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The telltale etch.

Discussion in 'Custom Knife Forum Archive' started by Keith Montgomery, Jan 23, 2002.

  1. Ed Fowler

    Ed Fowler

    Jul 21, 2001
    Wolf: Good question!
    I etch a Blade as follows:
    Polish to an absolutely clean mirror finish.

    Clean with acetone.

    Submerge the blade in a 3 part water to one part ferric chloride. (I use Radio Shacks Archer Etchant) My solution is a little old so the blade remains in the etchant for 30 minutes. Fresh solution will work faster. Experiment to determine the degree of etch you like for your blade.

    Remove the blade from the etchant solution and submerge it in a super asturated solution of Tri sodium phospahte and water to stop the etch. Wipe the blade off and again wash with soap and water.

    Then buff the residue off using Brownells 555 grey on a loose muslin Buff.

    Read what the etch has to say.

  2. NickWheeler


    Dec 3, 1999
    Don't listen to what Ed said, he actually just masks off part of the blade and sand-blasts the chrome off like they do on those Bud K $10 tantos.... :p :p :p

    Now if anyone takes this as a serious flame on Ed I will have to punch you ;)

    Good of you to lay it out just how you do it Ed, thanks :)



    Jul 4, 2001
    Well, I think that answered my question about Keiths' blade . :) ;)
  4. Gus Kalanzis

    Gus Kalanzis Havin' fun, learning and putting up with Bastid. Staff Member Super Mod Moderator

    Oct 4, 1998
    You know what folks, if you can not participate in a discussion on this forum without getting personal, reading things that are not said in posts and jumping on people most of us will not welcome your thoughts.

    A discussion is no more than a discussion with input from people with various opinions and experience. This has been a great thread from the point of view of information. It is a shame that it was tarnished with personal remarks and childish sarcasim that are more appropriate in a grammer school play ground if any where at all.

    Ed, Keith, Jerry, Jerry, Kit, Ron, MJH, MW, Nick and others your participation here is valued by many. When you are personally attacked by some of these folks take a look with the search function and most of the time you can quickly realize that many of these folks enjoy acting foolish on the forums and and cause problems constantly thinking their opinions are the only ones that matter. It is too bad that have not learned to set their egos aside.

    Ron's statement was true, there are cases when bead blasting is used to hide flaws. He was very clear that he was not talking about Strider knives (and yes I personally admire the knives and the people behind them), yet there are folks who insist on getting personal with him and accuse him of something they think he implied. To me they look like fools and do a great knife and maker a diservice.

    I have a pretty good rule that works, when a person is constantly showing up in the forums as an antagonist looking for something to argue with they usually have nothing else to offer and it is best to ignore them rather than sink to their level. I have learned it the hard way. When I see what I call keyboard commando remarks in their profiles and signatures the whole picture comes together even stronger.

    I feel sorry for some of these folks since they will never get what is special about the knife community. The sharing that goes on and the friendships that are built are what holds us together. Their type of actions and statments just are not a part of what we see when we are together in person and I more than understand how the folks who are familiar with what I am refering to can become upset.

    It is all about respect. If a person can not show it in what they write here or anywhere else then as far as I am concerned the content of their posts should carry no weight.

    Lets get back to this interesting topic so we can have a little fun and learn.
  5. Fox Creek

    Fox Creek

    Oct 26, 1999
    Many thanks Ed, Terry, and all for your thoughtful postings here. We all appreciate the time required to give some thought to a post. If your'e like me, having to "put it in writing" helps tremendously to organize my thoughts. Part of the growth we experience as knifemakers is the dawning realization the we each have our own unique and valid contribution to make as we mature in our craft. In some of the other arts it would be called "style." Its value lies in being a genuine evolution of self and craft; inner and outer; subjective and objective. This validation is vital in growing our work to a higher level. A subtle thing actually. I didnt mean to get so philosophical, sorry. HEY, I put an "etched" patina on most of my blades right now simply for the finish. I love that surface, in gunsmithing I believe it would be called a "French grey" finish. It's just a small step to a deeper etch for structure. AND I wont have that chore of having to polish back up to a 1200 grit shine!
  6. wolfmann601

    wolfmann601 Gone, but not forgotton. RIP Ira.

    Mar 12, 2001
    but let me just sound a little DUMBER. What EXACTLY are you trying to "read" by use of the "Human eye"?
    Is it possible to detect the imperfections and flaws by simply looking carefully at your blade?
    Or do you take it further and incorporate any type of "technology" to make a better analysis of the "condition" of your Blade?

    Or am I now completely confused??:confused: ...........wolf


    Jul 4, 2001
    Gus: Well said and thank you .

    Wolf: there are no dumb questions that are ask informantly, besides , I'm glad you're asking them so I don't have to .

  8. Ed Fowler

    Ed Fowler

    Jul 21, 2001
    Wolf: Another good question, I will not be able to answer all I can see, but will provide some guidelines.

    Most importantly the etch provides a visual representation of the full spectrum of transition between hard and soft areas of the blade. Many functions of blade geometry affect this vision, and the comparison is of value when exploring antecedent conditions to the finished blade.

    When considering only the hardened portion of the blade to the transition zone between hard and soft, you can see the exact(for the lack of a better word at this time) level of the hardness. It is very easy to miss hardening part ofthe blade. This will be obvious in the tale of the etch.

    The transition zones provide a more intricate representation of the steel inside of the blade. A martensite zone exists in the center of the blade. The nature of this zone can be influenced by variations in the geometry before hardening. As well as the chemistry and nature of the steel itself. This can result in influencing structural toughness and strength. We are only beginning to explore and understand the implicatins of this artifact of the differential hardening influences in a low temp forged blade.

    The spine of the differentailly hardened blade represents the soft area. In our blades Rockwell around 34.

    The flow of the grain in the steel, the grain size and the transition are all represented visually in the tale of the etch.

    Inorder to fully understand what we see, we have verified and sometimes learned new thoughts by laboratory photomicrographs. The tale of the etch is as complicated or as simple in accord the the knowledge you seek.

    For example, sometimes scratches would appear in the blade that were not there before etching. We were able to determine that these scratches were artifacts of scratches left in the blade by grits over 220 in the blade before hardening. When hardening the blade the effects of the scratches penetrated below the depth of the scratch and were revealed by the etch. These could effect toughness in a finished blade.

    This is only part of what the etch has revealed, but a major introduction to the tale of the etch.
  9. NickWheeler


    Dec 3, 1999
    Wow, that was informative Ed...I'm glad Wolf asked, because I just learned something for the day!

    One question though, I was taught that you can only do a Rockwell test on flat surfaces, so how do you test the spine, edge, or etc.?

    Really though, I have come to find that in a differentially hardened blade Rockwell comes into the picture much less than it does on my stainless blades...so this is all just for learning's sake, I'm not trying doubt your explanation. :)

    Thanks Ed!


    Jul 4, 2001

    When you say low temp forged , what does that mean ( I know it must mean lower than normal forge temp but what is the range ) . I've seen you and Bill Burke write about low temp cycles ( hope thats right ) . I'm just trying to get a full picture of the process . Man, I love this stuff!!!

  11. db


    Oct 3, 1998
    Ed wrote...
    For example, sometimes scratches would appear in the blade that were not there before etching. We were able to determine that these scratches were artifacts
    of scratches left in the blade by grits over 220 in the blade before hardening. When hardening the blade the effects of the scratches penetrated below
    the depth of the scratch and were revealed by the etch. These could effect toughness in a finished blade.
    Have you found that a finish before heat treating can be very inportant? Should a blade be finished/polished before hand as well?
  12. m l williams

    m l williams

    Jul 10, 2000
    Very true Gus,this is how knifemakers; both forgers and stock removal; cuss and discuss. We learn by open discussions using an open mind. Knifemakers by their very definition are the most opinionated, hard headed,nit picking bunch there is. Also some of the most creative, hard working, can do people around. There is more than one way to skin a cat. Ed, a question or two if I may. By spectrum of transition in the zone between hard and soft; does this spectrum represent different hardness levels, and if so what measureable benefit is derived from it? Other than just a hard to soft transition? Do you think these zones are a factor of 52100 steel and their alloys which tend to make it a very deep hardening steel? How would any fairly typical blade geometry affect this zone in a detrimental manner? And lastly; what temp do you consider low temp forging? Do you think that normalizing after forging will correct the affects of forging at a temperature higher than you presently forge at? As more of a heating and the effects of question, we are assuming properly ground and shaped blades to start with. I don't want to seem like I'm being pointy here folks. If you want to know, ask questions. If you don't understand ask another question. I think we all have a lot to learn from each other. Appreciate the time. Looking forward to the input from you folks. mw
  13. wolfmann601

    wolfmann601 Gone, but not forgotton. RIP Ira.

    Mar 12, 2001
    Now THIS is what KNIFE-COLLECTING is all about:D :D
    The knowledge I have gained in this ONE thread is astounding. This is truly what BFC is all about, and I thank you all.

    So, why WOULDN'T a Maker Etch every blade unless he is using Damascus or an exotic steel? If I read this correctly, etching a blade can make the difference between a beautiful knife and a knife.

    Is there any benefits to NOT Etching, and not to change the topic....BUT could someone explain the process of making a Black/white "checkerboard" Damascus steel?

    Thank you so much and a thread that is back on track without GUNFIRE......wow;) :eek: ;) :D ..........Ira
  14. wolfmann601

    wolfmann601 Gone, but not forgotton. RIP Ira.

    Mar 12, 2001
    I apologize for the second post, but Ed you confused just a little bit.
    I have never even stepped foot in a Machine shop or a Forge, except at 0200 with a flashlight in my hand, so this is from a completely "virgin" perspective. When you mention hardness and make reference to the Rockwell scale, I was always led to believe that 58-60 was an 'ideal" range for steel. you used 34 in explaining one of your Blades.
    At what stage are you at a 34 in the process. BEFORE or after you have etched?..Thanks....wolf:confused: ;)
  15. Gus Kalanzis

    Gus Kalanzis Havin' fun, learning and putting up with Bastid. Staff Member Super Mod Moderator

    Oct 4, 1998
    Ira, I am going to defer to our experts who have taken the time to share their knowledge here, but all damascus is etched to bring out the pattern.
  16. Mike Hull

    Mike Hull

    Nov 25, 2000
    Ira, i'm going out on a limb here, but I dont believe that a person using known steels with known properties, the same from blade to blade, from known sources and having those same blades heat treated by someone like Paul Bos, whose results are repeatable time after time benefit by etching all their blades. Maybe one in each batch. A forger on the other hand is not using the same methods as P. Bos, he is relying on his eye or a magnet, the temp, or lack of temp of his quenching medium, his steel may be of questionable lineage or type, in other words, a lot of variables that are not present in a blade ground from, say 440C, 154CM, BG42,S30V,produced by a mill of known quality and heat treated to known values.
    This is an over simplification, and no insults are intended to anyone, nor were any descriptions intended to slur forgers, just pointing out some basic differences in getting to a finished product.
    Just remember, no knifemaker worth his/her salt, is going to turn out substandard knives.
    Thanks Gus for you statement.:cool:
  17. Ed Fowler

    Ed Fowler

    Jul 21, 2001
    I harden the blade, send it to Rex. He does the Rockwell in his laboratory. He has tested several blades. If he needs a flat surface, he has plenty of room to do so. He mentioned a new Rockwell tester that is more refined than what we are used to. The soft spine runs around 34, this is an estimate as on the low end rockwell is not exact. Rockwell on the cutting edge runs 60. They have been very consistent with the new steel that is virgin 52100. 5 1/2 inch round bars all from the same melt.

    Forging: Rex sends the steel forged to 2 1/2 x 2 1/2 x 14 inch blocks to me. I forge it down to smaller billets then to knives. All our forging is at low temp. 1625 degrees f and less. The low temp forging prevents grain growth, numerous thermal mechanical forging cycles promote grain refinement.

    Before hardening I sand down to 220 grit. This is the maximum grit size to prevent evidence of the scratches showing up later in etched 52100 blades.

    Normalizing, especially multiple cycles refines grain. I have been unable to achieve ultra fine grain, (14 and finer) by anything less that a combination of low temp forging, a high degree of reduction in mass by forging at the right temp and multiple normalizing, and multiple low temp anneal (1000 f Max) and multiple quench hardening, followed by multiple tempering cycles. The number three seems to the magic number, the greatest return for time and energy expended.

    The high performance blade comes from a very well planned and controled process from the virgin stock to finished blade.

    The relationship between blade geometry and hardening zones comes down to What For? The purpose of the blade. This is a new voyage for us and we are only beginning to understand the variables. The April issue of Blade has a report on our best test blade so far. We were able to avoid stress risers by varying the geometry. A full description of what and how will have to have await some time in the library. It is very dynamic, I am not trying to dodge the issue, just don't have the science to accurately describe what we have seen happen. Bill Burke has a client who has access to a linear proton accelerator who voiced an interest in describing what happens. This will greatly assist in our quest as if it works we will not need to destroy a blade to see what is inside.

    A fairly typical blade geometry (whatever that is) may not help or hurt, by knowing what influences operate I hope we can do better. If not better, understand the variables more clearly. At this time I have many more questions than I have answers.

    The etch reveals grain size to a degree, this becomes more meaningful when compared to photomicrographs of the same steel.

    WE would have never achieved what we have found without a team approach. Bill Burke and I constantly explore the bladesmith operations, Rex is the scientist who reads and studies tirelessly, asks questions then validates in the laboratory.

    Angie proofs much of what I write to make it more understandable. I hope I have answered your questions, if not ask again.
  18. wolfmann601

    wolfmann601 Gone, but not forgotton. RIP Ira.

    Mar 12, 2001
    To ask questions that have haunted me since becoming INFECTED, all right, all right, I admit it; ADDICTED to knives, and rather than start five no threads, I hope you do not mind me taking advantage of all of this enormous wealth of knowledge here right now. (YOU TOO Mr. Clark, I really would like to hear from you also).

    It's now been a little more than two years since beginning to collect knives and discovering this to be 10 times MORE enjoyable than collecting firearms. Not only can I have a knife made to MY specs, I can do so without EVER needing to worry about FFL's, red-tape, ATF, tax-stamps, and the standard four-figure start point to begin to have made what it is I want.

    But knives are far more complex than I first imagined. Besides the continual changing opinions on WHAT IS the best Steel or alloy, to the difference between a hollow-grind and a flat grind, clip-point, to Tanto, I find myself trying to comission a knife-Maker and getting hung up the moment AFTER I send the initial E-mail that requests a fixed blade "fighter" with a 6.5 inch blade of ????? steel and then WHAT IS IT you want for handle material that has this bluish/slate hue to it.

    From that moment on, the confusion begins. I know I want a knife that maintains a very sharp edge. I also want it to look STUNNING. But do I want ATS-34, 154-CM, Stellite, Talonite, a mirror finish, a satin finish, a hand-rubbed finish, or some type of coating, and WHAT coating are you looking for. Next onto handle material. Is it STABILIZED wood? (now here you got me. I never talked to a piece of wood to determine if it's stable or nucking futs, so HUH?), or How about STAG(OK, how about stag....HUH?), or would you like one of the Dymondwoods? (wood made OF Diamonds, wood made IN 'Dymandwood, USA', and what exactly is dymondwood?) or how about Bone? WHO'S BONE? (I do not want the Femur of Osama Bin-Laden on a knife I intend to carry! OR, do I?)

    So, I am now pretty straight about that 'tell-tale Etch', but what factors does a NEWBIE really need to consider when looking for a fixed Blade that he INTENDS to carry as his EDC?

    I hope this can somehow be condensed into a brief answer. I am absolutely perplexed.............Thank you,

    Ira :) :) :confused: :confused: ;)
  19. Keith Montgomery

    Keith Montgomery

    May 9, 2000
    Ira, I would love a knife that had a handle made from the femur of Osama Bin-Laden. I would like it even better if I knew it came off him when he was still alive. Sorry to those who think that that is cruel, but I am not kidding.

    Your post has so many questions that it would be very hard to answer them in a condensed form. There is enough there to start three or four other threads. I pick handle materials for the job at hand and because I like them. If it is a neck knife I want I will pick a material not bothered by persperation. Micarta is my first choice, but G-10 or carbon fiber would be fine as well. For a neck knife I would also pick a stainless steel, also because of it's resistance to the effects of salt water. For hunting knives I like carbon steel because of their toughness and ease of sharpening. I also really like sheep horn because even in cold weather it seems warm in the hand and it does not get overly slippery when wet.

    I could go on for ever with this. All I can say is that for different purposes, different materials need to be chosen. It is also impossible for me to know your own personal preferences. You mat like different steels than I do or different handle materials. That is the joy of custom knives. You have the chance to get your knives exactly the way you want them. Now your only problem is deciding just how that will be. With all the great steels and handle materials out there it is not going to be easy. That is what BladeForums is for. Threads like this and many other give you the information you will need to make educated decisions when it comes to making these choices.

    This didn't help much did it? Sorry, I just couldn't give you that Holy Grail of knife info that would let you see the light. You will have to find that for yourself. If you are anything like me, you are really going to enjoy the journey.

    Now before we get to much off topic, how about those etched blades anyway?
  20. Keith Montgomery

    Keith Montgomery

    May 9, 2000
    Actually, if any one else would like to take a shot at answering Ira's questions, please feel free to do so. I think this topic has room for some sidebars, as long as they don't completely take over the thread.

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