Apprenticeship Session 4

Since the forge is set up for wreath-making season, we chose to work on fire strikers rather than continue our bellows project. So we started with the pieces we had hammered out the last time and started to draw out one end to a taper. I guess it’s not a true taper since with a fire striker you want to keep one edge straight.

One side tapered

As we continued to work, our instructor (have I mentioned that his name is Doug Swenson of Goose Prairie Forge?) took a moment to explain the hardening process and a few tricks that can help get the steel as tough as possible. Fire strikers need to be really hard in order to spark. So the first thing he recommended to do once the item is forged into shape is to hammer on it to compress and align the metal structure. It’s not a hard hammering but it’s a bit more than a tap. So he did a demonstration for us where he took a bit of steel and forged it for a bit, quenched it in water, and then broke it to show us the grain structure. Then he did pretty much the same thing but this time he packed it down with the hammering first. It’s a noticeable difference in the grain structure with the second one being a much finer grain. He also pointed out that steel that hardened well during the quench will have a mottled appearance you can look for.

After that demonstration we continued working on our fire strikers (we were there nearly 5-1/2 hours) and Rob managed to complete his including hardening and grinding.

I however did not quite finish and therefore had some homework to do. I had my fire striker pretty well forged into shape, but it needed just a bit of clean up and then hardening. So I fired up our home forge and cleaned it up by hammering out a few kinks. Then I put it through the normalization process where you heat the piece up to critical temperature where it becomes non-magnetic and then just let it air cool until you can touch it. It goes through normalization (aka thermocyclingThermocycling Thermocycling is the process of heating steel to critical temp (non-magnetic) and then letting it air cool. Usually done three times in a row.) three times before the final heat for the quench. It came out nice and mottled so it looks like the hardening went well. The last step for the fire striker is to grind the striking edge as the metal needs to be shiny to get sparks. So a short spell on the belt grinder being careful to not heat up the metal which would ruin the hardening (I dipped it in water after every pass on the grinder). In under an hour I had a finished fire striker that even produced some sparks!