Daniel Gentile, a bladesmith in Switzerland, recently posted a video online demonstrating many of the steps involved in the production of Damascus – or pattern-welded steel.
Those of you who know me are aware that I am also a Bladesmith and I studied under four separate American Bladesmith Society Master Bladesmiths, Joe Flournoy, Mike Williams, James Cook and Steve Dunn.
Among my courses of study, Damascus production was the toughest. There are only a few hundred people on the planet that can make this stuff, and once you make a billet of it you still need to be able to turn it into an actual finished blade and then a completed knife.
For those of you that are not completely familiar with what we’re talking about, Damascene (or Damascus) steel is an advanced form of blacksmithing, developed over 1,500 years ago, recognizable by a distinctive pattern on the metal surface. The look comes from stratified layers of steel with varying compositions that have been etched to reveal distinctive swirl patterns of light-colored regions on nearly black backgrounds. Damascene, which has always been rare, went through three golden ages before it became a lost art.
In the early Iron ages military armorers discovered that certain materials could be mixed with iron to make it harder or tougher. Hard metals would hold an edge easily, but shatter on impact. Tough metals would flex to avoid breakage, but would not retain a sharp cutting edge. It was discovered that by blending hard and soft metals together a blade could be created which had superior cutting and piercing capabilities, yet could easily flex during battle. For this reason damascene patterned blades became revered by kings and feared by enemies.
Because of the inherent strength of pattern welded Damascus steel, and the fact that nations rose and fell based upon the technology of their weapons, the method of manufacture was a secret closely guarded by Bladesmiths. Over time; however, the smiths who knew about the technique died out without passing it on to their apprentices.
Today, it is estimated that only a few hundred people retain the knowledge to produce Damascus steel; for this reason most people will never hear of, much less see a work of art containing forged Damascene.
Here now, is Daniel’s excellent video. Keep in mind that the narrator is Swiss so there is a bit of an accent. If you have questions about this process feel free to drop a comment and I’ll answer them.