Monday, December 30, 2013


Before and after

I got a bunch of old 5 1/2 inch square cut nails a while back at a junk sale. I had to buy them because they were cool and pretty cheap. They're so enormous, that I can't even imagine what these were originally used for, fences or barn beams, I suppose. At any rate, they're pretty awesome. I've been interested in tool making for a long time now. A couple of years ago I took a forging workshop with Tim McCreight (who makes a lot of his own tools) and I had the opportunity to sit down with him an ask him a few questions about tool steel and how to harden it, etc. I bought some tool steel but haven't taken the time to work with it. I ran across these nails the other day while I was reorganizing my studio space (still not done, by the way). I was looking for a reason to procrastinate the job, so I had the idea to see if I could make a tool out of one of the nails. It worked really well. It turns out that, at least to my untrained eye, that these old babies are made from really good steel. I thought I'd make a scribe first as the fabrication is pretty straight forward, in that the goal is to make it as pointy as possible. It took a lot of heat and force to make it malleable enough to twist, so I got a good workout. Since I don't know exactly what type of steel it is, I didn't know exactly how to temper it. After I finished the forging, filing and finishing, I heated it back up, not quite as hot as I initially did when forging it. Again, since I'm using an old piece of steel, I wasn't sure whether to quench in oil or in water. From what I could learn from blacksmithing articles on the Internet, it seems like unknown steel is most safely quenched in oil, so that's what I did. I cleaned the scribe back up and used it tonight to mark a sheet of bronze for sawing. It worked great! The tip stayed intact with no chipping, so I'm assuming that I tempered correctly. If anyone reading this has any experience with old steel that they'd be willing to share with me I'd really appreciate it. The nail makes a very nice scribe that's the perfect weight and length, at least for me. I tried to place the twist so that it'd make the tool easy and secure to grip. plus, it's pretty and I think tools should be nice looking if possible. Next, I'm going to try to make a curved burnishing tool, but only AFTER the studio reorganization is done. I got a new piece of equipment for Christmas that I'm dying to try out and I have to make some room for it. More on that later!


Vickie Hallmark said...

Beautiful! I learned a little about tool making with Ronda Coryell. I actually bought some tool steel to make a bunch, but it sits in my (messy) studio awaiting the day that I decide to revisit the idea. Thanks for the inspiration.

Cristina Leonard said...

Vickie, did you discuss in that workshop about unknown steel? I'd love to take a proper workshop from someone on toolmaking. I'll just have to muddle along until that happens. I'd love to see what you come up with.