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Damascus for performance

Discussion in 'Hammer & Tongs' started by RedFury, Dec 1, 2016.

  1. RedFury


    Jun 17, 2015
    I have stayed away from Damascus for a couple of reasons. First I have no interest in devoting the time and effort required to learn to make my own Damascus. Second, I understand the historical place Damascus had in the development of tough blades and i think modern steel, with correct forging and heat treat, can surpass the performance of damascus of old. Finally, I have my hands full simply making knives from plain steel.

    Having said all that, what would you suggest if I wanted to buy some ready made Damascus bar stock to create some stock removal blades? People want Damascus so who am I to deny them? Oh people also want stainless. I like carbon but again will bow to the desires of the many so let's include stainless Damascus in the pile.

    I would place performance above appearance in the choice of steel.

    Looking forward to your comments and suggestions.

  2. milkbaby


    Aug 1, 2016
    Funny you brought this subject up as I was just online window shopping cheap damascus or pattern welded steel billets early this morning... great minds think alike?

    The first person to ask me for a knife, asked for damascus... I'm just a newbie, so I told him I'm only making practice knives for myself and the occasional gift. Still, I thought I'd get some premade damascus and show him what it would look like. Plus a chance to make a pretty gift for someone.

    I think the conventional wisdom is that the carbon will migrate between the steels? So you probably don't get an increase in performance possibly a decrease in the better steel. It just looks pretty? There's always talk in kitchen knife forums about the etching causing microserrations at the cutting edge as well as aiding food release along the blade face, but these two are better addressed by proper sharpening and blade geometry in my opinion.

    Since I'm about kitchen knives, most of the cheap stuff for stock removal that comes from India or Pakistan is a bit too thick like 0.15" to 0.2" thick, and not wide enough often less than 1.5". There's some American sources I'm going to buy from but it's about twice as expensive though worth to avoid having to thin it down dramatically on the grinder.
  3. mete


    Jun 10, 2003
    At this point in time Damascus is mostly for show. Choosing a good mix makes for a practical blade. One very popular and effective mix is 1084/15N20. That of course is carbon steels . For stainless steel Damasteel is a good one . Don't worry about diffusion of carbon [migration is not the proper term.] I wouldn't worry about serrations either. I would not buy anything that doesn't tell you what steels they have used.
  4. RedFury


    Jun 17, 2015
    I'm old enough that I no longer consider my mind one of the great ones. If it just gets me through the day I'm pretty happy.

    My sniffing around this morning took me to Alpha Supply which is certainly my go-to place for steel. They only offer damascus from Devin Thomas so I went to Devin's web site. I have no doubt that Damascus from Devin would be both beautiful and high performance. I may buy myself a Christmas present of a piece of Devin Thomas AEB-L / 304 stainless.

    I have yet to make a kitchen knife and this might be the steel for it.

    Next question. Since Devin Thomas Damascus is certainly not cheap and sells by the inch, how are people dealing with the Tang? Can you weld on a piece of inexpensive steel for the tang? I wouldn't want to hide $100 worth of Damascus inside the handle of my knife.

  5. Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith

    Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith ilmarinen - MODERATOR Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 20, 2004
    To get the best of both worlds, use damascus san-mai. In Japanese blades, it is called suminagashi. The side layers are damascus and the core is a good grade knife steel. In commercial kitchen blades a popular mix is stainless damascus and VG-10. Other mixes have carbon damascus and high carbon cores of Hitachi white or blue steel, or a 52100 core. You can also get stainless damascus san-mai on carbon steel core.

    This way you get beauty and performance. A Petty in suminagashi with Hitachi white core will sell for several hundred more than a 1095 identical blade.
  6. weo

    weo KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Sep 21, 2014
    If you have experience in forging, you could forge down the tang and that would minimize the amount Damascus you are hiding...
    Jim Hrisoulas, who has written a few books on blade smithing and on pattern-welded steel called "The Pattern Welded Blade" used to weld his tangs for the same reason. If you are going to do this, I'd suggest doing it with your stock at the original thickness before any grinding to maximize strength of the weld.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2016
  7. d762nato

    d762nato Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 16, 2009
    I'm no knifemaker but from what I've read real Wootz is said to be the best steel for battle type blades, and also has a beauty to it's pattern. I would like to know does anyone around here do wootz or can explain more about it. I read Damascus is second to wootz in overall strength at least from earlier times in history. I've also read it's a lost art making wootz which had an advantage over regular Damascus in strength in blades.
  8. mete


    Jun 10, 2003
    Damascus or folded steel or pattern welded is to make a blade of layers of two steels usually.
    Wootz is a cast steel that has been worked that has carbides remaining . I wonder how close CPM-3V is to wootz ??
  9. Yugami


    Oct 13, 2015
  10. HSC ///

    HSC ///

    Nov 7, 2012
    if u decide to do this and want to split the costs or have some left over, we could help each other out
    i've been thinking the same...
  11. mete


    Jun 10, 2003
  12. mete


    Jun 10, 2003
    d762nato, Wootz is not a lost art. The problem is that it's a very labor intensive thing. Few make it and it's expensive !
  13. d762nato

    d762nato Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 16, 2009
    Thanks mete I was curious after reading some on the subject, and was wondering why we don't see more wootz blades from makers, especially in the battle/tactical type blades being forged these days. Like you mentioned labor and cost I guess have not made it worth while, especially now a days with all the super duper steels out on the market. You would think wootz would be a great marketing advantage though in the hand forged knife arena.
  14. d762nato

    d762nato Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 16, 2009
    That looks like it would be a fun time. I wish I could attend something like that just to watch would be awesome. Thanks for the link mete and sorry for all the chit chat op if its non meaningful to your original question but wootz does seem to be the toughest damacus with a nice pattern for blades made at one time or another.
  15. Locutus D'Borg

    Locutus D'Borg Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 1, 2012
    One thing I would point out: on one of my damascus blades, I think Sebenza, I was mildly rubbing the blade with Nano lubricant (using the excess after externally oiling the pivot) and I rubbed off some of the black etching. Basically the contrast lightened if that makes sense. The many layers remained naturally, but the black etching color lightened. Lesson learned for me.
  16. Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith

    Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith ilmarinen - MODERATOR Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 20, 2004
    I make wootz blades. I have a large wootz dagger in progress and sold a wootz hunter this week. I get the billets from several of the wootz makers. There are a few Russian fellows who make a good wootz, but the champ (IMHO) is Greg Obach. He is at North Shore Forge and Ironworks. His site, http://www.northshoreforge.com/index.html , has a good explanation on it.

    In Persia and India ( all pretty much the same place at the ancient times), early steel production was at its height. They had smelting furnaces feed by stiff winds, and seat of the pants metallurgy that allowed great steels to be made at a time when they had no idea what actually made steel. The long charcoal smelting furnaces made for slow cooling, and the ores used provided the carbide formers to make a unique steel - named wootz. IT was sold by the traders throughout the Middle East, north into Russia, Scandinavia, and some into Europe. As all merchandizers do, they gave it a lot of hype and mystique, and a new name - damascus. This was not named after the city in Syria, but after a cloth made there. The cloth was properly called damascene, but the pattern was often just referred to as Damascus. It referred to the shimmery weave and play of light on the surface of the cloth.

    In Russia, wootz is called Bulat. Bulat is the more modern form of wootz making. It is basically the same as ancient wootz, with the differences being mostly technical.

    What wootz is, is carbide dendrites and needles suspended in a matrix of iron. The process involves heating the metal to a certain temperature and holding it there a long time while the carbide alloying dissolves. It is slowly cooled to encourage the growth. The carbon gets used up in forming the carbide needles and eventually there is nothing but iron left in the matrix. The needles are extremely hard. The iron is very soft. This makes a material that when sharpened has a toothy edge of the needles sticking out of a soft body. It will cut flesh very aggressively. It will take an enormous blow without breaking due to the toughness of the iron matrix. In a day when a swords abilities meant life or death, this truly was the ultimate weapon. There is no magic to a wootz blade. Wootz is not super hard, nor will it cut anvils in half. It is just a very good cutting steel that will bend but not break. One fallacy of modern movie hype is the sharpness of wootz. Having a micro-serrated edge, it cuts meat well, but cuts things like paper and cloth rather poorly. The movie stunt of an Arabian swordsman tossing a silk scarf in the air and cutting it in half with his wootz sword as it falls is pure bunk. A wootz edge would probably just grab the silk and not even damage it. A very sharp mono-steel blade could do it .... but not wootz.

    The process of making wootz is very time consuming, often hundreds of hours, and the yield is small compared to the materials involved and the great amount of fuel/electricity used to run the ovens. Once made, the ingot has to be very carefully worked, as heating too much will re-dissolve the carbides and ruin the billet.

    What is called Damascus today is pattern welded steel. This is a lamination of different steels that are folded and manipulated to get a desired pattern. The edge is usually micro-serrated, depending on the number of layers and the steels used. Modern Damascus steel is tough hen the right steels are chosen, and the HT is done right. It is not as sharp as a mono-steel in most cases. Good damascus of a higher layer count can rival a mono-steel edge in sharpness, but still will not cut paper and cloth as well.

    The Japanese tamahagane steel is the other damascus like material. It is a mono-steel formed by a smelting process that yields a very pure steel. This is then folded many times, often into the millions of layers. This produces a surface pattern created by the slight oxide surfaces between the folds. This is called the hada. Tamahagane is very hard and can be quite brittle. Pure tamahagane is really only practical for a short blade. It is normally forged in a combination with lower carbon steels and even soft iron. These arrangements give the blade a very hard edge ( and in some cases surface) and a softer but tougher body. The simplest arrangement is san-mai, where the hard steel is clad with two sides of softer steel or iron. The more complex arrangements are five to seven pieces that can yield a nearly unbreakable sword with a very sharp and hard edge.

    Note - unbreakable does not mean unbendable. A sword that will not bend will break and leave the user defenseless. A sword that will bend can be straightened - or used bent - and the user will stay alive ( maybe). Chips in the edge are fine as long as the sword survives. Also, the ability to slice scarves ... or anvils ... is not a desired attribute in battle. The ability to do massive damage to flesh and bone is. An aggressive cutting blade will do more damage. Another advantage of the micro-serrated edge was that in the time of most sword use, leather armor and thickly padded coats were the main defense against a sword blow. An aggressive cutting edge can hack through these semi-hard materials very well.
    RedWolf4 likes this.
  17. Mecha

    Mecha Titanium Bladesmith Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Dec 27, 2013
  18. d762nato

    d762nato Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 16, 2009
    Thanks for all the great info Stacy, it's nice to learn these type of things from someone who actually does them, much appreciated.

  19. d762nato

    d762nato Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 16, 2009
    Thanks a lot Mecha for the info and his Camp knife in the link is just awesome. I'd love to own something like that.


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