Antikythera Fragment #3 – Ancient Tool Technology – Hand Cut Precision Files

G’day Chris here, and welcome back to Clickspring. Its a tool that we reach for in the shop,
without a second thought. Yet the common hand file is so old, that its
origins are essentially unknown. And it was almost certainly one of the key
tools used to make the Antikythera mechanism. For filing squares and perimeters, and most
importantly, for forming those incredible teeth. So in this video I’m going to hand cut a set
of precision files suitable for constructing the mechanism, using the materials and methods as close as
I can get them to those of the period. The Greek civilisation was well into the Iron
Age at the time of the devices creation. But the question of steel availability is
not easily answered. Certainly there was a form of crucible steel
known as Wootz, from the region we now call India. But there was also the technique known as
case hardening, which essentially converts the surface of
an iron object into steel. Tool artefacts recovered from the period suggests
that this second option is the most likely of the two. Now I don’t have any true wrought iron, but I do have this low carbon mild steel,
which is fairly close. It has too little carbon to be quench hardened, and its soft enough to still be worked in
a similar way to ancient wrought iron. So for the purposes of this exercise, I think
it’s a reasonable substitute. The first step is to take this raw stock,
and shape the basic file blanks. In recent history, this job was done on a
massive grinding wheel. And although it would of course have been
much slower and less convenient, similar hand powered abrasive tools are known
to have existed in antiquity. The surfaces of the blanks are now required
to be filed perfectly flat, or stripped. Traditionally the tool for this job is a stripping
frame. I’ve made this one from oak, and fastened
it onto a board with dowel pins, to keep it secure on the bench. Its a tool that operates a bit like a clockmakers
swing tool. No matter how much I roll the file on top
of the work, it rotates so that the file will still cut
reasonably flat. Ok, so with the file surfaces stripped, the
next step is to form the teeth. And I need to make a few more custom tools
to get this part of the job done. I’ve made a simple file cutting workstation,
based on the traditional approach, but scaled down to suit the size of my shop. The file cutting anvil is a piece of scrap
mild steel covered with a layer of tin, that will protect the file teeth during the
cutting process. A register on the other end seats securely
within this recess on a wooden base, and I made a pair of leather straps to hold the blank onto the anvil. The file cutting chisels were made from this
mild steel plate, again to simulate the wrought iron of the
day. The chisel profile was formed using the grinder
and belt sander, and then they were hardened using the traditional
case hardening process. Now ordinarily case hardening is used to harden
only the exterior of a part. But in this case I left the parts in the furnace
long enough to ensure that they could be essentially through
hardened. This allowed me to grind on a cutting edge
without being concerned about reaching a soft core. The chisels were then tempered, to leave a
pale straw color at the cutting edge. OK, so after all of that preparation, its
time to cut some file teeth. And they’re formed in a remarkably simple
way. The file blank is secured on the anvil using
the straps, and I found that having a protractor resting
nearby was enough of a guide for the cut angle. The chisel is positioned on the workpiece,
and then tilted back slightly, to generate an appropriate rake angle for
the tooth. A sharp hit with a hammer and the first tooth
is formed. A small amount of oil lubricates the surface, so that the chisel will move freely with only
light fingertip pressure. And that first tooth now becomes the reference
for the next tooth. The chisel blade is slid up against it, and then the subsequent teeth are laid down
one after another. Each time, using the previous cut to locate
the next. There is of course a non uniformity to the
tooth spacing. But I think the most interesting thing to
see up close, is the side profile of the cutting teeth. One after another raised up above the surface, the geometry is exactly as you’d expect for
a cutting tool, with rake and clearance clearly present. The blanks have been prepared with the Antikythera
Mechanism in mind. The triangular blanks in particular have been
shaped to match the known tooth angles of the wheels. And I’ll talk some more about that towards
the end of this video. Otherwise the cutting proceeded as you’d expect. Most of the other surfaces were cut with a
single cut pattern, but I did give some of the files a double
cut pattern to investigate if it would make much difference. And the wider chisel was used to span the
wider blanks. The files were then hardened using the same
case hardening process that I used for the chisels, and then tempered to pale straw. Now case hardening is a fascinating subject
all on its own. There’s a lot going on at the surface of the
metal, that’s worth investigating in more detail. I’ve separated the process out into its own
video, so be sure to check that one out next. OK so the moment of truth. Just how well does a shop made file really
cut? Well I’m not about to give up my commercially
made files any time soon. But they do work quite well. They’re probably equivalent to a modern #2
cut file, and although the cutting action is not quite
as sweet as a new, modern file, its a reasonable balance between metal removal
and surface finish. They’re durable, easy to handle, and certainly
perform well enough to have constructed the original mechanism. In fact, I suspect that custom triangular
files might be the key to understanding how the tooth profile was
originally formed. I’ll talk more about this in a later video
, but the tooth root angles vary quite a bit across the device. From as low as 70 degrees to almost 90 degrees, with most sitting somewhere around 75 degrees. I’ve incorporated this tooth shape variation
into the way that I’ve modelled the teeth. Although I’d like to be clear that its not
quite as straight forward as this in the wreckage. There are many variations and inconsistencies. And the wreckage itself is in such poor condition that its impossible to be certain about much
of it. But nevertheless, it’s definitely observable,
that in general, the smaller wheels have a wider root angle
than the larger wheels. I interpret this as a deliberate design choice, made by the maker to give the gearing better
clearance and a smoother engagement. And Its certainly possible that the range
of root angles found in the device, was formed by a single triangular file, that
was simply rolled on its axis to sculpt each tooth. The wreckage displays a fair degree of non
uniformity, that you’d expect for teeth hand cut in this
manner. But there’s still quite a high degree of consistency
of the root angles around each given wheel. That suggests to me that the teeth were in
fact formed by simply plunging the file into the workpiece,
much like I’ve done here. And that the root angle variation observed
across the gearing, was in fact generated by a small selection
of files cut specifically to construct this mechanism. Ok, so to wrap this one up, Its still very
early days for this reconstruction. And I’ve still got a lot more research to
do into the tool technology behind this machine. But I think you’ll agree that its worth it. To see the picture of the ancient workshop
that’s starting to emerge. Of a single individual, or perhaps a small
team, working with simple, yet highly effective tools. Developing the workshop traditions, and refining the engineering practices that
would one day shape the modern world. Thanks for watching, I’ll see you later. Now if you enjoyed this video, and you’d like
to help me make more, then consider becoming a Clickspring Patron. As a Patron of the channel, you get immediate
access to the patron series of videos. This includes the 5 videos from the Wedge
Style hand Vise build, and at present the first 4 videos of the BSC
build with more to come as the project progresses. In the most recent episode, I made the small
assemblies that will one day predict eclipses in the
mechanism. And don’t forget that as a Patron you also
get free access to the plans for the patron series projects, so you can
follow along and build it yourself if you wish. Now as an added patron reward, for a limited
time, I’m also offering $10 off your purchase of
the Clickspring Fire Piston. Its a terrific little fire starting device
based on the prototype that I made some time ago. And makes a great addition to any camping
or hiking bag. So be sure to visit
to find out more. Thanks again for watching, I’ll catch you
on the next video.

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100 thoughts on “Antikythera Fragment #3 – Ancient Tool Technology – Hand Cut Precision Files

  1. Once someone figured out the optimal tooth angle for the file. A wooden jig could be made to hold the chisel

  2. Very easy 's thing's, to have it , are diy's! Solid's built for , fast and jobs done 's … I watching, I enjoyed ' ! Hope 's , wish 's , some day's, i can collecting , thing's of best ! ( best tool's! Best gears, best of yesterday's) ……

  3. The admiration millions upon millions of ppl have for old technology gave birth to an army of artists who enjoy living a part of their lives in the old days where there was no cnc machining , wich is beautiful and nessesary in todays world ofcourse . In what we call our spirit this is nothing different from painting and sculpting and maybe it not even differs there from football . Many even make a living from making things the way it was done back then , hand work .👁👍👍the vid .

  4. At Manching in Germany there was a Celtic town 150-50 BCE in the Museum are files and other tools that look like the were made yesterday.

  5. Really great video. I have a fascination with back to basics hand tool metalwork! Can you please tell what paste you used for carburising your steel and what did you use to encase them? I am really struggling to find the right solution and yours seems bang on. Really good work sir. Thanks for sharing.

  6. My metallurgy professor talked about the ancient files and how they were made. I couldn't imagine that it was done this way. I was clearly overthinking it. Thanks for the demonstration of the process using period tools and technology. Great series.

  7. I have never seen anyone make a handmade file before. This is really fascinating. Thanks for making this video.

  8. meanwhile in other channels


  9. I just have to say that your skill mixed with your knowledge of the historical context of your work inspires awe in me. As a painter and sculpture it's hard for me not to see you as an artist operating on the highest level. I approach my work with a newfound desire for betterment of my technical chops. Do you ever make sculptures or things that don't serve technical purposes? Thank you for sharing your gifts.


  10. Non-professional work You have a lot of errors in the dimensions are clear through the video display does not know the average person and is not fit for sale because of mistakes.

  11. Makes you wonder what these insanely intelligent individuals would be able to achieve had they had access to the information and technology of modern times.

  12. I have spent all day sharpening and shaping gravers Im glad this was a 12 min video it was perfect. This concept will come in handy for attempting to making unique lined gravers. TY

  13. Man I'm having such a hard time imagining how, when striking the teeth on the file, how the previous chisel mark can be used to produce the next.. I At least, I dont see how it works so well that it can be done so quickly without having to check each strike excessively

  14. Passionnant !! retour aux sources techniques, décoder le passé et créer : J' apprécie voilà qui ouvre de grandes perspectives créatrices merci à vous

  15. this is awesome, I've always wondered about how the iron ages would have come up with basic hand tools like a file. Thanks for the vid!

  16. Please can you tell the amount of time you left the blanks in the sealed carbon and clay case and the aproximate temperature?

  17. He failed to mention that with the very precise version of pack Carbonizing that he used to make the Steel hardened high Carbon Chiz's could have also been used to totally harden the Steel File blanks after the teeth were cut into them as well. It works for any thin pieces of steel or small section that are no more then 1/4" inch Thickness MAX over all depth of thickness and so long as the part is not to long or to wide either it will fit into your outer mold and into the furnace and the amount of Charcoal or Pack Carbonize material used is enough it will take 100% through the metal's core………………………It looked like he used a wet charcoal and gasoline or some type of fat like substance in this video to melt or wet his charcoal with prior to packing process. I have no clue the type of clay base he used but any good quality clay will work as it's just there as an insulation and air tight seal that's capable of taking the heat and sealing the parts inside free from air getting in causing Oxidation and De-Carb.
    I always thought the Antikythera Machine could have been filed out using this method of work by hand if the man was dedicated enough and had the tool acess. Hell even a sanding rough wooden set of crystal or sand files can be used if you got the time on your hands.

  18. I was a history major at university. The work you do here reflects a particular school of history that advocates for micro history, as opposed to macro or mezzo history. I count myself as from the school of micro history, where we focus on very narow artifactual subject matter. But then you know this if you have any formal training. Which brings me my question. It seems impossible (or at least highly unlikely) to me that you could do the quality work that you're doing here without having formal training in the discipline of History. Quite frankly, I'm somewhat jealous of the quality of the work you're doing here. Where did you study, and what level did you achieve?

  19. You Sir are brilliant.
    This answers many questions that the educated fools who run around the globe asking questions about how the mechanism was made, along with similar devices.
    Unfortunately they will continue to waste tax dollars when this is the plausible answer.

  20. When operated right, a bloomery can produce high carbon steel, as well as medium and low carbon grades. Look at the Japanese tatara for example. Just from hematite sand and charcoal, a bloom is produced that has all three grades of steel as mentioned above. In fact, the high carbon steel can become so high that it actually has to be decarburised by the bladesmith before it can be used! There's no reason why the Greeks could not have done that as advanced as they were.

  21. I don't get it. Is the file made out of mild steel and then case-hardened? I thought tools had to be made of high carbon and tool steel…

  22. You are such an amazing intellectual, teacher, maker, engineer, machinist, etc). I have so much respect for your hard work and hope to bring my skills to your levels.

  23. Tldr how to make something as advanced as clock mechanism in 87 BC:
    You need to build a tools, for building another tools, for building tools, for […] and with the set of tools made with previous sets of tools, you finally can start a work on mechanism itself.

  24. Holding the engraver at that angle is putting a negative rake on the tooth face. Makes them abrade….not cut. Good, interesting video.

  25. Make tools to make other tools to use in projects and even more tools. Never buy a tool again, just the materials. Make everything to your own design

  26. Nice breakdown & job reconstructing this type of build! Keep it uppp! (About to grab some Stahlville Mini flies tonight!)

  27. is there anything you cant do ??? doesnt seem so. sometimes i feel absolutely lost..its much too perfect! When do you sleep ???

  28. Was wondering how files were made recently after seeing how useful they are for traditional hand powered crafting, and it was a great video. It's great knowing how these simple but impressive tools are made and how the ancients were able to make it all happen.

  29. I remember seeing an episode of How It’s Made that featured hand made files and one thing that stood out to me was the shape of the hammers the pros were using.

    They had a pretty large head and a very aggressively curved handle, I’m not sure what the mechanics are behind that is but if I had to guess it was to solve the problem of the uniformity issues you mention on your own files. The wide head would insure full contact with your chisel (assuming proper hammer control) and the curved handle might have made it easier to form a consistent arc when swinging the hammer, meaning repetition was more likely to be accurately applied.

    Either way, if you decide to discuss files and make more videos on them I’d look into the hammers specifically because their odd shape definitely stands out compared to the traditional hammers you’d see for any other craft.

  30. i see 1 small problem here…..
    you seem to use a file to make files
    you should make the actual "first" file ….
    i think that if you just make a knife, than make the edge "bad" you should be able to file (saw) with it 😉

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