Blade Billets: Pattern Welding vs Damascus

Every kitchen knife made at Arachne Forge starts as a billet in the steel making process most accurately referred to as pattern welding. The detailed and time consuming process starts by arranging alternating layers of differing steel alloys in a stack. The alloys currently in use by Arachne Forge are 1080 (“high carbon steel”) and 15n20 (“nickel steel”). The resulting stack is then heated in the forge to an excess of 2000 degrees F and put under extreme pressure to fuse them together in a technique known as forge welding. The billet, now a single piece of steel, is cut into sections and stacked again to repeat the process until the desired pattern is achieved. The techniques of manipulation used during the forge welding process can move these layers in various directions, resulting in endless variations of the pattern.

After the steel has been forged, heat treated, ground and finished into the shape of the blade, it is then exposed to an acid solution to oxidize the steel. The different chemical alloys of the constituent steels oxidize at differing rates, revealing the pattern formed by the layers during the forge welding process. The layers of 1080, having less corrosion resistance to the acid due to their higher carbon content, form a darker black color in the pattern. The layers of 15n20, with their high content of corrosion resistant nickel, take far less oxidization and appear as the bright silver bands in the pattern.

This process emulates ancient techniques of steel fabrication that were considered the apex of metallurgical technology for their time, and many cultures throughout the world employed this technology to better human civilization. The most renowned sources of this production method were in the city of Damascus in ancient Syria, hence the nomenclature of “Damascus steel” commonly used in the knife making and metalworking communities today. Billets of Damascus steel were shipped through trade routes across the world appearing in the tools and weapons of far off cultures. As metallurgical technology progressed over the ages, this method of steel manufacture was made obsolete, and each of the individual constituent steels (1080, 15n20, etc.) used in almost any modern day billet will surpass the quality of most ancient billets of pattern welded steel.

Still, the beauty of the pattern welding process continues to enchant modern eyes and the shroud of mystery and myth surrounding its origins adds to its intrigue. Modern blacksmiths have continued to develop the process started by their ancient predecessors, creating phenomenally advanced patterns in today’s cutlery. It is to honor these ancient artisans and contemporary craftsmen that Arachne Forge endeavors to follow in their footsteps. Each blade from Arachne Forge is a tribute to the collective metalworking skill of humanity as a whole.

 

Handle Materials

For the handle of each knife a piece of stabilized wood is chosen to suit the pattern and shape of the blade. These blocks of wood have been resin impregnated in a vacuum chamber to ensure longevity and durability. The resin fills all the cavities and natural capillaries of the wood, forcing out any moisture to produce a more atmospherically stable material. In a kitchen environment, knives are exposed to extreme differences in moisture and heat, both of which drastically increase the occurrence of warping or swelling. By using stabilized wood products, Arachne Forge is able to ensure that the superb fit and finish of our knives will be the same in 50 years as it is when it leaves the shop.

Bridging the divide between man-made steel and nature-made wood are layers of G10 composite (resin laminated Kevlar) and silicon bronze or copper. This spacer sequence ensures that if any micro-swelling occurs it leaves no lasting effect on the painstakingly matched handle fit-up of the knife. Hand sculpting and finishing are what form the subtle curves of these supremely ergonomic handles. They lend themselves to a perfect “pinch grip” and fade away into the hand, so that your Arachne Forge blade becomes an extension of your body.

 

Care and Use

Arachne Forge knives are made of carbon steel. This gives them increased edge retention over stainless steel, but also means they require more care in cleaning and storage than their stainless counterparts. Arachne Forge knives should NEVER be put in a dishwasher, or left to air dry. This cannot be stressed enough. In reality, you should never put any knife you care about in the dishwasher.   You will notice immediate reductions in edge retention as the extreme high temperatures of the washer effect the temper of the blade. You will also notice irreparable damage to the fit of the handle as the same high temperatures and soaking water destroy the work that went into the handle preparation. You will also most likely see the appearance of rust on the blades as well. Again, DO NOT EVER put your knives in the dishwasher.

To clean a carbon steel knife simply wash it with a little warm water and dish soap, and wipe it dry with a clean towel. During the first few months of use it is also recommended that users store their knife with a small coat of food safe oil such as camellia oil or food grade mineral oil to protect the steel as a natural patina develops. Of course, extra diligent users may continue this practice in perpetuity if they wish. It never hurts.