Coloring Damascus Knives: How it’s Done

A sampling of colored Damascus knives from the Vallotton family.

You know that show How It’s Made? They need an ongoing series of that stuff for the knife industry. On a daily basis around here at Blade HQ, we scratch our heads at the products coming in and wonder to ourselves, “How did they do that?” One such case is colored Damascus. We’ve got some answers on this one, but before we dive into colors, it’s important to understand a bit about how Damascus knife steel is made: In short, various bar stock steels are welded together and attached to a metal handle of sorts. The craftsman throws the bar stock into a forge for a bit, then removes them and begins to blend the steels via a power hammer or forge press. You can watch this video to get a better idea of the process:

But what about colored Damascus steel? Particularly, how does the Vallotton family create the patterns and designs in their ridiculously wild custom Damascus knives? It was surprisingly difficult to find anything on how colored Damascus is made. Fortunately we know so people in the industry, so we went straight to the source and called up the Vallottons. This family of knife makers is extremely talented and they’ve turned coloring Damascus into a science– an unsurprising feat, considering Rainy Vallotton has been in the industry for 22 years now.
There are different ways to go about coloring Damascus, but here’s how it’s done the Vallotton way.

Damascus Steel Knife 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.)


4 thoughts on “Coloring Damascus Knives: How it’s Done

  1. Hey Josh, No the salt blue does not ruin the temper on our knives. In order for the knife to blue the steel must be hard, if it lost that temper the blue would not hold. But the blades are only in for a few minutes at just over 500 degrees. Its takes about an hour at that temp to really affect the temper on a blade so the few minutes doesn’t bother it.

  2. I should apologize a little bit, i said it doesn’t ruin the temper. That being said it does stay hard but it does lose a point or two on the rockwell. What that means is it will still hold an edge and the blue. However if you are looking for a knife to cut something with i would not recommend anything blued. One the blueing will wear off eventually and two damascus in general does not hold a great edge so it will wear faster than any good high carbon/stainless steel would.

  3. I think this salt blueing is awesome any way you could tell me how to do this and what type of ingredients needed ? Trying to make my self a one of a kind damascus karambit and sean you have a way to color it love your knifes you guys make but a bit out of my price rang to spend on a knife so I makeing my own twisted damascus steel karambit and was wondering if I possibly could send it to you for coloring or if you could tell me how to repeat this it would be awesome thx agein

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