Knife and Sword Makers Who Forge Their Own Damascus


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Anthony
January 23, 2003, 05:44 PM
In his book on Bowie knives, Bill Bagwell makes the distinction that there are extremely few custom knife makers who know how to forge their own damascus steel to optimize it as a fighting knife. In other words, not very many knife makers can forge their own damascus steel into a blade with the legendary qualities of damascus steel (easy to sharpen, phenomenal edge holding, scary sharp, etc.).

What makers of knives and/or swords forge their own damascus to this quality level?

Thanks for the help.

- Anthony

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Don Gwinn
January 23, 2003, 10:10 PM
Good question. From what I've seen, a lot of those "legendary" qualities are just that--legends. Making damascus/pattern weld that is actually better in all those areas than a good tool steel properly heat-treated would not be easy, which is why a lot of smiths who can pattern-weld don't always do it. Of course, it also costs more and takes a lot more time and work, so surely those are factors as well.

I'll be honest with you; I can't think of a single smith who makes a better knife in the areas you mentioned by creating damascus with legendary properties. At least, not as compared to good tool steels like 5160, 01, D2, or A2, or some of the better stainless like 440C, 420C, ATS-34, etc. Some of the new exotic steels like BG42, INFI and such just blow even those out of the water, much less most Damascus. Most Damascus is created to provide a nice look and a unique quality, not to create a super edge-holding flexible uber-knife. But that might say more about my experience than it does reality. I think Daryl Meier and Jim Hrisoulas would say as much, and they make some of the best damascus around.

Gray_Fallen
January 23, 2003, 10:26 PM
I've done some forging work and made a little bit of damascus... what makes it worth it to the end user is the beauty and the work the maker puts into it, especially if he does as I learned how to and hand forges, doesnt use power hammers or trip hammers. Either way its still a lot of work (and I cant blame makers who do it a lot for using a power hammer.)

The way to make good damascus is simply this: Use good materials, and get a good weld.
Getting a good weld is important, because if you dont, the layers will crack apart.
Using good materials is a no brainer, 5160, 0-1, L6, 1095, etc. etc. etc. can all be combined to make a damascus blade.
Forging tightens the grain of the steel as it is pounded and compressed togather, especially as it is forged down to an edge, the grain is compressed tighter and tigher down near the edge. I would believe this happens when making damascus that as the steel is folded, and re-folded and pounded and folded and pounded, welding and re-welding, the grain is becoming tighter and tigher. This is just theory on my part, but it makes sense. This results in a tougher blade, not sur ehow, but somehow it does make it better. (I'll have to get out my books and look to tell you for sure.)


Actually, lets be correct here, what is commonly called Damascus is pattern welded steel. True damascus is usually called Wootz its a very rare smelt of steel from the region of the place named Damascus. Its exceptional because of qualities found only in ore originating from that area. Its the original and true Damascus, and it is truely high performance stuff.
It can cut, actually cut, a floating silk scarf. If you want a blade of it, I suggest you check out Al Pendray... he's the only maker I know of that works with it.

I think damascus is a suitable fighting knife blade material, and it also adds an element of beauty... it just has to be made right, which means good base materials and good forge-craft.
Rob Patton is supposed to do some magnificent damascus fighting blades. And of course, so so does Mr. Bagwell.

Arikay
January 26, 2003, 07:44 AM
Yep, all those ledgendary properties arent really there. Well made pattern welded steel is the same strength and cuts the same, and sharpens the same, as well made mono steel.

Just to point out, although im sure you were talking about knives, stainless isnt great for swords.

I believe that the Place damascus was a trading post and was the first place europeans encountered mass amounts of wootz steel. As far as it cutting silk scarfs, are you sure about this? Have you seen it? How is it done? Since if the scarf is dropped onto the blade, its a factor of how thin the edge is, and has nothing really to do with the material. Since the scarf isnt hard, a very thin edge of any metal should cut it, if its even possible.

For swords, Kevin Cashen makes his own pattern welded steel, among many others, as Quite a few custom swordsmiths make their own.

Gray_Fallen
January 26, 2003, 02:32 PM
Just to point out, although im sure you were talking about knives, stainless isnt great for swords.
I disagree. This is a common mis-conception is seems, but common or not its incorrect. I personally have made short swords from 154-CM stainless steel. Steve Ryan from California has made 154-CM and ATS-34 short and single hand modern/tactical swords and I've never heard any complaints about his work. And then, at the top of them all, is Jerry Hossom, www.hossom.com, who makes some of the finest knives and swords going, and who uses stainless for swords. He uses mostly CMP (Crucible Particle Metallurgy) steels, but many of them are stainless steels. His blades have been put through the wringer by various sources, and I've never heard any problems with them, stainless included.

Just, thought I'd pass it along that Stainless ISNT a bad sword blade material it just has to be the RIGHT stainless.

Arikay
January 26, 2003, 03:41 PM
Well, yeah. However in short sword form. The longer a sword gets, the harder it is to keep stainless steel at a good quality.
It has nothing to do with the steel, but with the smiths that make the sword. A custom smith who knows how to work in stainless steel, can make an ok sword, but after a certain length many switch to different steels.
Also, generally a custom stainless steel sword will cost more than a comperable high carbon steel sword.

Gray_Fallen
January 26, 2003, 03:47 PM
Check ou Jerry's swords... he makes some big swords with stainless. But yeah, he is probably one of the veyr best at that type of work. I do agree, the maker themselves has a lot to do with whether or not it can be done. So does the heat treater if the maker doesnt do it themselves. Paul Bos does Jerry's swords, and Paul is probably the best.


And yes, stainless will cost more than plain high carbon.

Just depends on what you're looking for if thats worth it or not though.

Personally, I just want a nice big fighting bowie made with stainless damascus, with a Timascus (Pattern welded titanium) guard, ebony handles with nickle silver pins, and a kydex Dundee rig. ;) *grins*
Only in my dreams.

Don Gwinn
January 26, 2003, 04:14 PM
Thing is, development over the last ten years or so has moved so fast that it makes knowledge obsolete fast. It's a good idea to stay away from stainless-bladed swords, generally. And I used to be very wary of 440C anything, as well.

However, 440C can be a fantastic blade steel if the heat treat is correct. Most of the junk made with 440C is not properly treated, so it fails. I bought a lot of cheap Asian junk with 440C blades (or what were represented as 440C blades) when I was a child, and I eventually grew to distrust it.

Similarly, although stainless steel is generally too hard to temper to make a good sword blade, I can believe that ATS-34 would work, especially in heavier blades. ATS-34 is technically stainless steel, but its carbon content is more like carbon steel. It's what many call "barely" stainless. And it doesn't resist corrosion as well as some of the higher-chromium "true" stainless steels, nor does it go to the same level of polish, but it's also generally tougher and behaves more like high-carbon. I haven't had the chance to forge it, so I don't know what it feels like under a hammer, but I haven't done much with stainless of any type. Leave an ATS-34 blank out on the back porch a few days next to a 440C blank with the same finish, and you'll see the difference when you bring them in. "Stainless" and "high carbon" overlap a bit nowadays.

As pointed out above, Jerry Hossom and Paul Bos can create a good sword with stainless steel, but those two together could probably make a pretty good blade out of Flintstone vitamins if you gave them some notice.

As for cutting a silk scarf in the air, I can believe that there were blades made of Wootz that could do it. I just think it likely that it was the blade geometry and the polish that made the difference, and the same thing could have been done with just about any steel, including iron. I don't believe in a knife you hold edge up and cut a silk scarf by dropping it onto the edge, but with a good slashing design with lots of curve I could see a man slashing a scarf in two. It would still take a superb cutting/slashing design with a thin edge and a long edge, but it could surely be done and after all a lot of knives one would have found in Damascus back then were designed just that way!
When I was a kid, I used to love to read "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure." There used to be one in which you were a time-traveler who traveled back on a mission to acquire a sword belonging to Miyamoto Musashi. In it, a swordsmith berates and even strikes his polishing apprentices because, although he can drop a silk scarf onto the blade of a finished katana and it will drop instantly in two neat pieces, there are still a few ragged threads along the cut. A few minutes later, the Samurai who picks up his sword chooses you on which to test it and you have to escape.
It struck me as a bit strange at the time, and I was only about ten then, but like many others I just assumed the author had done lots of research. :D

Gray_Fallen
January 26, 2003, 04:32 PM
Similarly, although stainless steel is generally too hard to temper to make a good sword blade, I can believe that ATS-34 would work, especially in heavier blades. ATS-34 is technically stainless steel, but its carbon content is more like carbon steel. It's what many call "barely" stainless. And it doesn't resist corrosion as well as some of the higher-chromium "true" stainless steels, nor does it go to the same level of polish, but it's also generally tougher and behaves more like high-carbon. I haven't had the chance to forge it, so I don't know what it feels like under a hammer, but I haven't done much with stainless of any type. Leave an ATS-34 blank out on the back porch a few days next to a 440C blank with the same finish, and you'll see the difference when you bring them in. "Stainless" and "high carbon" overlap a bit nowadays.

154-CM is very much the same. Being as 154-CM is the American (Crucible) version of the Japanese ATS-34 (Hitachi). I work in an enclosed area, but one sid eof it is merely screened in, no proper windows... and if any moisture comes through there onto a blade laying near there, 154-Cm and ATS will be the first to develop little red spots.
It happens easier when the blade is rough ground, and the grain is more exposed, than it does in a finished piece.

Simple care keeps it from happening with a finished piece (just as it does with high carbon).

Interesting thing I find though, 154-Cm seems a lot harder when you grind it, than ATS-34. Ats is one of my favourite steels to work, because it grinds so easily and smoothly, 154-Cm is a real bear compared.

Both are all around sweet steels though, I like 'em a lot.


Love the comment about the flintstone vitamins, Don, I think you very well may be right. ;-)

Arikay
January 26, 2003, 04:57 PM
The thing though is that besides being cool and rust resistant, are there any other pluses to the high chromium steel?

looking at its composition, its still too high in chromium for my taste. :) But it is about %1 - 4% lower than 440C.

Don Gwinn
January 27, 2003, 12:59 AM
That is interesting, Gray. I was under the impression that 154 and ATS34 were exactly the same composition. I suppose that's not really possible even if the published composition were the same, with two different places alloying the steel.

If I work with them in the future, I'll know. Thanks.

Hand_Rifle_Guy
January 27, 2003, 06:55 PM
You could try Jim Hrisoulas (http://www.atar.com/index6.html) at Salamander Armory.

If he doesn't have what you need in stock, (Likely.) you can order it, but I imagine the man's probably booked solid for a ways out. Good craftsmen usually are, and if the stuff I've seen in Jim's books is any indication, he's right good at what he does. His site's got a lot of examples of all sorts of damascus patterns.

Good books too. I recommend 'em. Very informative, lots of beautiful blades pictured.

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