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Damascus Steel Knives

A workshop with Jasper Herr Ironworks

My son and I took a workshop with the talented Jasper Herr. It was an incredible experience to work alongside a true craftsman and after three arduous days in the workshopwe had two beautiful knives.

Making a Damascus steel knife is a long and intricate process that involves several steps, and we had an opportunity over three days to start from raw material all the way through to a finished product.

  1. Material Selection: The process starts with the selection of the right materials. Typically, two or more types of steel are used. One is typically a high-carbon steel, and the other one is a nickel-rich steel. The contrasting properties of the two types of steel create the signature patterning of Damascus steel when they're forged together. We used 80CrV2 (0.8% Carbon plus Chromium and Vanadium) and 15N20 (0.15% Carbon, 2% Nickel)

  2. Stacking and Welding: The selected steel types are cut into pieces and stacked together. They are then welded at one end to form a single piece. This stacked bar is then heated in a forge until it is red hot. We started with 20 small billets (10 of each steel)

  3. Forge Welding: The red hot piece of steel is hammered, forcing the layers to fuse together in a process known as forge welding. The process of heating and hammering is repeated several times to ensure a good weld.

  4. Folding and Pattern Creation: After welding, the bar is drawn out, elongated, and then folded onto itself. This folding process is repeated several times. The way the steel is folded and manipulated during this process will dictate the final pattern of the Damascus steel. Once we were done with this step, we had approximately 200 layers of steel.

  5. Shaping the Blade: Once the desired number of layers and pattern have been achieved, the blade is shaped. The steel billet is heated, hammered, and ground into the desired knife shape.

  6. Heat Treating: Heat treating includes heating, quenching, and tempering. The blade is heated to a critical temperature and then quickly cooled (quenched), usually in oil. This process hardens the blade. The blade is then heated again at a lower temperature (tempered) to reduce brittleness and improve toughness.

  7. Finishing and Polishing: The blade is ground to refine its shape, then it's polished.

  8. Etching: The knife is submerged into an acidic solution. The acid reacts differently with the different types of steel, revealing the layered pattern. We opted for a copper plated etching which not only brings out the patterns in the folded steel but gives it a reddish copper coloring.

  9. Handle Attachment: Finally, the handle is attached to the blade, completing the knife.

This process is quite labor-intensive and requires a great deal of skill and experience, which is why Damascus steel knives are often quite valuable. We were lucky to have an opportunity to work with Jasper on this project. Here's a video of steps 1 through 9 above:

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