LAYERED STEEL BLADES by the Wareham Forge, the work of Artisan Blacksmith Darrell Markewitz of Ontario Canada. With knife making and tool making experience going back to the late 1970's. Specializing in the Northern European 'Pattern Welding' technique. Combining traditional methods into functional working tools, accurate historic replicas or highly decorative 'future heirloom' objects. Unique in his use of self made bloomery iron.
the Wareham Forge - Artisan Blacksmith

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The Riddle of Steel

LAYERED STEEL BLADES by the Wareham Forge

In all this world, you cannot trust gods nor men,
nor women or beasts.
In your sword alone can you trust.
But ever remember that a sword is not strength,
Strength is the hand that holds it.
Ever remember that a sword is not power,
Power is the mind that commands it....

Also See:
Currently Available
Gallery of Past Work
Custom Bladesmithing

'Possibilities of Damascus' - 2003
Flat Stack Damascus
mild & carbon steels, high carbon core
'Wedding Sgian Dubh' - 2006
Pattern Welded
mild & carbon steel, L6, wrought iron, high carbon edge

Since ancient times, the bladesmith's dilemma has been how to produce a weapon that was both flexible enough to survive the impacts of combat, but at the same time hard enough to retain a keen cutting edge. Until modern times, the smith had basically only two ferrous metals to work with, wrought iron and carbon steel. Wrought iron is very flexible, bends easily, but is too soft to hold an edge. Carbon steel, on the other, hand can be made quite rigid and hard enough to stay a razor sharp. Unfortunately it is then also extremely brittle, so much so that any sudden blow will shatter it.

The most sophisticated solution to this problem, developed during the early middle ages, was the creation of layered steels. In simple terms, this process involves stacking up alternating plates of iron and steel. The pile is then welded under the hammer into a single solid block. The block is then stretched out into a long thin strip, folded, then welded again. This process is repeated over and over, to produce a billet of material that can be made up of many hundreds of layers. The blade forged from such a block is both flexible and hard, sharp but durable. After polishing, the metal is lightly etched, the two materials reacting differently to the acid to create distinctive lines on the surface. Ancient weapons made in this manner are amongst the most complex examples of the metalsmiths art.

Historically, there were three main areas that become known as makers of layered steels. The best known is the Middle East, where production was centred on Damascus during the 11th to 13th centuries. These blades were composed of the flat stacks described above, and were often elaborately decorated with etching and gold inlay. They gained such a reputation for quality that the term 'damascus' has come to be used to describe all layered steel, regardless of origin or technique.

The second area is Japan. The swords of the samurai are legendary in quality. Most of these blades are constructed of layered steel, produced of flat stacks. The highest quality weapons were produced here during the 14th and 15th centuries (curiously, after the first travels of Europeans to the East).

The other centre of layered steel production is little known, and actually predates the others. This is Northern Europe, especially Denmark and northern Germany. The height of manufacture in this area, both in quality and quantity, was during the 7th to 10th centuries. Unlike the other two centres, these northern smiths used a related technique called 'pattern welding'. In pattern welding, the blocks are initially stacked and welded as before. At this point, however, they are drawn out to thin, square rods. These rods are then twisted, usually matching but mirror images of each other. At this stage, the rods are then welded back into a solid block, with an edge wrap made of flat stacked material surrounding this core. Generally these blades have a lower total count in number of layers, but the use of the twisted core rods results in greater flexibility. The resulting blades have distinctive herring bone patterns running up the centre after etching.

Much emphasis is often placed on the total layer count as a measure of the quality of the blade. In truth, those blades with layer counts in the multiple hundreds to one thousand range are often of lower quality as weapons then those with fewer layers. At the high temperatures that are needed for welding, a phenomenon called carbon migration begins to take place. This, combined with the extreme thinness of the layers and the repeated welding, can produce a block of material that has very little variation in carbon content between the layers. Those blades that have layer counts of less than two hundred seem to have the best qualities as weapons. Experience has shown that pattern welded blades that have a layer count between 100 and 200 will exhibit the most vivid patterns.

A large number of futher commentaries on Layered Steel - Creation and History, can be found on the Blog - Hammered Out Bits

'Layered Skinners' - 1993
Flat Stack Damascus
mild and carbon steels, carbon steel core
'Kitchen Knife One' - 1996
Pattern Welded
iron, mild and carbon steels - about 225 layers

The Wareham Forge produces layered steel blades using both the 'Damascus' (flat stack) and 'Pattern weld' (twisted) methods. The resulting knives vary in size and style. All forging is done using traditional methods, employing a coal fire. Although an air hammer is used to speed the process of drawing out the billets, all the shaping is done by hand hammering. All welds are percussion welds from the fire, rather than torch welding. Heat treating steps are done by eye, producing some variation in edge hardness, but generally yields a superior blade to those heat treated in ovens. The ferrous metal stocks normally used are a standard 1018 mild steel for the soft layer, 1045 spring steel, and 1095 carbon steel (about 1% carbon) for the hard. Extra drama in the finished patterns comes from addition of layers of wrought iron or L6 nickel alloy. The standard practice is to layer two decorative layered slabs on to a solid high carbon steel core. This produces a blade that is a delight to the eye - but a the same time an excellent tool. The finished blades are polished to 120 grit, and then lightly etched to bring out the pattern. Although a few finished knives are may be available, usually all layered steel blades are produced as custom orders.

Layered Steel Prices
These are estimates only - posted Feburary 2014

Flat stack ('Damascus'): single edge : layered plates with a carbon steel core - first 4" $200
double edge : (as above) - first 4" $225
per inch of blade on either - over 4", add $40
'Pattern Weld' (twisted): single edge : two twisted rods attached to flat stack edge with a carbon steel core - first 4" $250
per inch of blade over 4", add $50
double edge : two twisted + two flat stack edges - first 4" $300
per inch of blade over 4", add $60

Sword sized blades can also be created, but as they are considerably more difficult to produce, their cost must be individually quoted.
Flat Stack / Damascus blades iin sword lengths require the creation of quite large starting billets (in the range of 3 plus kg.) A general estimate can be generated by using the same outline seen above X the desired finished length.

Pattern Welding is even more time consuming and requiring greater skills. The layer count for flat stack will be around 200, for pattern weld - mulitple cores at 9 to 11 layer, with either mono or flat stack edges. Please ask for a quotation on more complex pieces, but the general guideline will be from $100 - $200 per linear inch.

Note that these prices serve as a guide line only, each individual design must be quoted separately.

Ordering information:

For full details go on

Please contact the Wareham Forge with your requirements and to discuss your project before placing an order. Remember that prices will vary based on the complexity of individual design, especially for larger and more elaborate items.

Questions & Answers - May save Time *before* you contact me!

Interested in Knifemaking?

Check out the educational DVD "Historic Bladesmithing" available from the Wareham Forge.
'INTRODUCTION TO BLADESMITHING' is a 16 hour hands on program offered at the Wareham Forge.

The Wareham Forge

The Hamlet of Wareham, R.R. #2 Proton Station, Ontario

(519) 923-9219 //

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Unless otherwise indicated :
All text and photographs
© Darrell Markewitz, the Wareham Forge.