In the Middle Ages, blacksmiths in the Middle East made steel Damascus blades of unrivaled quality. The secret of this steel was lost in the 19th century but, fortunately, it seems to have been found thanks to numerous recent metallurgical experiments, to the delight of lovers of fine blades! In this article, we will tell you his story and reveal many of his secrets
Name, origin, and particularities
The sword has long been one of the main weapons of warriors. Of course, the armies that had the best swords enjoyed a certain advantage over their enemies. It was during the Crusades that the Europeans discovered the famous swords made with Damascus blades. They were long considered to be the best in the world. The name of these blades probably comes from the medieval workshop of Damascus which is today the capital of Syria. It is also said that this name was assigned to them about the place where they were found.
You can very quickly recognize a Damascus blade thanks to two main characteristics:
- It has wavy patterns on its surface
- She has a very sharp edge
According to a legend, a damask steel saber would have been able to cut a silk handkerchief fluttering in the wind. A feat unmatched by any other European weapon.
Thus, very famous in the Middle Ages, this steel was also used to make other weapons (daggers, axes, spearheads, etc.). Yet, despite the abundant use of this steel, even the most skillful Western blacksmiths have never been able to discover its manufacturing secrets
About 200 years ago, the secret of making these blades was lost in its country of origin: no good quality Damascus sword has been forged in Orien since the beginning of the 19th century. Fortunately, thanks to fairly recent metallurgical experiments, we are now able to reproduce replicas of these blades.
Technical characteristics of Damascus steel
Formerly forged from a mixture of iron and carbon imported from India called Wootz, a Damascus Knives blade today is the result of currying at least 2 different grades of steel. Mild steels alloyed with hard steels, carbon steels alloyed with steels rich in nickel, there is an infinity of possibilities according to the result which one wants to obtain. It is the choice of raw materials that gives the Damascus blade its extraordinary properties. The combination of soft steel and hard steel gives a very resistant cutting edge and incredible flexibility.
To make a Damascus blade, we choose different pieces of steel of the same size (at least 2) that we stack to form a block called a kit. This kit is then heated for the first time in a coal forge hearth between 800 and 900° C. to bring it to forging temperature. Once out, it will be brushed to remove impurities before heating it again to 1200°C. Then, the kit is placed on an anvil and hammered to weld the different grades of steel together. It is then stretched, cut in 2 or 3 then folded on itself. Then repeat the operation: heat, hammer, fold… until the desired number of layers is obtained.
The folding step allows the steel to get rid of impurities, so the steel is refined during the process and the number of layers is increased.
However, after all these steps, the distinctive patterns of these blades do not yet appear, they must be revealed. For this, after being polished, they are soaked in an acid product which attacks the steels of the block differently. Depending on the forging processes and the techniques used, the patterns will be different. Here is a short video of the revelation of a Damascus blade practiced in the workshop of the Basque Cutlers.
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