Pattern Welded Steel

pattern welded axe
Full Damascus Axe by hellize

True damascus steel is actually what is known as wootz, which was made in southern India as early as 300 B.C. by heating iron ore, carbon, and other alloying elements in a crucible and casting the steel. Wootz contains bands of micro carbides within a tempered martensite/pearlite structure. These bands create a visible pattern within the blade. Europeans first encountered this steel in the city of Damascus and it became known as damascus steel. Over many, many years, due to some similarity in appearance, pattern welded steel has become known as damascus steel. (Source: Freeden Blades)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Damascus, or pattern welded, steel was a term used by several Western cultures from the Medieval period onward to describe a type of steel used in swordmaking from about 300 BC to 1700 AD. These swords are characterized by distinctive patterns of banding and mottling reminiscent of flowing water. Such blades were reputed to be not only tough and resistant to shattering, but capable of being honed to a sharp and resilient edge. Today, the term is used to describe steel that mimics the appearance and performance of Damascus steel, usually that which is produced by either crucible forging or pattern welding.

The original method of producing Damascus steel is not known. Due to differences in raw materials and manufacturing techniques, modern attempts to duplicate the metal have not been entirely successful. Despite this, several individuals in modern times have claimed that they have rediscovered the methods in which the original Damascus steel was produced.

The reputation and history of Damascus steel have given rise to many legends, such as the ability to cut through a rifle barrel or to cut a hair falling across the blade, but no evidence exists to support such claims. A research team in Germany published a report in 2006 revealing nanowires and carbon nanotubes in a blade forged from Damascus steel. This finding was covered by National Geographic and the New York Times. Although modern steel outperforms these swords, microscopic chemical reactions in the production process may have made the blades extraordinary for their time. Some experts expect to discover such nanotubes in more relics as they are analyzed more closely.

According to the journal Jom (member journal of The Metals, Minerals, and Materials Society), the art of producing the famous 16-18th century Damascus steel blades found in many museums was lost long ago. Recently, however, research has established strong evidence supporting the theory that the distinct surface patterns on these blades result from a carbide-banding phenomenon produced by the microsegregation of minor amounts of carbide-forming elements present in the wootz ingots from which the blades were forged. Further, it is likely that wootz Damascus blades with damascene patterns may have been produced only from wootz ingots supplied from those regions of India having appropriate impurity-containing ore deposits.
Archaeotechnology: The Key Role of Impurities in Ancient Damascus Steel Blades

Damascus steel is made by combining several different steels, heating, beating, folding, repeat, repeat, repeat...... The skill of the blacksmith will determine the end result. Good quality Damascus steel billets will cost more than the knives this guy was selling as a finished knife. You will often hear how many layers the steel has. If you start with two types of steel, fold it - you now have 4 layers, fold it again - 8 layers, fold it again - 16, 32, 64, etc. Starting wit 6 types - fold it - 12, 24, 48, 96, etc. The steel is welded (blacksmith welding) each time the steel is folded to form one solid piece. The number of layers in the final billet will be dependent on how many folds have been made. Over 1,000 is not uncommon. The pattern will be determined by skill and types of steel used. The patterns are then brought out with acid. The different steels will react at different rates.

DAMASCUS STEEL - Georges Emeriau
Damascus Steel History
Iron Metallurgy and Damascus Steel Chronological History
Updated October 28th, 2001
3000 to 2000 BC

Neolithic period
  • Around 2800, 2700 BC the first uses of meteoric iron in Egypt.
  • 2500 BC the first iron tools are used in Anatolia and Mesopotamia.

2000 to 1000 BC

Copper and bronze period

  • Around 2000 BC, the Hittites living in the east of the present Turkey collect the iron ore and melt it in small furnaces. 1200 BC is the ending period of the Hittites peoples, probably the blacksmiths spread in the neighboring countries and share their knowledge.
  • From 1500 to 1000 BC the first iron tools and weapons production centers become very active in Greece, Cyprus, Crete and Macedonia.
  • In South India melted iron is extensively used.

1000 to 500 BC

Iron period

  • Around 1000 BC the Greeks start to quench iron to improve the cutting characteristics of their iron weapons.
  • From 1000 to 500 BC the Hallstatt civilization, in central Europe (present Austria area), is leading the iron period.
  • Around 600 BC, the Persia and the Etrusquia blacksmiths know how to fire weld iron.
  • Starting around 600 BC the India blacksmiths use the carburization technique and repeated hammering sequences to improve the iron qualities.
  • In China, about 1000 BC, knowledge of iron-working techniques reached the country from the West. Using their kiln pottery curing knowledge the Chinese smiths produce the cast iron.

500 to 400

Iron period

The use of the iron spreads all over Europe with the spread of the Celt civilization.

400 to 300

Iron period

In China the decarburization technique is used to produce steel

300 to 200

Iron period

Birth of the Wootz in South India.

200 to 100

Iron period

In Europe, birth of the steel. The techniques used to produce steel could be based on iron selection or on carburization. The fire welding technique is used to produce iron weapons with a steel cutting edge.

100 BC to
100 AD

In China hydraulic systems are used to drive the bellows
100 to 200 Birth of the Pattern Welded Steel with twist and chevron patterns in sword blades.
200 to 300
  • Mixing wrought iron and cast iron in their furnaces the Chineses produce steel
  • The Wootz is extensively used in India.
300 to 400  
400 to 500  
500 to 600 The "Merovigiens" use the pattern-welded steels for both their esthetical and mechanical properties.
600 to 700 The "Merovingiens" and the "Carolingiens" use the pattern-welded steels.
700 to 800 Pattern-welded steels are extensively used in Europe.
800 to 900 The "Normands" (Vikings) use pattern-welded steels for their weapons.
900 to 1000
  • Unceasing usage of the pattern-welded steel in Europe.
  • Kris are made in Indonesia.
  • Wootz steel is also produced in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (Ph.D. from Ann Feuerbach).
1000 to 1100
  • The use of the Pattern-welded steels start to decline.
  • 1095 is the first crusade year.
1100 to 1200
  • In Europe the welded-pattern steel is disappearing.
  • During the crusade period, the Islamic armies are using Wootz sword blades. It's devastating…
1200 to 1300
  • No more trace of Pattern-welded steel.
  • The last crusade end up in 1270.
1300 to 1400
  • During the XIV th Century the size of the furnaces increases, it's now possible to produce cast-iron with a powerful air blast and then to convert the cast-iron to steel.
  • Pattern-welded steel is no more used.
1400 to 1500 The use of the steel is growing.
1500 to 1600 Re-birth of the Pattern-welded steel in Europe, in Russia the blacksmiths produce the Bulat.
1600 to 1700 The Pattern-welded steel is mainly used to produce gun barrels in Turkey.
1700 to 1800
  • In 1771 Jean Jacques Perret issues "L'art du coutelier" with a chapter on "Manière de faire l'acier façon Damas" (text translated in English)
  • 1784 the "pudding furnace " is discovered in England.
  • 1795 first scientific lectures about the Wootz steels (Mushet from England).
1800 to 1900
  • In 1803 is published an article from Jean François Clouet in the "Journal des Mines" : " Instruction sur la fabrication des lames figurées ou lames dites Damas "
  • Faraday in England and Bréant in France study the iron alloys. During 1824, Bréant explains the chemical and the crystalline composition of the Wootz.
  • In Russia Anosoff (1841-43) and after Tchernoff (1860) are able to re-do the Bréant's experiments and to deepen his findings.
  • The Pattern-welde steel is used in Western Europe to produce gun barrels (Liège, Birmingham, St Etienne, Suhl et Brescia). Damascus Barrel makers have to compete with Fake Damascus makers...
  • 1855 the Bessemer and open hearth processes are used.
  • 1865 the Martin process is discovered.
1900 to 2000
  • 1900 The first electrical ovens are producing steel.
  • 1918 Belaiew, a Russian Scientist, produce Wootz blades with a process using steel and graphite as raw materials. His experiments are duplicated by Von K. Harnecker in 1929.
  • During the early XX th century, gun barrels are made with plain steel, the usage of the Pattern-welded steel is very limited. Few prestige weapons are produced in Germany for the III rd Reich officers
  • Starting in 1960, Cyril S. Smith, C. Panseri, Oleg Sherby, Jeffrey Wadsworth, Al Pendray, M. Sachse,W. Yater, Dr Verhoeven and some others re-start the scientific work about Wootz and pattern-welded steels.
  • During 1973 William F. Moran (Bill) starts selling knives with Pattern-welded blade.
  • Starting from the States, the damascus steel spreads all over the world.
2000 + Don't stop hammering...


Generally speaking the pattern in forge welded steel is developed by soaking the piece an an acid. The acid will "eat away" some of the metal leaving behind a pattern, produced by the folding during the makmng of the billet, because of the differences in the errosion of the different metals at different rates. Two popular acids to use are Muriatic acid or feric chloride. My favorite supplier of muriatic acid is any place that carries pool supplies. It's often used in swimming pools to lower the pH of the water. My favorite source for ferric chloride used to be Radio Shack. They'd sell it as PCD etching solution (it's used to etch circuit boards). With the demise of Radio Shack, it's not as easy to find as it used to be. You can easily find it on Amazon. In looking it up for this writeup, I found a source for ferric chloride powder. It comes in 4 ounce bottles and mixes with a liter of water (that's just over a quart for us nonmetric types). Of course, you can mix it stronger or weaker to your own preference. One warning I came across however is to mix a little powder at a time since it creates an exothermic reaction; that means it gives off heat. According to George Tichbourne , of Ontario Canada:

With Damasteel the two give much different results. Ferric will result in a double grey pattern (dark and light grey pattern) on either a matte or polished finish. Makes the material look like carbon steel damascus. Muriatic will give a mirror/frosted finish on a polished finish and a lighter grey/grey pattern on a matte finish. Either can be used to very heavily etch then the material can be polished to give a stepped surface.
From my recent Damascus steel class
etching tank setup

The following mixtures were used in the etching tanks:

  1. Ferric Chloride - 8 oz. to a quart of water
  2. Neutralizer/Trisodium Phosphate (TSP or Baking Soda) - 1 cup to 1 quart of water
  3. Wash with clean water

The etching tank setup was made with 3" x 24" PVC pipe, capped at both ends, bottom with a cap and the top with a threaded coupling. They were taped together and stood up in a plastic tube just in case of any spills.

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