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Guide to start your Damascus / pattern welded steel adventure

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When I started out making Damascus I failed for 8 times. It was frustrating, but now I can make it consistently. To save you some trouble and to help you start with Damascus I’ll describe my process. I'm sure there are other ways, but this one works for me.


1. Get 2 contrasting steels. I mostly use O2 and 15N20. O2 will turn out black as it’s a plain carbon tool steel, 15N20 has some nickel in it which will resist the acid and turn up bright. The more nickel or chrome content, the brighter it will be after etching.

2. When starting out, I recommend not going bigger than a total of 7 layers. Max measurements would be 80x30x4 mm per layer.

3. You have to start off by cleaning your steel. If you have a belt sander your grindlines on the steel should go perpendicular (firgure 1). This way any flux or debris has a shorter route of extraction from the steel you are trying to weld.

4. The next step is to clean them with acetone. This will remove any oils. Be sure to wear gloves and let it properly dry.

5. Don’t touch the to be welded surface with your bare hands! You’ll introduce oil to the surface. Stack your 7 layers and weld them all the way on all four corners.

6. I recommend welding a sufficient long bar to the end of the stack. It’ll be easier to handle.


Gasforges can be tricky to weld in, but certainly not impossible. It’s all about parameters.

1. Be sure to sufficiently heat up your forge before trying to forge weld. I run my gasforge at 3 Bar (Content of forge is 25x25x25cm). This might be different from yours, it’ll require some experimentation on your side. When the gasforge is at the proper temperature, you should make sure the air/propane mixture is in a way it makes ‘dragonbreath’. That’s the yellow flames coming out the end of the forge. This means you are running your gasforge oxygen free (a clean burn). This way you can prevent building up scale before you start forge welding.

2. Enter your stack into the forge. When you get to the point it’s dull red, flux the stack with silversand or borax. This is to prevent oxidation at high temparatures.

3. Put the stack into the forge again. When the flux starts bubbling, the OUTSIDE is ready to weld. Be patient, you’re not there yet. Let it heat all the way up to the point you think you are ready to weld. At that point, wait another 30 seconds to properly let it soak.

4. Take the stack out of the forge and tap it on one side with your hammer according to the pattern in figure 2. It’s important to hit every area on the whole stack, anything untouched will not be welded.

5. Put the piece back into the forge and do the same thing again, but flip the stack 180 degrees. You need to do this because your anvil will suck the heat out of your piece. And the bottom layer might not be forgewelded because the temperature was not sufficient.

6. Congratulations, you made your first weld! Check if you see any black line on the places that are forgewelded. Any tiny black lines are inclusions or is not properly forge welded. Grind them out. Now to reveal the pattern you need to work the steel to your desired pattern.

7. When you’re finished with your piece (after grinding, hardening, tempering etc) handsand your piece to 600 grit.

8. Etch it in a ferro chloride solution (1:4) for about 15 minutes. Neatralise the acid on your piece afterwards. Etching for much longer will not darken your piece.

9. To achieve a darker pattern, put the piece in lukewarm strong coffee solution. For about an hour. You can brighten up the nickel or chrome by carefully sanding it with 2000 grit sandpaper.

Most common causes of failed welds:

- Not letting it soak heat enough;

- Improper forgewelding temperature;

- Introducing to much air in your forge;

- Not hitting all the surface.

Good luck!

Coalforge to follow

Figure 1.png

Figure 2.png

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Note having unburned fuel exiting is not a "clean burn", it is a reducing burn rather than neutral or oxidizing.  It also produces more CO.

I generally start my students with 21 layers of bandsaw blade and pallet strapping and no welding as most of the students don't have access to welding equipment and need cheap practice materials.

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