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First crack at mokume-gane

Benton Frisse

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Well... it's not the greatest, but here's my first crack at mokume-gane. It was supposed to be 12 layers, but I lost a layer or two in the first initial weld. I plan to do more of this stuff, it's relatively easy and looks pretty darn cool in my opinion. I don't really like ferric chloride, so I'm going to just use white vinegar next time. FC is just too nasty. My pattern was supposed to be an X... but I didn't do it quite deep enough and lost most of that design due to grinding. I decided to give this little "medallion" to my buddy who's going back to Italy Saturday. 


I won't call this a total success... but I enjoyed trying something new and foreign to me. 


Any tips? I didn't quite get all of the scratches out. My 80 grit belt sander did some damage. I hit it with some 220 then 600 and then a cotton wheel that had a bit of jeweler's rouge on it. Thanks for looking everyone! 





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looks pretty nice :) I think if you intend to continue to make it using torque plates you would be well served to fab up a dedicated set that is closer to the correct size and utilizes 4 bolts.  pressure from all four corners will keep the stack in better alignment and evenly squeezed, with just two it is difficult to get the whole pile centered in the same line as the bolts.  plus there will be less extraneous metal attached to it that is sucking away your heat.


white vinegar will do the job, though I tend to use my jewelry pickle (Skaylex) more.  unless you are going for something like a topographic relief I would probably leave the stronger acids on the shelf.


unless you have some serious stock removal to do on the patterned surface I wouldn't use anything as aggressive as 80 grit on that plane.  go nuts on the edges with it if you need to chase out some bad welds but as you can see you end up fighting yourself more trying to get those big scratches out and can end up losing your entire top layer.  keep your hammers free from pits if not all the way to mirror, and make sure you keep your anvil free from scale (from the plates), that way you can forge it as flat as possible with your hammer and significantly reduce the amount of removal needed on the patterned face, then into the acid and I like to give it a rub down starting with 220.  from the angle of the pics it looks like most of the 80 grit leftovers are concentrated around the outer perimeter, you could put a radius or bevel on the outermost 1/8" or so of the circle to knock the scratches out and revel a series of concentric circles leading to the edge.


consider also varying the surface texture of the finished piece.  if you have a patterned metal surface, but you shine the bejeezus out of it on the buffer, the only thing you will see is the reflection across the uniformly shiny surface under most conditions (its also hell to photograph).  but if you shine it up and then put it back in your pickle for a few minutes you can etch up the copper layer and let the nickel keep most of the shine, which really helps the contrasting materials pop.  a little texture on mokume typically goes farther than mirror in general because it lets the patterns show more, and hides scratches from wear better.


keep it up and lets have some more pics :)


Good luck!

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Thanks for the advice, Chinobi! 


Do you happen to have a photo you'd be willing to share of your set you use? I just used some scrap fence channel we had laying around. Although I wish I would have had some 1/4 flatbar laying around. I'd like to do more of this stuff, especially for knife fittings and maybe even moving on to some fittings for some of my nihonto and iaito I own! I wasn't real sure of how much I should polish it. I really almost didn't want to etch it, because for some odd reason I like subtlety with pattern welds and stuff. But I decided to give it a whirl! I literally squirted a splash of ferric chloride into the bucket and it almost ate that thing alive in less than 30 seconds. So i diluted it down big time. I agree, next time i'm going to start with some kind of 220 grit of some sort. 

What materials do you prefer to use when making your mokume-gane? 


Thanks for the encouragement and tips! 

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Mokume is what actually led me here and is ultimately my goal to master :)


I found some pics of my plates on my phone, so you can see the first set before they were ever fired



the same plates after having been used a few times while they are being compressed and tightened



and their successor prior to their first run



the first set was just made from 1/8" junk steel from lowes, you can see the progression of that on pages 6 and 7 of Fe-Wood's thread called "Mokume Gane".  They lasted for maybe 4 runs(max) before they just started to get too bent and scaled up to be worth re-using.  Im not much of a machinist so knowing that I would never be able to get things cut exactly square and drilled symmetrically I used my hacksaw to cut in matching X's across the two plates (and again on the second version) in different places, so no matter what side you are looking at you can immediately tell if they are face up/down and rotated correctly for the bolt holes to line up on top of each other.


the second set was a slight improvement over the first in that I used 1/4" steel which has proved to have much greater longevity, but is still consumable, I will likely need to replace them soon, though I haven been one hiatus for most of the year so they haven't been getting that much exercise.  I also found that it was somewhat difficult to manipulate the first set of plates with tongs as there really wasn't much protrusion to grab onto and when you are forced to stand off some 2-3 feet to avoid the dragon trying to tease a grip on a tiny little lip or the head of a bolt before you roast is quite trying.  so the second version I left myself a little handling tab that can be readily grabbed with whatever tongs you happen to be using.  version 3 will have a second tab on the other plate facing the other direction.


some recommend 3/8" all the way up to 3/4" for the plates, so you may have to find a balance between cost, ease of machining the replacements, and how frequently they need replacing, as well as how badly you damage them in the process (my first set was wrecked, #2 is not so bad...)


Jay Burnham-Kidwell taught a class that I was fortunate enough to attend and he advocated using a poker with a 90 degree L at the hot end to reach in and grab and flip with and that worked very well too, though it was a different style of plate setup that was very compact and held together with wire, so there was zero purchase for tongs.


as for materials, I have been working primarily with QSO's because I want to spend more of my time on the bonding and patterning processes than cutting cleaning and flattening...  though I have used copper and brass sheet as well.  I bought some precut circular disks of copper, red brass, nickel, and sterling from Thunderbird Supply (IIRC) a while ago but I haven't had the opportunity to cook them yet :(

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The larger the bolts in the clamp the better, within reason of course. Thick plates are good but there is a point of diminishing returns. a steel clamp works well because steel has a smaller expansion coefficient than copper, silver, nickle, etc. When you bring the billet to sweating temperature the billet will expand a LOT more than the clamp so the pressure goes up, much higher than you can get with the bolts.


The point of diminishing returns with the plates themselves goes like this. Thicker means more rigid and more crush pressure but it also means it takes longer to soak heat through and you want a reasonably consistent heat in the billet.


I know it's not necessary but I flatten quarters cold with a flatter. It just makes for more surface contact from the start. I also give it a light sprinkle of borax just because I'm a conservative kind of guy, it can't hurt and might help. A trick I haven't tried is to take a hammer to the billet while it's still in the clamp. A block that fits between the bolts, a set hammer and a reasonably heavy hammer is the tool kit. Just move quickly when it comes out of the fire, put it n the bottom tool, place the set and hit it HARD a couple few times.


I've watched this technique and it worked well but I haven't done it myself. What I watched was a team, the striker was using a 10lb. sledge and they struck till the bolts were loose.


Frosty The Lucky.

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you definitely need a friend to help if you plan to hammer consolidate right out of the forge after bonding, mine just about went down my pants trying to juggle it solo once, I had to grab a buddy to hold the improvised set hammer.  for smaller billets if you plan ahead and make your plates such that the gap between the bolt heads will permit the jaws of your post vise you can use the vise to gradually consolidate the stack. DO be careful with any method if you see liquid metal sweating out of your billet, if you smack it with a hammer and some of the metals have liquefied, your crotch (depending on how tall you are) will have front row seats to a liquid metal supernova :) or you will watch your billet leak out from between the plates as you squeeze in the vise.

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Hamming mokume billets in the clamp is where a treadle hammer comes in handy.


I suppose a guy could make a pair of tongs with bits thick enough to clear the bolts and nuts and take a beating. Heck even heat to just below forging temp it so it didn't sink the heat out of the billet.


Frosty The Lucky.

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I prefer building the clamp so I can slide it in the vice and quickly squeeze them, MUCH more reliable than the hammer for the first couple heats. One or two heats and they fall from the clamp, use the hammer after that(carefully, you are still coaxing them to be friends at that Point)
Also you will burn through plates, simple fact of life. I use 1/8" thick flat bar for mine and get lots of use before they go bad. You don't need to clamp very tight if you squeeze in the vice, plus you don't wreck the clamp.
Using the flatter like frosty said is really important if you want to stop wasting time chasing small cracks. The surface texture is enough to really reduce your success. Well worth the time.
One other point that feels counterintuitive is to ONLY hit the billet when it is red or hotter. I know there is copper and you should be able to keep moving it but nickel gets very tough and will tear away when it cools.
Good luck and good job!

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Say Tristan, remind me I think I know where a piece of SS strap I scrounged is. I don't recall what series it is but it's part of the auger from sanders and is both abrasion and corrosion resistant, it should last a lot longer as a clamp than mild steel.




Frosty The Lucky.

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I'm still on my first set of bolts(I don't think they were SS, I didn't ask for anything specific, I think my only concern at the time was to not use galv), so long as you don't hit them instead of the plates you should be fine for many runs. It will probably be an optimization issue, how much more expensive is SD than regular, versus how much does it extend the service life?

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