edited chat transcript

"Blacksmithing and the Making of Laminated Blades"

a Special Guest Chat with
Blacksmith and Toolmaker

with host
Stephen Shepherd

January 24, 2011
9:30 pm EST

     Here is an edited transcript of this special guest chat on blacksmithing, blademaking and laminated steel.
... Ellis Walentine, Host

Stephen_Mark Schramm is a Blacksmith and the special guest tonight
darrin_hillblacksmith question.. how can i get coal?
darrin_hillgot my grandfathers farriar forge...
mark_schrammWhere do you live?
darrin_hillcentral texas
mark_schrammNeeds to be Smithing coal or Coke
Bob_in_NJCheck out this Link, Darrin:
mark_schrammAsk your local farriers
mark_schrammGood Link
Stephen_you can use charcoal
darrin_hillbob.. u are just one handy guy.
Bob_in_NJthats me
mark_schrammCharcoal is good for forging, but to dirty to forgeweld in
darrin_hillused to be a blacksmith in another town close by.. i used to buy coal from him 25 years ago...
darrin_hillnow im into woodturing and want to make metal embellishments....
darrin_hilland i see old forges at a big antique show all the time..
mark_schrammOr Look on to look for the local Blacksmith group, for Coal
Stephen_do you have the other tools for forging darrin?
darrin_hillsome stuff. would have to dig around..
darrin_hillhuge anvil, hardies, tongs, sledges...
darrin_hillgot more stuff.. just haven't seen it in two and a half decades,...
mark_schrammSounds like a good start on tools
Bob_in_NJI think a good anvil is getting harder to find unless you want to spend a lot of $$$?
mark_schrammYep, Big $$ now
Stephen_even for little anvils
Charlesis there a school for blacksmithing?
Stephen_That is a small anvil Mark is having made, I made the pattern
mark_schrammThere are good schools, mostly back East, Look on or
darrin_hillu gonna have it cast/?
mark_schramm Yes
darrin_hillwhere u find people who do that?
mark_schramm Just a small Anvil to put in the hardyhole of your anvil
darrin_hillso an anvil on an anvil?
mark_schramm There are a few places in Salt Lake
mark_schramm Local Foundries
Stephen_it will also fit in a square dog hole in a woodworker's workbench
darrin_hillyou d have to have a pretty stout bench for the kinda hammering i did on an anvil..
Bob_in_NJI once in a while make a small tool, like tiny chesel out of a nail etc, after shaping it most of the way to what i need is there a simple way to harnen/temper it, say with a propane torch?
Stephen_It is a small anvil, I will be using a small hammer
darrin_hillit's all about color bob..
darrin_hilland cooling...
mark_schramm Propane torch will work great for nails
Bob_in_NJyes, I understand the general process, am looking for more specifics, like what color how and in what to cool it etc.
darrin_hilljust quench it in old motor oil... at leastt hats what i did..
darrin_hillpurple.. it's the hardest.....
mark_schramm Woodworking tools are very hard
mark_schramm Quench in oil ONLY
Bob_in_NJOk, Oil.
darrin_hillnot the old viking way?
mark_schramm Draw back to a straw color
Stephen_in blood?
darrin_hillnearest servant they didnt want to keep around..
Bob_in_NJNow I recall that it should be heated to red? quenched, and then reheated to straw, and then quench again?
darrin_hillstraw is soft, isnt it/
Bob_in_NJOk, Thanks Mark.
Bob_in_NJDarrin, I think the first quech from Red is VERY hard and brittle, the reheat to straw tempers it and gives it some resiliance, otherwise I think it would just chip or shatter.
Bob_in_NJDo I have that sort of right, Mark?
mark_schrammWill shatter
darrin_hilli thought every time you heated it you change the tempering ...
mark_schrammWhen the first quench takes place, the steel turns to a crystalized state, and needs to drawn back
Stephen_once you heat it again the tempering is gone
EllisWDo you ever use a conventional oven to temper tools to a specific temperature?
darrin_hillok... to me those two statemenst of mark and stephen contradict each other..
mark_schramm Yep ask my Wife
EllisWI was afraid of that.
mark_schramm I use the kitchen oven to temper knives
Bob_in_NJYou're supposed to do that when she is out for the day:)
darrin_hillspeaking of which.. how dirty are you after a day of work?
darrin_hilli used to have black stuff all in my sinuses..
EllisWMark, what steel are you forge welding to wrought iron for laminated blades?
mark_schramm Yep I get dirty even befor I start
mark_schramm I use L6 to weld to wrought
EllisW... and, are you actually using old wrought iron for the backer?
EllisW... and, is L6 a readily available commodity? Sorry, so many questions...
mark_schramm Yes, But I have only a limited supply of wrought
EllisWYou should come to PA.
darrin_hilltoo cold there..
EllisWThey used to use wrought iron for canal locks and such.
mark_schrammL6 is even getting hard to find
Bob_in_NJIt was in the 50s today, Darrin, like spring:)
EllisWHow does that compare to Japanese white steel?
Bob_in_NJgood idea
mark_schramm I have never seen or used white steel, so I dont know
EllisWBetter yet, how does L6 compare to the old tool steel that they used to use for the tapered laminated blades of the 1800s?
mark_schrammL6 is very close to the steel in the 1800s
EllisWWhat quench do you use for your laminated irons?
mark_schramm They had very good tool steel then
mark_schramm Oil quench only
Stephen_the one he made me is just quenched, not tempered
mark_schramm When in doubt of what the tool steel is Always quench in Oil
EllisWSo L6 doesn't need to be tempered?
darrin_hillwhich do you like, forge welding, arc, or oxy?
EllisWI used to quench in lamb fat. Is that just an old wives tale?
darrin_hillsounds stinky..
mark_schramm Yes it does, but in this tool I left a residual heat so when it was quenched the heat also drew the temper out
mark_schramm Forgewelding works best for me
EllisWI would like to know more about this residual heat business.
EllisWThat seems like an esoteric process. Is it something that a novice could replicate?
mark_schramm The tool is heated then the working end is quenched and hardened and the residual heat on the other end creeps up to the working end to the color you need
mark_schramm Yep with practice a novice could learn to do this for his own needs
EllisWWow. That is a remarkable new fact for me. thanks, Mark.
EllisWThe ART of blacksmithing...
Stephen_speaking of art
EllisWI knew we could count on you, Stephen... :)
mark_schramm This is a very in-depth craft to learn, But if a person wishes to put a lifetime in it, I also teach
EllisWHow do you determine how many folds to make for a laminated blade, or is it strictly aesthetic.
mark_schramm Yep just as many times as you, the artist likes
darrin_hillwhat do you use to help make welds? i could never get it to stick..
mark_schrammI use 20 mule team borax for welding flux
EllisWHave you experimented a lot with artistic folding and forging+
StuartMark, does the folding impart more strength, or is it used to homogenize the metal?
mark_schrammI have made quite a few Damascus mountian man knives and a bunch of different patterns, so Yes i have experimented a lot
mark_schrammThe folding just gives different patterns. I dont know if it does anything else to the steel
EllisWThat was my thought, Mark. But artistic foldings are sure pretty.
EllisWHow thick is the tool steel that you're using?
mark_schrammYes they are and soon I want to try Canned damascus
mark_schramm1/8th inch thick, in layers
EllisWThat should be interesting./
mark_schramm Yep, I have seen Don Fogg Knives
EllisW1/8"-- that's thick. Does it compress when you forge it?
mark_schramm Knife making is a whole different world
Stephen_I am of the opinion that forge welded blades are better because of all the pounding
mark_schramm Yes I start with 15 layers of L6 and 1080 steel to start a billet
Stephen_the old laminated blades are just harder
EllisWStephen, so you think that the forging adds even more strengh to the tool steel?
Stephen_yes and the fact that it is hardened harder than an all steel blade
Bob_in_NJSo the canned damascus is a PM steel?
EllisWBut, Mark, those 15 layers are very thin, right? Or are they all 1/8" thick?
mark_schramm Yep canned with powdered steel
mark_schramm Yes all 1/8th inch
mark_schrammthen all forged thin
EllisWWow, so you start with 2" of thickness?
mark_schramm Yes
mark_schramm I will put up some pics on my website soon of a billet bafore it is forged
EllisWOkay, Mark, so these blades include many layers of steel. How do you keep the soft metal from intruding on the cutting edge?
mark_schramm Both steels are mid to high carbon, L6 is Higher carbon than the 1080
EllisWIf they intermingle at the edge, does that impact the wearing at the edge?
mark_schramm But if I were to make an Axe, the high carbon would be welded in the center of the wrought so the high carbon cutting edge would be at the working end
TiOIs basic blacksmithing possible at home with a propane torch?
Bob_in_NJWe discussed using a propane torch to harden and temper small stuff
mark_schramm In Damascus the cutting edge if looked at real close would be just like a serrated edgw because of the acid etching of the steel
Stephen_Here is my opinion again, I think pattern welded/Damascus is more decorative than a perfect cutting edge
Bob_in_NJyou have an opinion, Stephen, who woulda thought:)
EllisWSo, Mark, is there a cost-effective way to make laminated plane irons for woodworkers? I mean, what is the optimal number of laminations, etc. What is a reasonable price point for such custom blades?
EllisWAnd, how can you convince people that the added expense is worth it?
mark_schramm For woodworking tools just one lamination is needed, Folding is mostly to make a artistic piece
Bob_in_NJSo a traditional laminated blade is pretty much a bit of harder steel at the cuting edge of a wought iron blade, which would present a more uniform and harder cutting edge than the damascus?
EllisWGreat insight, Mark. Thanks.
Stephen_all you have to do is use the blade and you will see it is well worth the lifetime investment
mark_schramm Correct Bob
Stephen_just like the old laid steel blades
Stephen_not better steel, just better construction technique
EllisWI still have several of those, Stephen.
Stephen_for some things, like a striking knife, damascus is just fine
Stephen_but for something getting a lot of wear like a plane blade or chisel, laid steel is the best
TiOAny recommendations on good reading material for this stuff?
mark_schramm Thank,you Stephen
EllisWIt seems to me that laminated steel is more pertinent in chisels than plane irons? Where striking is the norm?
mark_schramm There are so many books on knife and blade making, its hard to say where to start
EllisWYeah, I know. Still, your insights are close to home for us woodworkers.
Bob_in_NJdon't you need the harder steel to stand up better to the striking/hammering?
mark_schrammI have never seen a laminated chicel
Stephen_laminated chisels are great too, but the plane blades are where laid steel shines
EllisWAll Japanese chisels are laminated.
EllisWStephen, yes, compared to simple steel blades.
mark_schramm Stephen will show me a laminated chisel in a while
Bob_in_NJduh, yes, there goes that dumb theory
EllisWIt's something about the cushioning effect that makes them shine, though.
mark_schramm Yes mild steel does cushion tool steel, I agree
EllisWThat's where the rubber meets the road, IMHO.
EllisWTool steel by itself wouldn't hold up without the mild steel backing?
Bob_in_NJIt's all about how these materials and construction methods work in actual use that counts.
Stephen_you couldn't harden it enough without making it brittle
EllisWIs wrought iron the best backer, or can any mild steel work just as well?
Stephen_wrought iron is the holy grail
EllisWI suspected.
mark_schrammAll tool steel is good, But backing with wrought and mild steel is a very cost effective way to cut down on the cost of tool steel
EllisWIs the forge welding an esoteric technique?
Stephen_mild steel is similar in that it doesn't easily harden
Bob_in_NJIsn't wrought iron nearly impossible to get save for recycled old material?
mark_schrammIts just the way its been done for thousands of years, and works the best in my opinion
EllisWGood enough, Mark.
EllisWHey, this has been very enlightening. Thanks for being here, Mark. Let's keep in touch.
mark_schramm Yes Sir Thanks for having me I will keep in touch
Bob_in_NJI'm thinking that a kid in a lab can follow a recipe and as long as the material being processed is within the window of the recipe it works, but a skilled blacksmith with a real understanding of the material can detect and adjust throughout the process.
EllisWGood insght, Bob.
Stephen_Thanks everyone for being here tonight
Stephen_And thanks Mark
Bob_in_NJThis has been a great Chat, It's nice to have someone who actually works with steel etc. everyday to explain these things. Thanks you Mark
Stephen_good night
mark_schrammI may talk to you all again so I can get and send for more wrought iron

About Mark Schramm, in his own words:
My first encounter with blacksmithing was in 1990, when I was working at A. A. Callister, a cowboy store in Salt Lake City, Utah. I took care of all the farrier tools and horseshoes and worked out in the feed barn. Ned Callister, the Owner, asked me to help him orginize and put together a farrier competition. During the competition, I saw horseshoes forged out of straight bar stock, handmade fire pokers, small candle sticks, and hoofpicks out of horse shoes, all being forged out of hot metal. I was hooked, I had to do this thing. So I bought a small gas forge, an 80 lb. anvil, a forging hammer, and a few tongs. I was 33 years old, and I have been forging now for 22 years. In 1992, I was introduced to Bonneville Forge Council, part of a nationwide blacksmith organization called ABANA. This club is dedicated to keep the art of smithing alive and well. I have been attending these meetings for 20 years. In 1996, 97 I left Callisters and went to work for Harmony Forge, a High end Ornamental Iron shop. In 1998, I attended Turley Forge School of Blacksmithing. This was a three-week course, and the only real schooling I have had in this. During these years of working and practicing this art, in the late 90s thru 2002, I was found and recognized by the Utah Arts Council, as a true Folk Artist. I also have a sculpted piece of art in the Utah Archives. Every May for the next four years, I attended their Living Tradition Festival, with artists from all over Utah. In March of 2000, I attended a three-day workshop on the repairing and restoration of the Little Giant power hammer in Nebraska City, Nebraska. Sid Suedemier was the insturctor. In late 2002 I went to work for Pioneer Welding, another high-end ornamental iron shop. I worked there for four years. In 2005 I was working for myself. I put in an aplication and was accepted into two very high-dollar shows called The Western Design Conference, one in Cody, Wyoming, the other in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 2006 I went to work for a friend at Lighting Forge, and worked for him for a year. In 2007 I went into business with a few friends and we did well for a year, making all the hardware for the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, for the Restoration Project. In 2009 we closed our doors due to no work. In 2010 I worked at This is the Place park, a living history park here in Salt Lake. This is were I came to know many people who were also very skilled in other Old World arts, nd that was the beginning of my schooling in history and all these other skills. This is also were I was introduced to Stephen A. Shepherd. It is now 2012, I am 55 years old, I work four days a week as a Security Guard at a big communications tech center. I still practice blacksmithing every chance I get. And still make art for every customer that asks for it. I have had help in putting together a web site, in the last month. You are welcome to visit the site to see what I am up to and have built. The highlight of my week is visiting Mr Shepherd at least once a week to talk of the old ways or to talk about anything and share time and a few cold beers. I would like to talk him into building an Oliver.
... Mark Schramm