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I Forge Iron

Heavy Usage Hunting knife


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The type of steel is not near as important as how you heat treat it.
"Hard" is a relative term that involves far too many factors to list here.
5160, when heat treated properly, will no doubt make a great spring, but can be hardened so hard it'll shatter like glass!
Then it becomes a matter of tempering.
There are many steels that will provide you with all the performance you will ever need in a hunting knife.
Pick one and learn how to properly heat treat it.
Here's a nice place to start:
(Here's a quote from the following reference):
...." But perhaps most important is the heat treatment. A good solid heat treatment on a lesser steel will often result in a blade that outperforms a better steel with inferior heat treatment."
The Knife Steel FAQ by Joe Talmadge Knives at Knife Art Custom Knives

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If your going to use 5160, and want to make it very tough, I would suggest differentially heat treating it. Another term would be selective hardening.

There are a couple of different ways to accomplish this. The one I prefer is to only harden that portion of the blade that you wish to be hard. In other words, once the blade is ready for hardening, you have the option of hardening as much or as little of the blade as you desire. The general rule is to harden the blade 1/3 to 1/2 of the blade's width from edge to spine. A lesser amount of hardened material will allow the knife to bend easier, while a greater amount will make it more resistant to bending..... WITHIN A LIMIT. I have hardened some blades to within 1/4" of the spine and they still bent to 90 degrees without cracking.

The other method, which I'm not too keen on, is to fully harden the blade, then do a "soft back draw". This is where the edge of the blade is placed in coolant, and a heat source such as an oxy/act torch is played along the spine until the tempering colors run into the dark blues. The reason I am not keen on this method is that very few have the patience to do it correctly. Two things that cannot be separated with steel is time and temp. In order for a specific transformation to occur within the steel, it requires a specific temp, for a specific amount of time. I have had several folks who where testing for their ABS Journeyman rating do this, and their blades failed during the bending test. After examining a few of these, and talking to the makers, it became clear that they were achieving a tempered "skin" or about .010 thickness, while the interior of the spine remained hardened (harder) . Those that have passed with this methodology, have taken as long as an hour to soft back draw their test blade(s).
So in reality, either method will work, but I feel there is much more room for error with the "soft back draw" method. Why make it any harder on yourself than it has to be?
Anyway, back to specifics. 5160, edge hardened at 1550F, then tempered at 350F (really your just stress relieving it) should produce an edge hardness of approx. Rc 57-59, with the unhardened area being an Rc 38-40. If you bump up the tempering temp to 375F the edge hardness numbers will drop by about 2-4 points.

How supple or stiff the blade will be, depends on how much of the blades width (edge to sping) that you harden.

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Thanks for posting that info Karl! You did a much better job than I would have!:) I was going to put up a link, but you've got it all laid out there for everyone. Good on ya!

If folks take the time to read all of the information, they will hopefully understand the level of knowledge and craftsmanship required to create a blade that will pass the performance tests, and understand that the quality level must be very high to make it through the judging phase.

I would add that the test blade is really more about the Bladesmith than anything. Each of the performance tests in themselves is not that difficult, however when you combine the tests, it becomes a measure of the individual Bladesmith's knowledge of forging, heat treating, and proper geometry. The second phase of the test in Atlanta is where the fit and finish is crucial.

Over the years I have heard some comment that the standards are being raised by the ABS as the years go by. Thats just not so. I've judged at both the Journeyman and the Master Smith levels, and the same rules have always applied. Whats occurring is that Bladesmiths keep getting better and better. If anyone is to blame its us. Every year somebody pushes the envelope, and raises the level of quality and craftsmanship, in essence, raising the bar for us all. I personally think its a good thing, because it means you either strive for higher levels, or you get left behind.

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Rc is the shorthand for hardness on the rockwell scale. I'm hoping a few years down the road to be ready to take the JS test myself, and I've seen a LOT of people reccomend using 5160 for the JS performance blade exactly because it's a steel which at it's hardest is just what you want the edge of your knife to be, so it's easy to get a tough knife with an edge that's the right hardness. I suppose I should start working more with 5160 instead of the O1 and 1084 i've been using though, the advice that Mr Caffrey has given is the same that I was given by Mace Vitale JS.

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If its making blades that interests you, then understanding steels and heat treating will take you further than anything. Knowing the exact steel your using, and understanding it will keep you from having to "re-invent the wheel" every time you forge a blade. It also helpful to understand the characteristics of given steels so that you can make intelligent choices about what steel to use for a given blade type/style. Some types of steels lend themselves to certain applications better than others. For example, given the choice between 5160 or 1095 for a heavy duty chopper, I would go with the 5160 based on the facts that it would create a tougher blade due to its elemental makeup. How do I know this? By knowing what elements and alloys each of the steels contain, and understanding what they impart to the finished blade is priceless to creating a great knife........the steel is the heart of a knife, but the heat treating is the soul.

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Tex see if this fits what you want to do. take some old fam steel and cut beat, whack and grind a blade form it and hea treat and then fit a handle and see if it anything like you want, If it has shortcomings follow the guides above and see if you w ould like to do anything different for the next one, If it works out like you wanted then remember everything you did...have fun.

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