Project Badgermascus – Part 3 – Polishing and Etching

Well, now that I am down to only one blade, I can at least concentrate on it. So I did and today I have polished it all the way to 7.000 grit. There is still cable damascus on the very tip, but I have decided against making the knife shorter again and I will go with it as it is. The cable damascus is hardened and in composition similar to the 1095, so it will still cut and hold an edge well.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Now it will sit in FeCl3 for a while.

Initially, I have used still relatively concentrated solution (~1/10 dillution of solution for printed circuit boards) to see where the 1095 is. Now I am using a very diluted solution (~1/100) for the final etch, because etching this works a bit differently than etching damascus made from two kinds of steel where one has high nickel content. Why is that?

As a former chemist, I know at least a bit about what is going on now so I can show off.

The way etching works on carbon steel like this is an electrochemical process. The impurities gather during the forging process at the boundaries between the various steel layers and those impurities make the steel in those areas more susceptible to chemical attack because they create a sort of microscopic electric cells that attract the ions from the solution to the area. That is why in the etch with the more concentrated solution the cable steel quickly turned all grey and the 1095 remained all silvery – the 1095 is a mono steel with very few impurities uniformly spread throughout, whereas the cable, whilst being similar to the 1095 in chemical composition, has most impurities concentrated at the boundaries between former cable strands and at the boundary with the 1095.

In a concentrated solution, the reaction happens too quickly and can lead to pitting in areas with inclusions or more impurities. And a layer of various oxides builds up, leading to blotchy, uneven etch. That is ideal for revealing where the mono steel in the sandwich is, but not so great for showing the grain boundaries.

A diluted solution gives the reaction more time to attack the steel more evenly, but it of course also takes a lot longer. I probably won’t risk letting it sit in there overnight, but it will take hours. Allegedly the smiths of times bygone have used fruit (citrus, apple) juices, and it took a very long time, but I do not have several pieces to make a scientific study of it. Although, I might just cut the failed pairing knife into several pieces and perform an experiment….. Hm. I will think about it, that would be one way to get some knowledge and some fun out of a failure.


  1. Jazzlet says

    Oh do cut the failed pairing knife up to do etching experiments! I am fascinated by how things were done, and how processes have been refined over the centuries and even millenia.

  2. kestrel says

    Wow! Talk about a mirror polish… That’s going to make a very charming knife. The shape is wonderful.

  3. says

    The ‘plow cable’ I welded the bars from is Japanese-made, 1095. For all intents and purposes you can treat it as that. It’ll take a fine edge, too.

Leave a Reply