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By AESamuel

I've got a couple of carving gouges which are faithfull branded and the steel is very soft, almost like it wasn't hardened. A file easily cuts into and shapes the metal.

Does anyone know if it's possible to harden the steel in these gouges?
User avatar
By ED65
Yup this is possible. A previous thread that should be of help: So your chisel is too soft or too hard, now what?

Note the caution on quenching in water.

Regrettably since I posted that the Jim Cummins video has been removed from YouTube, but just to emphasise you can do this with the handle still on.
By Argus
I don't like saying this, but...... you may have stumbled upon the reason why this brand is, how can we put this...., "inexpensive".

Removing the handles, then hardening, then tempering the steel is the next step, followed by restoring the cutting edge.
The very tip, the first mm or two, will need to be sacrificed after tempering because it will be brittle-edged after the heat treatment. Then it's grinding to shape, honing and polishing.
By D_W
That would work wrote:Only one way to find out... heat one till its cherry red and quench in water.
If it's now hard then it's possible.
Then you can temper it.

Oil, not water. Water will cause cracking and warping problems. Most woodworking tools aren't thick enough to need water quenching.
User avatar
By Pete Maddex
Heat the end until a magnet won't stick to it then quench in oil.
Clean the steel and heat the middle slowly watching the surface change colour when a straw colour reaches the cutting edge quench in water.

By D_W
It's risky to harden anything with a small cross section in water. You may get away with it, but it's not necessary to do. Any type of oil that flows reasonably well (like cooking oil) is fine.
By AESamuel
Thankyou everyone for your replies!

I popped out and got myself a torch, and had a go at hardening the gouges.
I first tried quenching in oil (vegetable oil was what I had to hand) and had no luck, so then tried water and that seems to have done the trick, after tempering to a straw colour.

While they certainly aren't anywhere near as hard as my quality chisels (they can still be filed, but the file skates across if only using light pressure) they are certainly harder than before so I should be able to get some use out of them.

Again, many thanks everyone!
By D_W
Something went wrong with the oil process if it didn't work. I've hardened water hardening steel (including old files) all the way to the same steel V11 is made of (as well as a bunch of modern stuff, like a 1960s set of marples chisels that say "chrome vanadium" on them and were for some reason, not hardened at the factory.

There's nothing wrong with using water if needed and the tool is worthless otherwise, but it's not a good habit or you'll lose something important at some point. Water hardening steel is generally water quenched when it's in a larger cross section and you can't achieve the cooling rate needed to quench in oil. Actually, V11 is a good example of something that works in oil but would otherwise quench in just about anything (it needs 50 degrees per *minute* to harden, an exceedingly forgiving quench).

It doesn't hurt when you're hardening to get the temperature of something up (dim lighting is preferable) to a dull or medium orange as the most common reason for failure is probably not having the steel hot enough when it hits the quench. color is highly subjective based on light, too - bright orange in a dim room is dull orange in daylight.

I'm belaboring this point a little bit about the oil because I think it's something everyone should have on hand as you progress in woodworking. You need nothing more to make your own tools than a good hacksaw, a decent file or two (which you probably already have) and a heat source (tempering in a good kitchen oven with a thermometer close to the temper area - same oven, same settings, same area of the oven each time -is a better idea than tempering by color with a fast heat source) is all you need.

It's quite often much faster to make a good-enough tool (by that, I mean really good, but not aesthetically marketable or perhaps capable of cutting 10,000 dovetails on shelf ends vs. the 100 that you may cut in the next 15 years) than it is to go out and try to buy something like that. without even considering cost. I made a dovetail plane last week out of scrap - it took no more than two hours of time. It's ugly by my standards, but I don't want to get into the business of making dovetail planes, etc, I just wanted to make a plane that I could use for a few case pieces.