"Rules" for damascus blades?

Oct 31, 2000
Just wondering if there are any "rules" or unwritten rules for the design of damascus.
I know nothing about it, except I like most of it, but why I'm asking is because I recently saw a blade with a mixture of 'raindrops' 'ladders' and 'twists' and a bit of nothing at all on it. Sort of looked like a mess.
Would this be classified as maybe, a damascus 'boo-boo' or are there no boo-boo's when making damascus?
For some reason I always thought you go with only one pattern type, not just bang and fold away and go with whatever you come up with.

Please enlighten me boys

Pattern welded steel can be made in an infinite variety of patterns. Some of these have names given by the maker, some don't.

Random damascus has the look of tree rings, long linear rows of dark and light steel. Twist and ladder patterns are made by twisting the forged billet in different ways. Ed Caffrey's 'spiders n snakes' damascus pattern is formed by making specific angled cuts through the completed billet (the completed welded stack of metal).

Some makers specialize in producing damascus for other knife makers (Devin Thomas, Robert Eggerling, etc) and are known for particular patterns. Birds eye damascus made by Herb Derr is made by drilling holes in a completed random billet, and filling them with jelly rolled tubes of steel and reforging the billet. Mosaic damascus is another type made by particle mettalurgy techniques. Some makers have developed their skills to the point that they can write their name in the blade material (e.g. Al Dippold) or create elaborate pictoral scenes (e.g. Ron Newton).

The 'Montana Bunch', comprised of folks like Rick Dunkerly, Shane Taylor, and others hold all night hammer-ins experimenting with making different 'damascus' patterns. I have seen a few knives made in 'mystery' patterns which are very unlikely to be reproduced again by anyone because the maker forgot to make notes about the things he did to the billet in the making of the steel.

There are many many different patterns that are used in the making of blade steel. That is one of the things that is so fascinating about damascus blades, each is just a little bit different. Some patterns are relatively easy to make, some are very very difficult and time consuming. Some patterns are achieved at the expense of large amounts of steel to make a small amount of finished material.

Have a look at Ed Caffrey's and Ron Newton's web sites to see some beautiful pattern welded steel varieties.

This thread on damascus steel is a good read. Search the custom and general forums for Damascus steel for a large number of good threads discussing the making, use, and types of pattern welded steel.

The variety is basically limited only by the imagination, creativity, and Mistakes of the maker.

I could go on for hours, but that probably answers your question and will hopefully make you more interested in learning about 'damascus', or more properly, pattern welded steels.


[This message has been edited by Paracelsus (edited 01-17-2001).]
Damascus is artistic expression. If we know a certain maker is going for, say, a ladder pattern, then we can judge his work against that pattern. But the artist may decide to mix and match patterns according to his whims. Then, it's just a matter of aesthetics, and whether it looks nice to you.

I think only the maker can tell you what pattern he was going for with the piece of steel you were looking at, and whether or not it was a mistake of technique. It seems like an aesthetic mistake either way, though

Hi KC!
As mentioned in the former posts, if a maker is creating a specific pattern such as ladder, pool & eye, maiden's hair, ect., then the patterns should be smooth and uniform throughout the steel. I personally love to create mosaic damascus, which can take on just about any form imaginable. Speaking for myself, I am always seeking ways to make the material more interesting to the customer. I have learned over the years that sometimes as a maker, you might not always get what you expected, which can be very exciting and unusual, this has the effect of pushing you in new directions, and is what drives us to create the really wild patterns in steel. There's a general term that you will often hear at shows, used by makers of damascus steel, refered to as the "Cool Factor", this is a slang term we use to desribe the appeal of a given damascus pattern. We often arrive at this "Cool Factor" by how well the general knife public recieves a new or different pattern.

Ed Caffrey "The Montana Bladesmith"
ABS Mastersmith