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The Damascus steel forge

Our family business has one blacksmith who works with Damascus steel.

Forgeron de l'acier Damas à la Coutellerie Honoré Durand à Laguiole

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.

Laguiole pliant Honoré Durand avec lame en acier Damas

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 

Average

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.

 

forgeron-9.jpg

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).

lopin d'acier Damas

2 Welding

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

- honing

- buffing

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

Atelier du forgeron du damas avec le four à gaz en cours de chauffe
1 - Damascus steel blacksmith’s workshop with gas-fired furnace in the process of heating

Polissage d'un acier damas mosaïque qui sera utilisé pour la fabrication de mitres
2 - Buffing mosaic Damascus steel for use in making the bolsters

Barreau d'acier damas dans le four pour le mettre à la bonne température avant son travail
3 - Billet of Damascus steel in the furnace to obtain the right temperature before it is worked

Travail sur martinet pour soudure et allongement du pain de damas
4 - Working at the swage hammer to weld and elongate the Damascus steel billet

Travail au martinet pour souder les couches d'acier les unes aux autres
5 - Working at the swage hammer to weld the layers of steel to each other

Le forgeron du damas enlève la calamine sur le pain de damas avant soudure
6 - The Damascus steel blacksmith removes scale from the billet of Damascus steel before welding

Travail sur martinet pour redresser la barre en acier Damas
7 - Working at the swage hammer to straighten the Damascus steel billet

Mise en forme finale de la barre d'acier sur l'enclume
8 - Final forming of the steel billet on the anvil

 Contrôle de la bonne dimension de la barre d'acier Damas
9 - Checking that the Damascus steel billet is the correct size

 Fin de la mise en forme d'une lame en acier Damas.
10 - Forming of Damascus steel blade is finished.

Characteristics of Damascus steel

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).

Explore our museum’s website <

Knifemaking course:

Find out what it’s like to work as a knifemaker for a day and take home a Laguiole that you’ve made yourself!

Further details      


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