What is Damascus

Excellence In Damascus
A.B.S. Mastersmith

During the long years of the Crusades, the armies of Europe found themselves badly outnumbered. Not only were there more Saracens than Crusaders in the Holy Land, but the armies of Islam were much better equipped. They rode sleek, swift horses bred for the hot desert climate, wore a chainmail light enough to provide them maximum mobility yet strong enough to stop European blades, and used weapons made of a steel so well-forged that it bent under pressure without breaking, yet held an edge so sharp it could cleave a man in half with only the force behind one arm. What was this secret steel of the Near East, its forging guarded so well by the swordsmiths of Syria?

That steel was called Damascus Steel, a term used by Crusaders to describe the metal used by the artisans and swordsmiths of Damascus, Syria. These metalworkers, particularly during the Middle Ages, were famous for their ability to hammer and temper wootz steel into fine and supple blades.
Ok, thats where the name (Damascus) came from. But (wootz) Damascus is different than pattern welded or (laminated) Damascus. They look much the same, but differ greatly in how they are made. What I make is (Laminated) Damascus steel  and is the result of stacking different types of metals and forge-welding them into different patterns. The patterning on these blades goes all the way through . . . it is each of these forged layers of metal that you are seeing.

Laminated Damascus steel had its origins in the early days of the iron age. It was found that by folding and welding iron in a carbon fire you could produce steel, a hardenable iron product capable of producing superior tools and weapons. Nearly every culture in the world developed some form of laminated steel. There are Viking era swords extant that clearly show intricately developed patterning. In Malaysia, the kris is renown for its complicated laminated patterned steels. Perhaps the highest form was developed in Japan. The Japanese through a process of forge welding wrought iron and a high carbon product called tamahagane produced swords of exceptional quality and beauty.

The beauty of Damascus steel often lies in the contrast between the layers. To get a good contrast between the steels you must use steels of differing compositions. For bright lines, steels that are high in chrome or nickel are often used. For the darker lines simple carbon steels or even low carbon steel may be used. While it is subtle, there are the shades of gray that can be achieved by varying the high carbon steels used.

Forge welding is the core technique involved in creating Damascus steels. It is a solid-phase bonding technique that uses heat and pressure to make the weld. To make Damascus steels the current method is to stack alternating pieces of steel, each with a contrasting composition, heat & flux the billet in a fire and at the proper temperature apply pressure to make the weld.

The basic approach to making mosaic Damascus and where it differs from folded and welded patterns, is that the pattern itself is designed and created by positioning contrasting metals of various sizes and shapes initially in the billet. When the pieces are welded together a pattern is established in a solid piece. This is much the same way mosaic tiles create a pattern by the juxtaposition of contrasting colors.