Damascus Workshop – 2009


Damascus Workshop June 13,2009
Gary Kemp had expressed an interest in playing with Damascus and Matt McKenzie has played in my shop before, so I organized a weekend of making steel and producing knives. Of course, I scheduled it when the air temperature was 95+F. Both participants came in Friday night with pizza (thanks to Gary) and we got to work at 9:00AM Saturday morning.


Assembling people and steel

Assembling layers in vise for welding

Billet end welded with handle

Billet layers


The billets were 13 layers initially and stacked as shown. They were 6″ long and approximately 1.75″ thick. A short handle was welded on the stack and we fully expected the handle to fall off before the 2nd weld. After that, we planned to use tongs. We carefully heated the billet and fluxed with borax before it reached scaling temperature, i.e., soak the beast before it got above dull red. The forge used was a new design with what turned out to be excessive air blowing through the twin venturi burners.After the first weld, we ran the ‘Damascus Dance’. The layout in my shop (relative to the center of the work area) the 50 lb Little Giant to the north, the forge to the northwest, the swage blocks and short post vise to the south, the usual post vise to the east, and the anvils (and flux box) to the northeast. When the billet had been forged down to approximately 1″ x 12″, we located the center of the billet using a triangular layout plate. A hack was used to almost cut through the billet. The smith then whirls around to the south, talks a couple of steps to the swage block area and locks the billet (hacked surface down) in the short vise. He then picks up the side-grinder laying there (and trying not to lay the hot tongs on the electric cord). The scale is then buzzed off and the billet given a slight crown (thanks to Ronnie Fowler for this process). The billet then is moved to the main vise and bent through at least 90 degrees (see pics below). It is then refluxed, closed on the anvil, given a final squeeze on the power hammer and back into the forge. The whole process takes about a minute.

Billet ready to weld

Drawing out billet after 1st weld

Buzzing off the new interface

Billet positioned for fold

Starting the fold over

Fluxing billet with borax

Getting ready to close billet

Closing billet on anvil

Closing the billet on the hammer

Back into the forge

Waiting for the steel to heat

Making the weld-start at folded end

Light taps to start weld

Making the weld-after it sticks, reheat

Work it hot

Watch out for the weld-flux splatter


Starting with 13 layers, we went through four fold-and-weld steps to make a 208 layer billet. After the last weld and before driving the billet down to knife stock, we used a tool designed to make swirl patterns. The tool is a mild steel handle (about 1″ x 1/4″ x 16″ long) with a short piece welded on one end at right angles to the handle. That piece had a couple of 1/2″ holes drilled in it. A ball bearing was positioned in each hole and welded from behind with a stainless steel rod. I’ve named the tool the “Dolly Parton”. It is used to drive pairs of hemispheric depressions into the hot steel. When those depressions are hammered flat, circular random patterns result.

As the afternoon wore on, we took turns at the hammer and slowly wore ourselves out – working in leathers to prevent flux burns when air temps are 95+, does wear one down eventually. By Miller time, the billets were done and just needed to be driven down into knife stock.


Pattern development-the “Dolly Parton”

Drive into steel on last weld=2 ball bearings

Grinding-use magnet as handle

Grinding-use flat platten


Once the billet was forged down into knife stock (approximately 1″ wide x 1/4″ x 20″ long), it was time to think blades (and it’s Sunday morning by this time). Matt selected a skinner pattern and Gary picked a slightly smaller patch knife pattern. We cut off enough stock to forge the selected blades. Both guys got to play with Japanese-style (dog-legged) hammers and the wet anvil technique. We normalized the blades and then it was time to grind. We ran them through a 60 grit and 80 grit belts.

The guys decided how many pins they wanted to use and then drilled slightly over-sized holes for the 1/8″ diameter pins that we planned on using. Luckily, only a couple of the holes needed carbide drill bits (one of the downsides of rushing the prep – no time to correctly anneal the blades). Because of rapidly decreasing time available, I elected to use an oxy-propane torch to bring them up to critical temperature and a tub of semi-solid goop (a mix of automatic transmission fluid, paraffin, and lard) as the quench medium. We tempered for a hour or so in the usual toaster oven at 375F.

The blades were then run through a series of Norax belts (200, 100, 65, 45, 30 & 16) down to 1200 grit. We used a quick etch of ferric chloride, followed by a quick dunk in Kano Lab’s Ex-Rust – maybe 30 minutes total. The blades were covered with masking tape. Matt contributed stabilized scales of Amboina Burl.


Pattern-after grind & quick etch-left

Pattern-after grind & quick etch-right

Blade ready to be dressed

Protect with masking tape


We traced the tang outlines onto the scales, made sure the tangs and the inner surfaces were flat, and band sawed out the four scales. We used 5-minute epoxy (and Brownell’s Epoxy-Black) and some welding spring clamps to attach the first scale. When it set up, we drilled through the tang, taking care to back the scale with a wood block (prevents splinters) and positioning the handle perpendicular to the drill (the tangs are slightly tapered, so the holes are actually at a slight angle to the outer surface of the scale). The second scale was then glued on, drilled and pins inserted.

It was then back to the Bader to rough out the handle and then onto the variable speed belt grinder with a slack belt setup using flex belts.


Clamping epoxyed scale

Scales overlap tang

Completed blade

Completed skinner-left

Completed skinner-right


The last steps were to buff the handles, sharpen the blades, and treat with hot bees wax.  By the time everyone rolled out, it was 7:00PM on Sunday – a long weekend but the worth it given the knowledge passed on and the eventual product.
Steve Bloom