When visiting my friend Rob in Michigan we did a little Bladesmithing. The goal was to make a couple of blade blanks for historic reenacting. We were using his gas forge and anvils set up in his shop, a former carriage house.
For this project I bought some O-1 tools steel from Speedy Metals Online. It was my first order from the company. The 3 foot lengths of O-1 steel were rust free, cut to length, and arrived at my house in NY only 3 days after ordering.
Steel shipping tube
They shipped by UPS in a cardboard mailing tube. When ordering any steel online shop around, as prices for different alloys vary greatly. When I was comparing prices I found Speedymetals to be a little high on W-1 and very economical on O-1 and some h-13 I needed for tool making. I had intended to order W-1 but bought O-1 instead. The service and shipping speed was great. Steel is a traded commodity so always compare prices. They can change often.
Forging out a Sgian Dubh and a Skinner style blade was a lot of fun. I ended up teaching an unintended lesson about the importance of normalizing and annealing when using high carbon steel. Normalizing is the process of slowly cooling the steel from non-magnetic heat to cool in still air. Annealing is the slowest possible cooling from non-magnetic in an insulating medium like Vermiculite or wood ashes. Both refine the size of the internal grain in the steel and soften it. Since these blades were to be hand filed that is important.
It was about 15 degrees F. inside the shop when we started work. I should have remembered that tools can serve as a heat sink and cause hardening. The spike tang of my blade broke in the vice while filing. It had hardened in one spot from the chilling effect of the cold tongs I used to hold it.
Broken Blade Tang
I should have learned from that. After re-forging the blade and making a new tang I attempted to normalize it again on a hot brick. If I had checked with a file I would have found the thin tang had air-hardened again in the 15 degree F. shop. I called it a day after snapping off the tang a second time! Next time I’ll follow my own advice and anneal in ash or normalize by leaving the blade in the hot gas forge and then shut off the forge to slowly cool. The cold air and tools in the shop were preventing my usual normalizing method from working. Live and learn!
I’m looking forward to doing the project again. Next time I’ll anneal before filing!