A 'cut' above the rest
A 'cut' above the rest
MatSE undergrads Abby Sreden and Kira Martin's dagger designs wows during the Bladesmithing Symposium at The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society’s annual Meeting and Exhibition.
Written by Kayla Huang
SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Powerful opportunities yield great rewards. MatSE undergraduates Kira Martin and Abby Sreden are ready to tackle real-world challenges after creating a Damascus blade for the Bladesmithing Symposium at The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society’s, or TMS, annual Meeting and Exhibition held in San Diego, Calif., earlier in March.
Every other year TMS holds a Bladesmithing Competition at its annual conference. That’s how Martin and Sreden got to see the “cool” and “intricate” blades up close and personal during the last year’s event.
They knew immediately that they wanted to one day have their very own blade on display in the exhibition hall.
They took the first step this year, at TMS’ Bladesmithing Symposium, which features technical presentations focusing on bladesmithing processes and procedures.
That’s all thanks to the help of MatSE assistant professor Marie Charpagne, who specializes in metals. She teamed up with Martin and Sreden to create a blade inspired by a 14th Century European medieval dagger.
Damascus is a layered steel containing both regular carbon steel and a high nickel steel. By combining the two types of steel, the blade’s strengthened without reducing its flexibility.
“Damascus steel is quite the exotic material,” Charpagne said. “Its structure is a work of art (with its) intersection between craftsmanship, tradition (and) materials science.”
This art is unique to metalworking and one that’s “very close” to Charpagne’s heart.
Crafting the blade
Making the blade was no easy feat as no bladesmithing tools are available on campus. The two had to travel an hour each weekend to Andersen Forge’s workshop in Watseka, Ill.
They began by creating the blade’s billet — a small piece of metal — by sharpening it with a hydraulic press and hand forging. After they formed the blade’s general shape, they used a belt grinder to refine it even more.
Next came quenching and tempering to achieve the desired hardness for the blade. Then, they etched and polished it to reveal the Damascus pattern.
The juniors shaped the blade’s hardware and handle. To make the hardware black, the two used a chemical process known as hot bluing. The handle was shaped and fluted all by hand.
Along the way, Charpagne taught the undergrads metallurgical preparation — from grinding, polishing, etching and taking hardness measurements so they could correlate the effect of the treatment on the microstructure and properties.
Charpagne helped the duo finish the blade by replicating the triple aging treatment the blade had already undergone and saving small samples along the way to characterize their microstructure evolution preparation. Grad student Jackson Nie helped the juniors put the final touches on the sample preparation.
Making the connection
More than anything, the undergrads simply enjoyed the hands-on effort.
“I really liked the idea of combining a very practical project that uses techniques that have been around for thousands of years with modern characterization processes,” Sreden said.
Making the connection of classroom knowledge and applying it to real-world scenarios is what Charpagne relishes.
“Much knowledge in materials science is gained through this hands-on experience — from designing and materializing a concept into an object, making a prototype, troubleshooting technical challenges, you basically develop practical and critical thinking and a unique, personal intuition regarding the materials that surround you,” Charpagne said.
With the Bladesmithing Symposium under their belt, Martin and Sreden can’t wait to have their very own dagger displayed for all to see in the exhibition hall at next year’s Bladesmithing Competition.
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This story was published May 2, 2023.