CPD Lab: Damascus In Depth
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All About Damascus Steel

 

The origin of the name itself is as much of a mystery as the origin of the art of making Damascus steel. The surface patterns on Damascus sword blades and knives resemble turbulent damas—the Arabic word for water. Another explanation is these swords were made by a man named Damasqui. The most likely source is geographical: the city of Damascus in Syria.

THE ANCIENT STORY

There are several theories on the origin of Damascus steel. It can be traced back to India and Sri Lanka (300-100 BC) where it was referred to as wootz steel. This highly purified metal and unique process slowly made its way to the Middle East between 900 AD and 1000 AD where the method was refined. Weaponry made of this steel was commonly produced and sold in Damascus, Syria—a successful international trading center of the time. As these arms spread throughout the area and the rest of the Fatimid Empire, the term Damascus steel was born.

 

French and English armies first encountered Damascus steel weapons during the crusades. These swords were said to have almost mythical qualities, such as the ability to cut through a knight’s blade or even rock without losing its sharpness. European blacksmiths attempted to duplicate the legendary steel using a pattern welding technique. They even went so far as to etch their swords or decorate them with metallic overlays to match the look of Damascus steel. However, they were never successful in replicating the power and malleability of the superior steel. Metal smiths and artisans in the Middle East continued making Damascus steel swords and knives until 1750 AD, when the legendary process was inexplicably lost.

 

THE MODERN STORY

Today, the term Damascus steel refers to the combination of two different kinds of steels that are welded and forged into a bar or rod with a multitude of layers. After patterning techniques are applied, the Damascus is etched to reveal the distinctive pattern of those layers; the signature swirling configuration made famous by those ancient weapons.

 

In Sweden, a new spin on the old Damascus steel process has been developed whereby alternating layers of two different kinds of stainless steel powders are hot isostatically pressed together. The resulting diffusion-bonded duplex steel billet is subjected to traditional steel processing techniques to form round billets which are subjected to the same techniques used by the early metalsmiths to produce Damascus Stainless Steel.

 

THE PROCESS

Though there are some similarities, the processes for making Damascus rings and Damascus knife blades are quite different. For a finished Damascus ring, there are 25 to 30 operations including, initial bonding, hot deformation, selective material removal, followed by shaping and forming the ring itself. The process begins with sheets of stainless steel that are bonded under heat and pressure. The bonded material is then subject to deformation under heat and pressure. Patterning of the deformed metal involves the selective removal of material.

 

Chris Ploof Designs manufactures its own uniquely patterned Damascus Stainless Steel which is made and processed in the United States. Our process involves a combination of diffusion bonding of 304L and 316L Stainless Steel followed by traditional Damascus Steel forging and twisting. With our process we are able to produce patterns that can not be made by anyone else. Most Damascus patterns we use are derived from a combination of 304L and 316L stainless steel; this combination is 100% corrosion-resistant. The Damascus Stainless Steel is supplied in the form of both flat and round bars. Ring blanks are machined from these starting product forms.

 

SHOTGUN STEEL

CHRIS PLOOF DESIGNS owns a stock of antique shotgun barrels manufactured in the 19th century. They were made with a very unique Damascus steel process popular at the time. This highly collectible material is used to create many custom pieces.