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New metal wedges are dangerous.

 
Posts: 12
Location: Idaho 2,700' elevation 30-40" annual rain+snow
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Hi guys, I live over in Idaho and I recently started using some new metal splitting wedges for splitting large logs. I bought them at the local "Do it Best" hardware store, and boy, do the metal shards fly when I hit them with the big maul. Lesson learned -- always wear safety glasses when using unfamiliar tools. The old wedges I have were apparently a much tougher metal as I have used them for years without ever getting metal shards flying around. I guess maybe the new ones are made of recycled or inferior metal, or were not properly tempered.
 
master pollinator
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You might consider taking them to a local black smith shop, or even a knife maker and having them heat treat them. I would think the cost would be minimal and well worth it.
 
George Hughes
Posts: 12
Location: Idaho 2,700' elevation 30-40" annual rain+snow
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Could I heat treat them myself in a wood stove? With like maple coals and blowing on the coals through a pipe? And I can't remember if quenching them in cold water immediately is the good thing to do or the bad thing.... I guess I could google that, but if anyone knows or has experience that would be nice.
 
Posts: 78
Location: Columbia Missouri
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A cold water quench is likely to make the problem worse.  The fast cooling rate makes the metal more brittle.  On the way out the door now.  But, I'll check some of my metallurgy books from college and post a more detailed reply soon.
 
pollinator
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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The thing with tempering metal is that you need to know what you're doing. I don't know if people use instant-read thermometres nowadays, but traditionally, you're looking at a colour chart as the metal heats up to determine temperature.

I would find a blacksmith. Hell, a farrier would probably have the tools and know how. And I wouldn't mess around with wedges you are later going to hit very hard with cold tool steel. Imagine what the result could be if they were accidentally made even more brittle.

Either way, watch your eyes. Let us know how it goes, and good luck.

-CK
 
gardener
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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Like many other simple metal tools, wedges aren’t as simple as they look — a lot of the technology is hidden in the metallurgy. Most such tools have different hardnesses in different places: soft steel where you strike them, hard where they have an edge, that sort of thing. It’s all worked up in a good foundry from the right stock followed by a variety of spot finishing processes and partial quenchings that work different additives into different parts of the tool surfacings.


Unfortunately these days there are a bunch of import tool channels that sell tool-shaped things that simply don’t possess any of the necessary qualities.  They just cast stuff into vaguely the right shape and sell it dirt cheap. Over time this has driven “real” tools out of a lot of retail channels. It can be really hard to tell without using the tools, whether they actually are tools, or just tool-shaped objects.

 
Chris Kott
pollinator
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If I am remembering correctly, what is required here is a full heating, no quench, followed by a differential tempering, where the point up about a third of the way is tempered hard, while the back, where the hammer hits, is kept soft. This was done in some traditions by the judicious application of clay to the parts that were to remain resilient, while the exposed bits were tempered hard.

Mind you, there's more to it than that, especially if you look at the  ancient sword tempering techniques of the Japanese.

But be safe, whatever you do. If using untried tools, assume it will fail catastrophically, and equip yourself accordingly.

-CK
 
George Hughes
Posts: 12
Location: Idaho 2,700' elevation 30-40" annual rain+snow
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Thanks all for your ideas. I'm going to play it safe and not use splitting wedges as my first metalurgy attempt! Especially since I work alone and don't have medical insurance. I think it may just be inferior metal quality anyway, so no guarantee that heating would work.
 
Posts: 176
Location: 7b desert southern Idaho
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Garage sales and auctions, old metal tools often go at scrap prices. I have a five gallon bucket full of old wedges and splitting meals, but do all my fire wood with a hydraulic log splitter. One swing of a sledge will send me to bed for a week. I hate that tools have been turned to crap.
 
pioneer
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Location: California Coastal range
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If this happened to me I would bring them back to where I bought them for a return and refund as they do not work for what they are made for.  I have wedges also and they should never have shards flying off of them when used, I would take them back. Look for a different hardware store to buy your replacements.  If spitting wood is common in your area,  there should be a neighborhood hardware store that stocks decent wood splitting tools, if not, next time you are out traveling, stop by a hardware store in another area to buy a good wedge.  
 
Alex Riddles
Posts: 78
Location: Columbia Missouri
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I spent some time looking at some of my old textbooks and realized there is a lot we don't know about these wedges. Mainly the carbon content. But, that can be measured with an optical spectrometer.  Once you know that you can set your heat treat oven to the correct temperature.  If you have $100,000 worth of equipment at your disposal that's how you would proceed.

Then I found a YouTube video by Dave Bardin called tempering steel.  He goes through how to get the job done in a low tech way and is very detailed in his descriptions.  The part about using a file to test whether the steel is annealed will be very useful, a very simple test that will tell you if your wedge is safe to use.  Also there is a pinned comment that talks about using clay for differential hardening. They didn't teach us about that in engineering school.
 
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