Cable Damascus, The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Forging Wire Rope Into A Blade

Many years ago when I first got into knife making one of the first books I got mentioned forging crane cable into a blade.  I found that fascinated and wanted to try it.  At that time there wasn't a lot of information on the subject.  Here are some things I learned.

Steel rope, or as I like to call it "crane cable" can be divided into 2 steel families.  The first is stainless, these cables are either 200 or 300 grade austenitic stainless.  This isn't a grade that is suitable for making a blade from.  The other cables are carbon steel.  Some of these can be galvanized, these should be avoided as the zinc can make you sick and makes forge welding difficult.  

Unlike many "repurposed" steel items the cable manufactures do tell us what alloy they use.  Most carbon steel cable we run across are Extra IPS (improved plow steel) which is basically 1075.  This brings up the next point, where does the pattern come from if we are forging the same alloy together?  

The pattern that cable Damascus creates is caused by a decarb layer that amounts to .005 or .010 of the individual wires diameter.  This is important because as the wire size decreases the decarb from welding doesn't.  Working with very small cable will produce a billet that will not harden properly or not at all.  

Etching the cable is also a little different than pattern welded Damascus as cable like long etching cycles.  The temperature of the Ferric Chloride can also effect how the etched blade looks.

To increase performance I started playing with San Mai, sandwiching an alloy like 1095 between two pieces of cable.  This worked well, giving the look of cable but with increased performance especially when using small wired cable billets.  Since the 1075 cable was very similar in composition to the core alloy I started adding a nickel bearing alloy (15n20) that became what I called my River Pattern.

Cable is a fun and challenging material to work with that makes an interesting and functional blade.  

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Comment by James McClendon on July 6, 2023 at 5:14

Nice blade Dennis.  Never heard of cable being made from 9160.  May be a South American thing?

Comment by Dennis Hibar on July 6, 2023 at 3:47

Beautiful.  I really like the distinctive look of cable Damascus.  Have had a few over the years.  Here is one of my favorites by Argentinian knife maker Ariel Salaverria, made from 9160 cable ....

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