old steel damascus san mai

Damascus/Random Pattern Welded Steel made using old saw blades: the lighter is a high nickel alloy bandsaw steel from central Georgia while the darker alloy is a mid carbon 10-series steel from a homestead sawmill, dating back over a century. The core steel is US made virgin 52100 with a pure nickel liner (the brightest line).

Damascus/Random Pattern Welded Steel made using old saw blades: the lighter is a high nickel alloy bandsaw steel from central Georgia while the darker alloy is a mid carbon 10-series steel from a homestead sawmill, dating back over a century. The core steel is US made virgin 52100 with a pure nickel liner (the brightest line).

As part of my personal journey as a craftsperson, knife maker and artist, I have been chomping at the bit to push my creative boundaries in the new year. The reality is that I love what I do, but I must continue to grow through creative exploration. Perhaps that's why we have a newly renovated website, a shop addition in the works and a even a class (to attend) on the schedule for late/early February. 

I've always been intrigued by pattern welded steel - largely accepted as damascus steel - a process of combining multiple alloys &/or iron to create an improved homogeneous steel with better performance but more know for its display of a beautiful pattern.  Though, with so many amazing modern alloys available today, this process never completely made sense to me.  In modern times, it seems a purely aesthetic endeavor that puts a ton of demand on our most valuable resources - time, labor & fuel - and I just couldn't justify it!  However, after collecting countless saw blades over the past 6 years, it is time to figure out what to do with some of this excess steel. Even I have been known to even cull the library of steel from time to time as some retired lumber mill saw blades just aren't good for making skinny, hard cutting tools.  

Giving in to my creative itch, I've decided to experiment with making damascus / pattern welded steel out of the steel that isn't reserved for chefs knives. It seems to me like the perfect outlet for too much steel.

The revealed core along the edge on the right side of this chefs knife turned out very even. It means the thickness of the jacket steel (damascus) was even in terms of what I had to grind off for the geometry I was going for.

The revealed core along the edge on the right side of this chefs knife turned out very even. It means the thickness of the jacket steel (damascus) was even in terms of what I had to grind off for the geometry I was going for.

 

In addition to damascus, I've also had an urge to learn more about san mai, a Japanese lamination of steels - a jacket or cladding and a center, core steel. Usually, this is a very high carbon steel core that might be brittle on its own, sandwiched between two pieces of softer, stainless steel or pure iron that protects the core steel from damage and provides a soft metal to grind away when sharpening. Furthermore, the majority of the exposed surface on a san mai blade will be the jacket material and if this happens to be stainless steel - while you still need to prevent your cutting edge from rusting, you essentially have a lower maintenance knife.  As typical in all the Japanese traditions I know if, this is a sensible approach one can't really argue with. Everything about it makes sense - from the method of creation to the end user's experience, really get the best of the best - benefitting from multiple alloy's characteristics in a single knife. 

Because I'd like to start using the portion of my recycled steel that is non-perfect to making damascus and still make a high performance knife, I decided to laminate my pattern welded / damascus steel to a high performance cutlery steel, in this case, I chose virgin 52100. I feel satisfied by this approach - though labor intensive in my shop, entirely hammered and folded by hand with a 1500 gram hammer and an anvil, it's rewarding work with a natural beauty of its own. 

 

On the opposing side, there's a less even distribution of the jacket steel - higher and lower spots from the hand forging process (and my own shortcomings!) - create a variegated core reveal. Acceptable, but not desireable.

On the opposing side, there's a less even distribution of the jacket steel - higher and lower spots from the hand forging process (and my own shortcomings!) - create a variegated core reveal. Acceptable, but not desireable.

Stay tuned for more on damascus and san mai from Heartwood Forge this year!

best,
Will