And now for something completely different!
While this blog is my hobby, my husband has a much more active spare-time activity with blacksmithing. He really enjoys the labor-intensive process of making Damascus steel and peddles his wares over on his Etsy shop.
He has documented his process of making Damascus Steel bottle openers and I’ll be featuring his story here in two parts.
Damascus steel is created by layering two or more types of steel with differing properties, such that a contrast between the steel types is visible in the end product. Here’s a collection of bottle openers hand made by David using this technique.
The contrast is brought out by an ‘etching’ mechanism, typically acid, which reacts differently with the different components. Damascus steel is forge welded as opposed to fusion weld (oxy-fuel, arc, etc.) – in forge welding, the metal never (well very little) reaches a molten state. At the moment, I’m making my damascus exclusively from 1080 and 15N20. These steels are basically the same with one main exception – the 15N20 has additional nickel content. This nickel resists the etching action and also resists oxidation when hot, which means the two layers generally can be seen when forging as the 1080 definitely creates scale when at forging temps.
Starting with 1″ x 6″ stock, ranging from 1/16″ to 1/8″ thick, the first step is to de-burr the 15N20 (top and bottom in photo below) and remove the mill scale from the 1080 steel (middle two).
Then the billet is assembled and TIG welded on one end to hold it together – no filler metal is added, but this basically creates a very thin layer of mixed metal that will be cut off in the end. Typically the billet uses alternating layers of the constituent steels, although randomizing things can create more bizarre patterns.
Next I TIG weld on a handle, so I can avoid tongs for the forge welding and drawing out the billet.
Now that the billet is secured, the next step is to heat it to forging temp – in this case, as the steel is clean, and I’ve got a fuel-rich (little free oxygen to cause problems with the welding) I can safely skip adding flux… when needed I usually use 20 Mule Team Borax). So get it hot (1900-2100 degree range is good for these steels) and hammer quick to bond them. Usually I use the propane forge for this step, but the coke forge works well, although it’s difficult to get the entire billet to welding temp in that case…
First pic is just the billets in the forge slowly warming up, second is a billet after the initial weld…
Next week, David will talk about how the billets are drawn out and manipulated into the beautiful patterns you see in his bottle openers!