You know that show How It’s Made? They need an ongoing series of that stuff for the knife industry. On a daily basis around here at Blade HQ, we scratch our heads at the products coming in and wonder to ourselves, “How did they do that?” One such case is colored Damascus. We’ve got some answers on this one, but before we dive into colors, it’s important to understand a bit about how Damascus knife steel is made: In short, various bar stock steels are welded together and attached to a metal handle of sorts. The craftsman throws the bar stock into a forge for a bit, then removes them and begins to blend the steels via a power hammer or forge press. You can watch this video to get a better idea of the process:
But what about colored Damascus steel? Particularly, how does the Vallotton family create the patterns and designs in their ridiculously wild custom Damascus knives? It was surprisingly difficult to find anything on how colored Damascus is made. Fortunately we know so people in the industry, so we went straight to the source and called up the Vallottons. This family of knife makers is extremely talented and they’ve turned coloring Damascus into a science– an unsurprising feat, considering Rainy Vallotton has been in the industry for 22 years now.
There are different ways to go about coloring Damascus, but here’s how it’s done the Vallotton way.
Damascus Steel Knife Coloring Process
Stainless steel doesn’t take color when heated, so the Vallottons use high carbon steel with the addition of nickel for their colored Damascus. Nickel is great to use because while the high carbon changes color when exposed to high temperatures, nickel does not. Instead, it will turn a gold-like color and create a beautiful contrast to the newly colored steel.
After the Damascus blade has been heat-treated, it needs to be polished and then cleaned with soap and water. Once the blade is dry, it’s ready for a color change. The Vallottons recently changed from using a heat bluing process over to salt bluing, and they use a propane turkey fryer for this part. The fryer is filled with salts and is heated up to about 560 degrees.
(Photos are courtesy of the Vallottons.)
Then, the blade is dropped into the fryer until it reaches the desired color. This type of steel typically can range in color from bronze to light blue.
The end result of salt bluing is a truly unique and beautiful blade.
Some of you may have seen Blade Brothers pop up on our Facebook page a while back, and they happen to do some Damascus coloring, too. Watch this clip to see how they color Damascus. (They introduce it at around 11:30 in the clip, and they show the finished product around 16:20.)