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I Forge Iron

Alloys for a first attempt at decorative damascus

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Hi there, forums!

This'll be my first post on this site, so please let me know if I'm putting this topic in the wrong place.  

I'm an aspiring artist blacksmith who's currently studying abroad at the Duncan Of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, in Dundee.  I've never made damascus before, but I've decided I'd like to start experimenting with mosaic patterns.  Unfortunately, I'm not terribly knowledgable about steel alloys, and I don't know what steels I should be purchasing for low-carbon decorative damascus, since all the information I've found has been in the context of bladesmithing. On top of that, I don't really know any of the metal suppliers in the UK.  

I'm hoping someone can answer me these questions:

1: What alloys would you recommend for welding with mild steel?  I'm new to damascus so I would prefer to work with something forgiving. 

2: Who would supply such an alloy in Scotland, preferably via delivery? 

3: What kind of flux would you recommend?  I currently have access to a bronze soldering flux that does the job, but is it worth purchasing something specifically intended for steel?  

Thanks in advance to anyone who responds! I'me really excited to get started on this. :)

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Real wrought iron and pure nickle can be a quite distinctive mix.  In general to get the most "pop" you need a high nickel alloy; since you are not worried about hardness you can use pure nickel.  Check a Machinist supply for pure nickel shim stock.   For the other alloy you want something that etches dark, IIRC manganese content helps that. Of course what acid you are using makes a difference too.  Have you looked at some of the decorative patternwelding in "Decorative and Sculptural  Ironwork" Dona Z. Meilach  ?

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Thanks for responding!

No I haven't, but it looks like an interesting read.  

I can look into purchasing pure nickel, but I've never worked with it before, so I don't really know it's quirks. I think I'de prefer to stick with what I know for my first attempt at damascus, so could you suggest any bright steel alloys? Also, if you have the names of any good manganese steel alloys that would be very helpful.  

When you say "Real wrought iron" do you mean straight non-carbon iron?    

I'm using ferric chloride and water.  

Btw, I probably should have mentioned that I'm using a coal forge.  

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No, I mean real wrought iron, May I commend to your attention the Real Wrought Iron Co, LTD.

I mainly do knives and fittings for knives however my favorite "play around billet" is made from nickel containing band saw blades and pallet strapping allowing you to start with 20 to 25 layers and go up from there.  Both materials I source as discards too.

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Does what have a name? Real Wrought Iron?  Band saw blade?  Pallet strapping?

Real wrought iron will not be sourced at a machine shop unless they are doing high level historical restoration or replication, might be found at a blacksmith if they are doing HLHR&R. Or can be purchased in the UK from the Real Wrought Iron Co, LTD   I get mine from the scrap stream locally.

Bandsaw blades I generally tip dive behind places that use bandsaws on a regular basis---be sure to ask first!  I also source them at the local scrapyard.

Pallet strapping I source like I do band saw blades DO NOT USE GALVANIZED ONES!  I test the PS for carbon content by heat-quench-break since I'm usually doing blades. Stuff that doesn't break is saved for decorative billets.


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You cannot forge weld cast iron. Please learn and use the material names correctly!   (Saves a lot of issues in the short and long run.)

(I've tried welding cast iron in a billet about 35 years ago; amusing in a dangerous way with molten cast iron splashing around the place...I was trying to test some of the suggestions on how wootz was originally made---before Verhoeven and  Pendray figured it out and published )

Real Wrought Iron can withstand much higher temperatures than modern steels and so it's generally not the issue when welding.

Now when you want to discuss mosaic damascus there are better folks than me to talk to. Unfortunately I know the local ones....

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Ah, sorry.  That was a typo.  Not sure how I managed to confuse those. :wacko: 

I'll definitely look at getting some wrought iron then.  Is there a specific nickle steel alloy that I could pair with it, or does it contrast enough with mild steel that i can just use that?  

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