In May of 2004, I began to assemble what I would coem to call the Matherton Forge Metallurgical Research and Development Lab. It was designed to be a clean room devoted to the test and analysis equipment that would allow me to pursue my study of blades and steel more in-depth than ever before.
The Matherton Forge Metallurgical Research and Development
A remodel of a section of my shop included ample lighting, I also incorporated plenty of cabinet space and plumbed in a water supply so that it has everything “including” a kitchen sink. This has made my life much more pleasant for mixing solutions and doing the etching work for my damascus and test sample preparation.
Many other smiths who have tried to justify tool (toy) purchases to their wives have asked how I managed this one, after all, not many bladesmiths require a metallurgical lab to make knives. When Karen found out that the hardness tester would be out of her way in the basement, the impact tester would vacate her garage space, and the ferric chloride stains would move from her kitchen sink to mine, it was actually a pretty easy sell.
Here is my hardness tester residing in its new and permanent home. Plenty of drawer and cupboard space below it makes life much easier than a bladesmith deserves. It is not one of the most expensive models available, but I have some good test blocks and it reads very consistently. I had kept it in my house for years because of the huge fluctuations in temperature and humidity that it would be subjected to in my shop. The new lab is very well insulated and heated with ducting that allowed me to put good filtration on the incoming air. I do go through a few furnace filters due to the other work areas in my shop, but the lab remains pretty clean in comparison.
Perhaps the best deal I ever got on E-bay was my Riehle impact tester, I guess nobody else had a need to do Charpy or Izod type impact testing, since mine was the only bid. It did cost a bit to get it shipped to me since the entire unit weighs in at over 700 lbs., but it was in excellent shape and I got four different heads for the full range of testing all the way up to 240 ft lbs. with two different drop heights. For the readings of this gadget to have any meaning it needed to be meticulously leveled and secured with grade 8 bolts to the foundation mentioned above.
My obsessive/compulsive nature toward the metllurgy of my blades made the ability to look inside the steel a necessity. Martensite is hard and will skate a file, but the same is true of a poor mix of fine pearlite, and the Hardness tester can’t tell you the grain size that is just as important for performance. To meet these needs I have acquired several Olympus metallurgical microscopes over time.
Each has its own capabilities that I desire. One has a wide and completely adjustable stage for laying an entire blade on for examination, while the other has a very tightly controlled stage that can handle slide mounted specimens, and trans-illumination. One is binocular for regular viewing, but has brightfield and darkfield capabilities, the other is trinocular to handle the mounting of my digital camera for easy metallographic uses. The one I use the most is the large and veristile Olympus PME metallograph designed specifically for metallograpy. Metallography, or photography of the microstructure inside steel is accomplished on my PME using adpaters to mount a Cannon T2I digital SLR to the metallograph in place of the film camera it initially used. This allows the process to be ran thourgh a computer and I can work of a 20" high resolution LCD monitor. With compatible software, I can control the camera from the computer and view my images on the wide screen. This is networked to my other computers in the house and the internet so that I can almost instantly produce and upload images to the web.
In 2014, I got the opportunity and decided to take my microscopy to the next level. Optical microscopes are great, cheap, and easy to use, but mine go to about a maximum of 1100X.
The next level, SEM (scanning electron microscopy) is ridiculous overkill for any private individual but too cool to ignore for a geek like myself.
So when the opportunity presented itself I embarked on the Matherton Forge Scanning Electron Microscope project.
A guy needs to be comfortable as well, so the lab is wired for sound, with remote speakers in all the other rooms of the shop ran from its stereo with a five CD changer, dual cassette decks and the tuning presets for the talk radio I prefer. There is also a Television mounted above the stereo, but I seldom use it as it is too distracting, and there really isn’t much worth watching on television these days.