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Damascus made from railroad spikes and saw blades


Matthew Rhame
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Hello everyone, I've looked into blacksmithing and bladesmithing a lot over the years and I haven't ever heard of someone using rail road spikes and saw blades to make damascus. I assume it's possible, but I am concerned with the possibility of the carbon content being too low. So I've thought about adding 1095 steel to the "stack" if necessary in order to make a sufficient billet for a sword or seax. Would anyone mind weighing in with their expertise and/or knowledge?

 

 

 

 

 

P.S: This will be my first time ever actually blacksmithing... yes, I know a beginner making damascus is crazy and probably going to result in countless mistakes and an overall failure... crazier if not what many would consider dumb or naive is that I want to make a sword. Yes, I realize that no sane person would recommend either of these projects to a beginner, but screw it; it's what I want, so I'm going to keep at it until it works out. lol

+ Veritas Vincit +

 

"Failure is the mother of success"

~ Chinese proverb

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I am certainly far from an expert in the area, but I have done done this before. Well, not saw blades, but I did make a billet from spikes and 1080 and a little salvaged spring which I think was 5160.

 

I too have been dying to make a sword, but having made several pattern welded knives at this point, I am still not comfortable enough with the technique to attempt it. It is such a pain and sadness when you put so much effort into a project, and at the end have something go wrong and ruin everything. The thing, I imagine, with making a sword is that this potential failure hurts just that much more. So there is that to consider.

 

If I were to give you some meager advice, which I am, I would say to start with a simple knife, just so you can see and feel how pattern welding works. It really takes a bit of know how... no matter how many articles you've read and videos you've seen - nothing takes the place of trying it. And you will learn loads the first time. But you will do what you want...

 

As I understand it, and others on here will certainly be more knowledgable than I, is that RR spikes are fairy inconsistant. I have heard there are generally two types, and higher carbon ones are fairly similar to 1040, which is not great for knives. Also I have heard that they are sometimes recycled steel from other train parts - meaning who knows waht condition they are in and what steel they are... which can lead to issues... If you are considering putting in 1095, why not just use 1095 and the saw blades? which are perhaps 15N20? That is the classic damascus combo.

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If I may add some advice. Purchase steel that is KNOWN to work well with pattern welding AND will harden. The easiest of easy is 1084/15n20. Saw blades and rr spikes generally are not quality blade materials. For forge welding, you are also a beginner and don't know what to look for when at heat. It'll only make it more difficult with unknown materials.

 

It's admirable hitting the ground running in regards to starting with both pattern welded steel and a sword, however I can almost certainly guarantee the results won't be pretty. Start slow and work your way up, acquiring a feel for the fire, steel, and your equipment. Begin with knives and graduate up to swords once your skills are there.

 

Best of luck.

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Thank you both, Mseronde and Austin Lyles for your inputs. In hindsight I suppose that when I typed "sword or seax" I should have put more emphasis on "seax" and a lot less on the "sword" part, haha. The thing is that materials like railroad spikes, saw blades, and lawn mower blades are fairly abundant for me and my friend, so we were planning on trying to do something with some of them. Perhaps, it would be better to practice by making the railroad spikes into knives rather than trying to go through the process of hammering, folding, fluxing, removing scale, etc, but at the very least I would like to attempt to make "damascus" somehow... and when eventually that attempt or one of many others becomes a success, I'd like to make a seax. :)

 

 

On another note would anyone mind sharing the different types of pattern welded steel that they've made and how those experiences were? I'm particularly interested in jelly roll "damascus".

+ Veritas Vincit +

 

"Failure is the mother of success"

~ Chinese proverb

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Hopefully I didn't come off as harsh, I just feel like you're skipping important steps on your journey into knifemaking. :P

 

Forging RR spikes into knives would be great practice and will teach you quite a bit. By all means go for trying some Damascus, but may I recommend san-mai first. San-mai is basically 3 layers. The two outer layers are soft, tough, steel, and the center core is hard. It'll be good practice for forge-welding since it's sort of in the middle between damascus and a normal mono-steel blade.

 

Jelly-roll is quite high up there in difficulty. The easiest is just a random pattern and looks quite nice. Twists are relatively easy as long as you keep the billet at welding heat. Then you get into ladder and raindrop patterns where you either cut the "ladder" into the billet or drill a TON of holes (or forge in the holes and grind away). I would recommend a twist or something to start out with. Building up layers will take a lot of time to do and you don't need many with the twist. Hope this helps.

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I agree with Austin. While I applaud your efforts to jump in with both feet, having done so myself, I'd warn you to do a bit of a progression. I have a collection of info on pattern welding on one of my websites that can help with some of the technical details, but I would strogly urge you to get some basic experience in moving steel with a hammer and anvil before you jump into pattern welding. Also, I agree with the above comments that when you do get to pattern welding, you should use new, known materials. Not only are the materials not that expensive to get, they will provide you with something that you know should work if your process is right. This will reduce the variables that can (and will!) cause failures, extended troubleshooting, and lots of wasted time. Especially if you intend to eventually sell your work, I urge you to only use new materials. The way I see it, when I'm making pattern welded steel, I pay (on average) $4/lb for steel. When I'm done with it, people pay FAR more than that for it. My reputation and my time have always been worth more to me than a few bucks, so the false economy of recycling for this type of work is always bad.

 

We're always here to answer questions as you progress on your journey, feel free to ask more!

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To put things in perspective.

 

Last april, I bought some 15N20 and 1084, with the intent on forge welding it for damascus. I had prior to this done a couple successful forge welds using A36 mild steel and had read multiple times that forge welding 15N20 to 1084 was about the easiest forge weld to make.

 

I bought 3'x2"x .186 in both stocks, chopped it up, cleaned it, stacked it, wired it up, heated it up fluxed it......

 

and SCREWED IT UP.

 

Rinse and repeat about 5 times. I now have one final billet left, which I have held onto specifically because I was going to wait for my propane forge to give it another try. I was working in Coal forge at the time, and the only way to get the stock to the right heat, was to bury it in coke and let it sit and heat, I couldnt keep an eye on it, and ended up burning the first one almost entirely up, after that it was multiple times working it too cold for fear of burning it up again.

Just something to think about,

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