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Thread: Etching Damascus

  1. #1
    Delbert Ealy's Avatar
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    Etching Damascus

    I have been thinking over the last week or so about the subject of etching damascus, particularly in how deep the etching goes. In the beginning when I first started thinking about making damascus kitchen knives I thought that I would etch them deep, as I saw this type of knife as a workhorse type of knife(that is a knife that sees serious use) and all of my serious use knives get a deep etch. All others I make usually get a medium etch. However, as with many other things kitchen knife related I began to take a serious look at my point of view and wondered if a change here too might be beneficial. Now I do believe that some of this is subjective, which means there is no clear-cut right or wrong, just differing methods. So as usual I went looking and talked with a few people. What I found out is that I was almost unique in the depth of my etch, all of the photos I looked at seemed to be of blades that were only lightly etched. In fact, in one conversation I had, it was suggested that I leave the option open of an unetched damascus blade and let the damascus pattern be brought out by the patina that forms during regular use. Now I have to admit that after years of work perfecting my technique to get the damascus to look its best I was a little surprised by this comment. I am aware that a deeply etched damascus blade does have some affect on issues such as food sticking, and not all of them are negative. A blade that has a light etch or no etch at all takes that out of the equation though. It would perform just as a monosteel blade does. In thinking about this issue I remembered several comments about my damascus that at the time I did not think of as negative, and I still don't, comments about the overall dark color of the blade. In a lighter etching the blade would not be as dark.

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts and opinions on this.
    Thanks,
    Del

    Laminated metals specialist, Kitchen knife and gadget maker
    www.ealyknives.com
    www.mokume-jewelry.net
    "Build a man a fire and he will be warm for a day, set a man on fire and he will be warm for the rest of his life"

  2. #2
    Mike Davis's Avatar
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    How much does an etch on damascus affect performance? I can see at a micro level, the edges of the damascus creating a small amount of friction cutting, but thats about it....i think. Am i wrong?

  3. #3

    JohnnyChance's Avatar
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    I like your dark etch. Can you etch a single blade in stages? Like etch it, take a pic, etch some more, take a pic, etc? Do that a couple times and see how it looks as it progresses. If you recorded the times etched in each picture, you could then have a reference point if a customer wanted a lighter etch.
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    Del. the first damascus knife that I ever bought was a walrus ivory handled John Fitch fighter with a very tight ladder pattern and I was surprised at how deep the etch was. Ed Caffrey sometimes etches deep enough that he can spray black baking lacquer on the blade and then knock it off the high spots and get jet black color on the 1084.

  5. #5
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    99Limited's Avatar
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    Being that I'm one of the people who bought one of your gyutos at this years ECG, I'm glad you brought this subject up. The number one reason I bought your knife was because the damascus used in the knives just looks so cool. I was especially drawn to the knife I bought because it had more of an oil rubbed bronze color to it. When I think of damascus, this is what I envision, not any of the patterned versions. Now to the deep etched question. It does add drag to the knife when you dice onions and when I first used it I thought, "well this sucks." I did a little research on this subject and came away with the conclusion that this is just the way it is. So now my opinion is that I'd rather put up with the drag issue, which only shows up when you're cutting up certain things and have a damascus blade that really pops.

  6. #6
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    I've very little experience with differently-etched damascus blades, so I'm just regurgitating information here, but I think 99 has the right of it. My understanding that in playing with the etch depth three things will be affected: Aesthetics, Blade Drag, and Blade Sticking. Aesthetics ... well rational minds can disagree. I happen to REALLY like the look of your Damascus knives Del. A deeper etch will, however, cause the blade to "drag" more when going through product. This would be minimized, I imagine, by finishing the blade with a wax to fill in any fissures etc. I've also heard people say, however, that a deep etch allows food to release better.

    Aesthetics aside, however, I don't think the depth of the etch is the GREATEST factor effecting blade performance or food sticking. I think Geometry will play more of a role in both. Once Geometry is controlled for, however, I guess it makes sense to try to optimize the etch. But I would think that people choose to buy Damascus for the look. If they have to trade some performance for it, they'll likely do so.

  7. #7
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    I do think deeper etches offer a bit more resistance and slightly better release and I do agree that geometry is much more important design feature. In terms of aesthetics, it's like hoochie-mama damascus where everything sort of hangs out or perhaps a more sophisticated, subtle look.

  8. #8
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    I've gone back and forth on this as well, especially when I had your pass-around knife. Most time when someone purchases a damascus blade instead of monosteel blade, they are likely doing so for the aesthetics and not for better performance (given the cost difference between damascus, and say straight O-1). So for that $300+ added cost for the damascus, I could definitely see many potential buyers wanting a blade with the deeper etch so the cool damascus pattern really stand out.

    My personal preference is for a much lighter etch, such as on Shigifusa's Kitaji knives (shoot, are those even etched, or just polished?), although the price premium there is a little less.

    The DT scimitar Salty had made is one of the most beautiful damascus blades I have seen, although admittedly I have only seen it via the Internet. I'm not sure how deeply DT etched that blade, although the pattern is not as busy as your random damascus, so a deeper etch to bring out the feather pattern would be appropriate to me.

    So I guess I'm okay with a deeper etch for a damacus pattern that is not too busy, but prefer a shallower etch for a busier pattern.
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  9. #9
    Marko Tsourkan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WildBoar View Post
    ...

    My personal preference is for a much lighter etch, such as on Shigifusa's Kitaji knives (shoot, are those even etched, or just polished?), although the price premium there is a little less.

    ...
    Shigefusa is polished with nat stones that contain impurities, so the resulting mud reacts with the damascus cladding and brings up the figure.

    I only etched once and my impession has been that deeply etched steel creates too much friction when cutting through some dense foods, like root vegetables. I think the answer could be an etching method where your steel has a deep figure but a polished surface. That is how Shigefusa damascus knives are finished though their finish is not particularly dark and is hidden by patina over time.

    M


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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by WildBoar View Post
    ...The DT scimitar Salty had made is one of the most beautiful damascus blades I have seen, although admittedly I have only seen it via the Internet. I'm not sure how deeply DT etched that blade, although the pattern is not as busy as your random damascus, so a deeper etch to bring out the feather pattern would be appropriate to me.

    So I guess I'm okay with a deeper etch for a damacus pattern that is not too busy, but prefer a shallower etch for a busier pattern.
    +1

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