Etching blades is a quietly satisfying process. You put the thing in some liquid and some bubbles appear; then you wait. Sometimes you take it out and scrub or rinse it and put it back. What you don’t want to do is take a nap (which turns into a full night’s sleep) while you’ve got a blade in the tank.

I don’t know how long it would take to completely disappear a blade; there’s probably not enough acid and eventually the reaction would run down. I did hear a story about a guy who was building a wrought iron hammer and forgot it overnight in a tank of concentrated ferric chloride – when he fished it out the next morning it was crumbly lace, not a hammer any more.

It has a lovely warm analog feel to it. This time, the etch is deep enough that you can feel it with your fingerprints. Normally, I like to do a mirror polish and then just enough of an etch to change the reflectivity, but “it is what it is.”


  1. says

    Depends on the concentration of your solution and tank size relative to the metal piece, but a blade could indeed completely dissolve over time. In one of his older videos, Alec Steele forgot a wrought-iron blade in the etching solution for too long and it got a fantastic structure – like wire-brushed wood. It was a small blade in a big-ass etching tube, so a lot of solution for just a little bit of metal.

    But metal usually dissolves in acids a lot slower than people think it does. I have laughed out loud when in one of the batman movies Joker spritzed church bell hinge with a few drops of acid and it dropped the bell down the tower in a few seconds. Yeah, that would not happen no matter what acid he used.

    Some acids actually impede the dissolving of some metals in certain concentrations by passivating the surface instead of dissolving it (like nitric acid).

  2. says

    Since the grain on this is similar to wood grain, I think it would look spiffing. with some matching wood with similarly sized and structured growth rings. It is always a bit tricky to find the correct handle material for damascus, I guess.

  3. lochaber says

    Granted, I’m not the most knowledgeable fellow in metallurgy and what not, but I probably fall in the camp of leaning towards damascus (or pattern-welding for the pedants…) being a low-information solution to a low-tech problem, and that in most cases, specifically planned, manufactured, and heat treated steels will likely perform just as well, if not better.

    But, goddamn, I like how it looks. I’m not real big on decorative stuff, but I tend to favor more “natural” or “organic” type “patterns”/designs/whatever.

    There are very few intentionally created designs by humans that I will like as much as a simple contrasted wood-grain type pattern.

    And that’s what I like about damascus (and mokume gane, and similar stuff)- after welding two different types of metal together, and then proceeding to beat the fuck out of them, fold them, weld them, and beat them some more, the blade smith eventually ends up with something that looks like they ground a blade out of a steel tree, and it’s fucking beautiful, primarily for reasons beyond the conscious control of the blade smith.

  4. cvoinescu says

    lochaber @ #11: damascus […] being a low-information solution to a low-tech problem
    You can think of high layer count steel as a composite of hard, rigid high-carbon steel in a matrix of softer, more resilient steel. The composite angle gives it quite the modern ring. Differential quenching is also an advanced technique, and the result can also be seen as a composite. Internal stresses are still used today to create stronger materials with interesting properties.

    Sure, the original impetus of folding and hammering was that it was a method to get more carbon into the steel without melting it, because they could not get a temperature high enough. In that way, it’s low-tech, but then noticing that it gives better properties than homogeneous steel, and perfecting the process to intentionally create layers to take advantage of this, is not. I think the idea of laminating or drawing materials together is quite high-tech. Fiber optics are a drawn glass-glass composite. Heck, semiconductor devices are composites of slightly different materials, and while there are no hammers, there are definitely ovens.

  5. says

    It is always a bit tricky to find the correct handle material for damascus, I guess.

    Burl pretty much always works, in my opinion. But that’s because I think wood is the perfect wonder-material that goes with everything.

  6. says

    it’s fucking beautiful, primarily for reasons beyond the conscious control of the blade smith.

    I think a lot of it is the unpredictability – it’s never 100% what you expect, there are always variations and unplanned bits of beauty. Part of the craft is to dance with the unpredictability and try to find the bits that express themselves.

    There’s another item on my bench right now that’s a bog oak mini cup I turned. First off, it’s cool because it’s 7,000 years old. But it’s a chunk of solid burl with compacted grain that looks like some kind of crazy maze. I’ve taken the camera down and tried to capture it a few times but I’ve been lazy about my lighting lately and capturing it properly is a problem in representing scale. All I can say is that it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of wood I’ve ever seen and I just got lucky that I managed to get my hands on it. I also feel horribly profligate because I chewed most of it to dust with my carbide scraper – I wasted 9/10 of it but the remaining 1/10 is liberated. I’ll try to get the camera set up properly at the studio tomorrow.

Leave a Reply