference here since those are going to get ground away later on.
I don’t have a good picture of the welded up bar, because it got blurry. Once it had cooled down some I left it sitting in a can of kerosene so it wouldn’t oxidize. I’ve taken to keeping a working set of “stuff that needs to go into the forge next time I fire it up” – I don’t want to keep heating it and cooling it because it’s using a lot of propane when I bring it up to temperature.
There are a couple of experiments in there, including some chunks of other damascus I’m welding around a piece of 1095, and the stacked bars. Once it gets hot I don’t do much photography because I really don’t want to drop anything and I need both of my hands – one for the tongs, one for the hammer – and I don’t have a spare.
When it’s up to welding temperature (I can judge by sight now) I put it on the anvil and give it a few raps with the steel mallet of persuasion. You need to walk the weld along the bar so that it sticks evenly without puckering or capturing any slag in the joint. Then, it goes into the garbage can to cool slowly; the garbage can is full of pearlite to insulate and hold pieces of metal where they don’t set things on fire.
The next day, I usually cut the bars to shape or re-heat them and draw them out more, or correct bends. Then it’s time to start looking for the knife that’s in the piece of metal trying to get out. Since I’m doing layers not patterns, I need to be careful not to push the piece of 1095 too far in any direction; I want it to make up the edge of the blade so I need to know where it is – that’s why I do exploratory cuts and etches to see what I’ve produced. Eventually I suppose I’ll be able to just know.
The chunk of 1095 and the nickel are perfectly positioned in the welded up bar. I probably will want to thin it down a bit more before I do anything more with it, but that’s a bar with a lot of potential. You’ve got to imagine that there will be bevels on either side, angling down through the nickel and to the 1095; the nickel will look like a bright silver cloud, the 1095 will come out black, and the wrought iron will have the wispy dendritic look and will be as stubborn as satan’s mule. There’s something about combining the old victorian iron with modern high-tech super-steel that makes me happy.
I’m very fond of asymmetric grinds, so I made a bar that was 1095, nickel, and wrought iron just on one face. Eventually I will figure out how to make a socket for a chisel and maybe I’ll make some wrought-iron chisels with cloud-black 1095 edges.
That piece was done with 1/8″ 1095, and it got a bit thin at the edge. It’ll still make for a nice utility blade, but I’m not sure if there will be enough 1095 to grind and shape by the time that’s hammered into some form that I can use.
The little kiridashi knife I made the other day was layered out of cable damascus welded onto a piece of 1095. I love how that turned out, and I expect I’ll be doing more blades out of that combination as well.
I know how to work a camera; these pictures are kind of embarrassing. Eventually I’ll haul my gear over and do some video and photography that’s not just iphone snapshots.