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Damascus Steel
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Pilgrim
posted
OK here she goes:
Can anyone tell me because my research has not met with the answers that I really want, when if at any time was damascus steel used in knife making here in the U.S.?
Was it used?
If so what time period ie. 1750's, 1830's. can anyone help me here, all assistance will surely be appreciated thanks.

Big-D
 
Posts: 86 | Location: North central Alabama, Limestone County, Athens | Registered: 09 August 2012Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Factor
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Production of Damascus steel disappeared from the world in about the middle of the 18th century. It was never made in Europe, being exclusively a Middle East, Persia, and India product. The ancient technique for creating the steel with the techonolgy of that time period has been lost. It was formed from what is today called wootz steel in the West, but has never been properly reproduced since the supply dried up in the mid 18th century. Modern Damascus steel, first displayed in 1973, is a modern process, and mimics true Damascus steel, but it technically should not be called "Damascus steel". Shotgun barrels called "damascus" are called that as they appear to the eye to be the same steel, but when analyzed, they are only "Damascus" in appearance. Some of the last "damascus" steel shotgun barrels were actually more modern steel, with and etching done to their surface to mimic the earlier "damascus" barrels.

So to answer your question, Nope, unless you are recreating an India or Middle Eastern knife of the 17th century or earlier, you should not see any knife blades at any of the living history events covered by this forum. In fact unless somebody is portraying a knight, back from the Holy Land after a crusade, you shouldn't see a Damascus steel blade.

LD


It's not what you know, it's what you can prove
 
Posts: 3843 | Location: People's Republic of Maryland | Registered: 10 November 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Pilgrim
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Roger that and thank you very much.
 
Posts: 86 | Location: North central Alabama, Limestone County, Athens | Registered: 09 August 2012Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
Picture of GreyWolf
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Sorry Dave but that is completely off the mark since Damascus was never lost as a method and was made not only in the Far east but in England and France as well.
See L'Art Du Coutelier, by M. Jean-Jacques Perret, written in 1771. There you will find full instructions of how and why it was made for both cutlery and gun barrels and how it was also faked and fakes only appear when the real thing is fairly popular. It is available in the original French as well with lots of images as a partial English translation.
https://www.google.com/search?...L%27Art+Du+Coutelier

The 1813 edition of Circle of Mechanical Arts also discusses Damascus/Watered steel being made in England for cutlery and also how it was faked.
http://books.google.com/books/...html?id=6_oGAAAAQAAJ

Damascus was not rediscovered in 1973 by Bill Moran whom I knew well, but rather popularized by him and the ABS smiths.

As for gun barrels being faked yes some were, but I've owned several originals and examined many more that were the real McCoy and yes they were in fact pattern welded steel and not Wootz which was most probably the original Damascus

Now as to whether it was used here in the USA by cutler's or blacksmiths is another question and the answer is probably not at least until the 1860's (well known historic researcher Allen Gutchess once sent me some documentation for this, but I can't find it).
On the other hand there was high end Damascus swords and cutlery being imported from England, France and yes even India via the Brits and others and some of these may have made it to the New World.
On the other hand thousands of trade knives of various styles were made using shear steel, double shear, and even triple shear which is a basic random pattern form of Damascus aka pattern welded steel. One big difference is most of these blades were polished bright and no real pattern emerges unless etched.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: GreyWolf,


aka Chuck Burrows
 
Posts: 616 | Location: Southern Rockies | Registered: 03 April 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Pilgrim
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GreyWolf:
So if I had a plain bone handle or simple wood handle damascus knife it possibly could be HC/PC for say post civil war era?
 
Posts: 86 | Location: North central Alabama, Limestone County, Athens | Registered: 09 August 2012Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
Picture of GreyWolf
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Plain? probably not so much, the info I got was about a professional cutler IIRC in Philadelphia making Damascus for his high end work. Even in a day when labor was cheap, Damascus was and is very labor intensive even with modern tools and with hand tools only OOF DA! even if I have done it that way in the past no more - then again even in the past the higher end makers and the middle ground big importers from Sheffield had water powered grinders, tilt hammers, etc. which were a big aid in lowering labor costs.


aka Chuck Burrows
 
Posts: 616 | Location: Southern Rockies | Registered: 03 April 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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Dave's definition of "Damascus stee;" closely follows the definition given by Wikipedia, and that may be the original meaning of the term.
However, I think that most people today think "Damascus" whenever they see the line patterns in folded and hammered steel. Some might even mistake the acid etched blades for Damascus.


Know what you believe in. Fight for your beliefs. Never compromise away your rights.
 
Posts: 1251 | Location: Cherokee Land, Tenasi | Registered: 06 January 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Factor
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Sorry folks, but I was taught in archaeology that if it wasn't from what we call wootz steel, there are sufficient differences to say that it "looks" like Damascus steel, but isn't. Part of that is the process by which the wootz steel was made, which every source that I can find says was lost, though one says lost around 1700, and another says lost around 1750. Which gave me the impression that until the mid 19th century when "Damascus Steel" gunbarrels became popular, the stuff was totally unknown, except in antiques.

I understand that folks had samples in Europe in the 18th century, and tried to come up with a process to duplicate the stuff, but was under the impression that while it looked a lot like Damascus steel, it didn't quite do the same job, and was rather expensive, so remained experimental, and may have been produced in very small amounts.

When I went looking for somebody to have figured out how to copy the stuff, I found the manufacture of Damascus steel gun barrels, but this was a "modern" process, so purists said it may have achieved the same results, but wasn't the same stuff...so much for the purists. I was taught that it was simply a new process to make cheap gunbarrels, and when it was finished, it looked like the antique damascus steel, so that's what they called it.

Then I found the reference to 1973, which was to a blade master, but wow two centuries or more since the "loss"? Eeker I figured that somebody would have come up with it earlier than that. The stuff was military secret, and the process was heavily guarded...more than silk was guarded by the Chinese. But still, more than two centuries??

So from what I understand folks have been trying to come up with an end product that is the same as its ancestor... the user can decide if it's actually damascus steel or not... but from what I've seen as far as manufacturing for sale... you're not going to find it in North America until the mid 19th century if at all, and very very little of it in Europe from 1700-1850.

So was it really lost? Apparently not, if the French had it... but I do think that the supply of it was very very low indeed until much more modern methods of re-creating it produced it at cheap enough cost to make it viable again on the commercial scale. Maybe that's BS, and it was all over the place.

I shall have to start combing the ads for merchants in different port cities to see if it shows up.

LD


It's not what you know, it's what you can prove
 
Posts: 3843 | Location: People's Republic of Maryland | Registered: 10 November 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Pilgrim
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Wow this is some cool stuff never thought the post would go so far into detail but I can't speek for others on the site but I'm enjoying the heck out of reading about this I hope the historians and i know there are plenty keep this up I really enjoy learning cause you can never stop loearning and this is the first time I have evers studied this topic; keep it up and I will do my research also but most of what I have found has allready been mentioned.
thanks for the responses gentlemen and I hope we can all learn some more about this topic, once again thank you

BIG-D
 
Posts: 86 | Location: North central Alabama, Limestone County, Athens | Registered: 09 August 2012Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Factor
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BTW... all you blade makers...,

While my sources are woefully out of date...(sorry) check out Graywolf's first link to the French paper from 1771...

THEN scroll down to the illustrations at the end. Talk about some very interesting illustrations even if you don't speak the lingo. Beyond the illustrations of how they formed the billet like a log and then cut the metal from it to make the blades...The folding knife designs are very interesting, especially the one with several tools, including a sawblade. Not to mention several variation on the spring mechanisms, plus there are a variety of blade and handle shapes, plus tools used and forge illustrations.

Now THAT'S a gooooood Link!

LD


It's not what you know, it's what you can prove
 
Posts: 3843 | Location: People's Republic of Maryland | Registered: 10 November 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
Picture of GreyWolf
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The whole what was the real Damascus is one of those arguments that will go on for centuries most likely.
Wootz is/was a type of crucible steel that was first made in the SW Russia where it was known as Bulat, Afghan, NW India areas. What made it special is the high carbon content (often 1-1.5%)making it a hypereutectoid steel, but along with that was the natural alloying of the steel using plant material for flux that included vanadium and other agents, making it an early "super" steel.
Again the process was never really lost. In the 18th Century several European folks worked on developing a form of crucible steel with Benjamin Huntsman being the most famous when he developed a high quality crucible steel known cast steel in the 1740's. It was originally developed for watch springs, but by the 1760's cutlers were using it as it made a superior blade. You will see old axe heads and knife blades marked cast steel which denotes the process of making the steel and not that the blades were cast to shape.
While the process was similar to Wootz and leaves a similar pattern when etched, most English made cast steel did not have the super high carbon content or the alloying. Intentional alloying of steel began in Europe around 1800, with manganese being one of the first alloying agents used.
As far as I know gun barrels marked Damascus are all pattern welded and not made from cast steel. Drilled through cast steel barrels first crop up in the mid-1830's in the USA, the Wesson Patent pocket guns being the first to use them. Remington began using such barrels in the 1840's. Cast steel barrels don't have the figure that pattern welded barrels do though - pattern welded barrels were used on shotguns and pistols barrels mostly - lots of dueling pistol sets were made with Damascus barrels.
The following info lays out the common steel used in England during the 18th-19th Centuries.
There were three major methods of large scale making steel in the 18th to mid-19th century when the Bessemer process was developed, which produced steel in far larger quantities with less work thus making it much cheaper to use. Still the three types listed below continued to be used in England until at least WW 1

1) Blister-steel: Steel formed by roasting wrought iron bars in contact with carbon in a cementing furnace. It is so called from the blistered appearance of it's outer skin. To improve the quality, it was subjected to two subsequent processes, which converted it into shear-steel and cast-steel.
Blister steel was NOT a one off method for individual blades, but rather a method of making large amounts of steel - this method was developed circa the 1500's. James Hanson mentions in his Fur Trade Cutlery Sketch Book, that the bars of wrought iron used for making blister steel could be as large as 1/ 2" x 4" x 20 feet.

2) Shear-steel: Blister-steel was sheared into shorter, manageable lengths, heated, and tilt hammered to homogenize the steel which improved the quality. Several bars are welded together and drawn out. The bar is sometimes cut, fagoted, reheated, and again tilted. This may be repeated. The terms single shear and double shear indicate the extent to which the process is carried. It was widely used for blades of all types through the end of the 19th Century.

3) Cast-steel (aka crucible steel): Blister steel which has been broken up, fused in a crucible, cast into ingots, and rolled. The blocks of steel are melted in crucibles of re fractory clay, and the molten metal is poured into ingot-molds of cast-iron. These are opened, to let out the red-hot ingot, which is then passed to the rolls.
The process of making cast/crucible steel was developed by Benjamin Huntsman, of Sheffield, England, circa 1745. Oddly, crucible steel at first was not greeted well by the Sheffield makers while the French cutlers soon recognized it's qualities. The Sheffield makers even went so far as to ask the government for an embargo on the raw steel.
By 1840 the English had developed the cast steel method to the point that English steel made in this way became 40% (about 20,000 tons a year - up from the 200 tons a year produced by the English using all previous methods) of all steel produced in Europe. Other steel centers of note during the period were: Germany (manganese and other trace minerals in the local ore made it a better than normal alloy), Spain, and Sweden). A few years later, in the 1850's, the Bessemer process was developed which increased steel production immensely.
Today Damascus steel mainly refers to pattern welded steel of varying types and mixtures of steel and/or iron, but there are those making their own Wootz/Bulat mostly for historic swords and other cutlery items.


aka Chuck Burrows
 
Posts: 616 | Location: Southern Rockies | Registered: 03 April 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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Fascinating stuff....Many years ago Scientific American had an article that covered the research into recreating Wootz steel,I've since lost it,even though I tried to hold onto it....I possess 2 pieces of what I believe to be Wootz style Damascus,one modern(since 1975),and one fairly ancient(A sword that I understand was a Turkish naval officers' sword)so this subject holds a lot of interest for me.


Beer is proof that God loves us,and wants us to be happy-B. Franklin
 
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Hivernant
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Here is the Scientific American article you referenced.
http://projects.olin.edu/rever...mer%20jan%202001.pdf
 
Posts: 129 | Location: Southern California | Registered: 28 April 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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This one is actually more recent,thanks,it actually makes sense now.I hope this technique is never lost again....


Beer is proof that God loves us,and wants us to be happy-B. Franklin
 
Posts: 1908 | Location: Oreegun Territory | Registered: 24 March 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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quote:
hypereutectoid


You are not allowed to use words like that here. There might be children reading, or other who might think you are talking about colonoscopies. Like me. Wink
Really, it is more of an acedemic argument than reality. Current day folded steel is, according to experts I have met, is considered "damascus". I would make original old barrels in upper case. e.g. Damascus. The term has become generic. The process never was stopped but did slow down considerably when casting 'crucible' or 'fluid' techniques improved. Rumor has it damascus steel blades are still being made today.
 
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Greenhorn
Picture of Stophel
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"Wootz" or not, Damascus (twisted, folded, whatever you want to call it) was produced in the 18th century, and there are many (ok, SOME) gun barrels extant. It was done in Europe to copy 17th century Turkish gun barrels, which often were Damascus steel. There are also simulated Damascus gun barrels that are simply etched with a pattern... with varying degrees of realism. It would have been very expensive, as already stated. I have yet to see any example of 18th century European cutlery made of Damascus, but would certainly like to. I do have photos of a mid 18th century German gun garniture where ALL the metalwork is Damascus steel. Barrels, locks, triggerguards, buttplates, etc.
 
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Booshway
Picture of GreyWolf
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quote:
I have yet to see any example of 18th century European cutlery made of Damascus, but would certainly like to.

and you may not since all of the stuff I have seen was highly polished and not normally etched to show the pattern unlike guns (sorry no photos). There are some Euro pieces with east Indian or Turkish made blades that show a watered steel pattern though.


aka Chuck Burrows
 
Posts: 616 | Location: Southern Rockies | Registered: 03 April 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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The one old piece I have that I think may be true Damascus,being a military sword,has not been etched to show the pattern,but at one spot on the blade,if the light,and angle is right,you can kinda see some patterning....The more modern piece is,I think,a piece of folded steel.Maybe not wootz,since it was made in the early 80's.


Beer is proof that God loves us,and wants us to be happy-B. Franklin
 
Posts: 1908 | Location: Oreegun Territory | Registered: 24 March 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Hivernant
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Damascus barrels are made by wrapping steel strips around a mandrel and forge welding them. Wootz as far as I know shows patterns without layering the steel. The pattern welded steel knives available today are good in their own right but are not the same things as the ones made in India and Persia 500 years ago.
 
Posts: 129 | Location: Southern California | Registered: 28 April 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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Right. If you haven't already,read the article that was linked earlier in this thread,from Scientific American,it's fascinating,and a good explanation of what's going on when Damascus is made...


Beer is proof that God loves us,and wants us to be happy-B. Franklin
 
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