A week of toolmaking

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This week at the forge, things were fairly uneventful. Arnon and Nitzan didn't really have any big projects to finish, and a lot of their time was spent working on jigs and machinery in the shop. Despite this, I had a very productive week in terms of the stuff I made; I walked out at the end of the week with several functional and entirely usable tools, all made mostly by me (with occasional help from Arnon and Nitzan).

I arrived at the shop a little early at the start of the week, and only Nitzan was there. He figured it would be a while before Arnon arrived, so he started up a forge for me and told me I could just mess around until then. I decided to make a leaf, since I hadn't done that for a while. Arnon showed up when I was about halfway done, and suggested that I punch a hole in the stem and make it into a keychain. He helped me out a little bit, and then told me to heat it up and brush it. He gave me a wire brush that had bronze bristles, and brushing it on the steel gave it some really nice bronze highlights. My little time-killing project ended up turning into a pretty cool keychain (I'll attach a picture to this post, and you can also see it in the Picasa album).
My next project was to start making some actual tools. One of the most important skills for a blacksmith is being able to make your own tools. If you make a tool, you can make it to perfectly suit whatever purpose you need it for. You can use whatever material you need to, make any shape, and heat treat it in whatever way best suits your application. Tongs are a great example of custom tools—Arnon has a ridiculous number of tons of all shapes and sizes. Tongs are essentially an extension of your hand/fingers, and sometimes to get a good grip on something you need a really weird shape that you just need to forge yourself.
Arnon's first assignment for me was to make some small punches. He gave me some rods of spring steel (a little thicker than a pencil) and told me to put as short of a point as possible on all of them, and to taper the other side just a little bit. After that, he gave me a couple more rods and had me turn them into chisels. For the first chisel, I just squashed the end out and flattened the sides. For the second one, he wanted me to try using a technique called upsetting, which is where you hammer a rod on the axis of its length to make it thicker. Using a vice and my hammer, I squashed end of the rod to be a little thicker, and that allowed me to make a much wider chisel blade with the extra metal. The final step in the process was to temper all of the tools so that they would actually be usable as tools. I heated each tool up to a bright red, and then quenched the end in water. Immediately after quenching, I took the tool over to the anvil, filed the surface so I could see it, and then waited for the heat in the rest of the tool to travel to the end, and as soon as the end turned to a straw color I quenched the entire thing. I took a picture of the chisels to show off the tempering colors, but it's a little hard to see the full range because of all of the scale on them. Here is a much nicer picture of the full range of tempering colors of steel. When steel is quenched, it gets really hard, but it's also brittle. When you temper steel, you reheat it to a much lower temperature and then quench it again. This allows you to make it less brittle, sacrificing some of the hardness for toughness. Higher tempering heats mean more hardness is exchanged for toughness. As the steel reheats, colors will form on the surface, and those colors work as an accurate visual temperature guide. I don't know a whole lot about the physics and chemistry of it, but my understanding is that thin layers of iron oxide form on the surface, and those interfere with the light causing the colors. The colors are beautiful, but most of the time you get rid of them when you grind and polish the tool, since the iron oxide is on the surface of the metal.
For these tools, we wanted to keep most of the hardness, so I quenched them as soon as the ends turned straw (the lowest temper color). To test the temper, Arnon had me use them on a steel bar that was laying around. The punches made neat little holes and the chisel carved a handsome chunk out of the side, and all of the tools showed no damage.
The next day I made a hammer head. I started with a 3"x1"x1" bar of steel, marked the centers on the sides that the handle would go through, heated it up, and started in with a chisel. When I got about 2/3 of the way through from one side, I flipped it over and started from the other side. In order to avoid ruining the tempering on the chisel, I had to make sure to reach over and dunk it in water every few hammer blows, because being plunged into orange hot steel will heat up a chisel really quickly. Once I finally broke through, I hammered a mandrel through and shaped the ears of the hammer (the part that holds onto the handle). This part was essentially identical to what I saw Arnon and Nitzan doing with the power hammer, but I was doing it by hand. I also filmed part of the process from my perspective, and you can watch that video here. Once that was done, I shaped the peen of the hammer, and then superquenched the entire thing (if you want to learn about superquenching I talked about it in my first post).
Yesterday I finished the hammer by fitting a handle to it. Nitzan generously allowed me to use a nice birch handle he brought back from the Czech Republic. I cut it to length, shaped the end with a rasp to fit the hammer head, and then Nitzan shaped the handle on a belt sander to be more comfortable to grip. I then forged a steel wedge to put in the top of the handle (it helps lock the handle on the head), and then Arnon and I secured the handle to the head using rubber epoxy and the wedge. To finish the handle, we scorched the wood, brushed off the ash, and then put some oil/wax compound on it. It looks really nice, and I'm proud of how it turned out. It's a little small to be practical for much, but it could definitely be used as a forging hammer.
My second project yesterday was to make a crowbar out of a thick bar of mild steel. For the prying end, I hammered it flat and gave it a nice taper. Arnon then ground it to make it sharp enough to wedge into things that need prying, and then I gave it a nice bend and superquenched it. For the other end, I forged a really long taper, rounded it out, and superquenced it. The finished crowbar is really nice, and it works really well—Arnon had me test it by sticking it under the anvil stand and rocking the anvil (several hundred pounds plus the weight of the stand) a little bit.
Hanging around the forge is still a blast. At the start of my project I didn't even know I'd meet Nitzan, but now I can't imagine how my time at the forge would have been without him. He's a constant source of both valuable and humorous advice. One of his biggest maxims is that you should always make yourself as comfortable as possible, when forging and in general. Sometimes I'll be awkwardly hunched over the short anvil instead of bending my knees, and he'll come over and remind me to bend my knees because it's more comfortable. Some of his advice is also hilarious; on Wednesday he taught me "the two most important rules in blacksmithing":
1. Don't lick the hot metal
2. Don't drink from the barrel
I think this is hilarious, and should be turned into a large poster to be put up somewhere in the shop.
He also has lots of sayings and advice that mix his wisdom and his sense of humor. One day he taught me that the best way to do things is to do them right the first time. He and Arnon then spent about three days continuously testing and fixing a die for the power hammer, and when it finally worked, he looked at me and asked "What did I say before?", and I recited his motto: "Do it right the first time". I definitely consider Nitzan a second mentor, even though he seems convinced that Arnon is my master and he's just there to say funny stuff. Before Arnon arrived yesterday he taught me (using clay) how to forge a dragon head, and it was really cool.
The conversations at lunch have continued to be great, and I've learned a ton about Arnon and Nitzan. They've shared some really cool stories, and it seems like there's just as much they could teach me about life as they can about smithing. Arnon told a story yesterday at lunch about a time in the army when he threw a guy out of the infantry tent into the mud just because he was from a different division of the military. At the time he said it just seemed like the normal thing to do because of how he'd been conditioned by military life, but when he thought about it years later he felt horrible. He also told a story about a Druze man in the military who nearly killed another guy because he made a casual joke about his mother.
I've also gotten to see that even for masters like Arnon, things don't always work out as planned. Arnon was making some kiridashi (small Japanese carpentry knives), and when he heat treated the first one, the blade cracked  because the water quench cooled the thin blade too fast.
I'm still loving this project, and it's sad knowing that next week is my last week. It will be a fun week though—I'm going to start the week off by making a pair of tongs, and then I'll make a knife (the thing everyone is waiting to see).
Some pictures of Claudio Bottero's work (he's a smith that Arnon told me to look up, and his stuff is rediculous)


Those Japanese knives...

What are they used for? Food prep? What does the word kiridachi actually mean?
I remember learning what the word "temper" means in relation to chocolate several years ago, when, as part of a Winterim, I got to take a chocolate class at Pix Patisserie. I think there is a connection between chocolate and steel tempering - amazing!
You have created such a wonderful blog that will serve as a personal keepsake as well as a terrific resource for your final presentation. The trick is going to be fitting everything you want to say into a short time period!
Can't wait to come visit the forge on Friday! I'm excited!


Arnon said that kiridashi (I just noticed that I messed up the spelling so I fixed that in the blog post) are carpentry knives. You can use them to mark wood with a line (sort of like a big x-acto knife), or you can hold them at an angle and use them like a planing tool. Yoko might know more about them, that's just what Arnon told me. The word "kiridashi" comes from "kiri" which means to cut, and "dashi" which means to take out. The name makes it sound more like a pocket knife, so maybe it's not just for carpentry.


アレンさん、いつもおもしろいブログをありがとう! 色々勉強になります。切り出しナイフは、えんぴつをけずる時や木のクラフトをする時に使うと思います。日本では、小刀(小さいかたな=刀は、スワードですね。)もあるので、小刀と切り出しナイフと、どうちがうのか、わかりません。Arnon先生に、聞いてください。小刀の使い方です。(小学校の先生へのビデオです。)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQphVvJOMC0 それから、日本のかじやの良いサイトを見つけました。多分(たぶん)Arnon先生も良く知っていると思います。どうぞ。http://www.miki-japan.com/kajiya.htm 

Nice hammer!

The key chain is cool too. The stuff by Claudio Bottero is amazing!! I am so impressed by what you have learned so far. I can't wait to see the knife!

Picasa album

Just thought I'd add: feel free to ask any questions about the stuff in the Picasa album, because there's a fair amount of stuff in there that I didn't talk about in the blog. If I tried to cover it all in my blog I'd probably just keep writing all day...