3D Printing Damascus-like Steel

Recreating Damascus steel remains a holy grail of materials science. The exact process and alloys used are long ago lost to time. At best, modern steelworking methods are able to produce a rough visual simulacra of sorts that many still consider to be pretty cool looking. Taking a more serious bent at materials science than your average knifemaker, a group of scientists at the Max Planck institute have been working to create a material with similar properties through 3D printing.

The technology used is based on the laser sintering of metal powders. In this case, the powder consists of a mixture of iron, nickel and titanium. The team found that by varying the exact settings of the laser sintering process on a layer-by-layer basis, they could create different microstructures throughout a single part. This allows the creation of parts that are ductile, while remaining hard enough to be sharpened – a property which is useful in edged weapons like swords.

While the process is nothing like that used by smiths in Damascus working with Wootz steel, the general idea of a metal material with varying properties throughout remains the same. For those eager to get into old-school metalwork, consider our articles on blacksmithing. For those interested in materials research, head to a good university. Or, better yet – do both!

[Thanks to Itay for the tip, via New Atlas]

16 thoughts on “3D Printing Damascus-like Steel

  1. I’m sorry but long lost secret of Damascus steel is known for ages. For example here https://www.tf.uni-kiel.de/matwis/amat/iss/kap_a/backbone/ra_4_1.html
    So many inacuuracies in this article. Damascus or Wootz is crucible steel, patern welded is not Wootz and does not give same properities of steel.
    In Wootz you put iron ore some aditives plants and sand in crucible then you melt it. You get homogeneous high carbon steel with very little impurities patern is from irregular distribution of cementite in top layer, you can polish it off. With patern welded steel you get bloomery steel (or in modern world high carbon and low carbon steels) and during blacksmithing you weld them togheter, the more twists or layers the closer you get to homogeneous steel properties and you get paterns through whole blade. edges between different types of steel are sharper and pattern is clearer more visable.
    This is severe lack of reaserch of information before starting project.

      1. Theres more way more because damascus steel fascinated historians, metalurgists(sp?), blacksmits, swordsmits and fencers for past 200-300 years i remember reading how Tsarist Russia recreated process in their arsenal in Tula in late 1800, and youtube is full of vids of people doing both patern welding and wootz, even japanese tamahagane steel from their tatara bloomery has been done both on big sale in Japan and around the world in smaller scales.

    1. Hi Peter,
      thank you for you corrective response. After reading the article I wanted to answer in a similar way, pointing towards Verhoven an Pendray. You bring it to the point. Woozy and laminated steel are entirely different, their cutting resistance is based on different properties. Those should not be mixed! And since decades they have been researched and understood. After all, steel is steel and behaves like steel!


      1. If you really want to take a look at some “Pre-Internet History”, try to figure out how Frank J. Richtig, a master blacksmith, heat treated kitchen knives to the point that they were tough and sharp enough to cut bolts when hammered on. He gave them a life-time sharpening (his lifetime), and if you ever brought one back to him that was dull, he would sharpen it for free. His only advertisements were a clipping from Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and live demonstrations at county fairs. Most of his knives were made with a soft brass pommel where his name was stamped, so with the passage of time his name wore off, and now there are supposedly anonymous treasures floating around flea markets and garage sales.

        1. For what it’s worth, for many years Buck Knife’s logo was a knife being hammered through a bolt, as they claimed their knives could cut low carbon steel bolts in half with care and be usable afterwards.

  2. Neither is the process lost, nor are the alloys lost, nor is damascus the holy grail of metallurgy.
    With modern analytical tools its possible to get the exact alloy composition of any piece of metal, and its properties – combined with our excessive knowledge about the metals we are able to reconstruct how to create them.
    Additionally, nearly every modern tool or spring steel has better properties than damascus.
    Damascus is nowadays all about optics.
    The interesting thing about research like the one linked in the article is, that it is possible to have the properties in real 3D structures in one single part. that was previously only possible in 2D (e.g. through explotion welding)
    Its not limited to steel, but nearly all metals. Imagine a block of high strengthsteel with copper veins for better heat conductivity. Or compliant bimetal hinges that self actuate with temperature change.
    Varying the temperature of a voxel is one of many many parameters that need to be understood to make such technology usefull for industry.

  3. Makes me wonder what you could end up with if you put it through a forge. Maybe you could put different metal powders at different densities throughout, so it would actually become different alloys across the piece. Note that not all of the powders would have to sinter together, just enough to keep the structure when you put it through the furnace and forge.

  4. Could this be used to do something like tune the coefficient of expansion so a material expands a little differently in different places? That could be useful for something that will experience different temperatures at different points but needs to remain within a certain tolerance.
    I also wonder if a ceramic process could be incorporated to make a material that is partially cermet. That could provide heat and wear resistance to surfaces that have to cope with a lot of friction but where shock resistance isn’t as big an issue.

  5. I’m agog. Damascus steel is probably at a higher level of development today than ever in history because of the people willing to pay thousands of dollars for a knife and the people who have the desire to make them.

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