Okay, I know I’ve already written about this twice before, but I’ve got a lot of new readers recently, so I saw fit to write about this again.
Currently, no one knows exactly how Damascus steel was made. It was developed in the middle east, and gained the title “Damascus” because this was a big trading city, and these swords came to the europeans through that city. It was (for the time) a very high quality steel, one of, if not the best, types of steel during that time. Gradually, however, large-scale smelting and carbon removing techniques became common, and so better steel became available in large quantities, which replaced the making of Damascus steel. How it was made was never written down, as there was no need to, and so the exact process of how it was made has been lost.
However, there is a modern technique which is quite possibly the way it was made about 700 years ago, and this is called pattern welding. Pattern welding is where two types of steel, hard and soft, are heated up to about where they are white hot, placed on each other, and pounded together until they are fused into one ingot, “half and half”, soft steel and hard steel. This ingot is folded in half, and pounded flat again. This process is repeated several times, each time doubling the amount of layers in the ingot, until the ingot has about 300 layers or so.
The smith then uses the ingot as he would regular steel, and forges it into a knife or sword or whatever he is to make. After the knife is finished, the smith would etch the blade with an acid, which very slightly eats away at the softer steel and oxidizes it as well. This shows up in the signature patterns Damascus steel is known for. Oftentimes, before the smith begins work on the knife itself, he would twist and fold the ingot in different directions, which shows up in the etching as beautiful designs, twisting and snaking around the polished blade.
What is surprising is how simple the process really is, and yet the end result is so complex and stunning!!
(Photo credits: Wilburnforge)