Coloring Damascus: How It’s Done

(I uploaded this post to the blog a while back, but the original post had problems uploading correctly to Facebook. I wanted to re-vist coloring Damascus because I think it is awesome, and because I don’t think many people were able to see this post the first time around.)
Have you ever watched that show How It’s Made? My husband loves it, so we watch it together sometimes. At first I wasn’t that interested in it, but man—that show can make anything seem interesting. I watched a segment on how toilet paper is made, and for the rest of the day I was convinced that toilet paper was the coolest thing ever. The segment on hot dogs, however, was both enlightening and disgusting. Anyway, today’s post is about how something that is inherently awesome is made, so hopefully that will make it even more interesting for you to read.
Damascus is really beautiful, but colored Damascus is particularly captivating—perhaps because it’s somewhat less common. However, it was surprisingly difficult to find anything on how it is made (although I found plenty on Timascus, which is similar). Fortunately for me though, I was able to get in touch with the Vallottons, who make many custom knives that feature colored Damascus. The Vallottons are undoubtedly skilled knife makers and they really have coloring Damascus down to a science, which isn’t surprising; Rainy Vallotton has been in the knife industry for 22 years now.
There are different ways to go about coloring Damascus, but here’s how it’s done the Vallotton way.

Coloring Process

Stainless steel doesn’t take color when heated, so the Vallottons use high carbon steel with the addition of nickel for their colored Damascus. Nickel is great to use because while the high carbon changes color when exposed to high temperatures, nickel does not. Instead, it will turn a gold-like color and create a beautiful contrast to the newly colored steel.
After the Damascus blade has been heat-treated, it needs to be polished and then cleaned with soap and water.  Once the blade is dry, it’s ready for a color change. The Vallottons recently changed from using a heat bluing process over to salt bluing, and they use a propane turkey fryer for this part. The fryer is filled with salts and is heated up to about 560 degrees.
(Photos are courtesy of the Vallottons.)
Then, the blade is dropped into the fryer until it reaches the desired color. This type of steel typically can range in color from bronze to light blue.
The end result of salt bluing is a truly unique and beautiful blade.

 Another Perspective

Some of you may have seen Blade Brothers pop up on our Facebook page a while back, and they happen to do some Damascus coloring, too. Watch this clip to see how they color Damascus. (They introduce it at around 11:30 in the clip, and they show the finished product around 16:20.)

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