Saturday, August 30, 2014

Found!!...... but is it Wrought iron?

So it's in my mind that there are some interesting metals out there, I just need to learn how to "see" them! A friend had an old truck axle for me, to use in making a hammer (or 10!), and on the way back home we took a little detour.

In a backwater slough, we found the remains of an old log boom. Back in the day, huge rafts of logs were floated downstream to the lumber mills. A log "boom" was a string of logs, tied together, which acted to hold the mass of logs in one area, like those pole/strap thingies at the bank queues. What we found was some old logs with a bunch of spikes and metal rods still stuck in them.

Wrought iron?

Here is a 12" spike, in pretty good shape.

If you look REEEEEEAALY close, you might see a trace of "wood" grain, but is it wrought iron?

Look REALLY close.

There were some sections of 1" thick bar, 1'-2' long. It forged very nicely....

But etching didn't show much.

The break test.....

Is this the "grain" that they keep talking about?

Here is the break test on one of the spikes....

Not much grain, but possibly a bit. It looks a bit laminar. When these samples break, they tend to fail slowly, gradually.

Here is a big nail, from a different log. Most likely modern, and probably not wrought iron.

The grain looks homogenous, and when bent, the sample broke cleanly and was abrupt.

Here is the break test from a piece of known mild steel.

Some laminar elements, but mostly homogenous, and the break was clean and abrupt.

A soft (I think, not marked HC in any event) railroad spike.

Interesting grain, very coarse at the core, finer at the outer surface, and the break was very abrupt.

Most of these pieces of metal have been sunk into saltwater soaked logs for God know how long. Even at the most corroded points, there was no real "wood grain" to be seen. It just looks like rusty metal.

I put the most heavily corroded sections in the electrolysis tank overnight.

There we go..... Looks like wrought iron to me!

The exposed portion has no real grain visible, maybe a touch, if you know what you are looking for.

The other end that was hidden under the thick rust sure has a dramatic wood grain look to it.

I love how the end has flared out, due to hammering or corrosion, I don't know.

Same thing, rusty, but a different type of metal.

The pattern of corrosion looks different, even after electrolysis. More pitting, less wood grain.

The end, though..... That looks like a stranded composition to me.

Some of the erosion is very dramatic.

This should make for some very interesting patterning, when forged into a blade.

At the rate that I work at, this 60 lbs should last quite a while.

Ugly..... Interesting, potential!

I've started a few blades.

The kuri-kogatana shows promise, but the marking knife has some cold-short tearing, so it will probably get trashed. Good practice!

I've forge welded this stuff into billets, folding the layers again and again. Some I've twisted, then etched, but nothing so far has exhibited any dramatic patterning. I think that this is just a very "clean" form of wrought iron, highly refined, and with little of the slag that gives wrought iron the dramatic patterning that I so like. The lack of dark inclusions, combined with the excellent forgeability leads me to this conclusion. That's both good and bad. Good, high quality wrought is easier to work, supposedly, and is probably better for a novice like me. It doesn't look as cool, though.

Wrought iron came in different grades, intended for different uses. There was talk a few years back about substandard wrought iron rivets possibly contributing to the sinking of the Titanic.

Bad rivet?

Wrought iron was rapidly being superseded by steel at the time of building in 1911-12, and while steel rivets were used for most of the ship's construction, wrought iron rivets were used in the more restricted areas of the ship. Possibly some corners were cut, and cheaper materials were used, to maximize profits? Surely THAT could never happen!

Here is a beautiful rivet, by Ballard Forge (I believe).



  1. Jason, wrought iron does make the best backing for the hard steel layer in blades. Are you going to start smithing kanna blades? I have one of the old American-made Sexstone blades (Delight tool) sold by Robert Meadow back in the day.

    I have a 60mm kanna with the blade set at 47.5 degrees for hardwood (Sakura-Hiromasa kanna on the Japan Woodworker website) that I bought on eBay a few years ago and never touched. I am pretty sure that I will never use it because I have plenty of kanna and don't do all that much woodwork anymore. It has wrought iron laminated to either white or blue steel and a laminated sub-blade. You can have it if you think you would have a use for it, just send me a shipping address and it's yours. I would look forward to seeing what you use it for in one of your blog posts.

    Dave Albecker

    1. Hi Dave!

      Thank you for your so generous offer, I would be honored! There are a couple of YouTube videos of a Kobayashi forging Japanese knives. I wonder if this is the same blacksmith?

      If so, he has one on the cleaner blacksmith's shops that I've seen, and shows a speed and efficiency that is reassuring. He seems very meticulous (if slightly annoyed by translators errors interrupting his work-flow, haha!), and when I saw these videos, I actually thought, "I would buy tools from this guy!" I would expect his heat treatment to be very good.

      I have wanted to use a 48°-ish plane for quite some time now, but haven't gotten around to cutting a steeper pitch dai yet. I have a number of blades (much like the one presented in this blog post) that are nearing the end of their lives. A steeper pitch dai would effectively "lengthen" the blade, making it taller, allowing for easier lateral adjustment without resorting to cutting down the dai around the blades head. This kanna is right at the threshold, and I may yet dish it out, but the fit of this one is good enough that I still have about 1/4" till I need to decide. The gift of your kanna would help me decide if higher pitch dai's are with the effort.

      Funny, but out of all the super cool Japanese tools, a kanna blade would be the last one that I would make. There are just such a wealth of good blades available on the used market, now that a few Japanese sellers are venturing into extra-national sales, that it seems unlikely that I could improve on what is already there.

      What I AM interested in, would be making some of the tools that not as readily available. The point-of-a-sword knife was a perfect example (simple, too!), and I've been making kiridashi, kuri-kogatana knives, as well as western style laminated hook knives, for spoon and bowl carving. Soon to come are various saya-nomi and a batch of new sen's, too. At least that's the plan, rain contingent, haha!

      I am sure that you don't "need" anything, but I would be honored if I could gift to you something that might be a curiosity. What is on your wish list? I welcome any excuses to make more tools, and am VERY interested in what others are using (or wish that they could). I have been using old file (OF) steel for my work, and it seems to get (and hold) an edge similar to simple white steel, but feels different on the stones. It is very easy to sharpen, even with oilstones, yet still hard. There is a video of Jay Van-Ardsdale presenting at WWIA (maybe?), and he mentions that his chisel was made by Dave Burnhard (in Oregon). He says that it is sharp, tough etc...... I wonder what kind of steel he used?

      Give it done thought,


    2. Ummm......

      Give it "some" thought, haha! Oops!


Like all of us, I am figuring this out as I go, so when you see something that is incorrect or flat out wrong (and you will!), let me know. This is a learning process. Real people and names, please. Constructive comments and questions are very welcome, but hate speak/politics are not! Life (get one!) is too short.

Thanks, Jason