Watch a blacksmith create a gorgeous Damascus steel knife


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/01/06/watch-a-blacksmith-create-a-go.html


#2

The type of Damascus steel this guy is making is. Well, not really Damascus steel. And bears no real relationship to historical Damascus or the methods for making it.

Historical Damascus steel is chemically quite different than steel made this way. And while we didn’t have precise methods for the way it was made. We’ve been able to replicate it’s chemical and physical properties since at least the 19th century.

The type of Damascus this guy is making is call pattern welded steel. Basically one or more modern steels is folded or twisted into a billet. Formed. Then washed with acid to show the patterns of folds of metal banding. The specific type is cable Damascus. Basically some steel cables use steel that’s appropriate for cutting tools. And they make a nice, And very clever short cut to Damascus patterned steel. Since the metal is already twisted. There’s a lot less you need to do to get those patterns going.

More recently there’s been some very good research into how the real shot was made and sourced. It involved very particular sorts of steel. And very careful heat treating. The banding in the real stuff isn’t folded metal. But carbide that precipitate out as the steel cools. Microscopic structures in the steel itself.


#3

Bob Kramer, master black smith specializing in chef’s knives.


#4

Except that late medieval and early modern smiths didn’t know that the pattern welding methods they were using weren’t the same as the crucible methods being used in India to make the metal that Damascus smiths used for their blades. So for a couple centuries now, at least,.pattern welded steel has been referred to by smiths as Damascus steel.

You’ll find scads of smithcraft videos on Youtube labeled “making a damascus knife” or some such that use the pattern welding techniques.

At this point I think pedantically enforcing the purity of the term to apply only to the old crucible style forging method is a lost cause. Damascus steel can refer either to a crucible forged steel, or to a pattern welded steel, both of which yield similar groovy looking patterns in the metal. THis video is about the more modern method, and @AndreaJames is incorrect in saying it’s the same as the ancient method named after the city in modern Syria.

eta: Here’s a video of someone making a knife with (one modern reconstruction of) the crucible method.


#5

Dammit, I clicked to see someone making actual Damascus steel. Cable forging gives a superficially similar result, but is not the same thing, not by a long shot.


#6

In my experience, goobers call anything with a hint of a pattern “damascus”, and squared up smiths refer to pattern and pattern development, or whatever terms are appropriate to the particular materials and methods used to make blades to suit a historical style or desired functionality. It’s worth maintaining some clarity, and pointing out what correct terminology is, but goobers gonna goober.


#7

Specifically, this is “damascened” metal, not Damascus steel. If you don’t start from wootz (which came from India, at the time) it ain’t Damascus steel, period.

Note: the banding in true Damascus steel IS partially caused by folding.

http://materials.iisc.ernet.in/~wootz/heritage/WOOTZ.htm

http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/9809/Verhoeven-9809.html

In reality, the recipe for “true” Damascus steel was lost long ago, although it is believed that we’ve finally figured out how it was made.


#8

Geez, guys. Can’t we simply appreciate the skill and artistry of what this smith is doing, instead of quibbling over the precise terminology?


#9

That was substantially my point.

It’s worth it not to connect the ancient mysterious metal with this sort of thing for a couple reasons. First because the real, detailed situation is more interesting. Cable Damascus is a very clever thing. And the real history and detail of Damascus is a lot more interesting than the “have you seen my Katana it’s folded like a million times!” level discussion about it’s mysterious and magical properties. Second because the marketing strategy is to draw a connection between Damascus patterned steel and the myth of the real stuff to inflate prices and reputation.

Damascene/d is the art term for anything with that sort of patterning. Especially fabric. With metal it tends to refer to superficial decoration like engraving, bluing, And paint. It never seems to have caught on with blade/tool steels that are folded/pattern welded despite pedants insistence and seems to be some use in academia. The currently accepted term seems to be “pattern welded”. Personally it doesn’t matter much to me so long as you don’t conflate the two. Call it demascus, call it Damascene, call Valaryian Steel. Just don’t claim its the same as the historical artifact, or ascribe magical properties or secretssssssss to it.

That’s just annoying.

From what I understand it controls how the carbides precipitate, giving you control of the pattern.

Like I said we’ve known how to make it since at least the 18th-19th century.

There’s one or two other processes/steel types from that era too. Chemistry, properties and microscopic structure of that stuff are identical to “real” Damascus.

What was lost (and it seems like bits of India, and south east Asia remembered pretty good) was the precise historical process. How was the base steel made. Where did it come from. And how was it worked. The recent research on that front has been standing up pretty well. Chemical anaylisis confirms the source of the steel. The process for making it is both still extent. And reflected in records and archeology. And the methods they outlined for working it to create the banding apparently work, And are consistent with methods and tools of the time.


#10

Nope. NO ONE knew how to make proper Damascus steel, until quite recently; you are making the case for damascened steel, that simple. Your insistence simply does not negate the opinion of experts, some of whom I cited for you.

Once again, if not made from wootz (modern or ancient), it ain’t Damascus steel, that simple.


#11

Absolutely NOT, at least in this case. Damascus steel has several superior properties that damascened metal does not share, that simple. It really is not the same thing.


#12

You must be new here.


#13

1st it was the experts who have pointed out that Bulat as in the 19th century industrially produced metal is nearly identical to old school Damascus. And the historical Bulat it was intended to recreate may have actually been the same thing from the same source as Damascus. Its not “damascened”. Its not pattern welded. The patterns are not superficially applied. They’re made up of precipitated bands of carbides.

2nd.

Modern steels to a one. Out perform historical Damascus on every measure. Even by the measures of its time, there were multiple places that made steel just as high quality and effective. If not more. Its reputation largely comes from being better than most every day steel. Like the other high quality steels from steel making centers (Scandinavia was another one, Sheffield in England).

The trick with the stuff. Its “special” properties. Appear to be that it was relatively soft and flexible, but the carbide bands allow it to still carry a fine edge. Or be worked with fine, close fitting detail. Hold shapes etc. So it cut 'ril good, but it was more likely to bend than it was to snap as other common steels might. It however doesn’t appear to have sprung back the way other quality steels did/do.

A modern pattern welded steel, will put old school Damascus to shame. And Bulat too. Which was mostly used in gun barrels. As even by that time early industrial production had brought higher quality steels to an incredibly broad market. So what use it saw in blades, armor and what have was purely for aesthetics. The performance of a pattern welded bit of steel from its own era would be entirely down to the quality of the metal used. If it was high quality steel it might be incredibly different to tell the difference. And a lot of historical steel produced back the crusades in Damascus was pattern welded. And we had a very hard time telling the difference. Until people started trying to figure it out. In the 18th and 19th century. Specifically to build better gun barrels.


#14

jesse james is now making damascus 1911 pistols, im not sure the barrels are though https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5679d4afe0327c3145bd3e59/t/5679d87059b1f874c234a4d1/1450831265617/dmascas.jpg


#15

He’s almost certainly making slides out of pattern welded steel. Its a common decorative element on a lot of stuff.

The “real deal” likely wouldn’t be strong/hard enough to hold up to the machining and forces involved with semi-auto pistols and modern gun powder. When I say it was mostly used for gun barrels we’re talking cannons. And a couple hundred years ago.

A lot of Damascus gun barrels in the past, specifically for shot guns were made from pattern welded steel. Basically they twisted up bands of steel and wrapped them around a mandrill. Etched them to look good. Grew out of a faster method of making barrels where you just wrapped bands around the mandrill, fancying it up a bit. Those tended to fail (split welds) even with old gun powder and sure as shit will now. IIRC your man who regretted Bulat did so in order to mass produce better steel for gun barrels to avoid that problem, and to mass produce quality steel for gun barrels. It was apparently one of the first industrial steel making processes. The Bessemer process supplanted it a few decades later. With better steel for cheaper.

Modern pattern welded steel is apparently fine for gun barrels. You still see Damascus gun barrels on high end shot guns and rifles these days. Which again. Our steel is just way, way better.


#16

interesting stuff. i had one knife that i guess was pattern welded and i nev er needed to sharpen that fucker, after years of whittling it stayed sharp


#17

Unless it costs like $20k and was a few hundred years old its more than likely pattern welded. There really hasn’t been any scale production of the old sort anywhere since the middle ages. Then Russia in the 19th with the recreation of Bulat. You can buy wootz steel from India as they never really stopped making it as a traditional cottage industry. Or its equivalent made by matching the chemistry. Billets of Bulat made by the modern method. I think there’s a third one. Can’t remember the name. Another early attempt to match the properties, but not the method. You can still get chunks of.

All made small scale by nerds/hobbyists and academics. So there’s some people out there playing with the stuff. But I’m doubting you accidentally bought a custom made whittling knife from a practical archaeologist.

Wood carving knives are usually made from very hard metal, to take a really, really sharp edge. Kind of like chisels and other wood working tools. Hard metal is harder to sharpen, but it often needs to be sharpened less often.

ETA: Is it Scandinavian by chance?


#18

wish i knew where it was… had a bone handle and curved blade, not what i usually carve with but it worked well despite that. probably made from 1970-on, definitely not an archaeological find


#19

Nope; you are blithely arguing a point that has nothing to do with what I actually said. I never once suggested Damascus steel was superior to all other steels. What I DID say, was that the process above simply is not Damascus steel, and won’t have the same properties. Furthermore, I’m exactly correct.

Care to try again?

Completely false. In fact, the manufacture of wootz died out in the 1700s.

Insistence != existence, no matter how fervent.


#20