Damascus Steel

The Sheer Wonder of Damascus Steel

Damascus Steel was a type of steel used in sword making from about 300BC to 1700AD.  Personally, I think its appearance is breath taking when you consider the process untaken to achieve this steel.

In the early Iron age, armourers discovered that, by blending hard and soft metals together, a blade not only would flex during battle, but would have incredible piercing and cutting capabilities.  These swords weren’t made for their beauty but for a powerful weapon and were incredibly tough and resistant to shattering.  Unsurprisingly, they were feared by enemies.

One of the most complex examples of all pattern-welded swords, and my absolute favourite, is the Sutton Hoo Sword on display at the British Museum dating from the early 7th Century.  Although the blade is rusted, under X-ray it reveals a very high quality Damascus Steel.

It was forged from eight bundles of seven fine iron rods, either twist-forged with alternating twists or left untwisted, all hammered together back to back on an anvil to form the blade.  This shows that it was not a ceremonial piece, it was a war-blade, a true weapon.

The replica blade displays this amazing process.

In the tang (the bit that connects the blade to the handle) of the replica blade, there is a stamp in Old English runic letters with the name of its maker- Scott.  This is how the old smiths would in scribe their blades, and in this case Scott Langton was the maker.

Damascus Steel today

I was luckily enough to attend a Bladesmithing course with him, when I did my work experience at the Ornamental Metals Museum in Tennessee, America.  I made a lovely little knife with a handle made out of some olive wood someone from the group kindly donated to me.

The ‘Modern Damascus’ we refer to today is best described as pattern-welded steel and is made from several types of steel and iron slices welded together to form a billet.  This is then drawn out and folded until the smith has the number of layers he requires.

I was also very lucky to visit Daryl Meier, who is the master of Damascus steel.  One of the pieces he is well known for is the American Flag Bowie.  It is unbelievable how he managed to perfect this mind blowing piece.  The detail is just incredible when considering the process.  Each star of the flag has all of the points.  The flag repeats 13 times for the 13 original colonies.  This amazing detailing is visible on both sides of the blade.

Back at the Museum one of the lads that were working there showed me a test he was working on.  It was mix of wrought iron and stainless steel.  After being etched with acid it looked like a piece of drift wood it was just wonderful.

Pattern-welded Damascus Steel is very time consuming and a complete art form.   There is only a few hundred people in the world who actually have the knowledge to produce Damascus steel.

Have a look at some of these examples.

No Comments

Post A Comment