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die makig

robert weinstock

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Hi everyone, This is a response to a picture I submitted some weeks ago of a little gold handled pen knife. I'm sorry to have taken so long. I've been busy preping for a show, and didn't actually see the repsonses to that picture. Thanks to all for the generous comments.

To answer the first question about dies, there were no dies used in the making of that or any other knife I've made. I used to make dies for jewelry when I worked in a factory situation. The only reason to make dies is if you want to make a large number of the same object, or to reproduce a pattern. They are dificult and timeconsuming to make, and would be counterproductive for a single peice.

When I made dies, I would make a positive first. It would be carved in steel in relief on top of a block of steel. For jewelry, this would be as if I carved the ring attached to a block of steel. Depending on the design parameters, the peice could be whole, or if it was stamped hollow, then I would carve half of it on the block. This peice is called the hub, or master. This block would then be heatreated. The next step would be to sink it into another block of steel in a large press. This would give me a female, or negative of the form. This would then be hardened, and used as the die from which the finished peice would be stamped. At this point, a ring could be stamped using a flat top die, if the ring is flat on the inside. It would then be bent round and the ends soldered together.

There could be a formed top die as well as the first one (bottom die). It could be identical to the bottom die if the ring were the same on both sides, and solid. The top die could be a positive form to fill in the lower die if the ring was hollow. In this case, two peices would be stamped and soldered together. This all depends on the design and complexity of the ring. All this stamping is done cold, as is the sinking of the dies from the hub.

After the ring is stamped, it would go to the bench jeweler, the stone setter, and the polisher to be worked on. So, the diemaking is just the first step in a long proccess. I could spend a month making a set of dies, sometimes much longer.

I hope this doesn't confuse everyone to much. ;)

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Thanks for the explanation. I never knew what die making really was. In my audio memory file, I hear "tool and diemaking" as a vocation. Is this in the same vein as what you described above for jewelry making?



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Hi Robert,

Thanks for the general description of things. I make dies now and again for sword parts and it has come in very handy for making duplicate detailed medalions or Menuki pairs. I have been carving them directly in negative in soft steel. The requirements on them are low and I dont even heat-treat them. If you don't mind elaborating I have a few queastions. I find this facinating as I am a big fan of cold worked metals.


What types of steels were used for the Jewelry die and hub?


What Hardness would the die and hub be after heat-treat?


What was the Ton rating on the press that you used to impress the hub on the softer steel blank (I am guessing something major)?



Patrick Hastings

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Hi Patrick, I've had some experience working directly in the die as well. There are certain things that can only be done in the die, and I used to do both on the same project sometimes.

As to your questions, We used mostly W1 and W2 water hardening steel, mostly because that's what had been used by the man I learned from, and he used it back to his beginnings in Germany before WW1. It's also very workable and easy to heat treat. Our tempering methods were pretty primitive. We used color, and tempered W2 to a light straw color- Probably around 56-58 on the Rockwell scale if I had to guess. We also used O1 steel, but it's more difficult to work, so I used it for other types of dies (cutting dies). If I were to make dies today, I would probably use A2 or something similar. It's very workable, and much tougher than W2 or O1.

As to presses, we used various presses from a 10 ton drop hammer, to a 50 ton screw press. You have to know that some of the dies I made were very small, like settings that were maybe 1/4". Even the biggest dies were for rings that were at the largest about 1/2" wide by 3 1/2 " long and about .100' deep. A die like that would need 50 tons to sink.

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