How Damascus steel is forged

August 10, 2022

An elegant knife is made of fine materials. The starting point is the choice of steel. The stainless steel used in most knives is an alloy containing at least 10% chromium. Although the addition of chromium is good from the point of view of preventing rust, the disadvantage is that chromium forms rather “clumsy” structures in the alloy. These clumsy structures cannot be reduced in size, which makes it impossible to make the blade truly sharp. It’s a bit like trying to use cutlery in winter gloves. Somehow it may work, but it will only get you to a certain point, and the results are most likely far from ideal.

Steel selection

That is why stainless steel is rarely used in really good knives. Instead, steel with a finer molecular structure is used (often steels containing a certain amount of carbon), which allows for extreme sharpening. This leads to knives that require a minimal degree of care so that they do not rust, but which are true masters of the only purpose of each knife: unearthly sharpness.

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Damascus steel is a combination of at least two different types of steel that are fused together again and again (thus forming layers in Damascus steel). The layers become visible by immersing the final blade in acid, which reacts differently with the different steels used.

The picture above shows the starting point for the Damascus steel blade. You can see how different steels are stacked on top of each other to fuse them.

Forging process

At the first stage, a steel billet is placed in a forge to be heated to a temperature at which it can be shaped. The forging process requires a lot of experience, and an experienced blacksmith will be able to determine by the color of the metal whether it is hot enough for forging.

The various layers of steel are fused together, then stacked again and again until the desired number of layers is reached. During heating, the blacksmith repeatedly applies borax as a flux to the steel packaging to ensure proper fusion of the various layers of steel and the absorption of impurities in the steel.

00 Mosaic damascus steel 4pcs forged by hand 1200

The metal is then forged into the raw shape of the final blade. High-quality knives include a so-called shank, a narrow elongation of the blade that reaches the handle, thus stabilizing the knife as a whole.

It may not seem like much, but this piece of artfully forged metal will become an exquisite knife.

The next step is to give the raw blade its final shape. Compared to this, it is a simpler process, but its wrong operation, too much grinding in the wrong place, will ruin many hours of work. There is no such thing as “adding” steel that has been improperly sanded.

The geometry of the blade is sharpened into the blade, which determines the overall weight of the blade, its stability and cutting properties.

Machines simply follow instructions, while humans have the ability to check, analyze and act as needed. It is this constant quality control and adjustment that ensures the quality of the blade… your blade… and endow him with a soul. Serial knives are interchangeable, soulless products. Let an experienced craftsman make your knife, and you will feel the difference. The knife has its own personality, which is reflected in every meal that you cook with it, every time, for years and even generations.

The final touch after several hours of grinding. The last defects of the blade are eliminated by grinding and polishing it with various abrasives, from coarse to very fine. Special attention is paid to the last detail, resulting in a mirror-smooth surface, ideal for very delicate cutting and slicing.

Finishing touches

It’s time to normalize the blade. Normalization is a cycle of heating and (rapid) cooling of the metal in a certain way, which affects the structure of the blade material and gives it hardness.

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Steel normalization is a separate science, and most blacksmiths have developed their own versions of this process. However, do it wrong, and your blade will be damaged either due to deformation during normalization, or because it has not reached the required hardness. As with most other steps in making a blade, experience is the key to doing it right.

The blade is made of Damascus steel before acid treatment. Different types of steel used react differently to acid treatment, which makes the layers of steel visible.

The same blade after acid treatment. A truly unique work of art that demonstrates the skill of its creator.

Hand Forging Damascus Knife (video)

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