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Americans and British are oftentimes separated by a common language.

I've often heard Brits talk about using whale oil for tempering. Problem is true whale oil from whales has been outlawed for at least 100 years. Somebody found an old can someplace and tried to sell it on ebay. He got arrested by the FBI and it made for a heck of an expensive mess.

 

It's also pretty much banned internationally as well which leads me to this question. Research has shown that it is not possible for them to be using real whale oil so what is it that they use and hang that name on?

George

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why use oil to temper at all ?  just bake it in the oven and we are good

Depends on the steel. Some are oil hardening. Some are air hardening. Some just water or brine will do the job. Just depends what you got.

 

Any British out there that can answer what's the stuff they call whale oil?

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Hardening and tempering are two different operations.  Using correct terms assists us in getting information.  Blacksmiths used to have to make their own steel too,  and shoe horses.

 

No clue about UK laws about whale oil,  they have diffferent laws than the USA, and our FBI has no authority there.  Japan still has a yearly whale harvest, so maybe there is a connection there?  or maybe someone misused the term whale just as you did with tempering?  After all they still refer to fries as chips.  So maybe the term whale oil is just an example of misuse of terms,  which does tend to be confusing.

 

It is a good question though. You have me interesed in finding out, which is why I read this thread in the first place.

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Depends on the steel. Some are oil hardening. Some are air hardening. Some just water or brine will do the job. Just depends what you got.

 

Any British out there that can answer what's the stuff they call whale oil?

Not sure where you are getting your info. 

At least 4  countries still harvest whales, and whaling in general was still practiced until 1986 http://iwc.int/commercial. 

 

The last whaler Set out from New Bedford Mass in 1927. Pretty sure they sold their oil. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whaling_in_the_United_States

 

The Endangered Species Act made the sale of oil from endangered whales illegal in this country in 1973. Not all whale species are on the Endangered Species act, by any means.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endangered_Species_Act

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Well as early as the iron age blacksmiths usually bought their iron; I believe there is an example of a smith making his own iron in a remote farm in scandanavia and at L'anse aux meadows...  but they are more the exceptions to prove the rule

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Whale oil was if I remember correctly from mainly sperm whales, their blubber rendered down at dockside, in the 1800's there were 55 whaling ships working out of Whitby, harvesting whales, polar bears and seals from the Greenland area, strong links were formed during these times and Anchorage in Alaska is twinned with Whitby 

 

Sperm whale oil was the preferred oil for lighting, burning more clearly and brightly and with less odour than other similar oils, which is probably why it was favoured as a quenching medium 

 

Whale oil was replaced by other oil products, specifically made for the purpose, when whaling became outlawed, there were stocks of it still available if you knew where to go for it.These were in sealed barrels from pre outlawed days, probably all gone now I would think.

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From my limited understanding "whale oil" has a very high flash point. I have used what I was told was whale oil once. It was at a place that had it from about 50 yrs ago. It was very fine, smooth, and oily ( I know that sounds funny). This same tub of oil has been used at this place for a long time from what we were told. You can purchase oils designed for heat treating purpose now without trying to find whale oil. I bout a 20 litre drum of heat treating oil for about AUD$ 70.00 which was lasting well until my son knocked the drum over.

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I think you will find that no modern british smiths use the term whale oil.

 but as it was only banned in 86 there is still some around from old works and it is often referenced.

 It is a strange substance , black and smelling like shrimp or calamari . it has medium to fast hardening speeds.

 It also easily forms an emulsion with atmospheric moisture and can cause trouble and boil on you if you don't cook the moisture out of it.

 it is quite a stable oil , and thats probably why its use continued.......

 and I do temper in an oil bath, heated by propane, (not whale I may add) tempering in circulating oil is an easy way of getting an even temper on a sword length object and allows for fast reheating of the steel for multiple straightening......

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From my limited understanding "whale oil" has a very high flash point. I have used what I was told was whale oil once. It was at a place that had it from about 50 yrs ago. It was very fine, smooth, and oily ( I know that sounds funny). This same tub of oil has been used at this place for a long time from what we were told. You can purchase oils designed for heat treating purpose now without trying to find whale oil. I bout a 20 litre drum of heat treating oil for about AUD$ 70.00 which was lasting well until my son knocked the drum over.

 

 

I think you will find that no modern british smiths use the term whale oil.

 but as it was only banned in 86 there is still some around from old works and it is often referenced.

 It is a strange substance , black and smelling like shrimp or calamari . it has medium to fast hardening speeds.

 It also easily forms an emulsion with atmospheric moisture and can cause trouble and boil on you if you don't cook the moisture out of it.

 it is quite a stable oil , and thats probably why its use continued.......

 and I do temper in an oil bath, heated by propane, (not whale I may add) tempering in circulating oil is an easy way of getting an even temper on a sword length object and allows for fast reheating of the steel for multiple straightening......

This stuff is interesting. I was thinking the term may have been applied to some kind of cooking type lard based or vegetable oils but if there is some real whale oil still being used that's really something.

 

Tell you what I'll do. I'll try to find at least one you tube vid that I remember the term being used by a British smith while making a knife I think?

 

Thanks guys,

George

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Whale oil was if I remember correctly from mainly sperm whales, their blubber rendered down at dockside, in the 1800's there were 55 whaling ships working out of Whitby, harvesting whales, polar bears and seals from the Greenland area, strong links were formed during these times and Anchorage in Alaska is twinned with Whitby 

 

Sperm whale oil was the preferred oil for lighting, burning more clearly and brightly and with less odour than other similar oils, which is probably why it was favoured as a quenching medium 

 

Whale oil was replaced by other oil products, specifically made for the purpose, when whaling became outlawed, there were stocks of it still available if you knew where to go for it.These were in sealed barrels from pre outlawed days, probably all gone now I would think.

Sorry to get into this, but I am Norwegian and my uncles were whalers. In fact my great grandfather was the first whaleship captain to sail to Antarctica hunting whales. Norway still hunts whales, but only Minke which are not endangered. 

 

Anyway, all whales produce oil when their blubber is rendered. Sperm whales have the extra value of the spermaceti, valued for the reasons you mentioned, but also because it needed no rendering and was dipped out of the skull cavity as a finished product. 

 

The most sought after whale commercially was the Right whale, so named because it was the right whale to hunt, being that it floated after being killed, making the task of the hunters far easier. 

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George there are a few old videos on you tube probably from back in the day where they refer to using whale oil and I am sure it probably was. Ofcourse some of these videos are probably pre 70's so makes sense they were still using it. 

 

Interesting stuff.

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On 3/14/2014 at 5:57 AM, George Geist said:

Tell you what I'll do. I'll try to find at least one you tube vid that I remember the term being used by a British smith while making a knife I think?

Ok,

There are six parts to this one but I'm only putting up part 5. On here we can hear him mention Whale Oil in passing although he's just using motor oil. He said it had a much higher flash point. There is another one I know of that the guy was actually using what he claimed to be Whale Oil.

Not sure if I'll find it or not but I'll keep looking.

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what fascinating information!

arftist - i bet your uncles and grandfather had some hair raising tales to tell from their days in this work! 

Uncle Fritjof had his arm torn off at the shoulder on his first trip at age 16. He was pensioned for the rest of his life and lived past 90 years. 

 

The best tale though is of my father when he was a toddler. He was at the bow of my grandfather's eastern rigged dragger (essentially a mini beam trawler). A rouge wave washed over the bow and swept little Johan towards the stern. My grandfather reached out the pilot house door (pilot house is aft on an eastern rig) and grabbed him as he washed by. 

 

I could write a book. 1/3 of my male ancestors with my last name (going back 300 years) died at sea from drowning. Of course the oceans are much safer now, with Radar, sonar, radio, GPS, life rafts, survival suits, bilge alarms search and rescue jets and helicopters, etc. 

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Uncle Fritjof had his arm torn off at the shoulder on his first trip at age 16. He was pensioned for the rest of his life and lived past 90 years. 

 

The best tale though is of my father when he was a toddler. He was at the bow of my grandfather's eastern rigged dragger (essentially a mini beam trawler). A rouge wave washed over the bow and swept little Johan towards the stern. My grandfather reached out the pilot house door (pilot house is aft on an eastern rig) and grabbed him as he washed by. 

 

I could write a book. 1/3 of my male ancestors with my last name (going back 300 years) died at sea from drowning. Of course the oceans are much safer now, with Radar, sonar, radio, GPS, life rafts, survival suits, bilge alarms search and rescue jets and helicopters, etc. 

I'd read that book!

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  • 5 years later...

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