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


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3 hours ago, Chris Christenberry said:

 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?

I just sand it carefully and wipe it off with a dry paper towel afterwards. If I just ate fried chicken or something I'll wipe it down with a solvent and then with a bit of leather (after I wash my hands!). Give the blade a quick dunk in the FC to check if it's clean. If there are any greasy spots you'll see them immediately and can clean it up. Essentially anything that results in the blade being free of oil (like Josh said) works.

 

In terms of the etch, however, there are variations of technique that make a difference. My preferred method is 15-20 minute etches in room temp FC (4 parts water to 1 part FC). Scrub the black oxides off with a stiff brush under running water between each etch. I do 4-6 etches like this, Then neutralize with Windex. Then I do something that I don't think many other smiths do: I buff the blade w/ a sewn cotton wheel with pink or white fine compound. Then I clean with WD-40. Final step, give it a coat of floor wax and buff it off with a soft, clean towel. 

 

Lots of people seem to think that buffing will smear or remove the pattern. It doesn't if you're using a fine compound and you've etched deeply. My patterns pop right out, have plenty of contrast, but are still shiny as a result. 

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Oh, and if you're having trouble with searching, use Google instead. Just go to Google and type in the search bar

 

site:Bladesmithsforum.com THE THING YOU WANT TO SEARCH

 

Use quotation marks around the search string if you want it to search for the exact phrase. 

 

This works much better than the built-in search engine.

 

Dave

 

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Don't worry too much about getting the cleaning process perfect prior to etching.  It is very important to get the blade clean, but you get plenty of feedback during the etching process, and it is easy to recover.  It's not like you will ruin your project because you didn't get it spotless.

 

Most often I just clean with ammonia glass cleaner.  I use it as my sanding lube, so it is always within reach when I go to etch, and ammonia is a good grease cutter.  However, I will also wipe with acetone occasionally when it is more convenient than the glass cleaner.  I even use hot water and dish soap if I happen to be in the house with the blade before I go out to etch it.  I think they all work just fine.

 

If you happen to leave a finger smudge or some oil behind on the blade, you will almost immediately see it as an area that isn't etching as fast as the rest of the blade.  If that happens, pull it out, make a few strokes with whatever your finishing grit of paper was, clean the blade again, and restart the etch.

 

Edited by Brian Dougherty
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I don't use steel wool on damascus, it tends to remove some contrast.  

The most important thing after etching is to stop the etch. Windex, ammonia, or baking soda/washing soda in water will do this, WD-40 will not.

I do etches like Dave, wipe off the FC with windex a couple of times, then hit it with 400 grit paper. Single sheet, hard flat backing, oil as lube.  

Watch it for a day or two to see if any rust starts (big issue with wrought, since it's full of tiny voids), then car wax.

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Alan, I'm assuming you mean to "stop the etch" with Windex after the etching is to a point I like and am completely finished with the acid.

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24 minutes ago, Chris Christenberry said:

I'm assuming you mean to "stop the etch" with Windex

Basically.  Windex is basically diluted ammonia, a base, which will neutralize that acid to stop the etching.

 

From what's written above, pretty much everything for etching damascus has been covered.  And even though you have a variety of methods, they all work best for each individual.  Ask a dozen blacksmiths how to forge something and you'll get 2 dozen answers.....

I realize that unless you're doing multiple blade, it's hard to get into the "don't be afraid to experiment to find what works best for you", especially when you have that one damascus blade you want to make perfect....

 

12 hours ago, Dave Stephens said:

My preferred method is 15-20 minute etches in room temp FC (4 parts water to 1 part FC). Scrub the black oxides off with a stiff brush under running water between each etch. I do 4-6 etches like this,

IMO, this is the thing that everyone needs to experiment with.  What Dave mentioned above used to be my standard protocol (but I would only do 3 cycles) on every blade until earlier this summer when someone (Joshua, perhaps?) mentioned that ambient temperatures play a role in how fast the acid etches and I tried 4 etches for 5-7 minutes and didn't notice much difference.   I like to be able to feel a little 'topography' with a latex gloved fingernail and use this to determine when the acid etching is finished. 

 

One other thing that I haven't seen mentioned here (and I'll be honest by saying I'm not 100% sure this is necessary) is that I was also taught to let the etch 'sit' overnight before final cleaning off of the oxides.   I was taught to neutralize the blade after the final etch by dunking it in boiling baking soda/water solution, then let the blade air dry overnight before the final cleaning.  I recently tried this with room temperature baking soda/water (not boiling) and didn't notice much difference.  

 

Good luck deciding which parameters to follow.  

Looking forward to seeing the final product.

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I use isopropyl alchahol to clean my blades. Do it once and wipe off with clean rag then do it again and use the airhose. Etch and neutralise in baking soda use soft paint brush the first etch then  2000grit w&d on hard backing with water to clean the oxides

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Oh, I forgot to ask.........................................

 

Does the material type of the rod used to hang the Damascus blade in the acid make any difference?  I figured on using welding rod from my Oxy/Acetylene rig because it's so rigid.  I also have brazing rod I could use.

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Do not use anything with copper in it.  It will flash-plate the steel.  I use stainless tie wire from Harbor Freight, but any steel is fine.  Just no copper.  So, no brazing rod, in other words.

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Make sure it's not copper plated.  A lot of bare steel rod for oxy-acetylene welding is.  You don't need a stiff wire anyway, string works fine.

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1 hour ago, Alan Longmire said:

string works fine

I use 8lb test fishing line....

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Alrighty then....................I completed 3 10 minute soaks in a 4:1 mixture.  After the last one and a gentle swishing in Baking Soda water, I took a paper towel and washed the black off under running water.  :rolleyes:  (what an idiot!)  :wacko:  Didn't really realize it was really coming off until it was far too obvious it was coming off.  Remembered in the back of my feeble brain someone suggesting not wiping, but patting it dry.  So went back in for another 10 minute soak.  Patted it dry..................dried it with a hair dryer and then sprayed it with WD-40.  I'll leave it alone for tonight (I guess that's supposed to let the black "set") and start the higher grit sanding tomorrow. 

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Just checked my blade.  It's black and white, alright, but I tested the "topography" on the handle end with my fingernail and there was none that I could feel!  Shocked me.  Is it true that in time, the "black" will rub off?  If that's the case, then I need to go back to etching.  Josh says he does 15 to 20 minute etch cycles...........but didn't mention how many.  Anyway, I think I'll get back to etching this afternoon and see if I can't get some topography etched into the blade.

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Good morning, Chris.  Before etching again, I'd take the highest grit paper (I use 5000 grit) with a hard backed sanding stick and gently wet sand/clean the flats with the sanding stick, using only as much pressure as needed to start cleaning off the black oxides. I typically start with one light push or pull, rinse off the blade to see how much I cleaned off and adjust my pressure/strokes from there.  Remember, if you clean too much off, you can always re-etch and 'start over' so-to-speak.  

 

Another thing I should mention is that it's important to have the paper adhered to the sanding stick, because any slack in the paper can allow it to get into the deeper, etched portions.  I make sure my stick (a flat piece of G10) is wet and the paper is wet before wrapping it around my stick.  I've been thinking that using spray adhesive would be better, but haven't gone to this step yet.

Edited by billyO
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Thanks, Billy.  I'll give that a try.  

 

I use a piece of 3/4" thick paper grade phenolic as my sanding block.  I always get it wet and wet the back of my paper before applying it.  I won't be able to get back to the project until later on this afternoon, but think I'll start with 20 minute etch cycles.  The 3 10 minute cycles did very little as far as accomplishing what I'm after.  This is my first time etching Damascus so I'm treading unknown waters here.

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You should have seen the blade Larry Harley forgot in the etching tank overnight.  That one had so much topography you couldn't run your fingernail over it at all, it'd just stick in the grooves. :lol:  He had that one gold plated, because, well, that's the sort of thing he'd do. 

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4 hours ago, Alan Longmire said:

forgot in the etching tank overnight.

I did that with a butter knife I made years ago.  I never thought to plate it, but that would look pretty cool.  I'm still using it as my butter knife....

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Dave does the 15-20 minute etches. I do much shorter etch cycles (8-10 mins) but I use a fish tank bubbler to agitate the etch and speed the process. I just etch until I like what I see. My tiny brain and faulty memory say I do about 3 cycles. Spay with Windex and wash with water after each cycle. Need more? Put it back in the tank.

 

The black comes off. You can remove all of it with 0000 steel wool, or any metal polish and a terrycloth rag. I've tried the baking soda trick to "fix" the black, with minimal success. So. I changed to cold blue. It's cheap, effective, and fairly permanent. Salem Straub and the DeRossiers Parkerize their Damascus to get a very durable and dark finish. Karl Anderson and others use hot bluing salt baths. 

 

As for hanging the blade in the acid, my etch tank is a 4-inch ABS/PVC tube and most of my knives have a partial tang. I just put a QuickGrip clamp on the tang end and use the clamp to keep it from falling into the tank. I do not etch the tang, except for about an inch or so behind the shoulders. In the case where I etch a full tang, I just use rebar tie wire through one of the handle holes.

 

On 9/24/2020 at 8:23 PM, Dave Stephens said:

I do something that I don't think many other smiths do: I buff the blade w/ a sewn cotton wheel with pink or white fine compound. Then I clean with WD-40. Final step, give it a coat of floor wax and buff it off with a soft, clean towel. 

I must try this. If for no other reason, I love the way your PW looks in the photos.

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