View Full Version : Research for first damascus attempt

C Craft
10-04-2010, 09:16 AM
I want to attempt to make some Damascus using some chain saw chains that I happen to have. So there it is I have the want to and the chains.

Now what is the process from there? :what!: :20:This is not something I plan to do tomorrow. Right now I am doing my research into the process and trying to get materials together1

Can anyone tell me what would be the best steel to marry the chainsaw chains with? I will be working with limited knowledge and hand forging, and doing an oil quench. So please no exotic steels that require quenches that I am unable to do at this time.

This will be a first attempt for myself so if I seem clueless, I am! :31:

I need someone to kind of walk me thru the entire process, because at this point I am not sure where to start. Or for that matter even how to handle the chains. I mean it is not like they come in a bar state. Do I start by hammering the chains into a bar?

Should I flux the steels while welding together? Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Before you bash me,:58: remember we were all clueless once!:lol:

I am posting this on a couple of sites so as too solicit as much knowledge as possible on the subject.

HHH Knives
10-04-2010, 09:46 AM
C, I have never made damascus from Chains. Yet I have seen some that was very nice looking.. so it can be done.. I will be watching this post. hoping to learn a few new tricks myself.. Im sure there will be someone who will post some info that will be very helpful!

10-04-2010, 11:09 AM
Not trying to rain on your idea, but you've chosen one of the most difficult things for your first attempt. With chainsaw chain, your dealing with a number of different alloys, lots of "air space" in the material that must be "closed up" (forge welded closed), plus it's a little like trying to hold on to the end of a snake while working it.

My first suggestion would be to not try chainsaw chain right out of the gate....there is just too many variables, and lots of potential for failure. Straight laminates are the way to start out....your chances for success and learning are much greater. Something like 1/8" 1080 and .50-.70% 15N20.

OK, now that I've voiced that concern, IF you decide to go with the chainsaw chain, your going to have to stack A LOT of it together to get anything usable in the end. (lots of air space involved in this type of material) I would start by cutting the chain into 6" pieces, then build TWO stacks 8-10 layers each, with the teeth and the guides opposing each other as you stack. Place two even stacks, side by side (help because of the mass), and then either run a weld bead around the outside, near each end....OR you can try wiring them up, but that's a tough way to do it.
Because of all the air space, the stack will not get hot through, until you start compacting it a bit. Bring the stack to bright orange and flux the daylights out of it...keep turning the stack and allow the flux to melt/flow into the air spaces before placing it back into the forge. Bring to welding heat, and allow it to soak for just a couple of minutes. The first strikes should be light and easy....all you want to do is START to reduce the air spaces, and "solid" up the stack so it doesn't wiggle around as much. Bring the heat back up and flux it again, then go for a second welding heat, and so on until the stack is fairly solid (your not going to be able to get all the air spaces and voids out the first time around)......go ahead and forge the stack down to approx 3/8" thick X as long as you can make it. Next, let it cool a bit and grind ALL the scale off both sides. (I use and angle grinder for this step) Measure and figure how best to cut it into 8 or more equal length pieces. (in my experience anything less than 8-10 in the second stack, and your almost assured MAJOR voids in the material..back to the "air space issue) Cut it, re-stack it, and then go through the welding process again. Once you have it down to a usable size billet, MOST of the cold shuts and voids SHOULD be sealed up. Chances are good that on your first few tries with chain, your going to think everything went well, but once you anneal the billet/blade and start grinding, you'll likely find many small voids/cold shuts/inclusions....that's just the nature of the beast, and is a big part of why I would rather see folks work with straight laminates on their early tries at Damascus. I've been at this for a long time, and can tell you that only about 1 out of every 5 billets of chain that I ever produced came out what I consider "usable" (clean and free of voids) for a blade. I don't make chain damascus for sale anymore (because of all the "issues" it too often has), but do occasionally create it for special situations as novelties.

This seems like a good time to go into "compatibility" of materials used in Damascus......meaning that the more similar the alloys are in each steel placed in a damascus billet, the less problems all around you will have. The best way to explain this is by siting what most of us use for damascus...... 1080 and 15N20. 1080 is a simple carbon steel, which contains ONLY iron, carbon (.80%), and manganese. 15N20 is basically nothing more than 1075 steel, which contains iron, carbon (.70%), manganese, with 1.5% nickel added. (It's very much like welding the same steel to itself, but that 1.5% nickel content in 15N20 gives the contrast in the finished blade) What this means is that the two steels have very similar expansion and contraction rates, nearly identical welding temps, and just overall similar characteristics, both when hot and when at room temps. That means that when welded, they stay welded, because one or the other does not expand or contract more....which is often the cause of failed damascus. A damascus billet of 1080/15N20 can literally be tied in a knot without coming apart....try that with some other mixes of steel, and they will fail.
Another area that should be addressed to bring home the point of using "compatible" materials is during heat treating. Often I receive phone calls or emails from individuals who experience damascus delamination or "cracking" during quenching a blade. In nearly all of those instances, they used two (or more) steels in the damascus billet that were extreme opposites in alloy content....and what happens during the quench is that one of the steels shrinks dramatically more than the other(s), and since the thinnest cross section is the edge, the damascus will severely warp, or will literally tear itself apart due to the stress of one steel shrinking more than the other(s).
It took me a long time to consider and understand these facts, but once I did, making damascus became much simpler, with far fewer failures......all by understanding the basic concepts of how different steels react to the circumstances we put them through.

NOTE: I just noticed that initially I typed out zeros in the percentages of alloys......I just corrected that!

C Craft
10-04-2010, 12:14 PM
OK Ed I hear you! I figured since I had the chains I might try this but I am not above learning the right way (easier way0 first, to do Damascus either!:lol:

So what I gleaned from your post the best place to start might be something like 1/8" 1080 and .050-.070" 15N20.:3:

So lets say I want to start this route can you give me advice on doing the 1/8" 1080 and .050-.070" 15N20. Which steel do I stack first and how many layers?

Then I am guessing weld together, fllux the haties out of it and then begin the process of forging together and folding.

I would love to know anything and everything you would care to share about this process!:15: Just call me, "clueless in Florida"!:20:

10-04-2010, 01:10 PM
I am still trying to research and wrap my brain around "welding" flat bars solidly... the best I can imagine is that you just heat it up until is it yellow hot and pound the crap out of it, heat, fold, heat, pound, heat, fold, heat pound...

C Craft
10-04-2010, 01:22 PM
Yeah, I am not sure about that either. A lot of what I see in refrences is folks using big power hammers to do the work. I will be using the hammer and anvil.
Has anyone got any refrences to a good tutorial doing Damascus the old fashioned way, (hammer,anvil and shoulder muscle)! I need to learn to crawl before I can walk on this subject so to speak!

10-04-2010, 03:27 PM
OK, I'll try to answer each post as I go.

I'll explain the way I do it, and then make my recommendation for how YOU should do it.

I normally start with a stack of 35-45 layers of 1080/15N20 in 1 1/2" wide X 6" long. Since nickel oxidizes more and faster than straight carbon steel, I build the initial billet with 1080 on the outsides. Since the 15N20 is thinner, if it is placed on the outside, it not only will oxide up quickly, but will sometimes "bow" in the middle, which can create a void in the billet. I MIG weld a line across the front edge on both sides of the billet, another across the center of the edge sides, and then weld on a piece of scrap rebar as a handle. FOR YOU, doing it by hand, I would recommend going with about 10-12 layers of 1" wide stock, because that is about the most that can be effectively worked by hand.

I then place the billet in the forge (the forge has been preheated to approx. 2350F before I ever place the billet in it). I let the ENTIRE billet come up to a bright orange, then flux it fairly heavily with anhydrous borax on both of the "edge" sides. I usually hold the billet and roll it around until the flux flows and covers the entire billet. I also try to let most of the excess flux drain off in a pan next to my flux box, just to keep as much as possible out of the bottom of the forge.
Back into the forge, and allow it to heat until the flux is "sizzling" like water in a hot skillet. Another indicator is that when you take the billet out of the forge, it will be "fuming".
Welding heat is generally that point where the surfaces of the steel become "semi-molten" and in many ways act like hot plastic. A forge weld can occur simply by having two pieces of steel touching inside the forge, and when the correct temp is reached, the surfaces that have become semi-molten will "join". Keeping that in mind, when you bring the steel to the anvil, start with LIGHT blows....basically tapping with the hammer. The steel will feel "mushy" and as the surfaces of the steel join and it beings to slightly cool, you will feel the steel "stiffen" under the hammer. As the steel begins to stiffen, you can exert more powerful blows. DO NOT HIT THE BILLET HARD WHEN WELDING! Most often if your blows are too heavy, you will either "squash" out the semi-molten material on the surfaces, or the pieces will want to "slide" past each other. Either of these will result in a non-welded situation.
Doing it by hand, I would recommend choosing the end of the billet closest to the handle, and work towards the other end from there (working away from yourself). This will "squeeze" the excess flux and "junk" out the end opposite you, and help prevent you from being splattered with molten flux.
It may require several welding heats to work the entire billet by hand.
Once the welds are completed, the next step is to draw out the billet.
The reason that many of us use power hammers and presses is to simply quicken the overall process, but more so it's to reduce the number of times we expose the steel to the extreme heat required to weld. For example my billet of say 35 layers, will draw out to approx 35-36" long. I let it cool a bit, then grind both sides COMPLETELY clean with an angle grinder. Then I divide it into as many equal length pieces as I need to achieve the total layer count I desire. In this case, let's say I want 350 layers. I take that 35" long billet, that has been ground clean on both sides and cut it into 3 1/2" pieces, which yields me 10 pieces. I re-stack those pieces, and forge weld, and I have a billet that contains 350 layers. From there its a matter of manipulating the billets to achieve the specific pattern I desire, or forge it to a usable size if I want to forge random pattern blades from it.
YOU, doing it by hand with a 10-12 layer billet will have to draw that billet out as long as you can while keeping it approx 1/4-5/16" thick. Your billet will be much shorter than mine, likely around 12-15". Let's say it comes out to 15"....you then want to grind both sides clean, and cut it into as many equal length pieces as possible. In this case, let's just say you want 3" pieces....that would give you 5, 3" pieces, which when re-stacked would make a total of 50 layers in the billet. If you wanted 300 layers, you would have to stretch it out again, and cut into at least 6 pieces and re-stack/ forge weld again to achieve that 300 layers.

Can it be done by hand? Certainly! My first several damscus blades were all done by hand. It was a LOT of work, and it took several weeks of time, but I did it. Not long after is when I started searching for my first power hammer! :)

A few notes that I think are vital:

1. The fewer times you expose the steel to welding heat, the better it is for the steel. Extended duration at high heat will cause grain growth, and carbon migration/element segregation. This will result in a weak blade, and is often visible when a damascus blade is etched, and that etch has a "muddy" appearance.

2. I feel it is critical to success to completely clean both side of a billet, then cut and re-stack rather than "folding". In my experience folding a billet results in about a 50% success ratio, where as grinding both side of a billet clean, then cutting and restacking result in about a 95% success ratio.

3. When using an angle grinder to clean off a billet prior to cutting and re-stacking: ensure the grind marks run ACROSS the faces of the bar (cross ways, from edge to edge). This induces a capillary action, creating a way for excess flux and crud to exit the billet as you forge it. I've experimented and found that if the grind marks run lengthwise on a billet, it will almost always create a flux inclusion.

4. Although your instinct and common sense would tell you to "Beat the Crap outta it" when forge welding, just the opposite it true. Minimal force is required to forge weld....in fact if too much force is used, the chances are good that the pieces will not weld. The necessity for power comes in AFTER the weld is made, to draw out the billet.

5. Although you may hear differently, things such as cable and chain are some of the most difficult materials to forge weld....in cable you have a bunch of tiny round rods (wires), loosely twisted together, that try to slide past each other when attempting to weld them. Chain has many different alloys, some that are very incompatible with each other, and there is a great deal of "air space" in these materials that must be closed before things can "weld". Flat bar is by far the simplest and easiest to successfully weld. I think the main reason that some will suggest cable or chain over flat bar is because with those materials, there isn't as much drawing and re-stacking necessary to achieve a pattern.

6. It's all about learning! The more you forge weld, the better at it you become, the more experience you acquire, and the "easier" it becomes.

HHH Knives
10-04-2010, 03:43 PM
I had a feeling Ed would offer some help.. At least I was hoping so.. Thanks Ed for taking the time and being so informative.

If I may add.

6 1/2.. Have fun! :)

C Craft
10-04-2010, 07:41 PM
Ed, THANKS to say the least. I will be coming back time and time again to read this post as it has become one wealth of information. You know it means a lot to get concise answers to a subject and not get slammed because you dared to ask a question about a subject which you obviously knew little about! :35:

I figure I need to learn all about Damascus as I had my first inquiry this weekend about making blades from it. If I am to do this I want to have a great product out there and not a bunch of junk. :5:

Sure I could have started at this point all on my own and it would have made my learning curve quite steep. As it is now I feel I have a starting point from which to make my own mistakes from.:what!:

Once again Ed, you sir have rose to the occasion of teaching without trying to squelch the zeal of a young (and I use that term carefully, because I am far from young) inspiring blade smith.:lol:

Now mabe it won't be over a few eons till I feel I have a piece of Damascus that will be worthy of making a blade and a blade that is worthy to offer for sale!:les:

10-05-2010, 02:43 PM
Great information, Ed, thanks a lot for taking the time to post!

Roy Miller
10-05-2010, 05:34 PM
I have a great DVD on making damascus but once I watched this "guy in Montana" all I wanted to do was build a big press.

10-05-2010, 05:42 PM
Great information, Ed, thanks a lot for taking the time to post!

X 2 Dozier

Jim T
10-07-2010, 09:08 AM
You da MAN, Ed! - Jim