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Gregory J. Liebau




Location: Dinuba, CA
Joined: 27 Nov 2004

Posts: 669

PostPosted: Tue 06 Dec, 2011 4:26 pm    Post subject: What steel to use for ground blades?         Reply with quote

Hello folks,

This coming spring I'd like to get a couple of project blades off the ground, including a couple of daggers and a reproduction of a Greek xiphos with about a 25" blade length. I'm interested in knowing what quality of steel I should buy if I plan to form these blades completely by grinding them into shape, and preferably not have them heat-treated (I don't plan on using them under any sort of duress, but would like them to be relatively sturdy and appropriately flexible.) Thanks in advance.

-Gregory

(p.s. Before anyone goes trying to give me a pile of pointers about grinding blades, thanks, but no thanks. I've done it before, quite a bit. Usually I was just modifying existing pieces though. All I need to know is what a good quality steel is for such projects!)
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Dan Dickinson
Industry Professional



Location: Michigan
Joined: 03 Oct 2004

Posts: 967

PostPosted: Tue 06 Dec, 2011 5:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Gregory,
You mention you want your blades to be "appropriately flexible". By appropriate do you mean to the period (you mention a xiphos) or appropriate as we moderns would define it (i.e. take a significant flex and return to true)? If the former, you might as well use the closest readily available metal to plain iron...mild steel bar stock such as can be found at many hardware, farm supply etc stores. It is often marketed as "weldable steel" or hot rolled mild steel. It might also be an interesting experiment to try work hardening the edges.
If you want the modern definition, you need to use a high carbon steel and heat treat it. Steels such as 5160, 6150, 1075, 1095 etc are all good steels and the main secret is the heat treat. If you want to stock remove to shape, it's doable (though significantly harder) after heat treat. Of course you still have to find a facility to heat treat it for you, and have to be very careful to keep it cool during your work.....if you're not you'll ruin the heat treat and it won't be much better than mild steel.
Since it sounds like you're asking the quality of the metal without heat treat, I'd advise you to save yourself the money and just use mild steel, since high carbon steel without heat treat isn't really much better than mild, is more expensive, and risks problems such as air hardening etc.
I hope this helps,
Dan
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Gregory J. Liebau




Location: Dinuba, CA
Joined: 27 Nov 2004

Posts: 669

PostPosted: Tue 06 Dec, 2011 5:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the response, Dan. This is exactly the sort of information I'm interested in learning. I've used mild steel bar stock for blades in the past and am aware that it works well, but was under the impression that getting higher quality steels without going through the heat treating process would make a big difference. If this is not the case, then I have a readily available stock of mild steel that I can use for my projects.

As far as "proper" flexibility and what not, I suppose that's a bit of a deceiving notion. A xiphos such as the one I'm looking to make would have such a pronounced midrib and be so short that I doubt it would flex much at all, anyway. The dagger blades would also be small enough that I doubt this will be a concern.

Just to look further into it - if I were going to go through the heat-treating process (I would have it professionally done, as I know some facilities locally where I'd take my work) what sort of steel would be recommended? Let's say if I wanted to make a larger blade, like a typical 12th-14th century European sword ranging between 35-40" in length? The 1075 you mention is one I've heard of... Is there any website that presents a good chart of characteristics for these different steels? Being a novice, I'd rather not seek one out myself. I've found a lot of variety in online sources concerning metal quality in the past, and wouldn't be able to judge which sites are more correct than others.

Thanks again.

-Gregory
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Aleksei Sosnovski





Joined: 04 Mar 2008

Posts: 313

PostPosted: Wed 07 Dec, 2011 12:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My 2 cents.

High-carbon (tool or spring) steel would be noticeably harder than mild steel even w/o heat treating. This especially concerns relatively high-alloy tool steels.

There are steels such as hardox that are produced in sheets and are relatively hard (around 35 HRC I think), enough to make a sword that won't bend easily. No heat treatment needed.

If you want to make a long heat treated blade you basically have 3 options:
- carbon steels
- alloy steels
- stainless steels

There are many stainless steels that can be hardened, but I assume you don't want to use them. And, well, most if not all stainless steels are too brittle for a sword intended for real use.

Plain carbon steels (10XX series) are the easiest and cheapest option. You need steel with no less than 0.4% carbon and you don't want anything with over 0.8% carbon. I would advise using 1060 steel. Easy to heat treat and will make an excellent blade. 1045 is even easier to heat treat but its maximum hardness is around 50 HRC. 1050 or 1055 would be great, but I don't know if such steels are available. 1070 and 1080 won't make a better sword than 1060 but are a little more prone to cracking during quenching.

Any alloy steel intended for making springs will make an excellent blade, you simply can't miss with these. Tool and bearing steels should generally be avoided because they are usually too brittle. Other steels such as ones used for stamps, shafts and other hardened machine parts can be used as well but there are too many of these steels and some would be much better than others. For example there are steels that have all the required properties but won't make a blade harder than 48 HRC. Perfectly enough for a functional sword, but less than the modern "standard" of 50..52 HRC.

In the end, heat treating is what really matters. Even the best blade can be ruined by improper heat treatment and even such simple steels as 1045 will make a decent sword when heat treated properly. First of all find facility that can heat treat your blade and check what equipment they have. If they can do marquenching (it's quenching in molten salt as far as I understand), I strongly recommend using steel that can be marquenched as this process minimizes possibility of warping or cracking.

Oh, and also look at http://www.sword-manufacturers-guide.com/sword-steels.html
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Matthew Kelty





Joined: 22 Jun 2004
Reading list: 61 books

Posts: 164

PostPosted: Thu 08 Dec, 2011 12:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gregory,
I'm seeing a few misconceptions in some of the information being given to you, and want to encourage you to invest in a little more research before you embark on your journey. I also want to encourage you to consider the benefits that heat treating offers. As someone who has forged, ground, and milled all manner of blades without heat treatment, they are useless. If it's a wall hanger or prop, go for it, otherwise, you're wasting your time.

Firstly, for stock removal, it is *FAR* easier to work in an annealed state, so if you are relying on 3rd parties for all of your heat treatment needs, be prepared to spend a little more money to assist you for all of the steps, or consider the possibilities of upping your role in heat treatment, and getting the knowledge and tools to tackle it yourself. It's not easy, but it's not impossible.

As Dan had mentioned, overheating your work will lose whatever existing heat treating already existed, but what he was supposing is that you are performing your work on a heat treated piece. This would be the wrong way to approach the work. Start with fully annealed. The material is softer, and easier to manipulate (look for the words "ductility" when researching alloys, although that is much more relevant to forging).

Once you have finished all of your work, the steel needs to go through a few different aspects of heat treatment:

1) Normalization. Heat and slow air cooling. This process helps the crystal structure relax, and will eliminate stress deformations and prevent warping in the later heat treatments. Even with stock removal, you have introduced high temperatures along the edge for longer periods of time, and are getting different grain growth. Normalizing will help relax the crystals.

2) Hardening. Insert a *lot* of metallurgical data regarding grain structures and matrices. Where forging will still hold a slight supremacy over stock removal is that one could create the hard carbides that equate to edge holding and hardness, then hammer them into little bits that are embedded in a softer, but tougher matrix (tough being ability to withstand shock). Still you must learn what the structures are (Austenite, Martensite, Pearlite, Ferrite, etc.), and plan your heat treatment and quench accordingly to the size, function, and form of your piece.

3) Tempering. After the hardness has been achieved, a proper temper really tunes the structure and gives the final aspects you want. You can do this part on your own if you're up for it, these are much lower temperature processes than the hardening or normalizing, and by approaching things in innovative ways, you can create fantastic differential tempers. For example, if you heated up a bar a steel to a red heat, and placed the *back* of a single edged blade, or the middle of a double edged blade on it, you will impart more heat to the spine, softening it, and as the heat moves through, you will temper the edges slower, keeping them harder than the spine. Similarly, you can temper the tang more than the edge, imparting some toughness to that key point for stress failures.


Even though you may not be forging blades, I would *HIGHLY* recommend you pick up a copy of "The Complete Bladesmith: Forging Your Way To Perfection" by Dr. Jim Hrisoulas. Too much information to even begin to cover, all of the above, alloy traits, just get this book, if nothing else.

Jim has his PHd in metallurgy, and has been forging blades for over 45 years. When I say "he wrote the book on forging swords and blades", I am understating his knowledge and impact....grossly. His books (3 total, 4th on the way) and videos are hands down the most often cited works by working bladesmiths out there. He was actually admonished by the American Bladesmith's Society for "giving away too many trade secrets". There, plug over.

Now, some of the statements I would caution you on:
"1070 and 1080 won't make a better sword than 1060": Correction, they *will* make potentially a harder sword. The carbon is where the carbides and matrices come into play. You can make some amazingly durable edges. True, they can become too brittle, but a proper normalization, hardening and tempering will alleviate that, and if you have a stout blade form with a relatively durable edge (appleseed vs hollow), and a good differential temper, you could have quite an amazing chopper.

"Tool and bearing steels should be avoided...too brittle": Again, proper heat treatment is key. Both of those types of alloys are amazingly durable. They are used for files and die cutting punches, things meant to cut into other steels. Also a wide variety of air, water, and oil hardening types are out there, meaning you can do a lot of heat treatment yourself with less gear. Do not dismess them out of hand, just know you will need to invest the time or money into the proper treatment.

From the website that Aleksei mentioned, there is a lot of good pointers, but some really bad misinformation too.

In general, he states things as "alloy = ## rockwell C hardness". He is oversimplifying. There are certain limits in hardness , so knowing the ceiling of an alloy lets you know it's potential hardness, but just because something *can* reach a 60 (far too brittle for a sword, little too brittle for a heavy knife, perfect for a delicate cutter), it doesn't mean that that is the *only* hardness. You can knock it down however far you'd like (within reason. Steel will always be steel.). A T10 short sword, falcata or kukri properly taken to a 53 would be a devastating blade, and keep an edge like nobody's business.

Damascus (or more specifically pattern welded) he denounces as no better performing, and actually less structurally sound and to be relegated to wall hangers only. Patently false. A straight pattern welded blade (simple folds) does create micro-serrations that VERY MUCH do make a difference in cutting organic matter (meat, fibers, rope, etc). Iron age viking swords with the more decorative pattern welds actually helped create a softer core and harder edge (a central spine would typically have the decorative patterns with softer alloys, and a subsequent harder straight pattern welded edge welded around *that*) As far as toughness, well, read this next section....

"9260...spring(s) back to true even after being bent almost to 90 degrees." This has a bit to do with the alloy, but more specifically has everything to do with the heat treat and handling of the material while making blades.

In case you didn't know it, for a blade maker to be entered in the ABS as a Journeymen, his blades must perform all of the following tests, in order, with the same basic carbon steel blade, and no touching up between tasks (blades can be either stock removal or forged, same criteria apply, and yes, there are a *LOT* of stock removal Journeymen out there):

1) Cut a free hanging, 1" diameter rope, 6 inches from the end, in one stroke.
2) Chop completely through a 2"X4", twice, with no nicks, chips, rolled or deformed edges.
3) Shave hair off using the same area of the blade that did the chopping.
4) Bend the blade in a vise 90 degrees with no breakage or loss of material, and only allowing a fracture within 1/3 of the blade (i.e. it can crack, but not break free).

There used to be a "bend to 45 degrees and return to true" test as well, however it appears they've since removed that test.

Withstand that, and you're a Journeyman. to become a master...

....do the same thing with a Pattern Welded Blade. Happy

(Extra credit: how many of us own blades we think could pass that test? Happy

So, with all that said, the rest is going to sound like a shameless plug. It's not meant to, but Jim was a Master in the ABS, his works are cited everywhere, and all he wants to do is take the mystery out of bladesmithing

Go check out Jim's site: http://atar.com/joomla/index.php?option=com_c...;Itemid=76

Go buy his books, heck, buy a blade... Happy

Now, can someone go please buy a copy for Paul Southren? Happy
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Audun Refsahl




Location: Norway
Joined: 15 Feb 2006

Posts: 82

PostPosted: Thu 08 Dec, 2011 1:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'd experiment with hardox if you really don't want to heat treat. it'll be to soft for a lot of stuff, but it takes a good beating. its the kind of steel used on heavy construction machinery tools like excavators and such, so a shop that fixes that kind of stuff might have a piece so you can test it...
just bacon...
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Gregory J. Liebau




Location: Dinuba, CA
Joined: 27 Nov 2004

Posts: 669

PostPosted: Thu 08 Dec, 2011 2:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you very much for the replies, guys. I certainly don't expect to be making amazing blades over night, and would like to pursue this diligently but at a relaxed pace, because I am also heavily involved in leather and wood working, which take priority for the time being over my new push into smithing.

Matthew, your post was an extreme help. I will be re-reading it again this evening and check out all of the links posted for me. I've heard great things about Dr. Hrisoulas's book, and will be adding it to my Christmas list immediately. Thank you so much!

-Gregory
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Matthew Kelty





Joined: 22 Jun 2004
Reading list: 61 books

Posts: 164

PostPosted: Thu 08 Dec, 2011 3:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You are very welcome.

Here are a couple more great resources.

A great, simple, layman's book of metal working is "Complete Metalsmith : An Illustrated Handbook" by Tim McCreight. I cannot tell you the thousands of times I've flipped through this, and while the illustrations are very simple, the information they convey is stellar, especially in regards to the structure, behavior, and manipulation of metals.

Also, in case you may get more ambitious, or want to convince yourself you *CAN* start doing more yourself, "The Complete Modern Blacksmith" by Alexander Weygers is a great guide in how to build the tools you need.

Have no fear in taking it slow, I'm only about 8 years behind in getting my forge up and running, but it will happen... Happy
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Dan Dickinson
Industry Professional



Location: Michigan
Joined: 03 Oct 2004

Posts: 967

PostPosted: Thu 08 Dec, 2011 9:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Gregory,
Let me clarify a bit on some things mentioned in my earlier post.
First, I'm not saying that mild steel makes great blades...it doesn't. What I was saying is that if you're not going to heat treat your high carbon steel, you might as well use it as you're not going to gain a significant enough benefit to outweigh the cost/greater difficulty in shaping. True, high carbon steel (say 5160) will be slightly harder even in its annealed state (~30HRC compared to mild's 20HRC), thus being harder on your tools, yet it will still easily bend and take a set. It needs heat treating to change the lattice structure and really take advantage of its properties. I got the feeling that these pieces would essentially be wallhanger/costume pieces, hence the recommendation for mild steel. However, if you do plan to use these, high carbon steel and heat treatment are really the only way to go. If you've ever seen slow motion shots of how much strain is placed on a blade, even during something as simple as a botched cut on a water-filled two liter, you'll see why the ability to flex and return to true is so important.
Secondly, my comment about working on heat treated stock was perhaps a little out of context/unclear. Yes, the typical/easier way is to work on the annealed stock to form the majority of the shape, followed by heat treat, then finish grinding. However, heat treating often can create distortion (warping, sabering, etc). This is often compounded if you're using a heat treater that is unfamiliar with larger blades/uses a horizontal quench etc, etc. My comment was referring to another alternative method. This would be to have the rough shaped blade blanks heat treated and then to do the majority of the shaping afterwards. This way slight problems with the blanks can be worked around, rather than sending your many hours of work to the heat treater, only to have it come back sabered and unusable. This is the method used by Tinker with great success. Although he has the whole thing hardened to the 60's HRC, then draws the spine/tang back with a torch, the same basic method could be used with a blank HT'd to the desired finished hardness (This is sometimes done by smiths such as Peter Lyon when hollow grinding). However, as I mentioned, you're working with significantly harder material, you have to be very careful to keep it cool (either a wet grinding setup or very frequent cooling dips), and you also have to keep your grinding equal on both sides to avoid unwanted stress buildup and warping. However, if you can't find a reliable heat treater/you want to use old heat treated stock from such things as files and lawnmower blades it can be done.
As I've mentioned, finding a good heat-treater is tough. You mentioned having a few nearby. That's great....give them a call, see what kind of stuff they typically do/what their size limitations are etc. Another avenue to pursue can be leaf-spring manufacturers. They often work with 5160 and may have cutoff pieces that they will sell you for a significantly reduced price. Also, they may be able to heat treat your pieces for you as the temper required for leaf springs is close (though perhaps slightly softer) to that required by a sword. However, as I stated above, they probably use a horizontal quench and may cause significant distortion....but it's worth a shot if you can't find anything else.
Finally, the resources mentioned by Matthew are very valuable. Dr Hrisoulas's book has given many people a start and has much valuable info. However, while it will give you a great intro into forging blades, it is a bit limited when it comes to forging swords and their unique mechanical properties. Unfortunately, the second and third books don't contain much more. Dr. Hrisoulas is primarily a knifemaker and his swords show it. Great supplements are posts on SFI and elsewhere by Tinker and Gus Trim about distal taper, polar movement etc. Another resource with loads of knowledgeable folks is Don Fogg's Bladesmith Forum
http://forums.dfoggknives.com.
Finally, Wayne Goddard's $50 Knife Shop is also a great reference for getting started making blades on the cheap.
(I'm sure there are more, but these are the ones I've found most helpful).


Anyway, best of luck on your journey and we'll all be eager to see what you come up with.
I hope this helps,
Dan
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Gregory J. Liebau




Location: Dinuba, CA
Joined: 27 Nov 2004

Posts: 669

PostPosted: Thu 08 Dec, 2011 10:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Dan,

My plan is to start with a short baselard blade over winter break, in the upcoming weeks. I want to practice making fullers and grinding symmetrical blade edges, particularly. In the near future, the pieces I make will indeed be "costume" quality and I'm mainly interested in realizing the proper form of an historic blade, rather than all of the qualities making it worthy of hard use. With smaller blades like daggers it would be cool to be able to cut stuff for regular use, but I don't think this should be a problem even with mild steel - such things as cutting rope, for example, seem like low stress operations.

As far as the heat treating facilities go, I know I've heard mention of at least a couple from my dad (who's a farm mechanic) and uncle (who builds custom hot rods) in the Fresno, CA area, local to where I live. I have yet to inquire as to their typical jobs/costs, but I assume they are on a low-end industrial scale. I look forward to finding out more about the operations in the area and how they can cater to my needs (once I figure out what the hell those might be!)

Thanks again.

-Gregory
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Bernard Delor




Location: France
Joined: 19 Nov 2010

Posts: 51

PostPosted: Fri 09 Dec, 2011 12:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gregory J. Liebau wrote:
With smaller blades like daggers it would be cool to be able to cut stuff for regular use, but I don't think this should be a problem even with mild steel - such things as cutting rope, for example, seem like low stress operations.


Hi Gregory,
if you want a dagger blade that will be able to cut for regular use, you must not use mild steel, as it will not keep a good edge and you will have to sharpen it each time you want to use it ! High carbon and heat treating is the right and easiest solution. Non alloyed 0.6% or 0.7% carbon steels are easy to heat treat, even without much experience or equipment.
Regards,
Bernard
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