Metalwork, for a change

IMG_0603I tried something totally different, stepped out of my wooden comfort zone.  I took a Maine Craft Association workshop, Damascus Steel, at the Haystack Mountain School of Craft in Deer Isle, ME.

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I was amazed and astounded at the pleasure of pounding yellow-hot metal into shape.  We started out with nine sheets of alternating 1095 and 1055 steel.  These were welded onto a 2 foot shaft, then stuck into a gas furnace and heated to yellow-orange.  We poured borax , (20 Mule Team direct from the grocery store), between the layers, and pounded the layers into a single chunk.  Welcome to forge welding, something so new, so simple, so thrilling, for me anyway.  We then alternately pounded and re-heated the billet until it was about 3/4″ square, and 8″ long.  After a short cooling off, one face was ground to a clean surface, re-heated, cut almost in half and folded over on itself, heated and forge welded. Now we had 18 layers of alternating steel.   Again, heating and pounding into 3/4″ by 3/4″ by 8″ billet, and then cut in half.  The part left on the shaft was re-heated, and pounded round, the placed into a vice and twisted with a wrench, like taffy, about three turns. More heating and pounding until the metal was about 3/16″ thick, 1  1/4″ wide and about 8″ long.  This was rough ground to shape, heated and quenched in oil.

IMG_0609Lots of grinding and sanding to make a rough  letter opener.  After relaxing the metal at 500° for about 3 hours, the letter opener was hand sanded, polished an acid etched.  The other half of the billet was heated and pounded, half was drilled on both sides, and the other half abused with a grinder.  Same procedure as with the letter opener, and here is what I ended up with after three days:  a beautiful letter opener (cherry burl handle to be added later) and two pendants.

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In Japan, Damascus steel is known “mokune-gane”, or “wood grain metal”

Nick Rossi, and Jason Morrissey were amazing instructors, and made it all look easy.  Nick teaches at the New England School of Metalwork in Auburn, ME.  Jason has his own shop in Portland, ME .  This is definitely something I plan to explore further!

C. H. Becksvoort © 2014

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