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I Forge Iron

White finish on steel.


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Having been doing some reading lately i am just wondering something. I read "Modern Blacksmithing" and in it it mentions how to make steel and iron white as silver. The method uses 1# ashes of white ash bark dissolved in soft water, does not say how much water. When quenching at red heat the steel will come out white instead of black. 

Hs anyone tried this? And what are your thoughts on it? White ash is not a very common tree here so it is not something i am going to set out to do right away, but may try sometime down the road, just looking for thoughts on the subject.

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 "Sources for the History of the Science of Steel" has a list of Renaissance quenchants claiming to make your steel whiter and brighter and harder.  Some of them probably have ingredient lists that can be found in your area---radish juice, worm water,...

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I'm sure people in the renaissance tried them out!  A lot of the "old" quenchants end up being a variation on a brine exp Theophilus' urine quench.  Where a brine would be MUCH nicer to work with.  But remember they didn't even figure out that it's CARBON  that turns iron to steel until 1786  so the "magic quenchants" made folks feel they were better than simple easily made  quenchants.

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Nuts! Here I was hoping you'd tell us what worm wood is, Thomas. I'll have to soothe my disappointment with another cup of coffee and half an hour listening to, "The Stand." Quite the break from a real life pandemic eh? 

Frosty The Lucky.

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Wormwood is a kind of plant, one of the mugworts. It has a bitter taste and is one of the constituents of absinthe. The Nurse in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet mentions having used wormwood when she weaned Juliet.

Worm water I don't know about, but I suspect that it refers to condensed water vapor from the worm (condensing coil) of a still. Thomas will no doubt set us straight on this.

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I'll try to dig it out today---just learned that I am slated to help institute a GIS tracking system for my building; looks like I'll be the sysadmin for it so my time will probably vanish for a while as the spring semester starts---now where to source a white Persian cat and a facial scar....

Well they do mention distilling snails in one recipe; but worm water is either---or both,  juices made by crushing earthworms or cockchafer (Maybug) grubs.  One delightful suggestion is to "Crush up some radish, horseradish, earthworms, cockchafer grubs, he-goats blood mixing everything together." It's supposed to be good for file cutting hammers, files and other cutting tools.

Also beet juice is supposed to be good for hardening armour and knives.

I've tried Theophilus' urine quench though using an exhaust bath of a traditional indigo dye vat---5 gallons of stale urine---instead of a small red headed boy. It had such an amusing smell when hot steel hit it!  I've also tried a blood meal & water mix---couldn't source that much fresh blood close to my forge.  In general the odd admixtures worked like brine does.

BTW these suggestions are from a 1532 work shown in translation in "Sources for the History of the Science of Steel"

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Tried looking up worm water, nothing really, but i also did not look long, late and tired. But i did run across recipes for worm tea. Tea made from worm casting and a lot about the health benefits. I just wonder who was the first guy that said "hey, ya know what? I bet i could make tea outa that." While everyone else backed away slowly. 

Reading some of these brine recipes makes me so happy i live in an age that has discovered that oil works. I could not imagine that i plan the day to make a cutting tool and having to collect all those things and then sacrifice a goat. Should that be done at the new moon or full moon? I would also think a small red headed boy would be ok for a dagger or knife but you may need a teenager for a sword. 

So Thomas, did the urine quench or blood meal thing make the metal white as silver? 

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No; but it did harden it effectively.   They tended to have very shallow hardening steels so oil may not have been very effective.  We have a problem when the same term is used for quite different items historically.   A car 1500 years ago is not much like one today.

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I think you may be right about the terms now that i think on it with oil on the brain. Usually when i quench something it comes out with a layer of what i assume is burnt oil, i use veg oil so that the mistress of the house does not kick me out when i temper in the oven. But there are times that when i pull it out a lot of that burnt oil has flaked off and what you can see is silvery, not real shiny just kind of dull silver, white i guess you could say. May have to play around this weekend with some different metals, quenchants, temps and the like to see what happens. Aint got no other plans anyway. Well i should say that the lady of the manor has not informed me of what my plans are yet.  

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Reading the historical documents I noticed that people used to consider steel as a more refined version of iron.  It was harder, whiter and must be purer.  I though they definitely had a strong belief in Platonic Idealism. Though when you think of it what happens to iron if it spends more time in the bloomery during smelting?  It picks up more Carbon; so thinking that the more refined iron was steel would make sense.

Quenching in oil was also mentioned though it would be rather expensive back then. Much more expensive than worms, bugs and he-goats blood! (Especially when you can have your minions collect it.)

Early works on smithing tend to have a section on *testing* your materials to figure out what it is good for.  Reminds me of dealing with scrapyard finds where the rule is TEST TEST TEST before devoting a lot of time on a project to unknown material.

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I was reading a Roman casting technique just today involving urine.  I'll have to look it up and bring it back here.  They also had a neat technique I like for separating lead ores from silver, by melting the whole, then deliberately introducing impurities and skimming off the lead oxides.  Lots of fun.

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NSP,

Silver refining to separate lead from that silver has been done for millennia before the Romans. There is evidence of such activity that dates back to 3,000 to 4000 B.C.E. in Anatolia.

The process is called cupellation. Base metals oxidize much more readily than base metals such as lead. (copper zinc etc.) and that allows for cuppellation.

The mix (solution)?) is heated to a high temperature and air is blown into the mix. The lead is oxidized and gassed off leaving the silver behind.

Scientists have found lead peaks in glaciers that correspond to the time of the Greek's activity while refining silver.

SLAG.

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