Forging Damascus Steel

Firstly you select your steels by choosing which qualities of each are important in the finished product. Traditionally, in sword making, this decision would effect the use of the blade - a high carbon steel taking a sharp but brittle edge, and a softer steel in support to add flexibility. In sculpture however, the steels I choose to use are for their cosmetic values; to create the highest contrast and most striking patterns, I use a combination of two steels very different in composition. The high carbon choice of steel gives you the darker layers in the finished piece, where I steel high in nickel will act as a highlight and remain shiny when polished. Once the steels have been chosen, you then decide on how the layers will be put together. The choice of how to alternate between layers of each steel will have a direct effect on how the outcome of the piece. When the steels have been chosen and the layering options decided upon, the forging begins. The steels are stacked and put into the forge until they are heated all the way through to around 1,700 degrees fahrenheit . They are then hammered together using a power hammer, where the combination of extreme heat and pressure forces all the layers into one. When the layers are fully welded together, they are then stretched out to double the original length and folded back on themselves. This process is repeated until the original ten or so layers becomes around two to three hundred. The more layers, the finer the pattern. Once the desired number of layers is achieved and the bond between them is strong enough to manipulate without splitting, the basic shape of the horn is formed by hammering the steel by hand over an anvil. From this point, all curves, ridges and finer details are achieved by grinding. The grinding process fundamentally cuts through the layers, revealing each one as you grind deeper. By adjusting the angle of the grind, you can alter how many layers are revealed in any given area. A steep angled cut into the metal will reveal many layers at once and the pattern will be of fine detail, where as a shallow angled grind will display the layers on a more even level and each one will be more prominent. When all the grinding is complete and the horn is fully formed, the layers are invisible and the steel appears to be made from one single piece. It is only when the horn is submerged in acid that the pattern is etched and revealed. He and his skilled craftsmen risk their bare hands on hot metal, sparks flying everywhere as they grind into the layers of steel to create the natural contours of the horns. The family he works alongside are master craftsmen and have been forging weaponry and armor for generations, therefore their knowledge and expertise are beneficial to the project. They are fascinated by Stephen's ideas and by his ability to work in their medium, as well as in their conditions - sometimes 40 degrees centigrade outside the workshop. The admiration and respect is reciprocated and Steve is as entranced by their methodology and primitive tools yet deep-rooted skills as they are in his broad-minded ideas and gumption. Stephen's passion for this project has therefore grown in a way he could never have pictured at the outset - it means more to him now then ever, and every trip to stay with his Indian comrades, his relationship deepens as they thread together their skills and create what is part of a fascinating and truly unique project that the world has ever seen. Side by side the two contrasting cultures work together to manipulate heavy, hot metal, by hand, physical strength and testing. In the hot, dusty workshop, they sweat with faces burning from being so close to the cherry red metal and the coals of the forge whilst the heat of the sun falls on their shoulders. The elegance of the finished piece is enhanced by the enchanting story of collaboration, contradiction, hard work and craftsmanship.