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How to Etch Cable Damascus


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Hey guys. 
Recently I was able to, on my third or fourth attempt, finally make a successful billet of cable Damascus. Although it looks and feels pretty sound, I decided to keep this piece to decorative work only- no blades. I cut out an earring and got to etching- with very unsatisfactory results. No matter what I try, I can not get a good etch. I’ve tried several combinations and still nothing. I’ve tried it soft, hardened and tempered, hardened without temper- nothing. I’ve tried putting it in 40% ferric, 10% ferric, and boiling vinegar- nothing. The whole thing will turn black, but even with a very long etch I can not get much depth contrast. There is some depth, but even a light sanding with 5000 grit will remove it.

Attached is a photo of the earring. This time it was hardened without temper, etched for 24hrs in 10% ferric, wire brushed, then etched for a few min in boiling white vinegar. Finally I hit the high spots with 5000 grit wet paper. You can see that there is very moderate height and color contrast, but nothing close to the black and silver deep etch I see some people achieve.

At this point I’m desperate. I’m losing my mind over how to etch this stuff. I’ve etched mokume and wrought iron and those both went perfectly. This just isn’t working. I appreciate everyone’s help.


Edited by Chimaera
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I'm relatively new to this, so I'm sure I'll be corrected... I'd assume that as this is cable and only 1 type of metal, you won't get the contrast you'd get from a typical damascus or similar? It looks like the etch has given you really nice topography though. 

I'd try making a really REALLY strong pot of instant coffee and dunk it in there while it's still hot - that's given me far better contrast on typical 15n20/1080 pattern welded steel than just ferric or vinegar.

FWIW, I really like it as it is.

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Thanks simian. My understanding is that no, it doesn’t typically give as good of a contrast as regular pattern welded. However, I know some people are able to get pretty good contrast. I wonder if I had the wrong cable or screwed something up while welding it? 

I’ve also tried instant coffee with no success, but I’ll try it again. I agree that this one did end up pretty cool even if it’s not what I wanted

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  • 6 months later...
On 4/5/2023 at 1:38 PM, LucasG said:

Hello, just been searching online for the same issue. Did you ever figure out how to etch your cable?

Hi Lucas! Unfortunately, not really. I tried another piece and got completely different results, but still not really what I desired. I have a bit of bar just laying around, so I think I may see if one of the more experienced guys on here would be willing to do some tests for me if I ship a piece to them.


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  • 8 months later...

Just came across this post and was wondering if you made any progress?  I have some thoughts...

With all the etching you've done it has to come down to the cable. I hear elevator cable gives good contrast vs other types since most others use very similar steels, so etching them doesn't lend to dark/light contrast. 

Also when I think of getting high contrast I think of regular pattern welds. High layer count gives better contrast because after the etch there's that much more nickel steel raised to hit with high grit paper. (Remember to use a hard backing with the paper.)

So in comparison with cable I would experiment with the ones that have as many individual wires as I could find. 

I think the only other option would be to unwind the cable before forging and add high nickel wiring or strips.

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As I understand it, the only reason you can etch forge welded cable to get a pattern is due to the decarb layer that forms on each strand as you consolidate the material into a billet. 

Generally speaking, multiple (successfully) forge welded layers of the same alloy steel will only show up as a single layer when etched.  So, with cable we end up with a thin layer of something approaching mild steel around a core of high carbon steel for each individual strand.   The contrast between mild (or mid-carbon) steel and high carbon steel is not nearly as stark as the contrast between a nickel bearing steel and a high carbon steel without nickel.   It's shades of gray for the cable or maybe gray to black.  Regardless, it's more subtle than high contrast combinations like 15N20 and 1095.

Unfortunately I have next to no experience producing a good etch on cable steel, so I can't give you a "best" way to bring out the pattern.

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