From Beach Sand to Blade

My friend Jeff Pringle has been using his own method to smelt magnetite sand from the beach into high-carbon steel for years.  About a week ago we used a slightly new approach to make a small “biscuit” of very sound metal which was large enough to yield 2 knife blades.  Here are some pictures of the process.

Steel Bits for an Antique Adze and Two New Axes

A friend brought me an adze forged from wrought iron that had surfaced on the agricultural land that his family has owned since 1845. He asked me to re-steel it so, …after overcoming my reluctance to risk a historical artifact on my first attempt at re-steeling, I set a piece of 1075 onto it. I did this in the same fire that I used to weld the bits into two axes. Though they will all be edge-ground and heat treated, I am very pleased that the axe on the left is solely forged to shape without any grinding at this stage.

Forging a Small Block Anvil

One of my goals as a blacksmith is to forge my own version of a beautiful bickhorn that resides in the smithy in Bavaria where I did my apprenticeship. To accomplish this will take a lot of practice and planning. Last weekend I took a step in that direction by forging a 13 pound anvil made up of a block of mild steel and a forge welded face of W1. The goal was simply to step up the size of forge welding that I do to see what it feels like to handle a larger mass of hot metal. Another goal was to see how I might build furnaces to bring larger chunks of metal to welding heat. The furnace I used for the 13 pound anvil had been made by Jeff Pringle to do crucible smelts of magnetite sand and worked very well. The burner came from my small forge welding forge and proved quite adequate to the task. In fact the same-set up could probably be used to weld block anvils up to about 50 pounds. However, handling a 50 pound block of metal at forge welding heat would be a different matter altogether. Custom tongs would be required to manipulate it safely, and more safety gear would probably be necessary to protect from radiant heat and slag. This was a fun project and will definitely spur me on to larger attempts.

Tools and Materials for Teaching Axe-Forging in Santa Fe

I’ve been busy forging special tools and preparing materials for the axe-forging class that I will be teaching at Helmut Hillenkamp’s blacksmithing shop in Santa Fe next week (July 25th – 27th). This is the first class that I will lead on the asymmetric wrap technique for forge welding Viking style axes. Wish me and the students luck!

These are some specialized tools that the students will by using at my axe forging class at Helmut Hillenkamp's shop in Santa Fe next week.

These are some specialized tools that the students will by using at my axe forging class at Helmut Hillenkamp’s shop in Santa Fe next week.

In Pursuit of the Forge Welded 3 lb. Viking-Style Hammer

I thought it would be an interesting challenge to develop a 3 pound version of the Viking style hammers I was working on a few months ago.  Those hammers were in the weight range of 24 ounces and made excellent, small blacksmithing hammers.  It seemed natural to try a larger version which was for more general purpose forging.  As in the smaller versions I forge welded faces and peens of high-carbon tool steel to soft steel bodies – in keeping with the older traditions of hammer-making technology. In changing to the larger hammer size I discovered some interesting fine points about hammer design and the forging process. I am now consistently able to hit some of my more subtle design goals regarding the proportions and basic geometry of the hammers. These hammers are all about 5″ long. If I haft them I usually use white oak or hickory.

Axe-Forging Needs Constant Practice

In a few days I will travel to England to demonstrate Viking style axe forging at the International Symposium of the Axe ‘n Seax in the shop of Owen Bush. This seminar is devoted to blades of the Anglo Saxon and Viking eras. I’ve already sent many of the tools and materials I need will need to carry out the demo. Owen will make other tools to be ready when I need them. To prepare for this wonderful opportunity I’ve been forging axes for weeks to keep in practice. Here are a few pieces which were a part of this effort:

These and other axes were forged to keep me in good shape for the work I will do at Owen's shop.  After I return to California in June I will finish them and post them on this website for sale.

These and other axes were forged to keep me in good shape for the work I will do at Owen’s shop. After I return to California in June I will finish them and post them on this website for sale.

Developing a Process to Forge Viking-Style Hammers.

Over the last several months I have been practicing the forging of Viking style hammers with forge-welded faces and peens. I am gradually developing a set procedure and a set of proportions to make these beautiful hammers in various sizes. I have settled on using mild steel for the bodies and W1 steel for the faces and peens. W1 is a high-carbon tool steel which can be heat treated very hard, and appears to hold up to forge welding quite well if care is taken not to burn it. After I am done with this form I will move on to others which intrigue me. These hammers will be for sale starting in June when I return from teaching Viking style axe forging in England.

Welding a Bit into the Type M Axe

Flat Feature Welding

I just welded a large, finely-layered, shear-steel bit into the Type M axe I have been working on. These pictures show the bit after it was fixed into a cleft in the wrought-iron axe body, then again after the welding was done. The edge is a little over 8″ long.

Progress on a Type M Axe from Wrought Iron and Shear Steel

Flat Feature Welding

I thought I’d show some pictures of the progress I’ve made recently on a large Type M axe that I’m forging for a good customer from wrought iron and shear steel.  A few weeks ago I posted about beginning to refine the wrought iron for this piece.  I forged a billet for the axe which was composed of 64 layers of a 1.4″ square bar of heavily rusted wrought.  This layering broke down the large slag inclusions in the original bar.  It was formed and welded as shown here

With some luck and very careful forging it will continue on its way to becoming a large, polished axe with an edge length between 9″ and 10″.

“Axe for the Woods”…finished

Here is yesterday’s axe after grinding, heat treating and polishing:

Felling Axe Finished 1

I think it’s a good effort in this direction but I would like to widen the poll a bit on the next version.  I am pleased with the mandrel I made and am getting a better idea of how closely bound the shape of the axe is to the shape of the mandrel – they need to be designed together.  Here are a few more pictures: