Damascus

Damascus is a city in Syria, but it has lent its name to a unique type of metal. For hundreds of years, a superior steel came into Europe through Damascus, and it was coveted by warriors everywhere. The vikings traveled far south and east to trade for this steel, the best steel for weapons. No one knew how it was made, only that is came from the east somewhere, and was traded, and sometimes forged, in the city of Damascus. Because of its rarity, and especially when the supply began to dry up, European smiths tried their best to replicate damascus. The telltale clue of this steel was a faint, wavy pattern just visible on the surface.

A knife Fredrik made. 1792 layers

A knife Fredrik made. 1792 layers

From this pattern, smiths began experimenting with welding different steels together, folding and twisting and folding again. Researchers now suspect that the damascus steel of the middle ages and Renaissance was a different thing entirely, but a tradition was born. Now damascus is synonymous with pattern-welded steel. This process involves taking two or more types of steel, forge welding them together, and drawing out before folding and welding again. By etching in acid at the very end, the different types of steel are revealed in their patterns. The world of making damascus is a rabbit hole that smiths can lose themselves down. There are more patterns than any one person can imagine, and in many ways it is a great test and showcase of a smith’s skills.

The past two weeks have been full of damascus. It began with a weekend course for the Swedish company Damasteel, which makes pre-fabricated damascus for knife makers and other metalworkers. The company came for a weekend of team building, and celebrating their 20th anniversary as a company. We made axes from their steel, in an intense and exciting two days.

The axe we made as an example for the course.

The axe we made as an example for the course.

Then we had one day off before diving into the five day damascus course at Gränsfors Bruk. We had eight enthusiastic and ambitious students who hammered their way through the week with great energy. We found out together how making damascus requires concentration at every step along the way, and one botched step can ruin hours (or days) of work. These high stakes make the end result all the more satisfying, however, and they all had big smiles on their faces at the end of the week.

The products of our week

The products of our week

A Damasteel axe Fredrik made to experiment with the material

A Damasteel axe Fredrik made to experiment with the material

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My trial with Damasteel

My trial with Damasteel

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My first trial of a full steel handle of this type of design

My first trial of a full steel handle of this type of design

A woman's knife I made during the course

A woman’s knife I made during the course

And a trial of a different pattern

And an experiment with a different pattern

This one is made by grinding away parallel lines then hammering flat

This one is made by grinding parallel grooves in the billet, then hammering flat

Keep strong and productive, and enjoy every second that passes!

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7 thoughts on “Damascus

  1. Sam,
    What a great post. Thank you for taking the time to fill us all in and share such great photos of your work and all the amazing tools that you are surrounded by and what a fantastic craftsman Fredrick is. We miss you, but are so glad that you are having such a wonderful and unique experience.
    We think of you often.
    Warmly,
    Gelsey

    Like

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