logo G.E.

Georges Emeriau France
Damascus Steel ?
My experience
Site map
e-mail G.E.

G.E. welding a Damascus billet

My experience / How I make damascus Steel


How I make Damascus Steel...


anvil anim

Updated January 3rd, 2000

How I get started

The story began in 1988. By chance, I had the opportunity to read the first issue of a new French magazine " La Passion des couteaux " (The Passion for Knives). Some knife pictures caught my curiosity with mysterious blades displaying very strange patterns. As the blades was looking very actual, the mysteries should have an explanation…

In spite of my searches I was not able to find French books explaining how to make Damascus steel and I was close to abandon. During a job trip in the States I bought "Blades" and "Knives" magazines and found a good ad for the books of Jim Hrisoulas. I read "The Complete Bladesmith" more than one time and the Damascus virus fully contaminated me. I started to look for some equipment to complete the book knowledge by practical experiments. I have been able to install in my backyard a small forge with a manual blower, an anvil and a workbench with a leg vise. I also bought all the small manual tools such as hammers, tongues, files etc…

Learning blacksmiting

Before to start with the Damascus steels I had to study all the basic forging techniques. In French we are used to say something like " By forging you will become a blacksmith". It's only partially true. In addition to the basic craft experience, to make progress you have to analyse continuously your results, try to understand the strengths involved, answer five "why this?" or "why that?" and make corrective actions. Forging is a long humility process but also a nice source of pleasure.

Fighting with cable damascus

When I though I was managing the forging and the forge welding techniques, I decided to start with the Cable Damascus. My readings led me to this direction. Cable Damascus is looking simpler than other Damascus types. I found some pieces of wire ropes used for elevators and I started applying word after word all the work procedures proposed by Jim Hrisoulas. That's worked great; I had the pleasure to listen to the steel music when the cable wires welded together and it was so nice to see the water pattern blossoming after the acid etch. The first experience had been very rewarding.

The next steps were more difficult. As all the impatient people I tried to save time "improving" the methods recommended by Jim Hrisoulas. The results were less than poor and I quickly come back to a very strict application of his recipes. During this period the reading of an article from Henri Viallon has also influenced me. In this article, the author, after developing all the advantages of the forged blades was writing: "the beginner who places a piece of steel in the fire and tortures it with hammer blows, is not properly forging it, he (the beginner) is only taking the risk of creating damages instead of enhancing noble qualities". This writing was for me…

"My" recipe

Right now, I pursue my learning with Cable Damascus, I made some experiments with chain material (interesting) and I am trying to produce more traditional Damascus. Here after are my working methods. Most of the time I am burning charcoals in my forge. I calibrate the charcoal pieces to a small size in order to get an even and regular fire.

Preparing the pile : I start with 5 pieces of steel. Two with high carbon level (XC90 equivalent to 1095) and three with medium carbon content (C30 equivalent to 1030). One of the medium carbon content pieces is about 20 inches long to avoid the need of tongues; I used it as the handle to manipulate the pile. I remove all rust and dirt from the surface of the pieces with a rough file. The stack is made with the high carbon pieces placed inside and the low carbon outside. I tie the pieces together with 3 iron wires fasten around. I remove the iron wires when the weld is OK.

Welding and drawing : I place the pile in the fire and when the steel is chery red I remove it and cover it with anhydrous borax. Then I check more the appearance of the borax than the color of the steel. When the borax is almost white and most importantly starting to move on the surface of the steel, the stack is ready for welding. I make the welding with hand hammer then I hammer it out to about twice the starting length. This hammering session is also a critical phase; I have to work very deeply and quickly to reduce the number of heat.

Cutting and welding : When it's done I cut the pile in the middle leaving enough material to be able to keep the two parts together after folding. Then I hammer slightly the small edges of the billet to enlarge its center and avoid during the following steps to trap slag and borax between two layers. With a wire brush I clean the surface of the billet, put it back to the fire, fold the billet, add borax, heat it to the welding temperature, hammer it to obtain a good weld, draw it out to double its lenght and cut it in the middle, halfway. I do all this 6 or 7 times to obtain 300 or 600 alternate layers. For a knife it's a good number of layers. Just now I don't try to create complicated patterns, my objective is to master all the basic techniques with the creation of parallel layers.

Notes about forging Cable Damascus :

1- It's very important to tighten the twist of the cable before and during the welding process.

2- To obtain the best patterns, after welding, draw the bar lengthwise and widthwise.

Notes about forging straight laminated billets :

1- Adding in the billet 2 or 3 thin pieces of 12NC16 increases the contrast of the pattern

2- 100 to 300 welded layers are more "rewarding" than 300 to 600...

The first results are promising…the follow up will come with the next update of this page.

Thanks for reading this long French-English text. If you have questions,comments, or advices, I will be please to receive and answer them.

Pattern Welding animation
pattern welding
Previous page
Next page