Pattern welding

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A high resolution image of a modern pattern welded knife blade, showing the dramatic patterning on the side below, and the layering of the steel in the spine above. Acid etching darkens the 1080 plain carbon steel more than it does the 15N20 low alloy nickel steel, producing alternating bands of light and dark on the surface. Knife blade 600dpi spine 1200dpi.jpg
A high resolution image of a modern pattern welded knife blade, showing the dramatic patterning on the side below, and the layering of the steel in the spine above. Acid etching darkens the 1080 plain carbon steel more than it does the 15N20 low alloy nickel steel, producing alternating bands of light and dark on the surface.

Pattern welding is the practice in sword and knife making of forming a blade of several metal pieces of differing composition that are forge-welded together and twisted and manipulated to form a pattern. [1] Often mistakenly called Damascus steel, blades forged in this manner often display bands of slightly different patterning along their entire length. These bands can be highlighted for cosmetic purposes by proper polishing or acid etching. Pattern welding was an outgrowth of laminated or piled steel, a similar technique used to combine steels of different carbon contents, providing a desired mix of hardness and toughness. Although modern steelmaking processes negate the need to blend different steels, [2] pattern welded steel is still used by custom knifemakers for the cosmetic effects it produces.



Pattern-welded 19th century Moro (Philippine) barung sword Barung shandigan lamination 1.jpg
Pattern-welded 19th century Moro (Philippine) barung sword
Close-up view of the blade of the same Moro barung Barung shandigan lamination 2.jpg
Close-up view of the blade of the same Moro barung

Pattern welding developed out of the necessarily complex process of making blades that were both hard and tough from the erratic and unsuitable output from early iron smelting in bloomeries. The bloomery does not generate temperatures high enough to melt iron and steel, but instead reduces the iron oxide ore into particles of pure iron, which then weld into a mass of sponge iron, consisting of lumps of impurities in a matrix of relatively pure iron, which is too soft to make a good blade. Carburizing thin iron bars or plates forms a layer of harder, high carbon steel on the surface, and early bladesmiths would forge these bars or plates together to form relatively homogeneous bars of steel. This laminating process, in which different types of steel together produce patterns that can be seen in the surface of the finished blade, forms the basis for pattern welding. [3] [4]

Pattern welding in Europe

Pattern welding dates to the first millennium BC, with Celtic, and later Germanic swords exhibiting the technique, [5] with the Romans describing the blade patternation. [6] [7] By the 2nd and 3rd century AD, the Celts commonly used pattern welding for decoration in addition to structural reasons. The technique involves folding and forging alternating layers of steel into rods, then twisting the steel to form complex patterns when forged into a blade. [3] By the 6th and 7th centuries, pattern welding had reached a level where thin layers of patterned steel were being overlaid onto a soft iron core, making the swords far better as the iron gave them a flexible and springy core that would take any shock from sword blows to stop the blade bending or snapping. Arguably the most famous group of pattern-welded Viking swords – and incidentally one of the first known examples of value being increased by the presence of a brand name – are the Ulfberht swords, of which 166 are known to exist. By the end of the Viking era, pattern welding fell out of use in Europe. [4] [4] [8]

In medieval swords, pattern welding was more prevalent than commonly thought. However, the presence of rust makes detection difficult without repolishing. [7]

During the Middle ages, Damascus steel was produced in India and brought back to Europe. The similarities in the markings led many to believe it was the same process being used, and pattern welding was revived by European smiths who were attempting to duplicate the Damascus steel. While the methods used by Damascus smiths to produce their blades was lost, recent efforts by metallurgists and bladesmiths (such as Verhoeven and Pendray) to reproduce steel with identical characteristics have yielded a process that does not involve pattern welding. [3] However even these attempts have not been a huge success.

Modern decorative use

The ancient swordmakers exploited the aesthetic qualities of pattern welded steel. The Vikings,[ citation needed ] in particular, were fond of twisting bars of steel around each other, welding the bars together by hammering and then repeating the process with the resulting bars, to create complex patterns in the final steel bar. Two bars twisted in opposite directions created the common chevron pattern. Often, the center of the blade was a core of soft steel, and the edges were solid high carbon steel, similar to the laminates of the Japanese.

The American Bladesmith Society's Master Smith test, for example, requires a 300 layer blade to be forged. Large numbers of layers are generally produced by folding, where a small number of layers are welded together, then the blank is cut in half, stacked, and welded again, with each operation doubling the number of layers. Starting with just two layers, eight folding operations will yield 512 layers in the blank. A blade ground from such a blank will show a grain much like an object cut from a block of wood, with similar random variations in pattern. Some manufactured objects can be re-purposed into pattern welded blanks. "Cable Damascus", forged from high carbon multi-strand cable, is a popular item for bladesmiths to produce, producing a finely grained, twisted pattern, while chainsaw chains produce a pattern of randomly positioned blobs of color. [9] [10] [11]

Some modern bladesmiths have taken pattern welding to new heights, with elaborate applications of traditional pattern welding techniques, as well as with new technology. A layered billet of steel rods with the blade blank cut perpendicular to the layers can also produce some spectacular patterns, including mosaics or even writing. Powder metallurgy allows alloys that would not normally be compatible to be combined into solid bars. Different treatments of the steel after it is ground and polished, such as bluing, etching, or various other chemical surface treatments that react differently to the different metals used can create bright, high-contrast finishes on the steel. Some master smiths go as far as to use techniques such as electrical discharge machining to cut interlocking patterns out of different steels, fit them together, then weld the resulting assembly into a solid block of steel. [11]


The term 'pattern welding' was coined by English archaeologist Herbert Maryon in a 1948 paper: "The welding of these swords represents an excessively difficult operation. I do not know of finer smith's work... I have named the technique ‘pattern welding’... Examples of pattern-welding range in date from the third century to the Viking Age." [12] [13] [14]

See also

Related Research Articles

Damascus steel

Damascus steel was the forged steel of the blades of swords smithed in the Near East from ingots of Wootz steel either imported from Southern India or made in production centres in Sri Lanka, or Khorasan. These swords are characterized by distinctive patterns of banding and mottling reminiscent of flowing water, sometimes in a "ladder" or "rose" pattern. Such blades were reputed to be tough, resistant to shattering, and capable of being honed to a sharp, resilient edge.

A sword is a bladed melee weapon intended for cutting or thrusting that is longer than a knife or dagger, consisting of a long blade attached to a hilt. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographic region under consideration. The blade can be straight or curved. Thrusting swords have a pointed tip on the blade, and tend to be straighter; slashing swords have a sharpened cutting edge on one or both sides of the blade, and are more likely to be curved. Many swords are designed for both thrusting and slashing.


A blacksmith is a metalsmith who creates objects from wrought iron or steel by forging the metal, using tools to hammer, bend, and cut. Blacksmiths produce objects such as gates, grilles, railings, light fixtures, furniture, sculpture, tools, agricultural implements, decorative and religious items, cooking utensils, and weapons. There was an historical opposition between the heavy work of the blacksmith and the more delicate operation of a whitesmith, who usually worked in gold, silver, pewter, or the finishing steps of fine steel. The place where a blacksmith works is called variously a smithy, a forge or a blacksmith's shop.

Bulat is a type of steel alloy known in Russia from medieval times; it was regularly mentioned in Russian legends as the material of choice for cold steel. The name булат is a Russian transliteration of the Persian word fulad, meaning steel. This type of steel was used by the armies of nomadic peoples. Bulat steel was the main type of steel used for swords in the armies of Genghis Khan, the great emperor of the Mongolian Empire. The technique used in making wootz steel has been lost for centuries and the bulat steel used today makes use of a more recently developed technique.

Wootz steel Type of crucible steel

Wootz steel is a crucible steel characterized by a pattern of bands and high carbon content. These bands are formed by sheets of microscopic carbides within a tempered martensite or pearlite matrix in higher carbon steel, or by ferrite and pearlite banding in lower carbon steels. It was a pioneering steel alloy invented in Southern India in the mid-1st millennium BC and exported globally.

Forge welding (FOW) is a solid-state welding process that joins two pieces of metal by heating them to a high temperature and then hammering them together. It may also consist of heating and forcing the metals together with presses or other means, creating enough pressure to cause plastic deformation at the weld surfaces. The process is one of the simplest methods of joining metals and has been used since ancient times. Forge welding is versatile, being able to join a host of similar and dissimilar metals. With the invention of electrical and gas welding methods during the Industrial Revolution, manual forge-welding has been largely replaced, although automated forge-welding is a common manufacturing process.


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Kampilan Type of Sword

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Sword making, historically, has been the work of specialized smiths or metalworkers called bladesmiths or swordsmiths. Swords have been made of different materials over the centuries, with a variety of tools and techniques. While there are many criteria for evaluating a sword, generally the four key criteria are hardness, strength, flexibility and balance. Early swords were made of copper, which bends easily. Bronze swords were stronger; by varying the amount of tin in the alloy, a smith could make various parts of the sword harder or tougher to suit the demands of combat service. The Roman gladius was an early example of swords forged from blooms of steel.

Viking sword Type of Sword

The Viking Age sword or Carolingian sword is the type of sword prevalent in Western and Northern Europe during the Early Middle Ages.

Bladesmith Person who uses an anvil and forge to make various types of blades

Bladesmithing is the art of making knives, swords, daggers and other blades using a forge, hammer, anvil, and other smithing tools. Bladesmiths employ a variety of metalworking techniques similar to those used by blacksmiths, as well as woodworking for knife and sword handles, and often leatherworking for sheaths. Bladesmithing is an art that is thousands of years old and found in cultures as diverse as China, Japan, India, Germany, Korea, the Middle East, Spain and the British Isles. As with any art shrouded in history, there are myths and misconceptions about the process. While traditionally bladesmithing referred to the manufacture of any blade by any means, the majority of contemporary craftsmen referred to as bladesmiths are those who primarily manufacture blades by means of using a forge to shape the blade as opposed to knifemakers who form blades by use of the stock removal method, although there is some overlap between both crafts.

Japanese swordsmithing

Japanese swordsmithing is the labour-intensive bladesmithing process developed in Japan for forging traditionally made bladed weapons (nihonto) including katana, wakizashi, tantō, yari, naginata, nagamaki, tachi, nodachi, ōdachi, kodachi, and ya (arrow).

Swords made of iron appear from the Early Iron Age, but do not become widespread before the 8th century BC.

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Ulfberht swords Type of medieval European sword

The Ulfberht swords are about 170 medieval swords found in Europe, dated to the 9th to 11th centuries, with blades inlaid with the inscription +VLFBERH+T or +VLFBERHT+. That word is a Frankish personal name that became the basis of a trademark of sorts, used by multiple bladesmiths for several centuries.

A laminated steel blade or piled steel is a knife, sword, or other tool blade made out of layers of differing types of steel, rather than a single homogeneous alloy. The earliest steel blades were laminated out of necessity, due to the early bloomery method of smelting iron, which made production of steel expensive and inconsistent. Laminated steel offered both a way to average out the properties of the steel, as well as a way to restrict high carbon steel to the areas that needed it most. Laminated steel blades are still produced today for specialized applications, where different requirements at different points in the blade are met by use of different alloys, forged together into a single blade.

The American Bladesmith Society, or ABS, is a non-profit organization composed of knifemakers whose primary function is to promote the techniques of forging steel blades. The ABS was founded by knifemaker William F. Moran, who came up with the concept in 1972 when he was Chairman of the Knifemakers' Guild; the following year, he introduced Damascus steel blades at an annual show. In 1976, he incorporated the organization, and it received non-profit status in 1985.

William Francis Moran Jr., also known as Bill Moran, was a pioneering American knifemaker who founded the American Bladesmith Society and reintroduced the process of making pattern welded steel to modern knife making. Moran's knives were sought after by celebrities and heads-of-state. The "William F. Moran School of Bladesmithing" bears his name and in addition to founding the ABS, he was a Blade Magazine Hall of Fame Member and a President of the Knifemakers' Guild.

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Badik Type of Knife, Dagger

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  2. Verhoeven 2002, p. 357.
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