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What is Annealing/Normalizing?

Should you do it before smithing a blade? And if so, how do you do it?

The words annealing and normalizing are two different words that mean the same thing.

Annealing, also referred to as normalizing is the process of softening up steel so it is easy to work with tools, files and saws.

Steel, is very hard! Of course you know this. But steel does have a range of hardness. It can be so hard that it is brittle and easy to snap, similar to glass. And it can be very soft so files and other tools easily work it.


But this softness wouldn't be very practical in a finished knife right? I mean, if you can work the knife easily with a file or hacksaw it also wouldn't hold up to much regular use. It would dull very easily when cutting things. It wouldn't hold an edge. And a similar thing comes to mind if it were too brittle. It would snap when using it.

So.... when you first get a piece of steel that you want to make into a knife or some kind of blade you want to normalize it ( anneal it). So it is easy to work into the shape you want.

Then after you are done you want to harden and temper it so it is in usable and durable condition for every day actual use.

So, How do you Anneal/Normalize Steel?

First some things to think about.

Steel comes in an extremely wide range of types -each with very specific characteristics. You will not be able to anneal some types of steel. And some types you will not be able to harden/temper. So, if you just have a random type of unknown steel you might have trouble or not be able to get it done.

You should.... know the type of steel you are working with. And you should look it up to see if it can be annealed/normalized.

If you bought a professionally made blank of steel specifically for knife making there is a good chance it is already annealed. Check your link to where you bought it.

Apply the File Test First

A piece of steel that is properly annealed is soft enough to work with a file and other tools like I said. SO... grab a file and see if you can file it reasonably easily. Some metal workers will gently run the file over it and listen to the sound. An annealed steel will have a dull sound whereas a hardened steel will resist the file. The file will glide right off the steel and make a sound like glass. You might be able to hear the difference. But with no experience you can just go with whether or not the file actually files reasonably well.

If your steel is hard and needs to be annealed this is what you do:

Slowly heat the entire piece of steel to red hot. It should be glowing red hot.

Then place it completely in sand or verrmiculite.

Let it stay buried until it has completely cooled to room temperature.

Repeat the process a second time, heat to red hot then place it sand or vermiculite until cooled.

What does this do and why?

When you heat up steel it gets soft right? It can be hammered, and shaped pretty easily. That is one of the big reasons why blacksmiths heat metal, so it can be worked. But.... when it cools down (in air or in water) it hardens back up. Typically not all the way to it's hardest point but typically too hard to comfortably work.

But... if we let it cool very slowly, by placing it in sand or vermiculite, it will stay relaxed and not harden. It has been annealed.

And we do it twice to insure it has gotten to maximum annealing.

Once you are pretty sure it is nicely annealed you should run a file on it. This way you can see how easy it is to work; and you can hear the difference!

Why Vermiculite? Sand will work but vermiculite is better because your heated blade will cool much slower.

And remember! Once you are done shaping your blade it will need to be hardened and tempered. Or it will be useless as a knife.


Vermiculite is available on