Damascus Scrap Knife

I wanted to try making something out of damascus, but I was hesitant to buy a standard billet, and many of the projects I've been working on are relatively small, so a standard billet is way more than I need. I found that Twofinger Knives makes a lot of damascus and sells off the scrap left over from the knives they make. This is pretty inexpensive, and it's already cut up (mostly) into smaller pieces. I have done a number of projects with their material now, and I really love working with it! I am posting this knife that I made as an example, in case anyone else wants to have a go.

The scrap varies, but this is a fairly typical piece.

Anneal the metal before you try cutting it up. I skipped the anneal once and ended up wrecking a hacksaw blade and a cold chisel. Once it's annealed, I usually cut from both sides with a cold chisel until I can break it. The thinnest spots cut through pretty quick, thicker onces take some time to work it from both sides.

The type of damascus in the scrap varies a lot, so it's a good idea to file and edge and etch to see what you're working with.

Here's the piece I selected for this project. Raw, and after grinding the edges. You definitely want to grind off the beads of molten metal along the edge of the cut, and I like to smooth the broken edges and round the corners as well.

Doesn't look like much, but it's thick, so there's a lot of metal to work with. This one is 6mm thick, some of the other scrap isn't quite as thick. I drew out the left end for the tang, drew out the bulge on the right a bit to even it out, and then tried to draw out the blade wider rather than longer as much as I could.

Roughed out blade, annealed. Spine is still 3mm thick. I ended up with a lot of material for the tang, so I drew it out extra long. Going to try putting it all the way through the handle and peening it over, we'll see how that work. Now need to grind/file the blade into shape, and sand smooth. I went to 600 grit, which is not quite a mirror finish (the camera flash accentuates the remaining fine scratches).

I use ferric chloride (FeCl3) to etch. You used to be able to buy the solution at Radio Shack, it may still be available at some electronics store (it was used for etching circuit boards) or you can buy solid ferric chloride on eBay or from a chemical supply house and mix up your own. I'll check the best concentration, but concentration is not critical (more dilute will take longer) you want a fairly dark yellow-brown solution, but not so dark that it is opaque. Ferric chloride is not particularly toxix, but it is corrosive. Wipe up any spills quickly, and store it in a sealed non-metallic container away form any metal that you care about. Any spills or open containers will cause nearby metal to rust.

The steel must be very clean before etching, as any dirt or oil will resist the etching solution and give you an uneven etch. I usually clean the blade with soap and water, then rub on baking soda and rinse off (repeat the baking soda a few times) and finish by wiping down with denatured alchohol. Once the blade is clean, either suspend it in the etching solution, or tilt it against the side of the container. You want all surface of the blade to be in the solution, if part of the blade is near the side of the container, it may not etch as well.

Fairly quickly, you should be able to see the damascus pattern. How long you etch is up to you, but I like to go for about 10 minutes or so. Ferric chloride actually removes some of one of the metals, so a longer etch gives a topographic difference that can be accentuated by sanding (see below). I recomend experimenting with different etch times to see what you like the best.

After the etch, the entire blade is dark.

Some of the black coating is only loosely attached and rubs off easily. Now the pattern is more visible.

I like to give a light sand with 600 grit sandpaper to bring out the pattern more strongly. And finally, I rub on a thin layer of linseed oil, let it sit for a minute or two, and then wipe off. The linseed oil polymerizes to form a somewhat protective coating, but it not thick enough to look "varnished."

For this knife I made the tang long, so I could put it all the way through the handle and bend the end over. This was the first time I did a handle this way, and it turned out to be trickier than I expected. The first time, I tried just folding the end over and used a fairly thin copper plate for the end of the handle. Bending over the end of the tang bent the copper plate, and also pushed it to one side (might have worked better if the end of the tang had been thinner). I took that handle off, split the end of the tang, and used a thicker brass plate. This worked a lot better! Next time I will also measure much more carefully, as the tang needs to stick out just the right amount.

I've been wondering just how much material gets lost during the entire process, so for this project I kept track:

Raw chunk after splitting out of scrap piece = 87g
After grinding edges/corners smooth = 84g (lost 3g)
After forging to rough shape = 76g (lost 8g)
After grinding to shape = 72g (lost 4g)
After filing to smooth surface, refine edge, and get exact shape = 62g (lost 10g)
After sanding, quench/temper, and final sanding = 60g (lost 2g)

Total mass loss = 27g or 31% I could have lost less if I had forged closer to the right shape in fewer heats, but I was still left with plenty of metal for the knife I wanted to make.

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