At Olin, all students must take a course in chemistry or materials science in order to graduate. After taking two years of chemistry in high school, I decided that I wanted to try something new. MatSci was something that I barely knew about, so I decided to take the opportunity to gain some breadth of knowledge.
This new knowledge isn't just stuff I get from a book, though- MatSci is one of our more project-based classes. Our project is basically an analysis of the grain structure and mechanical properties of different forged blades. In order to get the pieces to study, my team is in the process of learning the time-honored tradition of forging. I am of the opinion that you never feel more like an engineer than when you are hitting hot metal with a hammer. "Hot" in this case means roughly 1850 degrees F.
(All photos credited to Alex Jones, '10)
When the furnace is cranked up that high, you have to wear a lot of protective clothing. Pretty much we looked like what Daft Punk would look like if they were sent back to be blacksmith apprentices. Notice the giant ear protection, the heat-resistant coats, and the face shields. We also had gloves, but they hadn't been put on at this point.
This is my roommate, Becky, and I posing in our garb. We also have one other team member, Alex, who took these pictures. This forging session we also brought our friend, Hermes, who actually came up with the project idea.
After heating the metal for a while, it was time to take it out of the furnace. This was only difficult when you realized that your hands were now approximately the size of bear paws due to the Kevlar gloves.
Here I am, hitting the metal, trying to make it into a vaguely blade-like shape.
At some point, we actually cracked this blade. Becky then quenched the "sword" and we looked to see if we had made anything close to the right shape.
As you might notice, these aren't particularly menacing. The bottom one (bronze), was our first attempt. If it weren't so thick, it might have been pretty decent. Our second one (steel, top) was thinner, but also curvy and broken.
Since then we've been steadily improving; hopefully our next one will have a pointed tip. Even if we don't get to the level of master blacksmiths, though, we can still feel pretty cool while trying.