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Damascus Forging and Etching

One of the most rewarding processes accomplished here at Oaken Moose is the making of Damascus steel. It's often that we get the question of what the intricate patterns on some of our blades are and how it's done. Although it has recently become a popular material due to its attractiveness, Damascus steel and the techniques used to make it are very old. Aside from its beautiful patterns, Damascus steel is a very strong material for blades due to the amount of folding and stress applied to its various layers during forging. 

Layers

Damascus can be forged in multiple ways, the one we use most being the "billet" method. Pieces of flat steel are cut the same length, these steels consisting of low carbon or mild steels, high carbon steels, and spring steels. The amount and lengths of the pieces depend on what will be forged; the larger the goal is, the larger and more pieces there will be. All of these pieces are stacked on top of each other, and welded together to form a billet. A scrap piece of steel is welded to the billet so that during the forging process it can be easily handled and worked. 

Forging

The initial step in forging a Damascus billet is to forge-weld the layered bar into a single piece. Flux is poured onto the steel prior to the first hammer strikes, which removes the impurities from inside the bar. If these impurities aren't removed, forge-welding is nearly impossible. After being forge-welded into a single piece, the bar is cut into by hammer strikes using a hardie tool. This makes a "hinge" to work with, and it is forge-welded once again. This process of welding and cutting continues until satisfaction is reached. The more folds, the tighter the pattern. We usually add in multiple twists along the way, adding an even more complex pattern. Holes can be drilled during the forging as well, which if done correctly creates "Raindrop Damascus", a very beautiful touch on a knife blade. 

Polishing and Etching

Once the shape of the Damascus piece has been forged, it's time to polish it. We use flap disks for most of our sanding, then move to polishing by hand with paper. Although much work has gone into folding the piece repeatedly and carefully polishing it, no pattern will show until it's been etched. An acid is used to bring out the pattern of all the different layers, and the acid used will vary from craftsman to craftsman. We use an odd method of soaking the piece in Muriatic Acid, then letting it rest in a hot coffee and vinegar solution. The Muriatic Acid is very harsh and can potentially damage the steel if exposed too long, but also is the best at showing the initial patterns. When leaving the Muriatic Acid, the pattern is quite bright. After being soaked in the coffee and vinegar, however, the pattern is pronounced and shows the layers beautifully.