Come ye woodworkers, come ye metalsmiths! Gather and sing Kumbaya around the warm glow of heated STEEL as it passes its Curie point and begins to form austenite. Much to my own distinct and unabashed glee, this week's issue of Work contains an article on the subject of hardening and tempering steel. Yippee!
This activity resides at the intersection of many disciplines. As a toolmaker, I never tire of hearing different tellings of how to manipulate the properties of steel with heat. To the woodworker, the temper and quality of steel edges is a field of concern second only to sharpening.
But apart from the predictable gravity and importance of understanding steel and its transformations, there is also unmistakable delight. I've taught the rudiments of steel toolmaking to range of pupils. Even uninitiated neophytes sit up and take notice when a hunk of red hot steel is quenched. The spectacle and wizardry of the moment makes fellow travelers of us all. So, if you're new to the path, now's as good a time as any to start in.
Be warned though; while this week's article is mostly useful and informative, it's still 123 years old. Some of our understanding of alloying constituents has changed, and you probably shouldn't quench anything in mercury, no matter how cool it will probably look. In case of any doubt, see our Disclaimer.
I'd encourage anyone with even a moderate interest in tools to try making their own hardened stamp. It's pretty simple, requires minimal tools and materials, and there are loads of instructional videos out there that can get you started. Here's an old favorite from the likes of Tim McCreight.
For extra credit, there's an episode of The Woodwright's Shop where Roy Underhill uses the same method to fashion a cutter for a shop-made screw box. At 9:27 Roy says that "those who know their metallurgy" won't approve of his "jackleg" methods and descriptions. Phooey. Roy gets everything right, as usual, and shows you how to make one too with a smile on his face saying, "everybody should know how to do this in a pinch." He even has excellent quenching technique. -T
P.S. If you're an old hand at this stuff you'll get a kick out of the crazy cowboy chisel tempering method outlined below. The smith will use the residual heat in the shank to temper the edge, after the tip has been quenched. Granted, the description indicates this move was used on cold chisels. Still, one can speculate about the production advantages afforded by designing large, heat-mongering bolsters on joiners' firmer chisels.
Disclaimer: Articles in Work describe materials and methods that would not be considered safe or advisable today. We are not responsible for the content of these magazines, and cannot take any responsibility for anyone attempting projects or procedures described therein.
The first issue of Work was published on March 23rd, 1889. The goal of this project is to release digital copies of the individual issues starting on the same date in 2012, effectively republishing the materials 123 years to the day from their original release.
The original printing was on thin, inexpensive paper. There are many cases of uneven inking and bleed-through from the page behind. Our copies of Work come from bound library volumes of these issues and are subject to unfavorable trimming, missing covers, etc. To minimize harm to these fragile volumes, we've undertaken the task of scanning the books ourselves. We do considerable post processing of the scans to make them clear but please bear with us if a margin is clipped too close, or a few words are unreadable. We would like to thank James Vasile and Karl Fogel for their help in supplying us with a book scanner and generally enabling this project to get off the ground.
You are welcome to download, print, and pretty much do what you want with the scan for your own personal purposes. Feel free to post a link or a copy on your blog or website. All we ask is a link back to the original project and this blog. We are not answering requests for commercial downloads or reprinting at this time.
"OF all productive amusements, illumined by the cheery glow of a winter's night fire, there is none, perhaps, more 'fascinating and profitable' than fretwork."