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Steel dipped in Dragon's Blooc

Damascus steel, also known as Damascened steel and sometimes watered steel, now commonly refers to two types of steel used in custom knife and sword making, pattern-weld (giving the appearance of original damascus steel) and wootz (true damascus, a steel of legendary sharpness and strength whose method of forging has been lost to time).

Both types of Damascened steel show complex patterns that are the result of the unique forging methods used for the creation of Damascened steel; skilled swordsmiths can manipulate the patterns to mimic the complex designs found in the surface of the original, ancient damascus steel. Recent research into the structure and composition of true damascus steel by a Dresden scientist has revealed that the almost mythical sharpness and strength of the steel was a result of carbon nanotubes and carbide nanowires present in the structure of the forged metal--the secret of which forging method was lost around 1800 A.D.

The origins of the name "Damascus" remains somewhat controversial. Although it would seem obvious that it refers to swords forged in Damascus, there are several equally likely sources of the name.

One is the Arabic word damas for water, referring to the surface pattern of moiré ripples which looks like turbulent water and is also seen in some damask weaves of fabric. Another potential source is the swordsmith himself: the author al-Beruni refers to swords made by a man he names Damasqui. Finally another author, al-Kindi, refers to swords made in Damascus as Damascene. This word has often been employed as an epithet in various Eastern European legends (Sabya Damaskinya or Sablja Dimiskija meaning "Damascene sword"), of which perhaps the best known are the Bulgarian and Serbian legends of Prince Marko, a historical figure of the late 14th century in what is now the Republic of Macedonia.

The original Damascus steel swords may have been made in the vicinity of Damascus, Syria, in the period from 900 AD to as late as 1750 AD. Damascus steel is a type of steel alloy that is both hard and flexible, a combination that made it ideal for the building of swords. It is said that when Damascus-made swords were first encountered by Europeans during the Crusades it garnered an almost mythical reputation—a Damascus steel blade was said to be able to cut a piece of silk in half as it fell to the ground, as well as being able to chop through normal blades, or even rock, without losing its sharp edge. Recent metallurgical experiments, based on microscopic studies of preserved Damascus-steel blades, have claimed to reproduce a very similar steel via possible reconstructions of the historical process.

 

When forming a batch of steel, impurities are added to control the properties of the resulting alloy. In general, notably during the era of Damascus steel, one could produce an alloy that was hard and brittle at one extreme by adding up to 2% carbon, or soft and malleable at the other, with about 0.5% carbon. The problem for a swordsmith is that the best steel should be both hard and malleable—hard to hold an edge once sharpened, but malleable so it would not break when hitting other metal in combat. This was not possible with normal processes.

Metalsmiths in India and Sri Lanka perhaps as early as 300 BC developed a new technique known as wootz steel that produced a high-carbon steel of unusually high purity. Glass was added to a mixture of iron and charcoal and then heated. The glass would act as a flux and bind to other impurities in the mixture, allowing them to rise to the surface and leave a more pure steel when the mixture cooled. Thousands of steel making sites were found in Samanalawewa area in Sri Lanka that made high carbon steel (Juleff, 1996). These steel making furnaces were built facing western monsoon winds and wind turbulance and suction was used to create heat in the furnace. Steel making sites in Sri Lanka have been dated to 300 BC using carbon dating technology. The technique propagated very slowly through the world, reaching modern-day Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan around 900 AD, and then the Middle East around 1000 AD.

This process was further refined in the middle east, either using locally produced steels, or by re-working wootz purchased from India. The exact process remains unknown, but allowed carbides to precipitate out as micro particles arranged in sheets or bands within the body of a blade. The carbides are far harder than the surrounding low carbon steel, allowing the swordsmith to make an edge which would cut hard materials with the precipitated carbides, while the bands of softer steel allowed the sword as a whole to remain tough and flexible.

The banded carbide precipitates appear in the blade as a swirling pattern. By manipulating the ingot of steel in a certain way during forging, various intentional patterns could be induced in the steel. The most common of these was a pattern of lateral bands, often called Mohammed's Ladder, most likely formed by cutting or forging notches into the surface of the ingot, then forging it into the blade shape (this is the method Pendray. The notches resulted in different degrees of work hardening between top and bottom, and thus controlled the size of the carbide particles in the surface at those areas, and thus the appearance of the bands.

A 2006 study published in Nature determined that some carbon nanotubes are present in Damascus blades, possibly helping to account for their strength.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, but possibly because sources of ores containing trace amounts of tungsten and/or vanadium needed for its production were depleted, the process was lost to the middle-eastern metalsmiths around 1750. It has been eagerly sought by many since that time.

From the very start, the superior capabilities of Damascus swords attracted significant attention, and many attempts were made to reproduce either the performance or the appearance of the Damascus blades. Since pattern welding was a widespread technique, and produced surface patterns similar to those found on Damascus blades, many people believed that Damascus blades were made using a pattern welding technique. This belief was challenged in the 1990s when J. D. Verhoeven and A. H. Pendray published an article on their experiments on reproducing the elemental, structural, and visual characteristics of Damascus steel.

Verhoeven and Pendray started with a cake of steel that matched the properties of the original wootz steel from India, which also matched a number of original Damascus swords they had access to. The wootz was in a soft, annealed state, with a large grain structure, and many beads of pure iron carbide which were the result of the hypereutectoid state of the wootz.

Studies published in 2006 by Peter Paufler of the Technical University of Dresden, Germany, and colleagues, utilizing an electron microscope to study samples of a 17th-century sword, have discovered clear evidence of carbon nanotubes and nanowires, and associated cementite wires. They believe that the nanotubes and the nanowires were formed by the special process of forging and annealing the steel, and could explain the unique mechanical properties of the swords.

For some time, it was believed that Damascus steel was made in a similar fashion to what is known as pattern welding, a sword making technique that was widely used in Europe and Japan. Pattern welding was very common in the ancient world; Viking swords, Japanese katana and Indonesian kris or keris swords were all made using pattern welding techniques.

For some time this similarity was used to dismiss Damascus as yet another pattern-welded steel, but modern metallurgy demonstrated this to be wrong.

Another material similar to pattern weld is mokume-gane. Mokume is made of the softer metals, like gold, silver, and copper. It is made in much the same way as pattern weld Damascus, and is used for rings, tsubas (the guard on a katana), and knife bolsters. The name mokume-gane means "wood eye", referring to the pattern of the metals, which looks like wood grain. It was first made by the Japanese.

Thanks to modern processes the Damascus blade making techniques have been revived. No longer do the glowing hot blade require to be cooled by piercing the bodies of slaves nor can we state the blades were forged with “dragon blood” because we know it’s hard to get blood from a dragon.

But It’s means that the blades we chose to get manufactured are blades that have a proven history of being strong, sharp and potentially lethal as well as being works of art. At Spear Gear we always look to go the extra mile to provide unique products that the true warrior can both have confidence in and be proud to carry. See our line of Damascus Blades at our website SpearGearIntl.com

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