Spectacles In Steel: A Look At Definitive Damascus Patterns

Spectacles In Steel: A Look At Definitive Damascus Patterns

Modern makers’ takes on this age-old steel art.

When BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Bill Moran reintroduced knives with damascus blades at the 1973 Knifemakers’ Guild Show, little did he know how much damascus would evolve, redefine itself, expand into new media, and no telling what other recreations and rebirthings it has experienced in the half-century since that fateful weekend in the Muehlebach Hotel in downtown Kansas City.

On this page are some of today’s reincarnations of the material in its various forms, methods, materials and more. What’s staggering to consider is there are so many more variations—not only now but also to come. It is a phenomenon that is truly unique to the custom knife industry and should be celebrated and promoted whenever possible.

David Lisch Templars Mosaic

David Lisch’s dagger
David Lisch’s spectacular art dagger features a 12-inch blade of his Templars Mosaic Damascus, a blackwood handle with gold wire wrap and a guard of pure iron covered in melted gold. Overall length: 17.75 inches. The knife comes with a stand that includes an embellished templars’ cross and one carved in the base as well. (SharpByCoop knife images)

Sporting a pattern ABS master smith David Lisch christened Templars Mosaic, the blade for his dagger is one he forged from 15N20 nickel-alloy and 1080 carbon steels and etched in ferric chloride.

“I was aiming for a bold, bright pattern that had a cross-like shape but wanted it to be a bit organic,” he wrote. The Templars’ cross also is represented on the guard and the finial, and there is one on the stand that holds the knife as well. “All these parts are pure iron covered in melted gold,” he noted. The dagger also has a domed gold spacer between the guard and Dragon Thunder damascus spacer that the fluted-blackwood-with-gold-wire-inlay handle butts up against.

“I made this dagger out of the love I have for creating art with no concern about how long it took or how much money I would make from it,” David stressed. “I did the handle twice and I did the big finial twice. I sold the piece for $10,000 and will not be making another one like this. You can be sure that the love I have for creating will take me to a new dagger, sword or bowie knife that tries to fill the void in me that can only be filled by creating art.”

Jeremy Yelle Jellyroll Mosaic Turkish Twist

jellyroll mosaic Turkish twist pattern damascus
The steels for the jellyroll mosaic Turkish twist pattern damascus of the collaborative bowie by Jeremy Yelle (right) and Alex Houle (left) is forged from 1080 carbon and 15N20 nickel-alloy steels. Blade and overall lengths: 10.25 and 15.5 inches. Their list price for a similar knife: $2,600. (Jocelyn Frasier knife image edit)

The blade damascus of ABS journeyman smith Jeremy Yelle’s and SBK Cutlery’s stag bowie is a positively electric jellyroll mosaic Turkish twist pattern Jeremy forged in a collaboration with his friend Alex Houle of SBK. Alex forged the collaborative damascus into a blade and Jeremy made the handle.

“We began by welding a billet of alternate layers,” Jeremy wrote of the forging process. The pair drew the billet into a bar and jelly rolled it. “Then we squared it up and welded a four-way incorporating some 1-inch-square 1080,” he continued. They welded the billet, drew it out to ¾-inch square, cut and twisted it, and made a Turkish-twist stack that Alex forged into a blade. “You can also see the ‘fish mouth*’ weld Alex did so the edge bar and the spine meet properly,” Jeremy wrote. “He did a wonderful job making the blade.” Jeremy showed Alex how to work with stag and they finished the parts. Alex revealed the beautiful pattern via a two-step etching process using a solution of ferric chloride and finishing the etch with a coffee-darkening soak and hot wax finish.

Zane Dvorak Multi-Bar

multi-bar damascus
The 4.25-inch blade of Zane Dvorak’s hunter is a multi-bar damascus of 1084 carbon and 15N20 nickel-alloy steels. Overall length: 9.25 inches. His price for a similar knife: $2,400. (SharpByCoop image)

The blade of Zane Dvorak’s hunter is a multi-bar damascus of 1084 carbon and 15N20 nickel-alloy steels. Zane forged the blade/tang of four twisted bars of a twisted-bar pattern, and forged welded the guards and bolsters on with the same pattern. He bird’s mouthed the blade tip and rewelded it back together to create flowing outer bars. For etchant he used Gator Piss Acid from Baker Forge & Tool.

Bird’s mouthing is a process done on multi-bar, mosaic or other types of damascus patterns. According to Zane, it involves cutting a triangle out of the end of the rectangular parent bar—the shape of which somewhat resembles a bird’s mouth—then bringing the steel of the edge and spine back together to form the point of the blade. By doing so the blade exhibits a better consistency and overall flow of the pattern.

Andrew Blomfield Alternate Pattern

mosaic damascus Andrew Blomfield’s sub-hilt fighter
The mosaic damascus for Andrew Blomfield’s sub-hilt fighter is a combo of two separate billets welded in an alternate pattern. Blade and overall lengths: 9.5 and 14.5 inches. Blade grind: flat. Andrew’s price for a similar knife: $3,000. (SharpByCoop image)

The material mid-blade of Andrew Blomfield’s sub-hilt fighter is a combination of two separate billets of mosaic damascus welded in an alternate pattern. The edge is a straight feather pattern forge welded around the edge. The blade is a combination of pieces from three separate billets. The steels are 1084 carbon and 15N20 nickel alloy etched with ferric chloride.

The integral sub-hilt is 1020 low-carbon steel hot salt blued to a deep black finish. The handle is desert ironwood. The knife is of a full takedown construction.

Frank Edwards Palm Leaf Mosaic Pattern

 Palm Leaf mosaic damascus by Frank Edwards i
The Palm Leaf mosaic damascus by Frank Edwards is an interweaving river system of straight lines. The handle inlay is black-lip mother-of-pearl. Blade and closed lengths: 3 and 4.25 inches. His price for a similar knife: $1,900. (SharpByCoop knife image)

The multi-bar damascus of Frank Edwards’s folding dagger blade is in a Palm Leaf mosaic pattern. Starting with a billet of straight lines, he reduced it all into a square and then biased the squares, four-waying the billet into a 1.5-inch square.

As Frank explained his recipe, “Forge weld another billet of straight lines, keeping them straight as possible to .5 inch by 1.5 inches. Add that to the previous billet and forge weld and reduce to a 1×1-inch square. Then four-way it again. This will give you the frame around the palm leaves. Keep repeating that until you achieve the size of pattern for the knife you’re building.

“The key to getting good mosaics is a slower reduction [of the steel]. We have presses and power hammers that help but they can move too much metal too fast, which will destroy a mosaic in a hurry. The slower reduction allows the billet to stay uniform throughout the length of the bar.” 
To expose the pattern he etched the blade with a four-to-one mixture of water/ferric chloride in 10-minute cycles, using 2,000-grit sandpaper between cycles.

Jackson Rumble Stunning Pattern

unnamed damascus pattern
The 8-inch blade of an integral chef’s knife by Jackson Rumble boasts a mesmerizing and at press time unnamed damascus pattern forged from 1084 carbon and 15N20 nickel-alloy steels. The handle is African blackwood. Overall length: 13 inches. The maker’s price for a similar knife would start at $2,500. (SharpByCoop knife image)

The technique for the stunning pattern on newly named ABS master smith Jackson Rumble’s chef’s knife is what he calls a “pretty standard process” of four-way welding and re-square cycles. Not bad for “pretty standard,” eh (page 28, top left)? The initial stack has large sections of both light and dark steels interspersed through the alternating layers, and Jackson added extra-light steel to the billet in the later stages of the forging process.

“Finally, I used the Filicietti Flip method to transfer the pattern to the face of the billet,” he wrote. “For the etching process I used ferric chloride followed by coffee.”
OK, Jackson, so what’s the “Filicietti Flip method”?

“I’ve heard the Filicietti Flip called other names like the Ferry Flip, or just tile welding,” he explained. “Basically, after you’ve finished building the pattern in the end grain of the billet, you take it to a bandsaw and cut slices off the end at a 35-degree angle. This makes a bunch of pieces in the shape of parallelograms or tiles. The tiles can then be rotated and forge welded back together to form a new billet. Instead of having the pattern showing on the end of the billet, the pattern will repeat itself along the face of the billet.”

We’re glad we asked.

*Also called fish lips, fish mouth is when the tip of the billet begins to curl up on either side during rough forging to resemble a fish’s mouth or lips, thus the name. It is an easy fix for knowledgeable bladesmiths such as Alex Houle.

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