Making Traditional Shear Steel, Forging and using a Fire Steel

Level:  Intermediate

Would you like to learn the process by which early European metalworkers crafted the fine and costly steel for their storied weapons and graceful hand tools?

I offer a blacksmithing class that focus on the alchemy of the ancient material known as “Shear Steel”. This class consists of two main parts:

Shear Steel from Wrought Iron: We will convert soft iron into a high-carbon, brittle intermediate product called blister steel.  During this several-hour conversion process we will forge weld previously prepared blister steel into bars of refined shear steel which the students can use for such forging projects as knives (also pattern-welded!), firesteels, hand tools, etc.

Forging and using a Fire Steel:  We will forge and harden firesteels from high carbon shear steel based on original Viking artifacts.  We will produce  “char cloth” which is used to propagate the sparks that are struck from firesteels with flints and also learn how to start fires using our own tools.  Each student will finish the class with a firesteel made from a historically relevant material and the knowledge of how to use it.

Shear Steel was a major source of high-quality, high-carbon tool steel used by early European craftsmen in demanding applications such as sword and knife blades, tool bits, fire steels etc.  It was produced by a two-step process that began with infusing carbon into common, soft iron at high temperature.  The resulting, brittle product, known as Blister Steel, was refined by lamination in the smithy.  Due to its high cost this material was usually reserved for only that portion of a weapon or tool (such as an axe bit) that took the brunt of wear or impact in use. 

I invite you come and learn about the origins and use of shear steel – one of the truly elemental and pivotal materials in early European technology.