(Learn From My Fail)

This is painful and embarrassing. But it’s a learning experience – I’m going to cling to that. Meanwhile, I am still breaking out into intermittent gales of cursing.

I’ve been experimenting a lot with wrought iron forge-welded onto modern steel, and I did some fun effects using nickel foil as a transition boundary. That has all been good fun and one of the other bladesmiths I’ve sent wrought/1095 bars to has been very happy with the stuff.

Since the class I’m going to in Oregon next week is about detail blade-shaping, I thought maybe I should take more than just the wakizashi blade I made last summer. Perhaps a cooking knife with an interesting and unconventional grind? Sure. So I hit upon the idea of making a chisel-ground blade with a flat/hollow side and the other side with a shinogi (ridge-line) like a dagger or a sword. That would help keep it nice and strong and it’d give me lots of space for a great big flat bevel.

I have a pretty good inventory of bars of various sorts on my table. One of them had about the right shape so I took a look at it, then laid it out and started cutting. Now, “take a look at it” means look at the edge of the bar and any cut regions, so I can see what it’s composed of and decide where to put the edge, etc. On this bar, it appeared to be a wrought iron-faced piece of 1095 with a foil transition-line – perfect for an asymmetrical grind. There’d be 1095 on the back and wrought iron on the edge-face with a crazy big transition-zone where the 1095 was exposed.

I’m happy to see that I can do a big grind, freehand. That was looking nice so I quenched it and let it cool then got back to grinding it some more. So far, we’re talking about 3-4 hours of work.

Now, before I really got going, I dipped it in the acid a bit so I could make sure I knew which side was the wrought iron. One side (above) was clearly wrought iron, and – as I chewed into it – there were signs of the transition boundary. Alles klar, Herr Kommissar? I even checked the hardness (more on that in a second) with a scratch-file and it looked to be about RC59. Nice.

Then I started getting down to finer grit sandpaper and the edge began to develop, nice and straight. Time for a pre-finish etch so I can see where there are scratches and how it looks.

That was when I had this huge “WTF?” moment.

picture is bad; I was rattled.

Yup. I was grinding on a 2-faced bar. Wrought iron, 1095, wrought iron.

The exposed edge is not 1095, it’s wrought iron. I must have scratch-tested the zone of exposed 1095 which is a nice RC59 not the wrought iron, which is soft and will never harden.

“Dearie me!” I said. Then, I said a lot more than that.

Back over on the bench was the original bar I had selected. Somehow I had put down the bar and picked the wrong one back up.

Look at that perfect weld and that lovely transition-zone!

When I had calmed down again, I went to the hardware store and bought a bunch of plastic shoe-storage boxes, which I organized and labeled everything into. I’ve got blank paper work-sheets taped to each project box, with notes about what I expect to do with the piece, and a checklist of steps.

I could probably grind it down into a fillet knife but I don’t think a fillet knife with a ridge-line will get any votes and it’s probably more valuable sitting on my “Shelf of Shame and Glory” as a reminder of another way to screw up.

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I have some nice metal-black bog oak I was going to use for a front bolster, and some highly figured red oak for the handle. This was going to be a beautiful and very usable cooking knife. Until I utterly screwed the pooch.

There’s a minor dip in the shinogi that would have straightened out during the final sandpaper finish.

The good news is I have a perfectly nice wrought iron-faced bar of 1095 on my bench so that next time I try this, I’ll do it better.

Also, another little way I screwed up: the knife is ground with the chisel-face on the wrong side. It’s a left-handed knife. I suppose I could lie and say “I planned it that way” but I didn’t. That’s not a big deal, I know left-handed people and they’d be perfectly happy to assume I made it just that way on purpose. I was not on the ball, today.


  1. kestrel says

    Oh no… and it was coming along so beautifully… well, the weld and transition zone are truly lovely so there is that.

    I’ve spent a lot of time swearing at myself over things I’ve screwed up. In my case there is usually SOME way to fix it, generally something really difficult to do, so I keep them thinking I’ll fix them some day. Every now and then I do manage to fix something. But I need to wait long enough that I’m no longer so exasperated with myself and can work on it without all the mental pain.

  2. Raucous Indignation says

    I once left a 2.5 molar solution of sodium hydroxide overnight in the volumetric flask that I mixed it in. You’re not supposed to store things in volumetrics, but it was only gonna be over night. I was going move it to a storage bottle in the morning. Which I didn’t get around to for a couple of days. the thing is that sodium hydroxide that is that concentrated will etch glass. And the volumetric flask had a sintered glass stopper. And the stopper was permanently fused to the neck of the flask by the time I tried to open it. I left that flask on the shelf above my desk in the lab forever. It greeted me every morning for years with a reminder not to be a dumb-ass.

  3. jazzlet says

    kestrel @#1

    Every now and then I do manage to fix something. But I need to wait long enough that I’m no longer so exasperated with myself and can work on it without all the mental pain.

    This, so much this! Learning to leave the fixing until one can think clearly without constant self-recrimination is very immportant.

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