I was talking with Delbert yesterday and he mentioned this thread. I thought I would make some comments.
First, in the summer it is hotter'n the gates of hell here in Texas! If it's 110 in the shop, do I really want to add another 30 or more degrees to that? NO! Okay, that's the funny thing I tell people. There are, of course, forgers here in Texas. Harvey Dean told me that in the summer he heads to work at 2AM and forges to noon. That helps deal with the heat, but he lives in the country and my house and my neighbor's master bedroom are within 30 feet of my shop. I like my neighbors! I also have a life, and that doesn't include telling my family good night at 7PM! I've spoken with many ABS guys and it seems that just about all really get a kick out of feeling the floor vibrate with each hammer blow. They just love hammering steel! Me, I'm an artist who uses damascus steel like other raw materials - wood, ivory, bronze, steel, etc. - to create knives. Damascus is interesting for obvious reasons, and I try to make it even more interesting by carving it. By buying damascus from a select few makers I am able to make my knives and not have to deal with the long learning curve or having to go through some testing process like the ABS to add some perception of legitimacy to my knives when I'm already an accomplished and professional knifemaker. And yes, I don't have to deal with the heat!
One can certainly buy a billet of damascus and send it along to a maker for a knife. However, that plan won't work with lots of makers, and certainly not with me. This is my 30th year as a knifemaker, and I believe I've earned the right to be picky, REAL PICKY! There are makers of damascus whose steel I will not use for various reasons. Some have a proven track record with me of producing the sorriest junk iron known! When around half of a professional damascus maker's billets have holes in them large enough to swallow up my Harley I quit buying his steel, and that's happened with a couple of "names". Then there may be the damascus maker who just can't act in a business like manner, like not returning calls or sending invoices, so I avoid them. Some think that you have to use something like 5 different steel alloys in a mix, which is nonsense, so I don't go for the "kitchen sink" damascus even if it's cheap. Some are just jerks, and I'd rather deal with decent guys like Ealy. And some just don't really know what they're doing. So I believe it's best that if you want a damascus knife just contact your intended maker and tell him what you want. He or she knows whose damascus to use and whose to not use. After all, in the end WE are the ones whose mark is on the knife, and if the steel is junk we are the ones who suffer the most with regards to our reputation. And if you're thinking you'll save some money by buying your own steel and sending it out, you may in fact spend more. When I get an order for a large sub hilt fighter and the customer is sending along his own steel then I have to spend time adjusting the price and dealing with some other aspect of the steel that I normally don't, and as it is said "time is money".
For the record, I use a lot of carbon damascus from Delbert Ealy. He came recommended by another maker at a time when I was having trouble with one of those big "names" who wouldn't deliver or return calls. Delbert has never failed me, is an encyclopedia of metal knowledge, and a downright decent and fun guy to work with. He's also started making stainless damascus, and it's good too. If I need a mosaic, and especially one with a composite edge, I give Dave Lisch a call. For stainless damascus I've used Thomas', Norris', and Nichols', and now Ealy's. I might consider the steel of some other maker, but as I said earlier, I'm picky.
And "mild mannered"? Yeah, right!