The Damascus Road

by Don Ferdinand
produced by Wyvern Industries
229 Flounce Rock Drive
Prospect, Oregon 97537 USA
Video, $29.95
Reviewed by Rob Edwards
This review was published in the November, 1996 issue of ANVIL Magazine

Now here's a guy who really knows his stuff! Toward the end of this two-hour video, the viewer begins to realize that Don Ferdinand is a research scientist as well as a teacher. He covers the history of Damascus and the properties of the steels used in its construction. Actually, the name "Damascus" is simply the name of the city where the European Crusaders first came in contact with this type of metal. It was readily apparent that the infidels had far better swords and knives than they did. The best blades were forged in Persia from wootz made in India. The earliest documented description of Damascus steel was in 540 AD. And, the truth of the matter is that we have not been able to duplicate it to this day. As Don explains, what we are really dealing with here is pattern-welded steel. He explains how wootz is made and then demonstrates how to make a cable blade utilizing a 50-lb. Little Giant power hammer.

The second thing that Don demonstrates is the use of mild steel and W-2 to form a pattern-welded billet. Here he uses a fuller under the power hammer to draw out the metal. Don is careful to explain that welds are always started at one end and welded toward the center. Next, he uses alternating layers of 1095 spring steel and mild steel 20 thousandths of an inch thick. He alternates 12 layers of 1095 with 13 layers of mild steel, arc welds the ends together, and welds it six times for a total of 128 layers. He also points out that starting with 30 sheets, and welding them three times, creates 120 layers.

The next thing he covers is what he calls "Super Damascus," which is a combination of 1095, L- 6, and a mild steel. After discussing the chemistry of a coal forge and various patterns of Damascus, he discusses the idiosyncrasies of using nickel in Damascus billets. Don uses ferric chloride to etch all his blades and baking soda to neutralize.

The last part of this informative videotape shows Jere Kirkpatrick forging Damascus with his treadle hammer. Considering the forces required to weld the layers of steel together, itþs quite dramatic the way Jere is able to easily forge a Damascus billet by mechanical means only, without the use of a power hammer.

Don includes a table of contents so that the viewer can quickly access any particular subject as it appears on the tape. He is also nice enough to provide us with the names of various suppliers for the required materials, and leaves us with the following quote: "The Damascus road is a journey, not a destination."

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