Here at Heartwood Forge, I love transitioning good ol' scrap metal to something beautiful and useful in hopes that it will be loved forever and continually hint at it's past life. However; not all steel has been created equal, and in my ongoing hunt for good steel, I have uncovered many times more lesser grade steels. The quality isn't what I would call consistent. As the "good" steel (above 0.90% carbon content) is increasingly hard to find in reclaimed form, the sub-par steel is stacking up. This is clearly problematic when I am faced with making consistent chefs knives. The testing that goes into my raw reclaimed materials is extensive and when I find outstanding old steel, I need to make it go as far as I can. The second major issue is figuring out what to do with an ever increasing collection of less useful salvaged steel. If it's in a scrap pile in my shop, it is any better off than scrap at a scrap yard?
As you may have read before, and now, nearly a year ago, I studied the making of san mai with master bladesmith, Bill Burke in Idaho. San mai is a Japanese technique of laminating different steels together to provide the best of two different alloys. Basically, "san mai" translates as "three flat things" - an outer cladding and an inner core steel for the edge of the knife. It's traditionally made with a soft iron cladding that protects the harder inner steel - but there are lot of ways to interpret the technique - being only limited by your mental and physical abilities and this ancient technique offers a real solution to a real problem.
By laminating softer steels, whiskey barrel iron straps, old wrought iron wagon wheels or stainless steel to the outside of some of the more rare antique saw blades, I use less high-carbon steel for each knife - approximately 60% less - as the cladding supplements the material used in the process and mostly what is ground off after forging would be non-cutlery grade steel. This extends the useful life of the really good steels. Additionally, mixing some of the lesser quality steels by layering to create damascus can offer a beautiful way to recycle these steels and use them for either the cladding in san mai or as a stand along damascus blade.
Here's a gallery of some the san mai blades of 2017: