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Ed Caffrey's Workshop Talk to Ed Caffrey ... The Montana Bladesmith! Tips, tricks and more from an ABS Mastersmith.

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Old 10-08-2012, 04:49 PM
grant grant is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2011
Location: Helena, MT
Posts: 107
More cracked 5160

A while back I cracked some 5160 by cooling it off in water. Bad idea, I know that now. Switched to hydraulic oil.

That worked fine until yesterday. I went to cool the tip of a blade and tink, tink, tink. Cracked? I haven't cleaned it up to check yet, but I know that sound.

So there were a few different variables in play.

1. The old 5160 was from Admiral (I know, I know) and 1/4" x 1 1/4". The new stuff was from Aldo and 1/4" x 1".
2. I tried drawing the bevel down further than I had done before. I tried to be even in the number and force of the blows, but I noticed that the blows away from my body had drawn the bevel down less than the ones towards my body.
3. It was in the 20s the last few nights, so my oil was a tad cold. I don't think this was the issue, because I've forged blades in my shop at far below 0F.

So I really think it was stress from my uneven blows. What do you fine folks think?

As an aside, this batch of steel seems to move MUCH easier. I was using a slightly heavier hammer (one that Ed made) than usual. Maybe the split handle really is that noticeable.
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Old 10-08-2012, 05:29 PM
Suicycle Suicycle is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2005
Location: Trenton, GA
Posts: 154
I don't think the number or placement of blows has anything to so with it. Did you work it a little too cold at any point? You can hammer as the blade cools off, just the force has to become lighter to straighten and shape hammer marks, kind of sculpting instead of moving. Interested in others ideas though.
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Old 10-08-2012, 06:08 PM
Ed Tipton Ed Tipton is offline
Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 352
Grant...I have found that 5160 can be "tempermental". Generally speaking, there are three things that lead to cracked blades in 5160.
I have not found that it is necessary to count the number of blows to each side. I merely look at the forging, and try to assure that it has a balanced and equal appearance. If one side receives a few more blows than the other side I don't think it really matters all that much.
Quenching the blade in oil will improve your chances, as will removing all stress risers, and avoiding working the steel when it is too cold. These three things are all under the smith's control.
Removing the stress risers is easily done, and should take only a minimum of time. Ensuring that you only work the steel at the proper temp is simply a matter of discipline. If these two things are done, the quenching medium can sometimes be water, and almost any non-flashing oil can be used. Having said all of that, cracks can and do happen even when all precautions have been taken into account.
As a side note, warping is also reduced by the same metheods...especially considering that both a crack and a warp are really nothing more than the steel attempting to relieve it's internal stresses.
it's also worth noting that even a coarse grade of abrasive can create stress risers. Any abrasive of 80 grit or coarser can cause stress risers that can ultimately lead to a crack. Another possible cause is forging the edge too thin prior to the quench. A thickness of about .030 (think "dime") is about as thin as you should go. Leaving it thicker does no harm, but it is just that much more to be ground away after the blade has been hardened. Forging too thin at the edge in effect creates one long stress riser along the entire edge.
It's a good bet that the quench is probably going to be the most stressful event in the entire life of the blade, so it behooves us to remove as much stress as possible to give ourselves the best possible chance of success.
Another thing that helps is to normalize the blade prior to quenching, and also to thermally cycle the blade to reduce the grain as much as possible.
After forging and grinding the blade, there are many stresses that have been introduced into the steel. All of the above mentioned things are done in an effort to reduce to the greatest extent possible the stresses that we have put into the steel leading up to the heat treatment.
The end result is an indicator of how well you have understood and controlled your process from start to finish. The entire process is done under the smith, but if the steel itself is questionable, then even the tightest controls may not help. This is why we shy away fron using "mystery metal" as much as possible. An experienced smith who has good control of his process may be able to work mystery metal to a satisfactory end...but for the less experienced, there are many pitfalls. It is always advisable to work with a known steel whenever possible.
In today's world, there are so many different types of steels available to us. Deciding on a steel that is best suited to our needs is something that needs to be done early on. Continuing to work with one steel until you have developed a good working relationship with it will pay off big time when you encounter the inevitable variables in steel. You've already discovered that all 5160 is not created equal....some is better than others. This is true of all steels, and is a good reason for us to "dance with what brung us". As we improve our process, there will be plenty of opportunities to spread our wings and venture out into the vast unknown...but your basic knowledge of working with your chosen steel will always be there to call upon as needed...and it will serve you well.

Last edited by Ed Tipton; 10-09-2012 at 04:05 AM.
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Old 10-09-2012, 11:52 AM
BrianAyres BrianAyres is offline
Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Beaverton Oregon
Posts: 6
You said it cracked when cooling the tip. Dies that mean you are "quenching" the blade in the oil so you can handle it? Or, to keep from overeating it?
Sounds like you are stressing the blade with repeated dunking in your slack bucket?
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Old 10-09-2012, 01:23 PM
Doug Lester Doug Lester is offline
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Having the tip overheat can be a problem when heat treating a blade. It's easy to get the tip of the blade up into the temperature range where grain growth becomes a problem and sometimes you've just got to do what you've got to do, even when it has risks of it's own. Why it happened with some blades and others can be a mystery. As Ed pointed out, there can be a number of possible causes and sometimes it seems to boil down to forge gremlins being at work.

One thing that can help prevent overheating the tip is to heat the thick parts first. I do that with a pass through port on the back side of my forges. Just put the blade into the forge with the tip sicking out the back and get the back hot first, then pull the tip inside to heat up. It also helps to turn the gas back on the forge to lower the temperature. The allows the heat to distribute itself more evenly through the blade as you bring it up to temperature. Tongs with long reins and a welder's glove on the tong hand helps keeping you hand cooler when working that close to the dragon's breath as you will be having the jaws of the tongs well within the forge.

With solid fuel forges you can just arrange the fire so that it's not as hot around the tip.


If you're not making mistakes then you're not trying hard enough
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Old 10-09-2012, 02:06 PM
grant grant is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2011
Location: Helena, MT
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Yes. I was cooling it to keep the tip from overheating, and I had done so in quick succession. Much more often than usual because I'd gotten the tip and blade thinner than I usually do (intentionally, as I'm trying to draw down a bevel to get the shape I want).

I'll just have to learn to forge more quickly and accurately so I don't have to take so many heats. That and heat from the thick area toward the tip, like Doug suggests.
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Old 11-01-2012, 06:53 AM
Boris P Boris P is offline
Join Date: May 2012
Posts: 5

Please do You have any useful tips-informations about 6150 steel ?

Or books by Mr Ed Caffrey.

Regards, Boris.
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5160, back, bee, bevel, blade, cold, dies, easy, edge, fire, forge, forged, forging, hammer, hand, handle, hot, knife, made, steel, tips

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