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I have a question for those of you who work with Damascus


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I'm working on my first Damascus project for a customer.  It's a through-tang knife.  (sure wish the customer had wanted a hidden tang knife!!!!!)  I've got all the metal sanded down to 400 grit.  (if I'm correct, that's pretty much where most of you say you'd quit sanding Damascus..........yes?)  I've got the handle "bolted" to the knife right now for sanding and alignment.  Its a stack-up of Red fiber liners,  Stainless Steel liners and then a top layer of Curly Bubinga, two of each.   Right now I've got all of that sanded down to match the Damascus knife handle profile to a 400 grit.  So here's my question.  After I etch the Damascus I shouldn't allow sandpaper to hit it again, should I?  After I pin and epoxy the handle, I'm going to have to clean up the epoxy and adjust for any slight misalignment to make the handle a perfect fit like it is right now.  That will require some sanding.  So would you guys have any tips for me on how to keep from hitting the exposed tang with sandpaper during the cleanup?  I keep "going forward" on this knife, but I'm really getting worried about that step.

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I'm a bit confused, it may be a terminology issue.  I think of a through tang as one that is exposed only on the butt end, if at all.  Are you talking about a full tang?  Some pictures would help.

 

Geoff

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The way I've done this in the past is by completely finishing the profile of the handle while firmly pinnec before glue up, then etching the knife. Then during the glue up, I make sure to clean all of the squeezed out epoxy off the profile with a solvent (I personally like acetone). You probably already do this on the top edge of the scales anyways with full tang knives, though it is more challenging to go all the way around. I think some people also use petroleum jelly to keep epoxy from sticking to surfaces on knives, so that could work here too.

Edited by Aiden CC
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5 hours ago, Chris Christenberry said:

(if I'm correct, that's pretty much where most of you say you'd quit sanding Damascus..........yes?)

I may be an outlier here, but I go to 1500 before etching, then 5000 to clean up the etch.  

Edited by billyO
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Wow, Billy, I've never heard of anyone going to that fine a grit before etching.  Just an uneducated opinion here, but etching etches the steel and I'd think it would just etch into that fine a polish and "pull" it back to a previous grit.  I have no idea where in the grit sequence that would be.  After I get some more feedback for my original question, I'll do some research on the matter.  I think we have a thread here on the forum about where most people stop in the grit sequence.

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1 hour ago, Chris Christenberry said:

I've never heard of anyone going to that fine a grit before etching.

What I've found (especially with san-mai type pieces) is that I can still see the lower grit scratches on the 15N20 after etching.  A couple of years ago I played around with how far to sand my damascus.  My reasoning was that etching removes the carbon steel, so when sanding, I'd only be sanding down the 15N20,which should make hand sanding go faster.  IIRC, what I found was that on higher layer billets, I could stop earlier and have the pattern look pretty good, probably because the exposed 15N20 layers were thin enough not to have the 400-800 grit scratches so obvious.  The broader the 15N20 is in the pattern, the more the scratches show up.  

I'd encourage you to do some experimenting on your own.  I also found that while stopping at lower grits looked good on higher layer billets, when I took them to my 1500-etch-5000 sequence, the pattern was a lot more 'crisp' with more contrast.  I attribute that to the scratches left when stopping at lower grits.

 

I'm interested to hear the thoughts/opinions/experiences of those who have been doing this longer than I have.

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Very informative, Billy.  Thanks.  I, too, would appreciate hearing from other makers on this subject.

Edited by Chris Christenberry
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Sorry 'bout that, Chris.  Now that I re-read it, it must have made more sense when I wrote it :wacko: ...it's just another way of saying going to 1500 before etching.

 

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Okay.  Got it.  I'm quitting at 800 on this one.  I've got a slight problem.  I electro-etch my maker's mark on knives.  But not quite sure how to do that when I have to etch this Damascus.  Should I use a resist the shape of my mark so I can etch my mark later?

Edited by Chris Christenberry
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3 hours ago, Chris Christenberry said:

I electro-etch my maker's mark on knives.  But not quite sure how to do that when I have to etch this Damascus.

It's my understanding that you etch your mark after you finish the damascus etch and post-etch polish.  

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OK. Billy has a good point about how far to sand prior to etching being related to the number/coarseness of the layer count. However, a really good 400 grit finish looks good on a mono-steel blade, so I tend to think that any grit lines in the 15N20 layers after etch are probably because the hand sanding wasn't controlled enough.

That being said, my post etching sanding is usually 800 or better with a really stiff backer. That leaves the high spots (15N20) with a very fine finish. I will probably try Billy's method on my next piece of high layer and see if I get a noticeable difference.

 

Etching your maker's mark is done post etch and clean up. Here are a couple of my Damascus blades with etched mark. I also blued these blades after marking to make the name stamp uniformly dark.

6-Blade close up (2) V2.jpg

Round 2 (9) V2.jpg

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Well, I quit at 800 grit, like I said.  I'm happy with it.  I've been trying to find a way to make a resist so my maker's mark would be on non-etched steel.  But this knife isn't about "me", it's for the customer.  I like the way your mark shows...........but doesn't over power.  I think I'll just do my etch on the knife and sand it down to 1000/1200 grit and then etch my mark.  I think it'll look just fine.  I don't know how folks get their marks to turn black, though.  Mine is black until I wash it off.  Then it's just an etched recess...........not that that is bad.  It's just not what I'm used to seeing.

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Some etching machines can run in reverse polarity, which darkens the etch once it's done. 

Old engraver's trick: flat black spray paint. Spray a little bit in a small cup and using a cotton swab, wipe a bit into the etch and immediately wipe it off. It'll stay in the recesses.  Cold blue is better for engraving on bright steel, but has to be sanded off the high spots. Not good for Damascus!

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I can reverse the leads in my equipment.  I'll give that a try on a piece of blank steel and see what happens..............thanks.

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Here is the process I use

1. Clean up the blade after Heat Treat ,sand to 600

2. Etch your mark on the blade ,use DC current and drive it into metal fairly deep then etch the complete blade in Ferric Chloride

3. attach bolster/guard, glue on handle

4. grind guard and handle to shape ,you are correct this will destroy the damascus pattern on the handle edges

5. buff finish the handle and guard

6. clean the exposed steel in the handle area with acetone to remove any buffing grease  (you can't use acetone with some acrylic handle material as it will dissolve the material)

7. get a Q tip put some ferric chloride on it and rub it on the exposed edge steel around the handle edge maybe do this a couple of times.

8. neutralize with baking soda or windex

9 (optional) I take some Birchwood Casey gun blue on a Q tip and go over the same area that I just used the ferric chloride on then apply a couple of drops of linseed oil to the edges and wipe excess off after about 5 minutes.

10 you WILL not get a deep etch on the handle edges like you did on the blade

Good luck

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On 9/21/2020 at 7:56 PM, Joshua States said:

I will probably try Billy's method on my next piece of high layer and see if I get a noticeable difference

Funny that you mention this.  This thread has motivated me to do a little experiment to see if what I'm doing is right, or just what I'm doing.  On my current blade, I'm going to do a comparison, one side topping at 800 and the other going to 1500 before etching (today is clean up).  If there's a significant difference, I'll be sure to post pics.  If not, I may be able to save about 30 minutes on each blade.  

Edited by billyO
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I never sand my PW past 220 grit before etching. If you use a random orbit sander as your final sanding it works fine. I do a deep etch, so any finer sanding would be wasted effort, and the random orbit avoids the raised hills/valleys/grooves/whatever-you-wanna-call-them that happens if you stop at 220 with linear/straight sanding.

 

In terms of the original question: It is a royal pain to have the spine of the blade show a pattern on a full tang blade. Essentially you just have to fit everything perfectly first. I've put the pins in without peening, fastened the slabs in place with a drop or two of super glue, sanded, polished, then take it apart, put masking tape on the spine (cut perfectly to the thickness of the tang) and then glued up, wiping any excess epoxy off with acetone immediately (which is a pain because if you get any acetone on the handle slabs you have to rebuff/polish that, which means you might accidentally buff out the pattern on the spine) . . . .

 

Anyway! Rather than do all that, now I just don't worry about the pattern on the spine of a full tang blade. Just sand and polish it. If you're trying to avoid a bright silver line with the aesthetics of the piece, hit it with some cold gun blue. 

 

Luck.


Dave

 

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1 hour ago, Dave Stephens said:

Rather than do all that, now I just don't worry about the pattern on the spine of a full tang blade. Just sand and polish it. If you're trying to avoid a bright silver line with the aesthetics of the piece, hit it with some cold gun blue. 

 

 

Yeah, these are pretty much what I do these days.  Lately it's been more of the cold blue on a q-tip after assembly way than leaving the tang bright.

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On 9/22/2020 at 4:49 PM, Chris Christenberry said:

I don't know how folks get their marks to turn black, though.

Once you get a good deep etch with the maker's mark, a little Birchwood Casey brass black on a Q-tip swab will do the trick on mono-steel blades. The excess on the flat of the ricasso comes right off with the same sandpaper you finished the blade out with. Just use a very stiff backer.

 

Handle on name side.jpg

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 I've got the blade sanded as far as I want it to go. (800 grit)  I'm not ready to start on it yet, but etching is the next process.  Of course, I've got to clean it up first.  I've done searches on the site until I'm blue in the face and can't find any threads about cleaning prior to etching.  I know there must be threads on the subject but I never can find what I want on a search engine.  Somehow never use the right words.  Anyway, am I correct that all I need to do is soak the blade in Acetone and then take it out, let it dry, then wash it in Windex and rinse in distilled water?  All the while it's on a wire and I'm gloved up with Nitrile gloves.  Then I can start etching.....right?  Then after I get it etched to the level I'm happy with, wash and wipe it with steel wool, pat dry and then apply WD40 so it won't rust.  Is that right?

Edited by Chris Christenberry
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This is a topic of much debate. It's no mystery really. You just want all oils and any residue from the hand sanding lube removed.

Guys like Karl Anderson say wash in hot water and dish soap. Other guys say use acetone. and windex. 

Still others will use whatever combination of solvent/cleaner they have.

Me? Well I use the acetone to remove any grease, and hot water to remove any residual stuff from the solvent. I use the acetone (carburator cleaner spray) and wipe off with a paper towel. Rinse in hot water and dry with a paper towel. Keep your fingers off the blade. Handle only by the tang.

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