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Interesting bowie with a story

Jim Saviano

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9" blade, 14" overall

312 layers of 1084/15N20 damascus with 'axe mill' steel in middle (dark stripes) - dark tip on blade is result of poor photo

redwood handle, ladder damascus ferrule




Axe Mill steel - My town, Douglas, MA, was in the mid to late 1800's a world renowned manufacturer of axes and edged weapons (London and Paris worlds fairs, Civil war bayonets, etc). Recently the sewerage treatment plant was expanded and a number of small billets of axe mill steel were unearthed. I got several (sized about five inches square by about three inches high), ground off the end of one, and found that the billet was layered (indicated by very thin black lines between quarter inch layers of steel), probably due to the manufacturing process to build a billet thick enough to form into an axe? I cut off a half-inch strip, forge welded it to itself several times to try to clear up the apparently inferior welds and incorporated it into the knife by placing it between of two pieces of 156 layers 1084/15n20, forge welding it together, and then twisting it. When the bands of axe mill steel within the knife are placed under a microscope, they appear porous - almost as if someone had pierced them thousands of times with a thin needle - perhaps due to the steel being buried for about 150 years, or to poor quality steel (any other ideas?). I'm not about to try a bend test with this knife, but perhaps I will with a knife made of the steel to see what its strength characteristics are.


In any event, the knife is being donated to the historical society for a raffle at their annual event - hopefully they'll sell several hundred $10 tickets. Probably earn for them more than I could earn if I sold it outright.

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Cool story! Great looking knife nice lines. Could you give us a close up of the blade?

Thanks Bob

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Hrm, so could that have been a form of shear steel?

As producing shear steel was done by carburizing bundles of wrought iron and welding them together.

Sounds kinda cool though.



Bingo. B)


Sounds like some old billets of shear steel left behind when the plant switched to Bessemer or open-hearth steel. I think most of the New England axe companies made that switch between around 1880 and 1900. Some plants only used crucible steel, which is why you may find old tools stamped "cast steel."


If you've got a bunch of it I can think of a lot of folks who'd be willing to take it off your hands... ;)

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I did a little more research on the Douglas Axe Manufacturing Company. Turns out "the success of the company was due to an ingenious method of embedding fine British Sheffield steel in the bit of the axe, which insured a good cutting edge for years". No mention of what steel the Sheffield steel was embedded into, but that is probably what we have in this knife.

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That's cool on all counts. I think almost everybody who forges knives feels a connection to the historical traditions that we're all drawing on. To incorporate those traditions directly into a knife is a really special thing. Beautiful knife!

Check out Walter's instructional videos:

Forging Japanese Style Blades

Making Hamons

Japanese Sword Mounting


Making Japanese Sword Fittings

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Thanks for the comments. Here's a close-up of the blade. I don't have any idea about the carbon content, but it hardens well.




Thanks for the pic Jim i love the look of that steel!


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