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I Forge Iron

Learning to make a Damascus blade


TuckGiles

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I'm taking my first blacksmithing class from a master blacksmith down here named David Burress. The idea is to make a Damascus blade for my fiancee for our marriage (not sure why I want to give her a knife but I do). I'm blogging the project at http://www.tuckreader.com/a-blacksmiths-blog/ but I was thinking it would be good to reach out to a community like this and get more advice/feedback on this process. I know I will have lots of questions on the way.

First is: While folding the welded billet, I keep bending the billet handle up with the tong, but can't figure out what I'm doing. Am I just not pressing down hard enough to clamp the billet to the anvil flat?

Thanks,

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hi tuck - wow thats a brave thing to take on with your first smithing class! your blog looks very well written - i will differ a lot from some of the guys on here in that i think it is possible to learn anything if you totally apply yourself to it and approach it in the right frame of mind... also that it does not matter if your first attempt is not great - it is entirely the learning that is important, and something that ends up as scrap is not necasarily without value! there are some HUGELY experienced guys on here who make the most incredible pattern welded and otherwise blades - so you came to the right place, but dont be surprised if some think you need to make a few nails and stuff first! best of luck with the experience :)

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Thanks guys. I totally understand about learning to make other stuff first. If you read the blog, you'll see part of jumping in this way is that I'm a journalist and wouldn't have time for the class if I couldn't write about it. But it's also that David, my teacher, thinks I may as well jump in the deep end and learn fast.
I have to say, the feeling of that first hammer strike is something I won't ever forget. And I bet if I keep on with this I'll want to make nails too.

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I haven't read your other location but a common problem is that the handle thins out right next to the billet and so you may be trying to bend a thicker and more hot hard area while holding onto a thinner softer handle.

One method around this is to lay the piece on the anvil with the cut at the edge and then place the tongs on the billet holding it down to the anvil face and then tapping the overhanging end over till you can then turn it up on the anvil face and tap it closed.

What I was doing yesterday was not grabbing the handle when time to bend but grabbing the billet with my tons and sticking one end in the hardy hole and starting the bend that way and then finishing it off with the hammer on the anvil. A bending fork for the hardy hole can make this easier as you want it FAST so you can still wirebrush and flux it before bending it closed.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Yes Grant. We're cutting about halfway through before folding...


A method I was taught was to cut all the way through. Then dress the faces to be welded with a ever so slight crown, stack and weld one end with mig or stick and begin the forge weld at that end, forcing slag flux and other impurities out as you hammer toward the open end.The idea behind cutting and stacking rather than folding is that it eliminates the chance of scale, flux and such from getting trapped in a fold and forced further down the pike. What starts in the fold may not stay in the fold :)
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Thanks Dodge. Was at it again the other night. I think a lot of it is just a matter of being a beginner and still finding it hard to get the billet to the right heat and work it fast enough afterwards to get the weld to take well. But I will pass on the cut and stack method to our teacher and hear his thoughts. What you say makes sense, a cleaner surface to work with between the two halves. But we have to fold four or five times, and it seems more practical to just fold.

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I do hope you are making use of the Goliath power hammer in the piccies . I have the same hammer ( a little newer) and previously had one from 1914......
If you look on the serial number the last two digits will be the year it was made .
Making damascus is actually one of the easier tasks from a hammering point of view fold it flatten it , fold it ....flatten it .
Of course it does have its complications and challenges.
good lick
All the best owen.

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 4 weeks later...

Latest installment of the Hammer and Anvil blog... http://www.tuckreader.com/hammer-and-anvil-6-sharp-knives/

BALSAM –– It has been some weeks since I updated the blacksmith’s blog, in part because I have gotten wrapped up in the actual craft and have not been as interested in writing about it as doing it. By doing it I mean making a knife from Damascus steel, a process that entails forge-welding layers of metal together, shaping a blade, and then finishing it.

In the three months or so since I started the process, I have spent many, many more hours on the knife away from Calerin Forge than I have in class under the helpful eye of David Burress. It turns out that making a knife involves a lot of filing and sanding. Robbie Shuler, who was the first in the class to finish his knife, said as much. When the blade comes off the forge for the last time, it’s essentially a lump of steel shaped like a butter knife.

To turn that steel into a blade, you start by filing out the ricasso, which is the section closest to the bolster and furthest from the tip. Robbie stood over me and guided me as I used a flat file to cut a line into the blade from the edge towards the spine. Establishing that line allows you to set the taper of the blade and makes the rest of the filing process easier.

Knife blades, it turns out, are fascinatingly symmetrical. They should taper evenly from spine to edge and from ricasso to point. I enjoy file work. It’s all about patience and seeing ahead of time what you want to end up with. I have spent a lot of time sharpening knives –– another action I enjoy –– but have never made my own or had an influence on a blade at such an early stage in its creation.

Did I mention I love knives? I also like steak and fire and watching sports on television. These are things I don’t necessarily advertise. I would rather advertise, for instance, that I am a writer, a naturalist, and a spy… okay, not a spy. Anyhow, the point is that knives are elementally fascinating to many men, in part because they are so useful and, in part, I suspect, because taking care of them has been a practice ingrained over thousands of years.

When I was a kid, my mother gave me a knife she bought in a gift shop in Finland. It was a replica of the knives the Finnish soldiers carried during the Winter War, or so she told me. At that age I didn’t care about the history. Just the fact of knife and war made me turn it over in my hands, take it in and out of its sheath, test the sharpness of the edge on my thumb over and over and over.

The same fascination gripped during the process of shaping the blade. I went to Lowes and bought a flat file and various grades of sandpaper. I’m pretty busy, so I didn’t work on it as much as I should have, maybe, but when I had time to sit on the front porch with a beer and sandpaper, I got lost in the project in the best way. I believe that some type of handwork is a daily requirement in the Waldorf teaching philosophy, and I understand why. Handwork teaches patience, but it also creates a relationship between human and object that translates into the world as a useful abstract. This is how long it takes to make a knife. This is how long it takes to make a knife by hand that you can buy for $19 at Walmart…

It took me weeks to get my blade where I wanted it. Robbie helped me sand out the last little nicks and blemishes, teaching me another valuable lesson. When you put that much time into something, don’t chintz at all. Make it as near perfect as you can. Once the blade is finished, it needs to be hardened.

You harden the blade by transferring heat to it through an iron that has been left in the fire. You lay the spine of the blade on the block and watch the heat transfer over, turning it smoky blue and then mustard yellow. Then you thrust it into a vat of used motor oil to cool rapidly. After a blade is hardened, it can’t really be worked, only sharpened.

Damascus steel is attractive because of the layers of high-carbon in the metal that create a pattern during the process of folding the blade on the anvil. The pattern is more or less invisible until you etch the blade by dipping it in a solution that eats into the steel and makes the pattern more pronounced, like maxing out the contrast on a Photoshop image.

It was a good feeling dipping my blade into the solution, knowing that I would see the pattern I had hammered into it for the first time. I washed the etching fluid off and there it was, like the lines of a topographic map of some deep shelf in the ocean floor. The blade was finished. The knife was just coming into being.

David likes to teach the old ways to do things, but his shop is full of new tools as well, and for a class like this, you can’t stand on ceremony. Making something by hand these days involves power tools. A dizzying arrange of them in fact. Power tools are something I didn’t grow up around. I was sort of a latchkey city kid, lost in books, sports, and imagination, and my father did not have a shop to speak of. I take great pride in pleasure in simple acts that many men wouldn’t even deign to take on, like hanging pictures.

So when David handed be a lump of brass and a sawzall and told me to cut a piece for a bolster, I didn’t know what to do. Tune in to the next Hammer and Anvil to find out if I’m typing with one hand or two…

If you want to learn how to smith or make a knife, email David Burress at calerin@earthlink.net.

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Note that unless you have a carbon migration barrier like pure nickle, you don't end up with high carbon layers as the carbon migrates. With fairly thin layers it only takes around 4 times to welding temp to equalize the carbon content. This was figured out more than 30 years ago by the Damascus Research Group at Carbondale IL as I recall.

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