Mosaic Damascus Can Be Made Numerous Ways, And These Master Smiths Are All Putting Their Own Spin On The Craft.
The many moods of mosaic damascus provide the bladesmith and custom knifemaker with an ever-changing form of artistic expression. The possibilities of a new pattern, a different look, and yet another lasting impression are endless.
For several makers, mosaic has become a signature steel in their presentations, and these imaginative artists are pushing the envelope in an already dazzling array of motifs for blades and knife fittings.
In her Riptide pattern, American Bladesmith Society Journeyman Smith and past Forged in Fire champion Kelly Vermeer-Vella provides a great example of the new frontiers being explored with mosaic damascus.
“It’s initially called that because it looks like calm waters,” she commented, “but also because the forging process is pretty brutal. So, now I call that process ‘ripping it!’ Sometimes I win and sometimes I make hunters!”
Kelly showcases the Riptide pattern on her 12.5-inch fighter with a 7.5-inch blade and mammoth ivory handle sporting a long, modified “S” guard.
“I really enjoy swooping forged guards that complement the curves of the blade and handle. And I love mammoth ivory, so I make a lot of frame handles,” she added. “I think the best-looking frame is in a low-layer twist, 25 layers or so.”
The Vermeer-Vella mosaic involves a commitment to hard work to produce the desired results.
“The pattern is not san-mai,” she revealed, “rather, different layer counts of stacked W’s with heavy 1075 steel on the edge. The wing effect comes from forging. I push and pull the pattern with a hand hammer and forge to shape so that the pattern flows with the edge.”
The blade material is the 1075 carbon steel, which appears as the dark areas, and 15N20 nickel alloy, which shows as the grey, shiny areas. “I etch in 3-to-1 ferric chloride and also do a coffee etch,” she added. Her power hammer is an Anyang 88 and she uses a Riverside 24-ton press.
Like Vermeer-Vella, Jack Rellstab is an ABS journeyman smith who enjoys the creative process of forging mosaic damascus. His Western Chef’s Knife brings a robust profile to life in a mosaic pattern called Flowers and Frogs.
“The pattern is one of my styles of W’s explosion,” he noted. “I started the original billet with the layers of both 1080 and 15N20 getting progressively thinner from one side of the billet to the other. After using square dies to resquare the billet for W’s, I drew it out with a taper so the W’s would get tighter towards the end. Then I did a restack and a four-way to finish it. So, the steel is 1080 for the dark portion and 15N20 for the bright.”
The handle is amboyna burl, bronze and G-10. He says the grip is designed around most Western-style kitchen knives on today’s market, though the belly/underside might be a bit shallower.
“With this mosaic pattern, I wanted the knife to look alive,” he offered. “My idea was with the taper in layers to give it an organic look that appears as if the elements are actually growing. I used a 165-pound hammer belonging to New West Knifeworks, and I also used their Anyang hydraulic press for resquaring.”
Jack began his bladesmithing journey with mosaic damascus by watching a YouTube video, and then let his imagination kick in to develop the exciting pattern that is sure to generate conversation in any kitchen.
The Serpentine Multi-bar Santoku by ABS Journeyman Smith Will Stelter sports a mosaic damascus pattern of the same name. The handle is ivory paper Micarta®. He used 1080 carbon and 15N20 nickel-alloy steels for the pattern-welded twisted bars and Cruforge V for the edge. The Cruforge V etches darkly, and its wear resistance and high working hardness make it ideal for culinary knives.
“I started by forging up 28 layers of W’s,” he recalled, “and then worked that billet down to a half-square twisting stock. I twisted three bars right hand and two bars left hand, lining up my twists as best I could before forge-welding them together. After they were stuck, I forge welded on a solid Cruforge V edge bar that was around 40 percent as wide as the multi-bar billet, but the same thickness. With my final stock stuck together, I then laid out and cut away several three-quarter-inch-deep grooves or divots from the profile of the rectangular 2-inch wide bar, which still left Cruforge V on the edge, and two full twisted bars at the thinnest parts of the patterned area on the spine.
“I then flattened down the billet, which took the previously straight layers and gave them the bold ‘serpentining’ that came out in the blade. I then forged my blade to shape and forge welded on some of the base W’s stock that I twisted from as bolster material. This is a very similar technique to how the classic ‘River of Fire’ pattern is done, but with a different base pattern other than the usual feather pattern.”
Will used his 1924 400-pound ram Beaudry hammer to do the majority of the forge welding and a twisting machine to twist the five bars. He learned his pattern-welding technique and the ability to visualize the way the steel moves from bladesmith Salem Straub, crediting Straub with teaching him how to design patterns “with intentionality behind them.” The pattern itself is sole authored by Stelter, who has done some serpentine multi-bar patterns prior to the subject piece. However, this was his first attempt with a monosteel-edged bar.
“The serpentining is purely aesthetic,” Will said. “It’s meant to give a bold line for the eye to dance down rather than the straight, more classic intersection of the edge bar that is normal for a composite construction. This also means that from far away you see an interesting pattern, and then when inspected up close the explosions of the twisted W’s really pop out, which gives the overall piece an interesting level of depth.”
Will considers this particular mosaic “an intermediate-level pattern, easy to try, though somewhat difficult as well. The most challenging part is building a high-quality multi-bar pattern with adequate layer density and well-matched twists. The rest of the pattern is fairly simple.”
At the Join or Die Knives Forge in Richmond, Virginia, Brent Stubblefield hammered a beautiful blade in his Crossroads mosaic pattern—and did so with multiple techniques.
According to Brent, “There is the initial damascus forging, crushed W’s, twisting, four-bar-squaring welds, ferry flip tilting, edge bars, and a ‘fish mouth’ tip to make the edge bars meet. There are multiple elements that are forged on the edge or corners to manipulate the pattern, and finally the knife shape and integral bolster are forged to shape.”
The mosaic is comprised of 1084 and 15N20 steels, with the 15N20 appearing as a silver white on the blade while the 1084 blackens with a ferric chloride etch.
“The shapes in this pattern reflect a desire to incorporate all the different techniques of mosaic damascus making I have learned over the years,” he explained. “I’m always trying to find a way to create never-before-seen patterns in order to add something totally new to the American bladesmithing tradition.”
Stubblefield used an Anyang 88 power hammer and homemade 30-ton press to create the Crossroads mosaic. A Bridgeport mill was helpful in the squaring-up process and flattening pieces for rewelding. A Miller welder assisted in tacking materials up before they went into the forge, while an Evenheat kiln and Broadbeck Ironworks grinder were key tools in the process as well.
“Although I did not have any single mentor,” Brent mused, “many knifemakers have gone out of their way to share tips and tricks with me. While they didn’t teach me directly, [bladesmiths] Mareko Maumasi and Salem Straub have been very generous with sharing their processes through social media. I certainly have referenced them among others.”
Stubblefield continues to challenge himself as his career advances, and he sees no slowdown in the creative process. “This knife is very difficult to do simply because the higher number of forge welds create more opportunities for failure,” he reasoned. “Any complex damascus blade is actually just many simple techniques combined together. The hardest part for me is understanding how manipulating the pattern early in the process will affect the outcome, and visualizing the end pattern.”
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