Inlaid Steel Thingies


Introduction: Inlaid Steel Thingies

About: I shouldn't have to tell you that using a dagger to undo this little, fiddly screw's a bad idea. AAAAARGH! big project ^^ so practically no chance of instructables from me till july, p'raps? maybe a bit la...

Sorry about the long absence, but there were exams and stuff to deal with, then I didn't make much of anything i felt the need to post for a while, but yesterday, while playing around, I found the answer to a problem that’s been weighing on my mind for a while: Inlaying.
I’ve never really been clear on how its done, and no one wanted to tell me, so I had to work it out for myself.
These little steel things are easy enough to make, as long as you’ve got the heat, so let's begin.

Step 1: Cut the Steel to Size.

For a moderately-sized thingie, you should use a piece of steel about 1 inch long by 3/4 of an inch wide by 1/8 of an inch thick. This’ll give a nice bit of room to decorate it without being too big to heat properly. Cut the steel from the bar ans clamp it in a vise.

Step 2: Clean and Drill the Steel

Once your little tablet of steel's in the vise, you need to take all hte paint/scale/rust off it. Go find that file.
Once the steel's clean and bright, round the corners off with the file. (did I say you needed a file?)
By now, the steel should be cleaned to its bright surface and rounded on the edges.
Now comes the drilling bit.
You need to drill holes part way through the steel, but not all the way. If you drill all the way through, the liquid metal you're going to apply will dribble out of the holes. Bad. If you evanime a drill bit, you'll see that there's a point at which the head of the bit meets the body. You should be looking for the angle between the bit that does the cutting and the straight body. If you know what I mean by that, then you should understand what I mean when I tell you that you need to drill a hole 1MM deep from that point. I udes bits of varying sizes for these holes, to give a more random appearance.

Step 3: Apply the Alloy

Now that you have a series of incomplete holes in the steel, you need to make something to fill them with. I used a copper-alloy brazing rod, this stuff is designed to stick well to steel, so it seems a great choice. Cut little snippets off the rod if you're using one, and place the bits in the holes. You should apply enough metal to fill the holes, and a bit more. As it melts, it'll flow and as it cools again, it'll contract, leaving a depression on top of the holes. This obviously detracts from the look of the piece.
Once you've put the metal on, put some flux on. My brazing rod came already fluxed, so I used the bits that fell off. Other fluxes include, but are not limited to borax, commercial brazing and silver-soldering fluxes, etc. Use the right flux for the right metal for optimal results.

Step 4: The Fun Part: Melting.

Quite simply, for this step, you need to melt the metal you've put on top of the steel. As it melts, it flows into the holes, beacuse the holes ar the lowes point, right?
Nope, it sort of spreads out into a metallic soup, moving hwere it wants to move. Don't be surprised if you have to put more alloy on. (this is where brazing rods come in useful. your hand doesn't actually go near the heat)
Once you're satisfied that all hte holes are full of metal, and that it's not going to escape anywhere, go and get a drink, or something. By the time you come back, the metal should be cool enough to proceed to the next step. I don't recommend waiting 'til the metal's solidified then quenching the steel in water. Stuff contracts when it cools, and the forces of contraction MIGHT i say might be strong enough to pop a plug of alloy out. Wait for it to cool on its own.

Step 5: Files Away!

Using the file from earlier (or a different one, its not like it matters, or anything) file away the excess alloy. As you do this, you should be able to see the circles show up. When they all show up clearly, stop with the gile and move on to coarse sandpaper. The circles don't show up well ATM. We'll deal with that in a few moments.

Step 6: Finishing Up

By now you should have drilled some holes, melted some stuff and done some filin' and polishin'.
i reckon 280 grit sandpaper's fine enough for these, but you might think otherwise. Once you've sandpapered it to the point that suits you, wipe the surface with meths. Meths, not meth.
METHS WARNING: 's almost pure alcohol, the only part of it that isn't alcohol is purple dye and some offensive chemical. Consuming meths makes you blind, mad then dead, in that order at roughly that speed. (maybe a bit slower...) It's the methanol content that does that.
Anyway, wipe the surface of the steel with a meths-y cloth to get all the finger oils off. Wait for the alcohol to dry, then apply a cold bluing solution. The bluing solution discolours the steel, leaving the copper-based alloy still bright. Actuially, i've found that the bluing solution CAN attack the alloy, if left for long enough. Bluing once is enough. Bluing twice is a waste of time, really. Bluing three time can attack the copper alloy, and you'd need to go back to the sandpaper to get rid of that.
One last thing. Apply a thin coat of light oil to the piece, to add an extra depth of shine.

Step 7: Bonus Material

We've established that copper-based alloys make a copper-based alloy dot.
But what about silver-based alloys?
Well, i tried silver solder, and it makes a nice pink-ish coloured dot. I reckon that's because of the copper content.
Sterling silver looks good, the dots look like stars in the sky on blued steel, very nice, though it does have a tendency to not stick very well.
The only way to see what works well and what doesn't is to try it. I tried having different metals in each hole. Remember the metallic soup I mentioned earlier? All the dots came out the same light-silver-y-copper-y colour.
I made one of these and gave it to one of the kids who lives in the street. The next thing i knew, he'd got all his 6-year-old communist mates around, all of whom were demanding one. In shapes as complicated as a HEXAGON!11!!(shift+1) I did my best to keep up, but they keep coming. HOW MANY SMALL BLONDE COMMUNIST CHILDREN CAN THERE BE!?
On a much more lucid side, thanks for reading, and i'll have some mroe stuff along soon, i hope. I'll try not to leave as huuge a gap between this one and the next one.



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    30 Discussions

    Awesome! This is pretty much how I made my hazard stripe belt buckle. A little tip, for next time you do this: try using a grinding or cutting wheel to make lines and other designs. I think I will try this to make the runes on my Thor's hammer key chain. A constellation would be cool, too.

    If you want to try it, you cold do a salt and ammonia patina. After you reach your final polish stage, clean your metal with alcohol or detergent, mist some water onto the metal, sprinkle on some salt. Your goal is to have a thin crust of salt covering the metal--grinding the salt to powder before sprinkling it on can make this much easier to accomplish. Next pour a few teaspoons of ammonia into a jar, suspend the metal above the ammonia or put the metal on a wire rack above the ammonia. The goal here is to let the fumes reach the metal, but not let the liquid ammonia contact the piece your trying to patina. Leave the whole thing set quietly for a day or two. Pull out your patinaed metal and give in a soft polishing to shine up the highlights. This patina process produces some beautiful blue-green coloration on copper and copper alloys, but has little effect on silver or gold. I'm not sure what the effect on steel and iron alloys would be, but I suspect that the patina will run to shades of red and/or black.

    Another way of doing the inlays is to use scribes and such to undercut the metal, making a trapezoid like hole and hammering (lightly tapping to slightly bend the softer inlay metal) inlays in. This is done remarkably well with copper based alloys that change weird colors when heated like you have done or with inlays made of wire. Try to use a small chisel to indent the metal for small lines and then undercut. Some metal combinations need heat, either like what you have done above where the whole piece is heated and then hammered, or just a torch to heat the inlay material so it stays soft.

    erm....where do u live?? why are there a bunch of comunist children around!!! AGGHHH

    6 replies

    england, nr. liverpool i gave just one thingie away, then the whole bloody street came and wanted one! i think the unofficial motto is "all for one, one for all, and none for the person who makes them!"

    I've never used nickel for this, but i imagine it'd stick well to the steel and make very shiny silver dots. Something to look out for, though is the fact that nickel has a rather high melting point..

    ok ..something bothered me about you living near liverpool...but i couldn't put my finger on it... than it hit while reading a book from my favorite author.... Brian Jacques!!! BRAIN LIVES in liverpool. so....if you see him tell him a fan from the u.s. says not to die soon and keep writing :)

    the chances of me seeing him are infintessimal... but if i do, i will.

    oh, and tell Brian Jacques that i couldn't find "Red wall abbey" in any American phone books so i assume its in england...

    If there are too many children, simply sacrifice them. Sacrificing children to the Mountain Fire Gods is necessary. They demand it.

    1 reply

    I know, but there's just soooo many fire gods, and they're all so cool, i couldn't choose one over any of the others.

    I have a hobby of making things out of wire (like scorpions,dolphins,ladybugs, etc.), gave one to a second-grader at my school, and like you said, TEN THOUSAND* COMMUNIST CHILDREN WERE SCREAMING AND FORCING ME TO MAKE THEM SOME FLIPPIN' SCORPIONS!!!1

    *rough estimate

    Instead of using the bluing solution, what about reheating to get some pretty coloured patina happening on the steel? On a bigger piece you could get some variety by applying local heat with a torch or a piece of hot metal.

    1 reply

    i reckon blue tempering colours'd look nice with sterling. i considered it, but bluing seemed more permanent and easy. 's a nice idea...