download Thesis (PDF, 19MB)

Solid state diffusion bonded Damascus steel and it’s role within custom knifemaking

This thesis describes practice-based research that applied new technology to an ancient process of laminating metals for blades and explored the application of the new possibilities to a craft context.

This research built on work by Ferguson on solid-state diffusion bonded Mokume Gane by moving from metal combinations suitable for vessel-making to metal combinations suitable for knife-making. Solid-state diffusion bonding1 is well established within industry. This research applied the industrial process to a craft based setting, and explored the bonding of metals with very dissimilar properties; ferrous and non-ferrous metals, hard and soft, high and low melting points. The materials included in this study were stainless and carbon steel, iron, nickel, vanadium and silver. The characteristics of the carbon steel and silver laminates were explored further by knifemakers, including heat-treating, forging, machining, flex and pattern creation. Analysis of the knifemakers feedback showed that the steel/silver metal was of interest to makers who machined or ground their blades rather than relying on forging.

The study used a multi-method approach. The two broad research questions were; Is it possible to make a damascus steel using solid-state diffusion bonding that would be impossible using traditional techniques? And would the results be worth the work? Although carried out mainly within a craft setting the investigation is highly metallurgical in subject matter. The methodology was developed to reflect this crossing of subject areas and answer the research questions outlined above. The results are communicated through this thesis and a documentation of an exhibition of the work produced by the researcher and other selected knifemakers.

The research produced a coherent composite of steel and pure silver and successfully produced a number of knives using the material.

1. Solid-state diffusion bonding is a technique of joining two materials with time, pressure and temperature and where the temperature is kept below the melting point of both materials.


I completed my MA within the Metalwork and Jewellery dept at Sheffield Hallam University, however, my work was entirely based on knives and cutting tools. The course gave me the time and space to explore more unusual forms of edges and knife possibilities.

I was keen to make the most of the links that the university had built within the manufacturing and engineering companies in Sheffield. I wanted to explore small scale batch manufacturing techniques such as casting, spring bending, EDM and laser cutting. Despite having a deep affinity to hand craft, I feel that it techniques should be chosen by suitability rather than an automatic rejection of new technology.