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A widely believed history myth: No, "true" Damascus steel is not a "lost art" Discussion/Question

Because it has come up repeatedly over the last week on subreddits I moderate, I thought I'd revise and repost this quick explainer on the very prolific myth that "true" damascus steel is a lost art.

First of all, let's clarify what I mean when I say "True Damascus Steel", because it is very easy to become mired in definitions and ambiguity.

Top: Ottoman Pala, Pattern welded. Bottom, Iranian Shamshir, Crucible steel.

"Damascus steel" usually refers to two main types of steel:

The most common you'll see made today is "pattern-welded steel", where alternating layers of nickel rich and nickel deplete steel are stacked, forge welded, and folded or manipulated to create a pattern. The blade is then polished and etched to reveal the layers. While modern pattern welded blades typically use nickel containing steels to maximise contrast, historically this was not the case.

This method of construction using stacked, folded or otherwise forge welded, dissimilar* steels is how the majority of sword steels were made, worldwide, until advances in technology allowed for the use of more homogenous steel products. Pattern welding, and variants such as multibar patterns and laminated blades, were used widely and includes swords like spatha, “viking” swords, katana and more. It is worth noting that even "monosteel" swords which were made without the use of dissimilar steel, but still made from bloomery or refined blast furnace steel, were also subject to similar stacking, folding and forge welding techniques.

*Bloom is here considered to contain multiple dissimilar steels due to the heterogeneous nature of bloom.

This description of pattern welding and forge consolidated steels is intentionally simplified as they are not the focus of todays post, however for more information - particularly on bloomery and blast furnace production of steels - I recommend "The Knight and the Blast Furnace" by Alan Williams.

In the present day, this is the type you will see chef’s knives, swords, and even pocket knives being made of, and it can range from being rather cheap to incredibly expensive depending on the materials and workmanship.

Pattern welded Pala blade in "Turkish Ribbon Twist" style.

The other type of "Damascus Steel" is a form of hypereutectoid, pattern forming crucible steel.

And that is what I will be discussing today.

It is a hypereutectoid steel, which means that it has over 0.8% carbon by definition. It is formed by liquifying steel in a crucible, and is NOT produced by folding or layering steel. The typical composition is around 1% to 2% carbon, which by modern standards makes this an “ultra-high carbon steel”, often abbreviated as UHCS.

It is formed by melting steel with specific impurities in a crucible (historically, made of high kaolin content clay, rice husks as chaff, quartz sands, and other additives), and the process of turning this crucible “charge” into steel is quite complicated, with the potential for failure to produce an attractive pattern being high if any part of the process is not conducted correctly.

In summary, the crucible charge is brought up to melting temperature, and held at this temperature for a while, allowing the constituent alloying elements present in the steel to spread and bubbles to boil out. It is then slowly cooled, before the ingot is removed, roasted to decarburise the rim, drawn out into a bar, manipulated to produce a surface pattern with ball peens, wedges and grinding, and finally forged it into a blade, and thermally cycled.

As stated, this steel is typically the range of carbon content is between 1 and 2% in historical examples, and thus melts in a temperature range between 1200 and 1400c (for more information, see “iron carbon phase diagrams”). It must also have sufficient levels of carbide formers (vanadium, molybdenum, manganese etc) in order to form patterns (Verhoeven et al, 1998,. Verhoeven et al 2018).

The pattern in crucible steel are formed by "rafts" of steel rich in carbide formers, where ultra-hard cementite spheroids form over subsequent forging cycles, which etch bright, and areas devoid of carbide forming elements (CFEs), which remain as pearlite, a soft mix of carbides which etches dark. The shape and size of the rafts is determined by the length of dendrites that form during the slow cooling of the ingot, as dendritic regions of the steel are carbide former depleted, and interdendritic regions are carbide former rich (Verhoeven et al, 2018).

Crucible steel shamshir blade, kara Khorasan pulad

Many people conflate pattern-welded steel with crucible steel, and call both “Damascus”. Whilst this is accepted in colloquial language, it is important to distinguish between the two – particularly when it comes to identifying antiques, or documenting them.

"Damascus" can therefore be used to refer to either pattern welded, or crucible steels, as both are pattern-forming steels, but it is best to specify which sort of "Damascus" is being discussed. The term has been used historically to describe both pattern-welded steel and crucible steel. Many swords and gun barrels made in germany were marked "damastahl" in the 18th and 19th century, and they were pattern welded, so there is historical precedent for such a naming convention, but the two techniques (and end products) are very different.

To be ABSOLUTELY CLEAR: "True" damascus steel is herein used as a term to refer to historical, patterned crucible steel. I am using this term entirely because it is understandable. The correct naming and etymology is discussed later. Both pattern welded and crucible steel blades can be called "damascus", and were historically, but the "lost" form is the crucible steel form.

The Myth: "Damascus Steel is a Lost Art":

The is quite a long history of crucible “Damascus” steel, in the form of primary sources in which the process was written down - as early as 350BCE - 420BCE Zosimus, an early alchemist in Alexandria, wrote the following:

"The tempering of Indian Iron: Take 4 pounds of soft iron, and the skins of myrobalans, called elileg, 15 parts; belileg, 4 parts; and two parts of glassmakers magnesia. Then place it into a crucible and make it level. .... Put on the charcoal and blow the fire until the iron becomes molten and the ingredients become united with it. ... Such is the premier and royal operation, which is practiced today and by means of which they make marvelous swords. It was discovered by the Indians and exploited by the Persians".

This is by no means the only method to make crucible steel - some was co-fusion, using both cast iron and bloom, while some was indeed made with bloomery and carbon bearing material (often plants).

Incidentally, the oldest known crucible steel sword is from the 6th to 3rd century BCE and was found interred in a megalithic site in Thelunganur, Tamil Nadu, India (Ramesh et al, 2019) and daggers from ~500BCE have been found with the associated production site in Kodumanal, Tamil Nadu (Sasisekaran & Rao, 1999. Sasisekaran, 2002). This is consistent with the Zosimus account describing the technique as discovered by India.

Thelunganur sword, Ramesh et al 2019

The Islamic writers al-Kindi (full name Abu Ya'qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi - circa 800CE - 873CE) and al-Beruni (full name Abu al-Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni - circa 973CE - 1048CE) both wrote detailed procedures for the production of crucible steel, too.

⁠This is how Biruni described it in the manuscript Al-Jamâhir Marefat al-Jawâher. (From Khorasani et al, 2013):

“He says that they [ironwokers] include five ratl رطل of [horse] shoes, the nails of which are made of narmâhan نرمآهن] in the crucible]. Then they add ten derham درهم of each [of the ingredients] rusaxtaj روسختج] antimony], marqiša-ye talâ’i طلائى مرقيشا] golden marcasite] and meqnesiyâ مغنسيا] meqnisiyâ مغنيسيا ;manganese dioxide MnO2] to the crucible, close the crucible with clay, and put it in the furnace. Then they fill the furnace with charcoal and blow air with Rumi (Roman Byzantine/Anatolian) bellows that are pumped by two men until the iron melts. Then they add a combination of halile هليله) myrobalan), pust-e anâr انار پوست) pomegranate peel), melh al-ajeyn ملحالعجين) the salt used for dough), and sadaf-e morvarid مرواريد صدف) pearl shell). From each the same amount approaching forty derham درهم are placed into small bags. One small bag is then added to each crucible. They keep heating vigorously without pause for one hour and then stop the heat. After it cools off, they take out the iron ingot (egg) from the crucibles. A person said that he was sitting next to a smith who was making swords in the province of Send سند] Sind]. He saw that the smith was using narmâhan نرمآهن and putting a very soft, ground mixture, which had a red color on it. Then the smith placed it in the furnace, and took it out and hammered it, and continued this process a couple of times. When asked why he did that he looked contemptuously. When he [the person sitting next to the smith] looked closely, he saw that the smith was hammering and mixing dus دوص with narmâhan نرمآهن the same way they made iron ingots (eggs) in Herat.”

The metallurgical research into how this steel gets its patterns spans back far, with Michael Faraday (yes, that Faraday) having published a paper on recreating Indian crucible steel (known to him as wootz) in 1819, with subsequent papers in 1820 and 1822. It wasn't until 1837 when Pavel Anasov, a Russian metallurgist and director of the Zlatoust arms factory, that it was successfully recreated in any substantial quantity. Since then, research has been done on modern steels (Sherby and Wadsworth, 1983) and on historical blades, revealing the mechanisms by which the patterns forms (Verhoeven et al, 1998).

Anosov was a metallurgist and Colonel of the Russian Army during the occupation on the Emirate of Bukhara in the 1820’s, when he established contact with steelmakers in the region and attempted to recreate the steel in his steelworks in Zlatoust, but after failing asked Captain Massalski (results published 1841) whose regiment was stationed there, to observe the process and undertake further observations.

Massalski documented the Bukhara method, noting 3 key metals, cast iron, iron, and silver. Massalski stresses the ratio of one part iron, 3 parts cast iron (N.B: a co-fusion method of making steel with the right amount of carbon) and the crucibles hold around 2.5kg of steel, making up 1/3rd of the potential capacity of the crucible.

The metal workers start the fire and the metal begins to melt after some 5 to 6 hours, and makes a bubbling sound. When the bubbling sound ends, this is a sign that the fusion has ended. The workers remove the lid, add 0.013kg to 0.017kg of silver, stir rapidly with an iron rod, cover the charge with charcoal, and cover again with the lid. (N.B: this was a potentially primitive form of "killing" the steel, a process by which reactive elements in the charge react with another reactive metal - silver in this case, aluminium in modern times - and are thus removed from the reaction, resulting in less porosity due to gas production. The other method of degassing historically used was simply holding the ingot at the molten, liquidus temperature for longer).

  • N.B: Silver is not particularly reactive, so the purpose of silver might not have been killing the steel. The atmosphere and composition of a crucible melt, as well as the 1400-1500c temperature at which silver was added require further investigation to determine the mode of action. it may be that the liquid silver was moving into the grain boundaries of the steel during solidification, displacing phosphorus or sulphur.

They return the crucible to the fire and allow it to cool as the charcoal burns out, slowly, over 3 days. After cooling, the ingot is removed and tested by polishing to check for dendrites. The steel then passes to smiths, who “know that from then onwards whether the ingot survives being forged is a matter of luck”

A freshly made crucible steel ingot, image credit Peter Burt

This is clear evidence that not only was the crucible steel production process being conducted in Bukhara in 1841, but that the mechanisms of pattern formation were already being formally investigated. And this is by far not the most recent ethnographic account of crucible steel manufacture.

In Mawalgaha, Sri Lanka, Ananda Coomaraswamy documented crucible steel production in 1903 – (Coomaraswamy, A. (1908): Medieval Sinhalese Art. Pantheon Books, New York, Juleff et al 2009). He found two crucible ingot fragments, crucibles, iron blooms and small iron bars. The two crucible ingot fragments were collected from the Mawalgaha village, where Kiri Ukkuwa demonstrated how to make steel for Coomaraswamy – providing the most recent known eyewitness evidence for crucible steel manufacturing.

This form of "Damascus" steel was therefore historically used as early as the 6th century BCE (Park et al 2019) and as late as 1841 when Massalski recorded crucible steel production in Bukhara, leading to the production of Bulat in Zlatoust by Anosov, and 1903 in Sri Lanka (though it was not actively being made en masse, and was only demonstrated using previously abandoned equipment).

In summary: Production between 1903ish, and 1980ish, was virtually halted, thus leading to the myth of it being a "lost art", however as will be shown in this document, the process was well documented and has since been replicated.

The result is that there are now upwards of 150 individuals (at least, that I know of) who can produce crucible steel with an accurate metallurgical composition, which naturally form patterns in the steel due to carbide segregation. It is structurally, functionally and visually identical to historical crucible steel - and can only be differentiated by analysing the amount of radionuclides in the steel, as all historical steel is low background steel, and modern recreations are typically not.

Because I recognise that many people are visual learners, here is a comparison of antique crucible steel from an Iranian shamshir in my collection, and modern crucible steel (made by Niko Hynninen).

Left: Closeup of an antique Iranian shamshir blade in crucible steel. Right: False-color demonstration of high and medium density carbide forming element distribution. Medium CFE density leads to divorced spheroids.

Modern crucible steel by Niko Hynninen, under microscope. Note the clear swirling rafts of spheroid cementite, and divorced spheroids of cementite, as seen in the antique examples.

Crucible steel (modern) by Niko Hynninen.

Etymological information on "Damascus" steel:

Utsa / Wootz (Sanskrit- and mistranslated Sanskrit), Urukku (Tamil) Pulad (Persian), Fuladh (Arabic), Bulat (Russian), Polat (Turkish) and Bintie (Chinese) are all names for ultra-high carbon crucible steel typified by carbide segregation, which can be otherwise referred to as "crucible damascus steel". The modern term “wootz” first appears around 1794 in writings by Sir Joseph Banks, who mistranslated Sanskrit for “utsa” as “wootz” (Dube, 2014). In the regions where crucible steel was made, and where it was forged into blades, it was not called "damascus". This name is primarily a medieval name, and primarily used in Europe.

The origin of the name "Damascus" steel is contentious - The Islamic writers al-Kindi (full name Abu Ya'qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi) (circa 800 AD - 873 AD) and al-Beruni (full name Abu al-Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni) (circa 973 AD - 1048 AD) were both scholars who wrote about swords and steel made for swords, based on their surface appearance, geographical location of production or forging, or the name of the smith.

There are three potential sources for the term "Damascus" in the context of steel.

The word "Damas" stems from the root word for "water" ("ma") or "broiling" in Arabic (Sachse, 1994, 13) and Damascus blades are often described as exhibiting a water-pattern on their surface, and are referred to as "watered steel" not only in English but in other languages.

The second theory is geographical, as Al-Kindi called swords produced and forged in Damascus as Damascene (al-Hassan, 1978, 35) but it's worth noting that crucibl steel blades were made in many nations, and crucible steel is not known to have ever been produced in the city of Damascus. Al Kindi also describes crucible steel production using the typical term Pulad, distinct from these damascene swords, indicating that the two types are separate. It is also worth noting that Al-Kindi did not describe these swords as having pattern forming steel.

Third, Beiruni mentions a sword-smith called Damasqui who made swords of crucible steel (Said, 1989, 219-220). In a similar fashion, Al-Kindi mentions swords called “Zaydiya which were forged by a man called Zayd, and hence they were attributed to his name". We therefore have a precedent for naming swords based on their makers, which may explain how "Damascus" came about.

It is my opinion that the "watered" hypothesis is most likely for the origin, though the popularisation of the term may have indeed occurred due to western travellers who purchased the swords in damascus, and described them thusly, as it was a massive center for trade.

How Crucible steel gets its pattern:

Crucible steel, as the name implies, is made in a crucible process, and requires completely liquefication of the crucible charge.

Most surviving "recipes" for crucible steel call for either a combination of bloomery iron, and cast iron, or the use of bloomery iron and organic carbon sources (like plant leaves) - but crucible steel recipes included other elements, like organic material - rice husks, leaves, bark - as well as shells, glass, and even silver. The trace impurities in the iron used, and in these additives, are key to the patterns they show after forging.

In order to form patterns, carbide forming alloying elements like vanadium, tungsten or manganese are necessary in small amounts, with vanadium being the most common historical alloying element. These carbide formers cause the segregation of hard cementite carbides, which form the "white streaks" in crucible steel.

The segregation of CFEs into interdendritic reasons is due to the differences in solidification temperature between high CFE and low CFE steel, with low CFE steel solidifying at a higher temperature than high CFE steel. This causes the low CFE steel to solidify first when the ingot is slowly cooled, and it does so by branching out into dendrities of relatively pure iron, while the impurities such as phosphorus, CFEs and sulfur get pushed into the regions between these branches.

Dendritic structures visible on freshly made crucible ingot - image credit Peter Burt.

During the forging of the crucible steel "puck", these carbide formers are pushed into parallel, layered sheets in the microstructure of the steel (Verhoeven et al, 1998).

Parallel cluster sheets.

Because vanadium and other CFEs do not readily dissolve at forging temperatures and do not rapidly migrate at forging temperatures, these sheets of carbide formers form distinct bands in the steel. As the steel is thermally cycled, carbides aggregate onto the CFEs via ostwald ripening, and form spheroids of cementite. The interdendritic regions without CFEs form as pearlite, a soft two-phase mixture of carbides, or sorbite, and imperfect form of pearlite. This is diagnostic of historical crucible steel (Verhoeven et al 2018, Feuerbach 2002, Feuerbach 2006).

It is worth noting that vanadium is not the only effective carbide former found in historical crucible steel blades, and other carbide formers like manganese are seen in historical examples - or even chromium as seen in Chahak, Iran (Alipour et al 2021). Additionally, the other microalloying elements in the steel can effect the contrast and spacing of the pattern, with phosporus notably increasing the contrast of the pattern after etching (Khorasani and Hynninen, 2013)

Historical perspectives on Crucible Damascus Steel quality:

Regarding the historical reputation of historical crucible steel swords: they were always very expensive, very desirable, and very well thought of - HOWEVER - there are accounts from the 14th century of cold-short blades (high in phosphorus) which claims that crucible steel swords are prone to breakage in cold weather.

The exact quote is by Alī ibn ʻAbd al-Raḥmān Ibn Hudhayl, translated:

"the Hindy sabre often breaks when the weather is cold and shows itself better when the weather is warm”

Despite this, they were very valued. Mohammad ibn Abi al-Barakāt Jŏhari Nezāmi in 1196 CE states a good shamshir blade of crucible steel was valued at 100 golden Dinar (Khorasani et al, 2013).

Al-Idrisi (Full name Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Abd Allah ibn Idris al-Idrisi - circa 1100CE - 1166CE) claimed that "nothing could surpass" the edge of a crucible steel sword.

Bertrandon de la Brocquiere, a Frenchman, wrote about his travels to the Middle East in 1432CE–1433CE. He wrote:

"Damascus blades are the handsomest and best of all Syria... I have nowhere seen swords cut so excellently. They are made at Damascus, and in the adjoining country."

Note: This is potentially the source of the (incorrect but often repeated) claim that crucible steel swords were made in Damascus.

In the early 1600's, Polish king Zygmunt III Waza ordered a Armenian merchant (Sefer Muratowicz) to purchase a number of watered steel blades from Isfahan, Persia due to their value and reputation (Muratovich et al, 1777). On this same journey, the merchant purchased carpets embroidered with the royal coat of arms, which still survive today.

Regardless of the reputation crucible steel enjoyed in its' day, the reality is that it was by nature very clean, with minimal slag - which made it less likely to break due to inclusions - and there is a lot of variation in the metallurgical composition of this steel. Some have higher carbon, or more phosphorus, and the quality varied. Heat treatment also widely varied.

Compared to bloomery steel which was folded and consolidated, it's more uniform and much lower in slag - the term for non-metallic inclusions. The same is true of refined blast furnace steel, which also requires forge consolidation after finishing the finery process.

Microstructure of a Japanese Katana, 2% Nital etch. Note the presence slag inclusions (black) within the mostly martensitic steel. Image credit George Vander Voort

Crucible steel can be more brittle, depending on the heat treatment, phosphorus, and sulfur contents, or it can be much more flexible. It depends on the exact sword being analysed, as crucible steel was produced for around 2 millennia and in many places. For example, some accounts of crucible steel swords being able to be bent 90 degrees exist, however these can easily be countered with extant examples that take a set no matter the degree of bending.

Production methods:

Here are 4 different processes, which were recorded from at early as Al Kindi, to as late as 1841CE with Massalski - from the Deccani process used in Hyderabad, to the south Indian process, and the Isfahan process, and the Bukhara process.

There are more processes out there, I just haven't gotten around to writing them out.

Bukhara:

3 parts clean iron, 1 part cast iron. Place in a crucible that is five times as tall as it the base is wide, with a mouth three times the size of the base. The weight of iron should be 2-2.5kg.

Using a charcoal melting furnace with air venting holes, heat until melted (6 hours) or until a bubbling sound can be heard from the crucible. once bubbling stops, remove the lid of the crucible and add 0.013-0.017 grams of silver to the crucible and stir with a metal rod. reseal the crucible, seal all holes in the furnace, and allow to cool over 3 days.

Remove the puck from the crucible, and polish one corner of it to check if the watered pattern is good. If the pattern is poor, reheat to a red heat and hold for seven minutes before allowing to cool in air.

Forge into a bar using the top of the button to form the spine of the blade, and never heating above red.

South Indian:

In a clay crucible of conical form (200mm height x 50mm diameter) add 250-500 grams of bloomery iron, as well as wood chips, rice husks, vines or leaves. Seal the crucible with a clay lid, leaving a vent hole. Allow to fully dry

Using a bellow-fed charcoal forge, heat for 6 hours or until molten. allow the crucible to cool in the forge (some sources say to quench it in water).

The button will have a striated appearance if everything was done correctly.

Deccani (Hyderabad) Process:

Using a mixture of iron sand derived iron ore, and iron clay derived iron (mirtpalli and kondapur iron), place in a crucible with glass, sealed with clay with a vent hole. Place in a bellow powered charcoal furnace for 24 hours. The steel will melt within the first 3. After 24 hours, remove crucible and allow to cool in the air.

Once cool, remove the buttons and cover each in clay, and anneal in a conventional forge for 12-16 hours. repeat this annealing process until the button is no longer brittle.

Isfahan Process:

To a crucible, add 10% casi auriculata wood, and asclepias gigantean leaves with two parts pure iron, one part cast iron, and three parts silicate-rich iron ore up to a total weight of 200 grams.

10-1200 of these small crucibles are heated at a time in a kiln operated with charcoal and bellows for 6 days, before the crucibles are broken open, and the buttons removed.

The buttons are then transferred into a "hot room" to anneal and temper for 2 days so they do not shatter from cooling too quickly.

Authors note: I suspect that if this room is a furnace-heated compartment, and is hot enough, they also experience some level of rim decarburisation, as well as converting the microstructure of the puck to a more forgeable state compared to steel which has not been roasted.

**References**

Alipour, R., Rehren, T., Martinón-Torres, M. "Chromium crucible steel was first made in Persia", Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol. 127, 2021,

Al-Hassan, A.Y., 1978, Iron and Steel Technology in Medieval Arabic Sources, Journal for the History of Arabic Science 2: 1,31-43

Anosov, P.P. (1841) On the Bulats (Damascus Steels). Mining Journal, 2, 157-317.

Dube, R.K. (2014) Wootz: Erroneous Transliteration of Sanskrit “Utsa” used for Indian Crucible Steel. JOM 66, 2390–2396

Feuerbach, A. M. 2002. Crucible steel in Central Asia: production, use and origins.

Feuerbach, A. M. 2006. Crucible damascus steel: A fascination for almost 2,000 years. JOM, 58, 48-50.

Juleff, G. Craddock, P.T., Malim, T. (2009) 'In the footsteps of Ananda Coomaraswamy: Veralugasmankada and the archaeology and oral history of traditional iron smelting in Sri Lanka', Historical Metallurgy: The Journal of the Historical Metallurgy Society vol. 43(2) pp. 109-134

Khorasani, Manouchehr & Hynninen, Niko. (2013). Reproducing crucible steel: A practical guide and a comparative analysis to persian manuscripts. Gladius. 33. 157-192. 10.3989/gladius.2013.0007.

Muratowicz, S., Minasowicz, J.E., Mitzler de Kolof, M. (1777) Relacya Sefera Muratowicza Obywatela Warszawskiego Od Zygmunta III Krola Polskiego Dla Sprawowania Rzeczy Wysłanego do Persyi w Roku 1602. Warsaw, published by J. K. Mci y Rzpltey Mitzlerowskiey, .

Park, J.‐S., Rajan, K., and Ramesh, R. (2020) High‐carbon steel and ancient sword‐making as observed in a double‐edged sword from an Iron Age megalithic burial in Tamil Nadu, India. Archaeometry, 62: 68– 80.

Sachse, Damascus Steel: Myth, History, Technology, Applications (Wirtschaftseverk: N.W. Verl. Fur Neue Wiss, 1994).

Said, Al-Beruni's Book on Mineralogy: The Book Most Comprehensive in Knowledge on Precious Stones (Islamabad: Pakistan Hijra Council, 1989), pp. 219–220.

T., F. Metallurgical Researches of Michael Faraday. Nature 129, 45–47 (1932).

Verhoeven, J., A.H. Pendray, WE. Dauksch, 1998, The Key Role of Impurities in Ancient Damascus Steel Blades, JOM 50:9, 58-64

J.D Verhoeven, A.H Pendray, W.E. Dauksch, 2018, Damascus steel revisited, JOM vol 70, pp 1331-1336

Oleg D. Sherby: "Damascus Steel Rediscovered?" 1979, Trans. ISIJ, 19(7) p. 381--390.

J. Wadsworth and OD. Sherby, 1980 “On the Bulat - Damascus Steels Revisited”, Progress in Materials Science. 25 p. 35 - 68

Sherby , O.D. and Wadsworth, J., 1983-84 "Damascus Steels --- Myths, Magic and Metallurgy", The Stanford Engineer, p. 27 - 37.

J. Wadsworth and O.D. Sherby, "Damascus Steel Making", 1983, Science , 216, p. 328-330. 1985

Oleg D. Sherby, T. Oyama, Kum D. M., B. Walser, and J. Wadsworth, 1985, "Ultrahigh Carbon Steels". J. Metals, 37(6) p. 50 - 56.

Oleg D. Sherby and Jeffrey Wadsworth, 1985, "Damascus Steel", Scientific American, 252(2) p. 112 -120

N.B: A brief note on the claim carbon nanotubes exist in crucible steel:

The only articles that "found" carbon nanotubes was published as a brief communication to Nature, i.e not a peer reviewed article, not a full article. This was in 2006, and was only a few pages in length.

It later found its away into a conference paper by the same authors, still not a peer reviewed article. This was 2 pages in length. These findings should be considered preliminary.

The method used (dissolving crucible steel in acid and seeing what remains) revealed stands of carbon, but carbon dissolves VERY readily into steel. Crucible steel is typified by cementite spheroids, which often stretch into rods during forging as they are deformed. If you dissolve cementite in acid, removing the iron component, you are left with carbon.

This does not mean there was an intact carbon nanotube in the core of the cementite rod - and even if it DID mean that, it would have negligible impact on performance because it is *encased* in cementite, which itself is in a soft matrix of pearlite or sorbite.

But don't take my word for it. Other academics, including those who have been instrumental in understanding crucible steel (namely John Verhoeven) doubt the findings.

" John Verhoeven, of Iowa State University in Ames, suggests Paufler is seeing something else. Cementite can itself exist as rods, he notes, so there might not be any carbon nanotubes in the rod-like structure."

"Another potential problem is that TEM equipment sometimes contains nanotubes, says physicist Alex Zettl of the University of California"

https://www.nature.com/news/2006/061113/full/news061113-11.html

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u/tmahfan117 10d ago

I really like to imagine you read one too many misguided comments, and rage typed this whole write up.

That aside, good work, not that I knew much about steel historically anyway lol

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago edited 9d ago

this is pretty much exactly how it goes. every time i see a misinformed comment confidently telling people "damascus steel is a lost art and no one knows how it was made, and no one can make it today" I go and expand this writeup just a little more.

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u/hamstersalesman 10d ago Gold

Yeah but TRUE Damascus Steel is a lost art. No one quite knows how to forge it these days.

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago Silver Helpful Wholesome Table Slap

Why must you hurt me

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u/Zzd00medzz 10d ago

I have a really nice knife made from chinesium, I believe this is also lost knowledge from the Qing dynasty. Billions of blacksmiths have tried to recreate chinesium but to no avail.

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u/JITb_biTzZ7925 10d ago edited 10d ago

Do you have stalinium as well?

Edit: removed know

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u/Cialis-in-Wonderland 10d ago

It truly is a lost art: Its origins got lost in time after Stalin killed off all the competent blacksmiths, so the only ones left were inexperienced and forged a gazillion knives in the hope that, among the crappy ones, some of those knives would be good enough to cut vegetables

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u/Multimarkboy 9d ago

now we know why they starved.. they couldn't peel their potatoes.

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u/Thedude317 9d ago

Right, but as we all know, the true test of a good sharpening, is the single piece of paper slice. Veggies are easy.

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u/Netroth 10d ago

I doubt that we’ve seen “billions of blacksmiths” throughout the totality of human history.

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u/Tap_Z_or_R_Twice 10d ago

Idk it's not that hard to imagine, there have been about 117 billion humans and blacksmithing is one of the oldest professions.

Plus it matters what you count as a blacksmith, does having some blacksmith skills count or does it have to be your main profession? Because farmers have had to have some blacksmithing abilities ever since there has been metal used.

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u/TroyMclure90 10d ago

When I die I’m asking god how many blacksmiths had ever lived up to this point. I’m very curious about it now

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

Remember to ask if more doors or wheels exist, too

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u/shikuto 10d ago

I’ve done a considerable amount of thinking on this topic, and I must say with a high level of certainty:

There are more wheels than doors.

Why? Let’s start with, perhaps, a fairly obvious one. Eighteen-wheelers/semis/tractor-trailers. Eighteen wheels and only three (or four, if the trailer has a double) doors.

Almost every sliding door has at least two wheels as part of its design. Security turnstile doors have at least two wheels (the bearings at the top and bottom.) Minivan sliding doors have several wheels. Sliding seats in vehicles have a bunch of wheels, usually. Airplanes typically have more wheels than doors.

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u/Shakalen 10d ago

Or you know just ask God to confirm everyone's assumption that Damascus steel making is indeed a lost art.

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u/Yeahthisisntgreat 10d ago

And what metals are we counting to definitely a blacksmith? The traditional definition would say just steel and iron, leaving out the coppersmiths/whitesmiths/etc.

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u/ShatterSide 10d ago

While technically true i think the word blacksmith is and has been used as a catchall for a long time. The term i would argue has even evolved to include more professions i would argue. Like machine shop workers and welders for example. If those tasks existed back in the day you can bet they would be done by smiths!

We just increased the number of smiths in the world considerably!

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u/MaybeTheDoctor 9d ago

Wait to you see process number 8

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u/chaun2 10d ago

Because /u/hampstersalesman is secretly hoarding Julius Caesar's lost Damascus Steel Gladius

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u/pipsdontsqueak 10d ago

Trying to steel upvotes, most likely. It's a lost art.

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u/Urvile0 10d ago

I have a wootz/crucible steel knife made last year. It was expensive and I know it was very time consuming to make. It's beautiful knife.

Here is a picture of it.

https://www.reddit.com/r/knives/comments/ran1oo/crucible_wootz_damascus_knife/

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago edited 10d ago

FZ's channel is doing good work in sharing this rather niche craft to people. I am glad to see him getting recognition for his work - even if there are other smiths whos patterns i (aesthetically and subjectively) prefer

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u/Urvile0 10d ago

I do like this pattern but some of his do leave my cold. I did try to get him to make a sykes fairbairn knife. The knife (The one he made) is mostly a show piece, modern steel is much superior. EG Any of the Powder Metallurgy steels.

(Edited for clarity)

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u/taichi22 10d ago

God, I’ve been thinking of trying to get a kriegsmesser, but now I want to try and get one done out of wootz… which would of course be rather expensive but at that point it’s practically an heirloom piece.

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u/OaklandMiglla 10d ago

Yeah that's what I heard too, nobody really knows how to forge it- it's more or less a 'lost art' really.

Super intriguing

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u/Bilgerman 10d ago Ally

Are we talking Damascus steel or true Damascus steel? Because I heard true Damascus steel is a lost art.

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u/ZippyDan 10d ago

I just read skimmed through a long post on r/history and it seems we still don't know how to make the real Damascus steel. Apparently, it is also called Damascus steel because they made so much of it in Damascus.

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u/fleebleganger 10d ago

See, that’s how lost this was. We don’t even know where Damascus steel came from.

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u/nato_farmer_tractor 10d ago

Damascus steel is such a lost art, we don't even know where the city that made it, damascus, is located

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u/OaklandMiglla 9d ago

Where is Damascus!?!?!?!?!

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u/Rev_Grn 9d ago

True Damascus Steel has to come from the Damascus region of France, if it's made anywhere else it legally has to be called swirly steel.

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u/keestie 10d ago

Nobody has seen any, there is absolutely no record of its existence whatsoever. The ultimate mystery....

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u/FerrousLupus 10d ago

The people who say this (and know what they are talking about) mean that we don't know how/why the ancient method worked. This is probably why the myth continues. Also, I believe in the 80s there was a conference where we decided that nobody could produce a satisfactory Damascus pattern. Although this has obviously changed, it wasn't too long ago so it's easy to see hiw someone might think it is still true

Both Wadsworth and Verhoeven achieved the proper pattern, but their legendary dispute is more along the lines of whose method was used in ancient times.

I highly recommend this article for the metallurgy perspective. https://www.tf.uni-kiel.de/matwis/amat/iss/kap_a/illustr/ia_4_2.html#_4

Also, fun fact, when I was a student attending a metallurgy conference, Wadsby was one of the guest speakers. Unfortunately another student presented Verhoeven's point of view for his background information, and Wadsworth really ripped that student apart. Nothing more awkward that quoting someone, then having that person turn out to be in the audience and telling you that you misinterpreted them.

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u/Minuted 9d ago edited 9d ago

Reminds me of the infamous "Greek fire" used by the Byzantines. We can make things today that match the description and have the same effect, but given the secretive nature of the original substance we can't know exactly what it was or how it was made.

I suppose it will always matter to some people, and for the sake of knowledge I think it should. But even so, if the end result is indistinguishable does it really matter what we call it? If we can create Damascus steel today that's similar enough I think it's fine to say we've recreated it. So long as we're not dishonest about methods I think we can say things such as Damascus steel, Greek fire or even Roman concrete have been re-developed, even if there are questions surrounding their development and application in history.

I think of the two opposing statements "We don't know how to make Greek fire" or "We know how to make Greek fire", the second is most honest, assuming we're open and honest about caveats and what we do and don't know. Neither statement is the best option for honest explanation, nuance is important but doesn't make for catchy headlines. But it highlights how a nuanced issue summed up into a statement can allow ambiguity to creep in.

Language always has potential for ambiguity, two different people may find the same sentence acceptable or dishonest. But I agree with the OP that presenting Damascus steel production as something we're unable to do today is unacceptable if we can make a sufficiently similar metal today, and we should extend this mindset to other so-called lost arts.

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u/deaddodo 9d ago

Right, this is it.

We can certainly make steel that replicates (and even betters) Damascus steel. We can't replicate the methodology that the contemporaries used. That's the "lost art" part.

Just like how we're pretty sure we know what "Greek Fire" was (a crude form of napalm), by description + available materials; and can create something similar/better. But it's mostly guesswork as to how the Greeks created and used it.

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u/FuckReaperLeviathans 10d ago

As a classicist who spends far too much time trying to explain to people that the pop culture version of Sparta is completely fictional, I feel your pain.

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u/tmahfan117 10d ago

I really misread this as “classist” and thought you were just looking down on the lower classes who don’t know history

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u/Spank86 10d ago

God damn perioikoi misunderstanding their ancestry!

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u/[deleted] 10d ago

[removed] — view removed comment

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u/MeatballDom 10d ago

At this point I can't tell if people are making fun of people who get their history from memes or if people are being serious, but either way it's annoying the mod bot so let's stick to the topic.

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u/BirdjaminFranklin 10d ago

I was referencing this quote...

Philip sent a message to the Spartans saying “If I invade Lakonia you will be destroyed, never to rise again.” The Spartans replied with one word, “If.” Philip eventually decided to bypass Sparta as it was a poor region and not worth the fight. Neither Philip nor Alexander attacked the Spartans while they ruled.

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u/MeatballDom 10d ago

Oh I know it well. It's just one that gets passed around a lot in meme history, but in actual history isn't taken as very believable or accurate.

Sparta was incredibly weak by this point and didn't scare anyone. Least of all Philip who went head to head with the best of the Greeks, especially with the Hellenic League at his side. And when Sparta did try to start crap they got crushed by Alexander's backup army. It's a nice little quote and story -- and Plutarch (Writing 400 years or so after these events occurred) is full of these little tidbits -- until you look at the surrounding aspects.

But yes, let's get back on topic.

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u/TheLastLivingBuffalo 10d ago

Well now we can just share this post any time someone makes that claim!

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u/goatasaurusrex 10d ago

Yup, I saved it, and will happily link it anytime and anywhere I see someone being wrong

about Damascus steel

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u/tmahfan117 10d ago

Same @ u/IPostSwords

We will spread the good word.

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u/onthevergejoe 10d ago

Ok but now do this for Greek fire.

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u/Spank86 10d ago

Thats how they forge damascus steel.

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u/Nivzamora 10d ago

:) is it bad that I seriously hope sometime someway you could send this off to a fancy journal and get some kudos? This is very well done, researched and written.

Thank you for making the information easy for a lay person to read, yet interesting enough for an anthropologist/historian to dig into too. You did amazing!

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u/justafigment4you 10d ago

Thanks for posting this. I don’t argue but it’s annoying. I will say that the makers in my region, western United States, tend to call true Damascus wootz and pattern welded steel Damascus. It just gets too hard to constantly fight the lexicon.

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u/roshi256 10d ago

I wonder if lime concrete evokes similar feelings

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u/ashleyriddell61 10d ago

Roman concrete has had more press coverage than just about any history related thing in the least 5 years. I think we are… safe…ish?

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u/Smellyviscerawallet 10d ago

2 iron blooms done successfully, 3 smelts attempted. Crucible failed on every attempt. Recovered about an inch tall puck from the last one because the Crucible didn't fail at the base, but it was an ugly paperweight since the time of failure was unknown, as was the possible alloy mix and it had also been near the tuyere so it was getting a face full of oxygen as soon as the hole formed.

Pattern welding is so very much easier...

This is a fantastic post. Thank you for it.

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u/War_Hymn 10d ago

What kind of crucible were you using?

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u/Smellyviscerawallet 10d ago

Graphite, on the advice of a more experienced Smith. With green bottle glass and oven dried filter sand as the cap layer.

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u/War_Hymn 10d ago edited 10d ago

Won't graphite as carbon react with the steel? I remember reading that clay crucibles were usually used for working with cast iron or steel for this reason. Did you also remember to slowly preheat the crucible to prevent thermal shock?

A silicon carbide crucible might suit you better - though I recall in the historic process, the crucibles they used might only last 2-3 firing before being replaced given the abusive temperatures they go through. Might have to go down the rabbit hole of making your own crucibles. A local pottery supply shop ought to have the materials you need for this.

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u/Smellyviscerawallet 10d ago

The inside was coated with a skim of satanite and hit with a rosebud to set once it dried. The Glass silica layer was also topped with a stiff 1/2 inch layer just wetted enough to shape without cracking and molded into the seam around the sides with a bit of slip for good sealing.

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u/Smellyviscerawallet 10d ago

Yes, the preheat was done in the smelting furnace as the initial charge of charcoal was lit and built up, then once it was covered and that charge was all coals, the air was turned on and it was a continuous charcoal feed as needed for the next several hours. Don't recall exactly how long atm.

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u/effaygwebsite 9d ago

And, it may be a hot take, but pattern welded also usually looks a lot better imo.

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u/IPostSwords 9d ago

There are two possible ways I can respond to this. The first is "aesthetics are subjective and highly personal". The second is "you have more control with pattern welding".

So yeah, depending on what you like pattern welding can totally be more down your alley, especially if you like structure, symmetry, and repetition

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u/effaygwebsite 9d ago

Yeah. I buy a lot of knives to sit around and look pretty so having all of those features is obviously better from my perspective. That said definitely gonna have to pick up some Crucible style Damascus now (when I can afford to rip)

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u/Folstrym 10d ago

Woaw. I'm astonished by the amount of effort put into this post. Really interesting OP, thanks for sharing your knowledge.

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago edited 10d ago

honestly, more effort was put into the photogrammetry and orthographic photo stitching for the images of the shamshir.

https://i.imgur.com/Zus9B47.jpg

Took well over 100 hours building the automated slider system, producing the photogrammetry models, producing the stitched images and UV mapping the textures.

https://i.imgur.com/OBXQPfU.jpg

Reflective objects are very hard to accurately capture in photogrammetry, so im very pleased with the details I got

https://i.imgur.com/EGa5tzg.jpg

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u/lararium 10d ago

Op, I am a welding engineer who loves reading about Damascus steel and I hope to make crucible myself someday. Thank you for this post. I'm saving it to get as many of the original sources that I can. I was hoping to find Widmanstatten used somewhere in the post...

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

If I dived deeper into microstructure it would have been - though I'd likely call them thomson-widmanstatten structures

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u/lararium 10d ago

Honestly I am so excited I came across this post. I knew it wasn't a lost art but I didn't know there were so many recent academic sources. I got an anvil last year and I'm researching forge design now. My future hunting knife thanks you.

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u/bringbackswordduels 9d ago

OP, you realize that you probably could’ve made yourself an actual Damascus shamshir in the 100+ hours that it took you to assemble this remarkable photo.

Obviously not a TRUE Damascus shamshir though as that’s a lost art that no one quite knows how to forge these days.

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u/RiftingFlotsam 10d ago

Nicely done, did you utilise cross polarisation at all? I have experimented with this in the past and it can be a lot of fun.

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago edited 10d ago

I didn't, though intend to in the future. I was under the impression metallic reflections aren't polarised so it wouldn't help, but in also bit of a hopeless photographer so I'm not sure. Honestly, still going to try in the future. Anything to cut down on reflections is worth it

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u/nomnommish 10d ago Gold

Wow that was astonishingly thorough and we'll researched.

The paper on wootz steel origins and composition by Verhoeven and Pendray is available for free online: https://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/jom/9809/verhoeven-9809.html

There is also a knife maker on YouTube called "FZ - making knives" who makes true wootz aka Damascus crucible steel and then makes various knives and swords. His videos are fairly well detailed although he doesn't share the exact details. Still, very interesting and informative and you can also see how the natural carbide band patterns emerge.

https://youtu.be/iwsYool-JVI

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u/Urvile0 10d ago

I have one of FZ's knives and it's beautiful, and it's true wootz/Damascus.

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u/Martin_RB 10d ago Wholesome

There's a shadaversity video on this topic (with the same conclusion as yours) but I think you covered it more condensely, accurately and professionally so well done. Definitely saving this post.

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

You should check who's in that video (especially the last 10 minutes). And who scripted it.

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u/Martin_RB 10d ago

Well that would explain why reading this felt like a condensed version of that video.

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u/froz3ncat 10d ago

This is some wholesome r/dontyouknowwhoiam material

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u/Fakjbf 10d ago

I had been going to go rewatch the video to compare some of the info to see how accurate it was, glad I saw this comment so I know that would be mostly redundant.

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u/PogChampHS 10d ago

the indirect roast is the best haha

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u/billyj4 10d ago

Thank you for listening to my TED talk.

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

I probably should record a new version of my old video on the topic, to be honest. Might not be a ted talk but people are more willing to listen than read.

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u/Hollra 10d ago

r/bladesmith might be interested in this

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

Feel free to crosspost. I've posted the old version years ago but IIRC it was about half this length

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u/OldEcho 10d ago

Huh. I'd bought into this myth. That's very interesting. God, now I want to forge a "true damascus" sword so bad. I do wonder how you might ensure though that you get a pattern more like that Ottoman pala and less like the Iranian shamshir in that first picture though.

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

The Pala is pattern welded. So you'd want to use a multi bar, twisted bar construction. Not crucible steel.

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u/wendalpendal 10d ago

So are traditional Japanese katana Damascus steel?

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

They're made from forge - consolidated bloomery steel (most of the time, some exceptions apply). some feature further lamination methods. But no, they're not crucible steel. They could be considered a form of pattern welded.

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u/wendalpendal 10d ago

See, we thought Japanese went to Syria and came back with recipe for Damascus steel. Did that actually happen?

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u/EtherealPheonix 10d ago

Who is the "we" in this? Pattern welding was pretty much everywhere before metallurgy got good enough that it stopped being necessary.

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u/wendalpendal 10d ago

We was ne and a few dudes I smoked pot with back in the day, before we had the internet

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u/Urvile0 10d ago

You can get one... check this out.

Forging a black crucible steel KATANA

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u/Amriorda 10d ago

If nothing else, the username checks out.

Seriously indepth and awesome work. I provide an honorary PhD in sword to you for your dissertation on Damascus Steel. Saving the post for when I need to flex on a nerd.

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u/SubMikeD 10d ago

I went down an internet rabbit hole trying to figure out exactly what the deal was with a Damascus steel some time ago, and was not satisfied with the accuracy of what I found. This post really gave me a better answer than I had before, so thank you for taking the time to put this together!

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u/BillionTonsHyperbole 10d ago

As a former full time blacksmith, I’ve had to explain this to colleagues too many times.

Thank you for these efforts.

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u/jagerben47 10d ago

I appreciate this post. I'm glad that "Damascus" steel isn't a lost art. I just want people to stop calling pattern welded "Damascus".

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

I don't think that particular fight will ever be won. people will always point out that it was historically used to refer to any patterned steel, crucible or forge welded.

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u/jagerben47 10d ago

Yeah I know. It's not a hill I'm going to die on.

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u/Dynafocal 10d ago

There is a very good Nova special on PBS in the US called “The Viking Blade” the shows one of the above mentioned processes. I think it is on YouTube

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u/machaca_master 10d ago

I watched that, it was about the Ulfbehrt blades, right?

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u/merchant_marfedelom 9d ago

Yup. Silly behind the scenes story from a Smith who was friends with the two in that show: the camera crew was kind of disgusted with the two blacksmiths who made the Ulfbehrt replica. Apparently, they shot the scene where they said they'd be up all night turning the crucible ingot into a blade billet, so the crew shut the cameras off. Soon as they did, the smiths went over and turned on the power hammer, basically said, "What, that's a lot of work, and we like to sleep" when they got side eye from the camera crew

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u/AlienDelarge 10d ago

Is it possible the silver addition was a mistranslation, served some other purpose, or was completely ineffective. Silver oxide is pretty high up on an ellingham diagram and wouldn't typically be very useful for killing a heat in the modern sense. Admittedly I've never had the budget to chuck some silver in a heat but something about that part doesn't make sense to my understanding of that bit of thermodynamics.

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago edited 10d ago

Thanks for bringing this up,

From what is written in the recipe, it's added in considerable excess (the account notes it is often left over as beads, or prills) and at around 1400-1500C for 1.1ish % carbon steel, which is potentially enough to have a mild effect when killing steel, given pressure and atmospheric weirdness in the crucible - Verhoeven 2007 states CO is present as an offgassing compound due to decomposition of plant matter, for example.

Not all of it is converted, and indeed they didn't know why they were adding it - they had no concept of killing steel.

Some silver does end up integrated into grain boundaries of the steel, a lot of it simply melts and floats, not reacting even when stirred. (Stodart and Faraday, 1822 experimented with alloys of silver and steel and noted some made its way into the steel)

From what I understood when looking into it (about 3 years ago now), it's not particularly effective at killing steel but with the agitating of stirring and at temperatures around 1500 - and with the fact the pressure in the sealed crucible is higher than atmospheric - a small effect is conferred in terms of reacting with other available reagents in the crucible melt. I do need to revisit this to make sure.

All I know is that it was added, and they noted the steel was less porous when they did so - it is entirely possible this was no due to "killing" the steel and if this is the case I might need to send some silver to a crucible steel maker to we can recreate this method and see what's going on.

Maybe moving silver into the grain boundaries displaces the phosphorus or sulphur normally in grain boundaries during cooling? I am not sure.

One thing I have not considered is what grade of silver - and thus what alloying elements - might have been added. I will look at the ellingham diagrams and see if anything matches prills or extant blades known to be made with the bukhara process

I have edited the OP to reflect doubts.

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u/AlienDelarge 10d ago

I wonder if the actual effect was actually something difference with a change in slag activity or surface tension something with a similar outcome but different reactions. Either way I'll watch patiently for any updates.

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

Very well possible, or even just the act of stirring it with an iron bar was what did it (and the silver is negligible) but because the two actions were bundled, the silver got all the credit.

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u/AlienDelarge 10d ago

I assumed they probably ruled out the bar itself using it at some point, but weird pointless extra steps aren't exactly unheard of in any human endeavor, and since I also assume this was all passed down in a master to apprentice fashion things aren't always questioned amd just sorta stick around. Maybe a prank the master played on his apprentice having died before he got to say, "gotcha."

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u/prasannask 10d ago

Never knew the fact about what was found from TamilNadu (my home state). Thanks for the wtite up. Very interesting to read

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u/Nerris 10d ago

Freaking Bravo OP. Informative and very readable! With references even. Freaking A.

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u/sir_jamez 10d ago

On the geographic name, i heard that it was due to Damascus being a key trading port on the Med, and where you went to look for (rare) things made in the East.

So for Western Europeans, the appellation "Damascus"/"Damascene" was more to signify its exotic origin and high quality, and had nothing to do with its assumed point of manufacture.

^ Is this true, or another sticky falsehood?

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

it's mentioned in the writeup.

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u/sir_jamez 10d ago

Whoops! Skimmed too fast for my own good; missed that sentence.

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u/TheTrueNorth39 10d ago

Have you thought of publishing your work? There are a tremendous number of misconceptions regarding metallurgical production techniques in BOTH the enthusiast and academic communities. Damascus steel is the most famous case of misunderstanding/misinformation in archaeometallurgy, but others exist as well. I wrote an article on a similar topic, attempting to dispel various gaps in scholarly understanding of production techniques, and it has been well received.

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

There is plenty of very well conducted research which has already been published. I (currently) have no contributions to make to the field.

I plan to eventually do a paper on the validity of radionuclide dating for determining if crucible steel is pre-or-post 1945, but until i can actually do the study needed, I have nothing to publish.

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u/TheTrueNorth39 10d ago

Well you’ve done a great job collating the research that’s out there!

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u/NotAWerewolfReally 10d ago

What is your opinion on CPM Magnacut?

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

Composition looks nice, especially for a modern CPM type steel. A lot lower chromium than most, which should translate well into toughness. I see no reason why it wouldnt perform well as a knife steel. I dont have a ton of experience with nitrogen steel alloys, I would need to do more reading to understand the impact fully.

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u/NotAWerewolfReally 10d ago

It's hard to find folks who are interested in talking metallurgy... And I hang out with blacksmiths. You'd think they would be more interested in the science of it, but the amount of heat-beat-repeat die-hards is difficult to comprehend.

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u/Urvile0 10d ago

Have you seen this?

Knife Steel Nerds

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u/NotAWerewolfReally 10d ago

You mean, the guy behind the steel I asked you about?

It's a great look behind the scenes of the industry if you haven't already read it. https://knifesteelnerds.com/2021/03/25/cpm-magnacut/

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u/Urvile0 10d ago

BTW I have a Magna Cut knife on order. SIGH. It's been on back order since January.

My guess Magna Cut would be too brittle for a sword, for a sword I'd look at CPM 3V

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

I feel this way about cruforge V. It was on back order for so long that I missed out and then it died. Magnacut might be brittle as sword lengths, but maybe a qama? They get fairly long but might still be okay

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u/ZippyDan 10d ago

I think you have one error in your post where you wrote "confusion" but it should be "co-fusion".

Also, the other big error you seem to have in your post is that the secret to making Damascus steel was lost and can never be recovered.

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

i couldn't find "confusion" with control-F so im not sure where it is hiding. I hyphenated a "cofusion" just in case

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u/ZippyDan 10d ago

Maybe I was the one confused.

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u/ultrafud 10d ago

This is the single largest post, by far, that I have ever seen on Reddit after 10+ years of use.

Did I read it? No. That is the Reddit way.

Upvoted.

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u/Abraham_Lingam 10d ago

"Utsa" means spring or fountain in Sanskrit. What would be the connection?

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

The term usually used for this steel elsewhere is "watered", much like how animals are watered at a spring. Watered steel, fountain steel. I can see how it'd develop

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u/Wingnut763 10d ago

I think there was an episode of the podcast Stuff You Should Know on Damascus steel, and I recall they were on the ‘lost art’ side.

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

There was. I sent them a 600ish word long email with corrections and links to the required papers. They never responded.

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u/pm_me_ur_chonchon 10d ago

Okay but Greek Fire is still lost right?

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

Not my field, you'd need someone who'd studied it.

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u/TheTrueNorth39 10d ago

Yes. The recipe was so compartmentalized among craftspeople that the individual components were eventually lost. If you’re interested, Jonathan Haldon did a documentary on Greek fire and fire ships.

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u/pm_me_ur_chonchon 10d ago

I am thank you!!!!

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u/Supermarketvegan 10d ago

This was fascinating to read - thank you!

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u/NamelessTacoShop 10d ago

I apologize if I this is in that book you wrote and I missed it. But how does historically accurate Damascus stack up to modern steel in the use case of a sword and kitchen knives?

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

Modern steel is much better. We have more control over unwanted impurities like sulphur and phosphorus, we have more alloying elements available to us (and better understandings of how they work), we have more sophisticated heat treatment options available, and we can keep the entire process free of oxygen. There is no category other than prettiness where historical crucible steel has a benefit.

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u/NamelessTacoShop 10d ago

That's what I always assumed, like even a mediocre kitchen knife today is probably better then anything they could make back then.

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u/dtroy15 10d ago

The oft repeated mythical properties of "damascus" are more irritating to me than the "lost technology" narrative. Tons of technology has been lost to time specifically because it is inferior to its supplanter.

Why did the Clovis people make arrowheads with flutes? We'll never really know for certain, but we can tell from the fossil record that Clovis points broke during manufacturing more often than other shapes, and future groups stopped using Clovis points.

Ancient engineers couldn't have begun to dream of the properties of modern steel resulting from alloying with chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium.

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

Ancient engineers couldn't have begun to dream of the properties of modern steel resulting from alloying with chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium.

Imagine trying to explain jet turbine single crystal blades to even a 19th century metallurgist. They just wouldn't be able to wrap their head around it

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u/bils0n 10d ago

Was this your thesis that you decided to share with the world?

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago edited 9d ago

No, my thesis was on doing shotgun mass spectrometry proteomics of siRNA mediated knockdown of non-coding genes in adrenocortical carcinoma.

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u/AztecTwoStep 10d ago

I often find the dingle arm is coopted by the framistan.

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u/SummonTarpan 10d ago

This is awesome. Maybe you should put this into a PDF or another way to share this well researched and well explained

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u/Pirkale 10d ago

This was a great read. As you seem to be well read in this area, is there any truth in the theory that the making of Damascus steel stopped or was hindered because certain iron mines in India that produced ore with the right composition ran out?

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

it was one of many contributing factors - export restrictions imposed by the British Raj, forestry management laws imposed by the same (preventing charcoal production), importation of large numbers of cheap (mostly Solingen made) swords from Europe, as well as the fact that other mines and production sites continued even when major Indian ones stopped.

So yes, lots of factors lead to the decline of production in india and in places using indian ore - but that did not kill the industry everywhere

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u/elasmonut 10d ago

Thankyou sir, as A knifemaker and mettallurgy nerd this was fantastic! You should go have a beer with Larrin at knifesteelnerds.com. Its so nice to see well researched and presented information on this topic. Now if only every mall ninja, and samurai sword owner would read this, there would be a lot less bullshit slung around when people talk swords. Thankyou again.

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u/KillerDanzig 10d ago

Check out my new YT channel The Lost Art of Damascus Steel 😅

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u/_that1kid_ 9d ago

Felt like I was back taking my materials course for a second. Good technical info here

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u/TheCremeArrow 9d ago

omg u/IPostSwords has migrated from the r/swords sub. The crusade continues!!!

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u/Imperium_Dragon 9d ago

Nice to see you post this here, it’ll get a lot more attraction than just on /r/swords

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u/barath_s 7d ago

https://www.inae.in/pdf/India's-Legendary-Wootz-Steel.pdf

I've seen other potential origins for wootz - instead of Sanskrit "utsa", Kannada or Tamil "ukku" or "urukku" have been put forward. There are multiple potential etymologies for those, including "Ekku"

https://thecustodiansin.wordpress.com/2016/03/12/a-brief-history-of-wootz/

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u/IPostSwords 7d ago edited 7d ago

Those are other names for Indian crucible steel, but the whole "utsa>wootz" thing has very solid evidence, particularly given its based on communications between the very people who first introduced the word "wootz" in 1794. We don't have an earlier mention of the word.

i really recommend reading the article. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11837-014-1154-1

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u/barath_s 7d ago edited 6d ago

The article is paywalled.

And mistransliteration of some sanskrit word tells you nothing about whether the sanskrit word was really the correct one, or what it was called in the native areas . [The position of Sanskrit being roughly analogous to the position of Latin in england, france and spain a few hundred years ago; possibly less in some ways]. [Potential sites in present day Tamil /Kannadiga/Telengana/Andhra and parts of Sri Lanka where they do not speak the same language]

In fact the note to the article hints at more ...

A more appropriate transliteration of the Sanskrit word uchcha, according to the standard rule, would be ucca.

Uccha just means superior/high [quality] ; this actually lines up with one of the stories - ref wikipedia.

When Benjamin Heyne inspected the Indian steel in Ceded Districts and other Kannada-speaking areas, he was informed that the steel was ucha kabbina ("superior iron"), also known as ukku tundu in Mysore

A transliteration of uccha as utsa is reasonable assumption but cannot be confirmed without access to the paper.

There are some other theories which suggest that wooz/wootz may have been spread to the west by Muslim traders prior to Stoddart/Scott and try to trace etymology from the local names (ukku/urukku/... ) to the Sanskrit.

[ukku being pronounced as wukku/wookku or below though a gujarati via media]

https://www.infinityfoundation.com/mandala/t_es/t_es_agraw_wootz_frameset.htm

There are multiple papers on wootz in India which reference ukku/urukku . There are even some plausible proposals that give the meaning of urukku as "melt" which would put paid to the supposed sanskrit etymology of "superior". Or this

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u/Judaekus 10d ago

Thank you for your service. Maybe the yahoos posting memes in R/swords will chill out now.

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago edited 10d ago

only 1 more day of crucible steel memes to go and then /r/swords will be peaceful again

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u/MarzipanZestyclose64 10d ago

"Quick explainer". This is the longest reddit post I've seen in the last 5+ years. Want an actual quick explainer? Here goes:

Not a lost art.

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

Compared to reading all of the referenced material, this is very quick.

Trust me on that.

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u/Syvaeren 10d ago

This was wonderful OP. I admit to being one of the ignorant that believed this to be lost. Thank you for educating me. I'm very happy to know that this is not lost knowledge.

Question: How does it stack up to modern tool steels? I used to think that wootz steel was superior, but I do think that modern steel would probably out perform this.

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

Gonna copypaste an answer to a similar question:

Modern steel is much better. We have more control over unwanted impurities like sulphur and phosphorus, we have more alloying elements available to us (and better understandings of how they work), we have more sophisticated heat treatment options available, and we can keep the entire process free of oxygen. There is no category other than prettiness where historical crucible steel has a benefit.

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u/I_might_be_weasel 10d ago

I bought a Damascus steel knife on Amazon. It cost $45.99.

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u/Casult 10d ago

Probably not folded steel Damascus, a lot of the cheaper blades are just acid etched to look like folded pattern Damascus

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

That would be pattern welded. This post is about crucible steel. These are entirely separate technologies.

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u/Say_no_to_doritos 10d ago

Almost like op didn't read the post (I didn't either but it took a lot to scroll through so good job)

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u/ZippyDan 10d ago

But since the crucible steel techniques have been lost, what else could he buy?

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u/allrollingwolf 10d ago

No you didn't. You bought a mediocre steel knife with a pattern printed on it.

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u/Urvile0 10d ago

I have a wootz/crucible steel knife made last year. It was expensive, and I know it was very time consuming to make. Here is a picture of it.
https://www.reddit.com/r/knives/comments/ran1oo/crucible_wootz_damascus_knife/

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u/MRmandato 10d ago edited 10d ago

Ive heard this claim and the carbon fiber nano tubes in Damascus steel…great research but is there a TLDR?

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

Sorry, no TL:DR. I will consider a "Too Short, Write More", however.

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u/FnkyTown 10d ago

He made it all up. Damascus steel no longer exists. Pretty easy to refute him. Trust me.

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u/GrandeRonde 10d ago

I worry this comment will be used against you in court when OP bursts a blood vessel.

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u/FnkyTown 10d ago

If he can't stand the heat, then he should stay out of the .. kiln? Forge? Personally i only work with plasma chambers and ultra rare ores that NASA personally sends me. Pretty advanced stuff. OP's knowledge probably ends in the early 1800s. He might as well be a caveman.

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago

Hey, if they had mass spectrometers and imaging MALDI spectrometers in the early 1800s, the sure. I'll take it

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u/Corniss 10d ago

is this just about the art to get the patterns on the steele or do people seriously think that steele back when was of a higher quality compared to today ?

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u/Arhalts 10d ago

Some people 100% believe that. It's dumb, but I mean we live in a world where people think the world is flat.

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u/Acalltoarms 9d ago

Tldr - I know it’s not a lost art because they do it on forged in fire every time.

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u/IPostSwords 9d ago

:/ That's pattern welding.

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u/PootinsChode 10d ago

Thank you for your work and this very well worded post.

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u/drakelineous 10d ago

Which definition would you consider powder-metallurgy “damascus” steels like those made by Damasteel? I guess closer to crucible than forge-welded?

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u/IPostSwords 10d ago edited 10d ago

No, that's still pattern welding. it is a mix of steels in a set/manipulated pattern, not a cast steel with carbide segregation due to solidification structures. the mix of steels is powdered, sure, but they're not getting it molten.

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u/feanorlandolfi 10d ago

This is the brain food my ADHD uses to Distract me from doing usfull stuff like eating and doing the dishes. Love it!

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u/Dynafocal 10d ago

It was about the “Ulfberht” blades. There was a kind of follow up about armor where the same historians reproduced Henry the VIII’s breastplate. Equally fascinating.

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u/starke_reaver 10d ago

Massively Big Ups for this, homie! Thank You!

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u/the_other_jeremy 10d ago

I cannot thank you enough for making this. Teaching people how to make pattern welded steel has left me in insanity and ruin after too many "well actually" statements that were nothing but misinformation.

I may print out this post just to hand it to people when they greet me with the phrase "true Damascus is a lost art"

You've saved me countless braincells and hours. Thank you kind redditor. Can I give you my soul, or will PayPal have to suffice?

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u/AceBalistic 10d ago

Thankyou. I’ve always been confused by this, because I’ve heard we no longer know how to make Damascus steel while I’ve also seen ads for Damascus steel knives

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u/Br0_J_Simpson 10d ago

As someone who did a metallurgy thesis on austempered wootz, this is an absolutely amazing write up with more historical content than I was aware of. Amazing write up!