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Paul Rohrbacher

Steel thickness & type for Damascus blades

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I am new to making Damascus blades. 15N20 seams to be the desired steel for the silver appearance in the Damascus pattern. Other carbon steels such as 1080/1084, O1, W1, 1095 are all listed as good steal to partner with 15N20. Looking thru the knife blade material suppliers shows various thicknesses of each of these steels. The thinner the steels, the more layers can be forged in the initial billet.

 

Can you recommend what your favorite steel type numbers are for the billet? What is the best thickness for each steel?  What is a good pattern sequence of these steels as stacked into the billet? How many times do you recommend  folding the billet? How many layers  of steel give the best Bling? 

 

I assume that each time the billet is to be folded, the billet is ground to a flat, scale free surface before the next weld. How much extra thickness of the initial steel layers  (or added layers of steel) do you add to the initial billet to account for the steel removed from grinding so the final billet can be forged into the desired knife blade? 

 

After the Damascus blade is ground to shape, is then etched. What is your recommended etching solution concentration, solution temperature  and time to etch? The 15N20 steel stays bright and the other carbon steels will be eaten away making the 15N20 layers stand proud. After the black carbon deposit is removed from the fresh etched knife blank the carbon steel won't be significantly darker in the pattern. What is the best way to darken carbon steels to better pop the Damascus pattern?  

 

If possible, what are your favorite suppliers for the steel grades that you use to make Damascus blades?

 

I will be using the Mark Aspery design Side Blast Forge with the Super Sucker Hood , burning coked coal with green coal around the outside of the fire.. 

 


 

 

  

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Lots and lots of questions there.

 

L6 also works well as a bright layer in damascus. It's a high nickel tool steel.

 

I try to order my stock under .100" for pattern welding, .0625" being my preference if possible (1/16th of an inch.)

 

How many layers you initially stack depends on your setup. How big of a billet can your forge get up to welding temp? How big of a billet can you actually handle? Having a power hammer or a press, you can work larger billets. And this isn't a matter of how strong your hammer arm is, at some point physics prevents us from moving hot steel effectively by hand. You simply cannot forge a 3 or 4 inch thick billet by hand. 

 

I just alternate my steels. So 1080-15N20-1080-15N20, repeat. You can stack them in literally any way you want though. Experiment, see what looks cool. 

 

Number of folds depends on your desired layer count. There is no optimal layer count. It's all how you want the pattern to look. Rule of thumb is higher layer count = finer pattern with thinner lines, but many more. Lower layer count = bolder pattern with less lines. Again, experiment and see what looks cool. See what you like. Keep in mind that the more you grind, the more layers your cutting away. 

 

You dont *have* to grind the billet clean each time. If you have a well balanced fire and wire brush aggressively, you can hot cut your billet, fold, flux, and weld. But for a beginner, I recommend grinding your billet clean before re-stacking. This stuff is tricky when your starting out, take every opportunity to stack the deck in your favor. Oh yeah, use flux too. Borax works fine. 

 

I dont usually add layers when cutting and folding. I just use the layers in the billet to up the count. But you can add layers in between folds. That will, of course, affect your pattern. If you take a 100 layer billet, cut it in half, add 5 layers in between two pieces of 100, and weld, you will be able to see that transition from fine to bold and back to fine. Add a twist in there and you have an attractive pattern. Again, experiment. 

 

I use HCl as my etchant, though FeCl seems to be the preferred etchant with most bladesmiths. I etch at room temperature. And you just etch until you like the way the pattern looks. The longer you etch, the deeper it etches. You can also use instant coffee and water at extreme concentrations (high enough that you wouldn't want to drink it) to darken the carbon steel after etching. Works well. 

 

I order almost all of my stock from Aldo over at https://newjerseysteelbaron.com/. He has all of the common grades of blade steel, some of the more uncommon ones, his shipping is prompt, his prices are good, and his packaging is top notch. He comes highly recommended from many bladesmiths.

 

As I'm sure you have noticed, forging damascus patterns is an art, and YOU are the artist making it. Theres nothing saying you have to do it this way or that way. Theres no perfect way to do anything in this craft. A lot of it depends on your setup, and all of it is limited by your imagination. As I've said multiple times, experiment. You'll find out what works for you, and what you like. 

 

Phew... I think that's all of them. Hope this helps. 

 

Edited by Will Wilcox

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Thank you for the information,     

 

I will be using my almost finished being built Side Draft Forge.  My home built propane forge won't reliably reach welding heat. However, I have a aspirated two burner Mankel forge with three open sides. With 2" thick brick stuffed into the open spaces on 3 sides and the open side choked with another firebrick, it just might be able to hit welding temperature. I will need to get clay type kitty litter to fill the bottom depression that is about 1"deep x 3" wide and 12" long. It uses a blower that has a regulated air flow flap. I got the forge almost 20 years ago, didn't like it and pushed it off into a corner. I use coal for all my craft type forging. Making knives and especially Damascus blades is new to me.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

 

I just checked with the Jersey Steel Barren and they have 15N20 and 1084 in 0,070" thicknesses. I had dbbe checking the knife supply houses like Jantz to be treated with a "Out of stock" note next to the steel.

 

I will order the steel in 1-1/2" width 0.070" thick. I will find out what the postage difference is between 24" and 48" stock. I will check out "L6" also.

 

At the Thrashers Reunion I found a vender selling O1 flat stock from 1/16" up to 1/4" thick and 2" to 4" W ,18" l..  The thicker O1 will be used to make laminated blades in axes.

 

I will send an order in for the steel blade stock tonight.

 

great information!!!

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Be careful mixing O1 with 15n20.  The O1 will tend to air harden a bit and will be difficult to drill holes in later.  The usual "heat to red and slow cool" does not anneal it.  I use 1084 with 15n20. Good contrast, identical heat treat preferences, normalizes well.  In coal I use 0.250" 1084 and whatever the thicker 15n20 Aldo has at the time is.  The 15n20 doesn't seem to squash compared to the 1084, ending up with all layers looking the same thickness.   Then again, I am usually going for lower-layer twist patterns.

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I've made billets of O1 and L6 before, and I didn't notice a lot of difference in the pattern versus 1080 and 15N20. 

 

O1 does etch a little darker then 1080 does, but you can just manipulate the 1080 to produce the same result if you want. 

 

Biggest difference was the tool steels are a little harder to forge, little harder to heat treat, and more expensive. Made a hell of a blade, dont get me wrong, but in the end, I just went back to the classic 1080-15N20 combo. 

 

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I again thank everyone for their  "How to do it" processes. The responses are very similar which leads me to conclude 15N20/1080 or 1084 is the way to go.  

 

Thinking, since the 15N20 stands proud of the 1084 and the 15N20 has nickel in the composition, could the hardened/tempered blade be polished and then  hot blued? The 15N20 shouldn't take the blue while the tool steel should blue nicely. Has anyone tried the hot bluing idea on their blades? If so, what were the results?

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1 hour ago, Paul Rohrbacher said:

Has anyone tried the hot bluing idea on their blades? If so, what were the results?

Many have and the results are great.  Some folks will say that a coffee etch will produce similar results.  
I'd suggest start searching the forums with your specific questions and you'll find most of them have already been answered.  

Not that folks don't like answering, you just have to wait longer for it.

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43 minutes ago, billyO said:

Many have and the results are great.  Some folks will say that a coffee etch will produce similar results.  
I'd suggest start searching the forums with your specific questions and you'll find most of them have already been answered.  

Not that folks don't like answering, you just have to wait longer for it.

 

What Billy said.  The best way to search the site is via targeted Google, the built-in search function is terrible.  Just go to Google and type your question followed by the phrase site=www.bladesmithsforum.com and you'll get all the answers from here.  Trust me, if there's been a damascus question, it's been answered, usually by people who are far better than I am!

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I find the thicker the better- I like either 3/16 or quarter inch, and will stack L6 and a high 10-series, 1084 or 1095, and usually I start with a stack about 5 layers, going with 1.5" wide stock and about 6" long. This makes up a billet around 3 lbs, which works down to a billet around 1.5 lbs after 3 cut and restacks. One will make 2 large knives/daggers or a short sword, and two a good size arming sword plus enough left for a couple daggers.

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DSC00917.JPGDSC00916.JPG

 

Viking knife progress report. :

Blade: 15N20/1080, 15 layers, Twisted, forged flat, flat sides forged blade to a  "V" shape, back 1/4" thick, length 6", sanded with 1000 Gr.

Handle:Curly Maple, 5" long

Etch: 10 Min in FC/water, 50/50 solution (Too Strong)

 

There is very little contrast between the layers. I tried Cold Gun Blue thinking the 15N20 would not blue-Wrong. The entire blade was a very dark blue. I used the 1,000 gr. wet sandpaper to start removing the blue from the 15N20 and hopefully leave the 1080 alone-wrong. Finally, the blade was buffed with White rouge. I did wind up with a little better pattern definition in the line around the 15N20. Both steels remained about the same sheen. The scratches seen in the blade photo are from wet 1,000 gr. sandpaper. 

 

The handle was shaped using a belt sander, the Brass ends were shaped and CA glued on. The handle was then finished as one piece, sanding to 400 gr.. The cavity in the handle was partly filled with epoxy and the blade was then inserted. After the epoxy was hard, the handle end of the knife was soaked in Walnut stained Walco Oil for 30 min. and wiped dry.  When the oil has curbed in several days, the handle will be buffed. The blade will be buffed to eliminate the sandpaper scratches.

 

The leather sheath will be next. I have never worked leather so any suggestions will be appreciated. I bought half a Tandy store for leather tools.  

 

 I use the Black 3M wet/dry sandpaper, wet and wrapped around a flat steel bar. This maintains a flat surface. But, it doesn't' prevent sanding a dip in the blade.  When the blade was annealed after grinding, it was draw filed , then flat sanded.

 

Are we having fun yet?

Paul

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Moving right along, I see!

To get the required topography in the etch, a weaker solution (the usual is 3:1 or 4:1 distilled water :FeCl) and several (five or six) ten-minute etches, wiping off the black goo between each, is the standard procedure.  To keep it flat when sanding the high spots, a single layer of paper on a flat steel backing is needed.  Multiple layers soften the lines and reach into hollows.

Finally, and this is just being picky, I would call it a "seax-inspired" knife.  To call it a "Viking" knife would mean no plunge cuts/ricasso, no filework, and no bolsters, plus a longer tip after the break, with a slight upsweep to the point.  Oh, and not a single billet, either.

All that said, the welds look great!  Good job. 

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I have been searching information on the Seax knives and sheath design. My search has come up with you as an Expert on the correct design of the Seax knife. Could you point me in the correct direction to the dimensions for the "Honey Lane" blade?

The Honey Lane blade as shown in the British museum pictures doesn't give dimensions other than the overall length, including the Tang as "266mm".  

 

The Honey Lane knife has twisted silver/copper wire embellishment inlay. I would assume that the original blade was Iron  or unhardened steel of the day. Is there any way to make a hardened/tempered blade and soften the spine area enough to make the inlay work? The silver/copper inlay would melt at heat treatment temperatures.

 

From my limited search of the forum, others have make the seax knife Ie: Robert Suter in 2011.

 

The sheath is equally important to correctly complement the knife. Can you point me in the direction of the correct Sheath design? It appears that the sheath may not be sewed but secured with a rivet every 4-5 cm. rivet iron or copper? Bronze would be too brittle to reliably forge the Head and upset.

 

Copper and bronze plus iron/steel were the metals of the day. I would assume that most  Seax knives were very basic, with no embellishments. The embellished knives probably would have been owned by the wealthy and leaders of the day. From my google searches, the knives and sheaths shown fall into the "seax-inspired"  category.

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Take a look in the History subforum here, there are MANY pinned threads with all that information ready to go.  The short version is that the blades of many were of steel-edged wrought iron, and as wrought does not harden it's easy to do inlays in it.  If you wanted to do that with a modern monosteel, I'd suggest 1050, with the spine drawn dead soft after heat treatment.  In other words, as low-carbon yet still hardenable as you can find, quenched and tempered, then stand it on edge in a pan of water and hit the spine with a torch until it's almost red hot, then allow to cool still standing in the water.  

 

The more complicated version is that the steels of the day were incredibly shallow-hardening, and in the thickness many seax spines were (between 9/32" - 3/8"+) the spine simply won't harden.  There's a couple of posts in the previously mentioned pinned threads showing where somebody had a skilled togishi (Japanese sword-polisher skilled in bringing out hamon) polish a window in a seax blade.  It showed hamon.  In other words, the edge hardened about 1/3 of the way up the blade, but the rest of the blade did not.

 

Sax handles are basic, the blades themselves were almost always finished as well as humanly possible, and are often embellished with engraving, inlay, or pattern-welding.  

 

https://pin.it/aknnwsqkydk3wy That link is George Ezell's pinterest page of seax stuff, and he's far better at them than I am.  

 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1QQ4NLkfXFWwMeYxNq-dCa81iDRbpdo7T/view?usp=sharing  That's a link to Jeroen Zuiderwick's (the seax god himself) powerpoint on what, how, and why.  If you're on Facebook (I am not and will never be), here's his page with even more info and pictures: https://www.facebook.com/barbarianmetalworking

 

Sheaths: 

 

and finally, just to really blow your mind, 

 

 

 

 

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Let me put it another way:  In its day, the seax was both male jewelry and a symbol that the owner was a free man and a warrior.  While the word itself just means "knife," the actual poor people's knives are much smaller and shorter.  Iron and steel were very expensive materials at the time, and blades of any kind would have been finished as finely as the maker could do.  Handles were usually added by a second craftsman, and sheaths by a third.  

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Thanks for the mind blowing information. The best way for me to make a blade with carving would be to make a laminated blade. The 1018 outer layer could be carved and an inlay applied after hardening. With experience, the 1018 could be forge welded in the Damascus pattern where the inlay would be located. One of the patterns showed a laminated section where the edge steel is located. Thank you for the guidance information.Tthe blades were significantly more complicated than I ever would have imagined. 

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