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Can you forge a forge?

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condeesteso

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Reading David Savage's article in British Woodworker regarding new chisels, I have come back to an issue which concerns me. The traditional tool-making forge is dying out.
Years ago I invested in a set of LN A2 chisels, and it took me a very long time to adjust to the conclusion that the steel isn't great. Full stop.
I have read about cryogenic treatment, some fancy Japanese treatments etc... but I suspect that these new alternative treatments are not better, just a production engineering solution to get round hot forging.
I think this is true also of other tools - I found out by accident that there is a region of France where back in the 1920s there were 200 makers of hand-stitched rasps (sounds excessive I know - twenty would surely be enough, but now there are two and one is 200km away).
Then there are holdfasts - Gramercy went to considerable lengths to make holdfasts using a cold process, but is that because they are actually better... I suspect not. Most of us know Richard's forge-made ones are best.

There is something very special about quality forge made chisels of old I think - Sorby, Marples, Ward, Osborn etc etc... the heyday of the Sheffield toolmakers.
I cannot imagine I will ever buy a new chisel again, and if you choose with reasonable care the argument that you have to spend hours fettling and tuning is not my experience.

If it was possible for us collectively to support the last of the tool-making forges, that would be a very good thing indeed I believe. And next time you are told that some new fangled steel treatment is better, ask them how, require proof, demand some solid and sound science... because I reckon there is a fair amount of bull flying around.
 

Vann

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condeesteso":vd0h1y7j said:
If it was possible for us collectively to support the last of the tool-making forges, that would be a very good thing indeed I believe.
Clifton? Ashley Isles? And yet (sadly IMHO) so many opt for Quangsheng and Narex 'cause they're cheap - and thereby the last of the old forges will die :(

Cheers, Vann.
 

Harbo

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I read the feature with interest and have to agree about the edge sharpness of old chisels.
Most of my old chisels sharpen really well and also my Blue Steel Matsumura ones too.
Bristol Designs used to sell a range of hand forge tools but I think their Blacksmith has retired?

Rod
 

deserter

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I'd agree in the main, however there are still traditional companies out there. My chisels are Ashley Isles formed the traditional way, I can honestly say i wouldn't buy any other make now, when I use other peoples they always enforce the quality of my own, in my own mind.
It's just a case of supporting these makers, unfortunately some of them don't make the more modern designs in which case we have to resort to other makes but we can still look for quality of the tool, an example being planes I really wanted to buy British and traditional but also wanted a low angle jack at the time it wasn't possible so I went for Lie Nielsen which I am very happy with though it would of been nice if Clifton did a similar model.
 

marcros

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Vann":261s6my8 said:
condeesteso":261s6my8 said:
If it was possible for us collectively to support the last of the tool-making forges, that would be a very good thing indeed I believe.
Clifton? Ashley Isles? And yet (sadly IMHO) so many opt for Quangsheng and Narex 'cause they're cheap - and thereby the last of the old forges will die :(

Cheers, Vann.
It would be a shame for the last of the old forges to go.

However, for many of us weekend warriors, the choice is often quengsheng, old stanley/record, faithful, silverline etc. Much as I would love a clifton, and dont doubt the quality, it is one of the above or nothing.

Made in USA means something to Americans. It is a sign of quality, and of the American dream. I have frequently seen it on forums as the first requirement in a tool/item. We really need 2 things to happen- firstly Made in Britain to mean something once again, and be common, and secondly budget tools. They need not necessarily compete with Chinese prices, but how many people (Predominantly DIYers) go into B and Q each week and think "I wanted a good plane, so I bought a Stanley"? A new Stanley isnt cheap, so surely British manufactures could compete with that price point and produce something good?
 

Harbo

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Hot forging is the key - that is lining up the carbon atoms as close as possible by bashing the living daylights out of them!
Most modern steels are cold rolled?

Rod
 

János

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Hello,

I do not think that hand made tools or old school methods and steels are necessarily better... Advancements in metallurgy resulted in very good stuff, and a lot of factual knowledge. But this knowledge has not been put to good use by the manufacturers.
An example: low temperature annealing and tempering of tool steel (low temperature means under +300 Celsius in this case) is an easy and reliable process for making tools by hand, in a manufactural style. But this kind of treatment produces lower maximum hardness, than high temperature tempering. Criogenical treatment (deep freezing to -80 Celsius and below) could improve the hardness of tool steels tempered on low heath (+1~2 HRC), and reduces brittleness. So deep freezing would be useful for a toolsmith craftsman, but not easily available. But this kind of treatment is almost pointless for modern steels, like A2. (but could serve well, as a marketing ploy). Any steel would profit from advanced modern hardening and tempering equipment and processes, tough... Vaacuum furnaces, salt baths, and the like might improve the production quality and consistency of steel tools. But these are not economical to use at small workshop level.

A small workshop is rich in the human attention required for quality finish, but poor in technology, a large plant has the technology, but lacks the attention to detail.

Have a nice day,

János
 

jimi43

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I am probably one of the most ardent fans of the older steels...as you know from my requests to you for your meticulous fettling services...only giving you the best for the best!

However...I don't discard the QS ones because...having tested one..I am impressed. This is opinion based choice...not BS based marketing hodge-podge....and I care not if anyone supports this opinion or not...I'm happy.

I know we have similar views Douglas...and I wholeheartedly support the tried and tested ways....whatever it takes.

By the way...the Ashley Iles carving gouges I found at the bootfair this weekend...



...are sublime. Easy to hone and super sharp edge....so I totally agree with deserter....

I have this ambition to make a forge and follow this tradition a bit further...I know meeting up with the likes of people like RichardT will only serve to whet this desire....and perhaps we can have a bit of a workshop get-together. It's a fascinating subject for sure.

Jim
 

TheTiddles

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Hot working of metals is a different process to cold working, hot working is good for some things, cold working is good for some things. Sweeping statements about how one is clearly better than another based on personal opinion is a rather intersting anti-science, maybe an investment in a good book on the subject would be a wise move, this one is incredible value http://www.amazon.co.uk/Steels-Proc...=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1340653635&sr=1-1 given that it has taken our species several thousand years to learn all this stuff.

Aidan
 

jimi43

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I think the fact that it is "anti-science" Aiden is the whole point.

No amount of mumbo jumbo would convince me that A2 steel is what I "need". :mrgreen:

I am interested in the science but I tend to think it is often used to sell something as better when in actual fact this means "it is cheaper for us to make consistently".....which is the demand from the mass market of today.

As communication has opened up...we tend to get the buzz about a new technology immediately. In the "good old days" you had to walk the country to find the best steels and the best smiths.... :wink: Craftsmen tended to find the best they could and learn to use it to the very optimum.

Today we tend to buy by the marketeer and convince ourselves that the most expensive is the best...which is, in my humble opinion...a big mistake.

Jim
 

bugbear

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jimi43":1e6frjty said:
As communication has opened up...we tend to get the buzz about a new technology immediately. In the "good old days" you had to walk the country to find the best steels and the best smiths..
I suggest you read a few pre 1900 adverts - they're fun, and quite available in the era of google books etc.

In the "good old days" all manner of utterly specious claims about "special steels" and "secret processes" were made loudly, and without any evidence.

At least modern claims tend to be factual. The key question today is how applicable the various properties being asserted are to what you want to do.

BugBear
 

jimi43

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Oh I am fully aware that claims by makers and hawkers have always been a tad...."exaggerated"...I watch "Up Pompeii" too ya know....but very few craftsmen ventured far enough to only be influenced by one or two passing salesmen and leaving tools on approval is one sure way of going out of business if these tools were not good.

My point is that, as communication has expanded out of all proportion, people have become far more savvy....able to research far more information and have more choice globally than ever before. It doesn't mean the BS has gone away...it has just become more subtle! :mrgreen:

Jim
 

Cheshirechappie

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I think the story of edge-tool manufacture since WW2 is down to a complex mixture of metallurgical advance, changes in manufacturing economics, and changes in demand for tools (driven by the change in the furniture industry and the rise of machinery and handheld power tools), between them leading to a rapid dwindling in the market for fine handtools.

We now have a few small manufacturers supplying what is essentially a niche market, and economics affects how they go about their business. Volume manufacture cannot be used to reduce price, because the volume of demand is not there.

There does seem to be some 'misinformation' about tools, tool making, steels, and the various actual or supposed qualities of particular tools, made in particular ways from particular steels. Some of that may be bull, but most is down to misunderstanding of the processes of making and manipulating the materials. The metallurgy of steel is incredibly complex, and whilst the manufacturing processes are sometimes basically simple, the subtleties of manufacturing practice can make significant differences to the end result - the difference in grain structure in a piece of steel resulting from multiple-strike forging or drop forging, for example. The old Sheffield makers used multiple-strike forging (Patterson spring hammers, in the main) which takes a minute or two to form a chisel blade, but leaves the grain structure of the metal like a lot of needles all aligned the same way, sharp end to the cutting edge. After WW2, drop forging (one or two heavy thumps) shaped blades in a second or two each, but left a grain structure more like flat plates. Still not bad - more than good enough for such things as spanners, for example - but just not quite as good as multiple-strike forging for edge tools.

As far as I know, there are very few modern chisel makers using multiple-strike forging to form blades (Ashley Isles - and Ray Isles, Henry Taylor, possibly Robert Sorby, and several bespoke makers), and only one plane iron maker (Clifton). They will be the nearest to the old tools. Everybody else drop forges or cuts from rolled barstock, and whilst the results are sometimes very good, they may not be quite as good as the best of the old. That's down to economics - using multiple strike forging and it's associated techniques takes longer, so you pay more. See the difference in price between Clifton and other plane irons. That AI keep their chisel prices so reasonable is great testament to their skills and the fact that they don't over-burden their business with additional costs - like fancy marketing.
 

Corneel

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And do not forget the Japanese blacksmiths. My Koyamaichi chisels are brilliant. Take a very sharp edge and the edgeholding is way better then my old Swedish chisels. It's still a good business in Japan. It seems that quality is still apreciated by a larger public. I understand you now also can get Tsunesaburo plane irons for the typical Stanley/Record planes with a forged laminated blade.
 

woodbloke

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Corneel":38wf27hh said:
And do not forget the Japanese blacksmiths. My Koyamaichi chisels are brilliant. Take a very sharp edge and the edgeholding is way better then my old Swedish chisels. It's still a good business in Japan. It seems that quality is still apreciated by a larger public. I understand you now also can get Tsunesaburo plane irons for the typical Stanley/Record planes with a forged laminated blade.
Absolutely...the nature of a Japanese laminated blade (plane or chisel) means that it's impossible to make one without forging the thing and yes, they will (in my experience at least) take and hold a better edge than their Western counterparts. Whether or not the Japanese chisel suits the individual though, is another kettle of worms entirely - Rob
 

matthewwh

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There are a couple of issues here - processing and material selection.

Processing wise, you have hand forging (whether done with a mechanical hammer or not) which uses lots of little blows and has a significant effect on the grain structure of the steel. If you want hand forged tools they are available but are generally quite a bit dearer as it is a longer process. Then you have drop forging (one big bang with a hammer and a set of dies to form the shape) which can either be used to produce a 'mood" (a tang with a lump on the end that you can then hand forge into the shape that you want) or an object in roughly the finished shape that goes straight to machining or grinding. The drop forging process still compacts and aligns the grain structure of the steel, possibly not to quite the same extent as repetitive blows but you are into very subtle improvements versus half or a quarter of the cost. The process for making a chisel is, was and has always been to forge it by one means or another and all of the main manufacturers worldwide begin with forged blades, including Narex, Sorby, Bahco, Henry Taylor, Ashley Iles, Kirschen, Pfiel, ARNO, Stanley..... The exception seems to be North America where apparently it is difficult to find commercial forging facilities.

Rolling produces continuous sections (think railway lines, sheet steel, rods and bars). First there is hot rolling (above recrystallisation temperature) which is another way of forging, this is how the steel for most plane irons and good circular saw blades is made. Then there is cold rolling which doesn't forge the material but does work harden it - in some applications this is ideal (the rails on your clamps will have been cold rolled, as will the sheet steel that your car is made from) but it doesn't make any kind of rational starting point for making a chisel.

Material selection is another issue. "why can't they use crucible steel" makes as much sense as asking “why doesn’t Gordon Ramsey serve roast Dodo”. Crucible's mystique comes from the fact that it was so much better than anything else available at the time - it was a very pure high carbon steel that took and held a good edge, we still look for the same thing in an edge tool steel today but get there by different means. Crucible was made by putting blister steel in a clay pot with some glass to collect the impurities and then cooking it. Blister steel was converted from imported Swedish pig iron by baking it for days in sealed trays layered with charcoal, both processes were then technologically eclipsed by the Bessamer process patented in the 1850's. The blister / crucible process made a few kilos of excellent steel in weeks, a Bessemer furnace could make tonnes of equivalent steel in an afternoon. Fred Dibnah made a billet of crucible at a scythe works museum using some original blister steel, possibly made at the same blister steel furnaces in Sheffield that Time Team unearthed under the foundations of a demolished building on one of their TV shows last year.

Bessamer or Cast Steel is still the current way of making it - in fact it's the only way of making it, which is why they don't write 'cast steel' on tools anymore - it would be like writing 'grown in mud' on a potato. The difference is that nowadays they can control the temperature to within a degree and have a lab analysing samples of the steel while it is still molten. This means that they can adjust the chemical composition precisely and make any one of thousands of individual grades for broad or very specific applications. For example edge tool steel which holds a very thin edge, malleable iron which deforms rather than breaking so it makes good underground pipes and manhole covers, or die steel which has exceptionally high wear resistance, any of which could be made from the same pot of molten iron by tinkering with the carbon content and other non-iron elements in it.
 

condeesteso

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TheTiddles":10yueco1 said:
Hot working of metals is a different process to cold working, hot working is good for some things, cold working is good for some things. Sweeping statements about how one is clearly better than another based on personal opinion is a rather intersting anti-science,

Aidan
Objection. Sweeping statements, personal opinion, anti-science? And as you don't mean that it's 'rather interesting' don't say that.
Hot working is different to cold working?

Matthew's contribution (as always) is clear, objective, useful.
I really just set out to draw attention to the threat facing the smaller-output tool-making forges, as they have been in severe decline faced obviously by fierce mass-produced competition. If we support choice then we want to see the smaller high-quality forges survive and thrive.

I appreciate that those tools Matthew lists are forged, but true hand-forging produces a structural finesse in the material that mass production cannot replicate, though at its best it may come close.

And I do still accuse some makers of shrouding their materials and production methods in pseudo-science.
 
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