Damascus steel as a material for swords

PhotonGuy

Senior Master
Joined
Aug 14, 2013
Messages
3,720
Reaction score
416
I've noticed companies that sell swords are advertising certain swords in which they claim the blades are made with damascus steel. From what I've seen of it, using damascus steel results in a wavy pattern. Im wondering if damascus steel is any good and that the companies that claim to use it if they're using genuine damascus steel or are just making that claim and using some kind of knock off. Also, if damascus steel is over rated as it seems to be a new fad.
 

Flying Crane

Sr. Grandmaster
Joined
Sep 21, 2005
Messages
14,715
Reaction score
4,246
Location
San Francisco
Layered steel was the best steel a few hundreds of years ago and more. In those times, it could be difficult to get high quality steel, so steel of various quality was layered together and the sum was better than the parts. Different steel has different qualities, and layering the steel could take advantage of these qualities.

Modern specialty steels made with modern metalurgical techniques can far surpass the old layering techniques, and can make very high quality steels with very consistent properties. You definitely do not need layered steel, for a superior quality blade.

Seems to me that the layered steels today are often done for artistic and decorative purposes. They can be beautiful. But if the layers are of the same steel, done purely for decorative effect, then it defeats the very purpose of the layering in the first place. If layering is to have any purpose beyond artistic value, then it needs to be a selection of different steels with different qualities that you want combined in a blade.

And again, you can get very high quality steels from modern sources, that will have the properties you are looking for.
 

GiYu - Todd

Green Belt
Joined
Aug 20, 2015
Messages
156
Reaction score
87
Location
Dayton, Ohio
Damascus steel is made my mixing different iron alloys and charcoal and melting them together. The material is very heterogenous creating the swirling patterns. The metal, call wootz, is then cast. The different materials tend to work well together to create tough metal that holds a good edge... and is aestetically pleasing.
"Pattern welding", which is a forge welding process, looks somewhat visually similar to Damascus steel. The traditional "folded metal" katana of Japan's Kamakura period (ca. 1185-1333) is an example of this. Two or more different alloys are heated, then hammered together to create a weld. The material is then folded onto itself and the process repeats.
 

Flying Crane

Sr. Grandmaster
Joined
Sep 21, 2005
Messages
14,715
Reaction score
4,246
Location
San Francisco
With the Damascus steel, did they actually cast it into a blade, or cast it into a billet, and then forge into a blade?

I've never cast steel, but I do bronze and silver and have sometimes altered an alloy content by adding nickel or copper. If the metal is truly molten, it has always mixed, it never cools with a swirled pattern. Is that somehow different with steel?
 

Dirty Dog

MT Senior Moderator
Staff member
Lifetime Supporting Member
Joined
Sep 3, 2009
Messages
20,360
Reaction score
6,857
Location
Pueblo West, CO
With the Damascus steel, did they actually cast it into a blade, or cast it into a billet, and then forge into a blade?

I've never cast steel, but I do bronze and silver and have sometimes altered an alloy content by adding nickel or copper. If the metal is truly molten, it has always mixed, it never cools with a swirled pattern. Is that somehow different with steel?

It's cast into an ingot, as I understand the process. I've pounded out a few pattern welded blades, but never tried to cast wootz.
The pattern in blades made from wootz is really quite random. The more regular patterns (wavy, stars, etc) are found in pattern welded blades, where the pattern can be controlled by the details of how the blade is folded and/or twisted during forging.
 

Flying Crane

Sr. Grandmaster
Joined
Sep 21, 2005
Messages
14,715
Reaction score
4,246
Location
San Francisco
It's cast into an ingot, as I understand the process. I've pounded out a few pattern welded blades, but never tried to cast wootz.
The pattern in blades made from wootz is really quite random. The more regular patterns (wavy, stars, etc) are found in pattern welded blades, where the pattern can be controlled by the details of how the blade is folded and/or twisted during forging.
Well I learned something today. I had assumed Damascus steel was a variant on a pattern welded blade.
 

Touch Of Death

Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Joined
May 6, 2003
Messages
11,610
Reaction score
845
Location
Spokane Valley WA
Well I learned something today. I had assumed Damascus steel was a variant on a pattern welded blade.
Nobody actually knows how it is made. The Forge is old, and there are knock off forges are in the area, but it just doesn't happen with the newer ones. It is a lost technology, but luckily, we still have one.
 

Dirty Dog

MT Senior Moderator
Staff member
Lifetime Supporting Member
Joined
Sep 3, 2009
Messages
20,360
Reaction score
6,857
Location
Pueblo West, CO
Nobody actually knows how it is made. The Forge is old, and there are knock off forges are in the area, but it just doesn't happen with the newer ones. It is a lost technology, but luckily, we still have one.

I do not think it is entirely a lost art. I believe that a number of people have been able to re-create wootz ingots that are identical in every measurable respect to originals. And I also believe (but am not certain) that much the same technique is used by at least a few traditional Japanese swordsmiths. I seem to recall watching a History Channel documentary on the subject, and even the kiln/crucible matched the ruined ones found in the middle east.
I also think that pattern welding with modern metals is a faster and easier and more controllable way to achieve the same end result - a blade with a super hard edge backed by a tough, more flexible spine.
 

Touch Of Death

Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Joined
May 6, 2003
Messages
11,610
Reaction score
845
Location
Spokane Valley WA
I d
I do not think it is entirely a lost art. I believe that a number of people have been able to re-create wootz ingots that are identical in every measurable respect to originals. And I also believe (but am not certain) that much the same technique is used by at least a few traditional Japanese swordsmiths. I seem to recall watching a History Channel documentary on the subject, and even the kiln/crucible matched the ruined ones found in the middle east.
I also think that pattern welding with modern metals is a faster and easier and more controllable way to achieve the same end result - a blade with a super hard edge backed by a tough, more flexible spine.
I don't believe they did. They bought Damascus Steel, just like everyone else. Of course, it is all up in the air. We aren't sure.
 
OP
P

PhotonGuy

Senior Master
Joined
Aug 14, 2013
Messages
3,720
Reaction score
416
Here is a video on Damascus Steel, Im not sure how reliable it is.
 

Buka

Sr. Grandmaster
MT Mentor
Joined
Jun 27, 2011
Messages
12,174
Reaction score
9,100
Location
Maui
God, there's so much I don't have any idea about.

I love this place.
 

pgsmith

Master of Arts
Joined
Jun 1, 2005
Messages
1,589
Reaction score
481
Location
Texas
I do not think it is entirely a lost art. I believe that a number of people have been able to re-create wootz ingots that are identical in every measurable respect to originals. And I also believe (but am not certain) that much the same technique is used by at least a few traditional Japanese swordsmiths. I seem to recall watching a History Channel documentary on the subject, and even the kiln/crucible matched the ruined ones found in the middle east.
I also think that pattern welding with modern metals is a faster and easier and more controllable way to achieve the same end result - a blade with a super hard edge backed by a tough, more flexible spine.
Not quite.
It is true that several people have been able to recreate wootz steel. It is incorrect that this method is, or was, used by the Japanese. Both methods utilize a hot charcoal fire and a clay receptacle for catching the melt, but that's the only similarity. Wootz comes out as a pretty much homogenous, very high carbon content steel alloy. Japanese tamahagane steel comes out of the furnace with a lot of silica inclusion due to the fact that it begins as pretty low quality iron sand. It also varies quite a bit in carbon content from one area of the collection tub to another. What the Japanese did (and still do) is to break up the raw tamahagane steel into pieces, then select pieces based on carbon content (from the color) and forge weld them together. This drives out the excess silica content, and evens out the carbon content of the steel. It also gives it the distinctive pattern.

The very hard edge and softer spine is created during the hardening process, not by the forge welding process. It's actually easier to achieve that using today's homogenous steel alloys than it is using forge welded steel.
 
OP
P

PhotonGuy

Senior Master
Joined
Aug 14, 2013
Messages
3,720
Reaction score
416
For some reason my link to the video has been taken down, its not showing up in my post at #10.
 

GiYu - Todd

Green Belt
Joined
Aug 20, 2015
Messages
156
Reaction score
87
Location
Dayton, Ohio
With the Damascus steel, did they actually cast it into a blade, or cast it into a billet, and then forge into a blade?

I've never cast steel, but I do bronze and silver and have sometimes altered an alloy content by adding nickel or copper. If the metal is truly molten, it has always mixed, it never cools with a swirled pattern. Is that somehow different with steel?
I believe it's usually forged. I just forgot to mention that. Good catch.

I assume the wootz isn't stirred or mixed much as it melts, otherwise, the patterns would be ruined. Hopefully someone else has some expertise on it. I'm curious about that too.
 

Touch Of Death

Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Joined
May 6, 2003
Messages
11,610
Reaction score
845
Location
Spokane Valley WA
Top