The Damascus steel forge
Our family business has one blacksmith who works with Damascus steel.
The prestige of craftsmanship
Our traditional craftsmanship is a combination of two key professions:
- the knifemaker’s trade (assembly and fashioning of the knife)
- and the blacksmith’s trade (making the blades, springs, etc.).
In the blacksmith’s trade, we have a specialty: we produce our own Damascus steel, a steel composed of layers and with unique patterns.
These are the different steps involved in producing our Damascus steel – it all starts out with the steel strips and ends with the finished product.
It is because of this lengthy process that our traditional craftsmanship can guarantee that every Laguiole is a unique object.
The profession of blacksmith for Damascus steel
A blacksmith’s trade requires special skills.
There are various methods for making Damascus steel. Our blacksmith makes forged Damascus steel in our workshops.
Starting with an original billet composed of between 4 and 8 layers of steel welded together
Number of layers
Damascus steel with animal-print pattern
Between 80 and 120 layers of steel,
meaning between 4 and 8 folds
About 55 HRC
Damascus steel with mosaic pattern
Around 1,000 layers of steel
meaning between 15 and 30 folds
About 55 Hrc
It is a profession that requires a variety of materials (each with their particular tools):
- a gas forge (to heat the metal, for quenching)
- several swage hammers (mechanical hammer for welding, wire drawing)
- a rolling mill (for welding, wire drawing)
- an abrading machine (for the beveled edge of the blade or for honing at an angle)
- a press (for stamping)
- a grinder, etc.
The history of Damascus steel
Damascus steel originated with a style of blacksmithing that dates back over 2,000 years.
The exact origins are not known.
Archaeological digs in northern France led to the discovery of a cache of sidearms made of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ metals that had been welded together (dating back to the Merovingian and Carolingian periods).
Where the West is concerned, Damascus steel appears to have been in use since the first crusades (in Syria, in Damascus!)
Damascus steel has survived for centuries, has crossed continents and stood the test of time. Impressive swords, barrels for canons and guns, etc. – these works of art and collectors’ items have forged its reputation.
Damascus steel was rediscovered for knifemaking by American blacksmiths 30 years ago.
Our method for producing Damascus steel
We make forged Damascus steel in our workshops.
1 Preparing the billet
The blacksmith stacks up identically sized layers of steel, alternating low-carbon and high-carbon steel. They create a billet (using different types of steel, depending on the type of blade being forged).
The steel billet is heated until the right temperature is reached for the different types of steel (a gas-fired furnace allows even and constant heating in every section of the steel): it is forged.
The billet is hammered while hot so that the layers of steel in the billet form just a single homogeneous block.
3 Drawing and straightening
After welding, the billet is heated and then flattened in order to be able to draw it (to maintain a steel bar with an homogeneous section, regular straightening on the anvil while hot). Now the billet is double the length it is cut. The two sections are folded on top of each other. As these two sections are distinct from each other, the previous step is repeated: welding the two sections, then drawing the billet, which become homogeneous again.
This process of folding, welding and drawing is performed as many times as required to obtain the desired number of layers in the blade (if, from a first billet of five layers, the aim is to end up with a blade with 320 layers, it is necessary to carry out six cuttings/weldings and drawings in succession).
In order to obtain the required thickness and shape, this billet of Damascus steel is hammered while hot and passed through the rolling mill. The blacksmith is able to obtain between four and eight single blades from a billet of Damascus steel crafted in this way.
4 Forming and finishing:
- precise forming of the blade
- fashioning the heel precisely depending on the size
All these steps are performed by hand on the grinding belts.
Heat treatment (with oil quenching)
Etching (to produce the contrast between the different steels used) is carried out after burnishing the blade.
The blade is immersed in an acid bath and then in a bath that neutralizes the action of the acid.
Our workshop gallery
Characteristics of Damascus steel
- unique as the designs on the steel layers are never identical
- the knife has a very special appeal as it is crafted entirely by hand
- carbon steel: very good edge and easy to sharpen, but does not leave food tasting of steel or hardly at all
- easy to care for: if you use it regularly, wipe the blade each time you use it. If you use it on occasion, remember to grease the blade to prevent fading of the contrast between the different layers of steel (silicon grease, white grease, etc., containing no acid).
Find out what it’s like to work as a knifemaker for a day and take home a Laguiole that you’ve made yourself!