Introduction: Bicycle/Chainsaw Chain Damascus Steel

Picture of Bicycle/Chainsaw Chain Damascus Steel

Here is how you can make a different kind of Damascus steel that has a very distinctive look. The main component in this kind of Damascus is either bike or chainsaw chain. For a brief history of Damascus steel please check out my cable Damascus instructable.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

For this instructable, I purchased 2 105 link bicycle chains. Be forewarned that even though the chain you have may look like it doesn’t have a coating it may still have one. I purchased the chain above because it looked the least coated but as I discovered later it was in fact coated and yielded an interesting pattern. I used a bar of mild steel as a base to hold the billet together though it is not necessary it just makes it easier to hold. I cut the chains in half with an Emory cutting disk on my angle grinder.

Step 2: Billet Prep

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I folded the 4 sections into equal sized rectangles and stacked them on top of each other. To keep everything together, I wrapped the ends in masking tape and then wrapped the whole billet in stainless steel wire. The masking tape will burn off in the forge and the wire will break off by the time the billet is forged out.

Step 3: Pre-forging

Picture of Pre-forging

Before forging, the billet was thoroughly soaked in wd40 and then coated in borax. This will aid in the forge welding of the billet but will eat away at the interior of your forge so using a protective refractory shelf is preferable.

Step 4: Forging

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Heat the billet to a bright orange or yellow and firmly strike it with each strike parallel to the anvil. Work your way down the length of the billet so that it is compressed evenly. Once the billet reaches a dull red color coat it in more borax and heat it up again. Rinse and repeat until you have a solid homogenous billet.

Step 5: Final Forge Related Steps

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Some of the chain sections may separate from the billet as it is being forged. To prevent these from causing more problems later you can break them off with a chisel. Also at this point in the forging, the wire should be staring to fall off and should be removed. It’s better to have hot steel fall off your piece on your terms and not randomly.

Step 6: What You Should Have Now

Picture of What You Should Have Now

The final billet may not look particularly pretty due to the nature of the chain. Based on the shape you may want to chisel off certain areas so that you won’t have to grind them later. You may also need to go back and re-forge the billet based on how it looks during the grind.

Step 7: Cutting and Grinding

Picture of Cutting and Grinding

Once the steel is appropriately forged you can grind the steel to shape. I used a grinding wheel on my angle grinder for the majority of the work and a sandpaper wheel on it for the pre acid sanding. The hole in the top was made with a carbide drill bit on a handheld power drill.

Step 8: Acid Etching and Polishing

Picture of Acid Etching and Polishing

The pieces were left in a ferric chloride bath for 12 hours and a pattern was revealed. You can either keep the pattern as is or polish it like I did. To prevent the pieces from rusting I used several coats of renaissance wax. The pieces were finished with brass jump rings so that they could be worn.


nramirez10 (author)2017-10-04

i havr never forgerd anything before want want to try smithing but i about read alot of people using borax for forge welding. but im wondering, is its a certaun kind that i have to get at a certain place or is it the same stuff that you can buy at the hardware store that is borax for roaches? dont want to try and start this and have the wrong stuff from the begging

madkins9 (author)nramirez102017-10-05

Borax for roaches (I believe) is actually boric acid, and you should not use it. standard laundry borax, such as 20 mule team, is what you should use as it melts and acts like a flux to fuse the layers together.

This is so darn cool, i never though it was this easy to make bicycle chain damascus! Great work!

badideasrus (author)2014-09-14

i dunno if it's just the lighting and the camera, but that chain doenst look hot enough to properly forge weld.... mayhap that's why peices where breaking free?

The camera is just the camera built into my phone so it doesn't do that great a job. I also tend to not take pictures until I'm about to put the piece back into the forge as to not waste heat. The pieces falling off is just sort of what happens when you try forging something with 210 movable sections by hand. I would love to have a forge press for stuff like this. Thanks for the comment.

eruger (author)Armeria Garcia2014-09-16

I'd bet that people have made DIY trip hammers, and that trip hammers are perfect for pattern welding: Anyone want to take that on as an Instructable? I'm restricted to a very small scale when it comes to hot working metals.

looker1995 (author)eruger2015-07-16

Google the "Clay Spencer tire hammer" or the "Appalachian power hammer". Or a Helve Hammer. Or a Treadle Hammer.

I'm not trying to be a smart aleck, these are all examples of home built hammering machines. Some are dead simple to build.

I've looked into some of those but the problem is that my current setup requires everything to be portable. I did find plans for a tiny forge press that looked pretty cheap to build. I was planning on having a family friend weld up the frame for me in the near future. Thanks for the comment.

I did notice that some of the welds did not fully bond.

Armeria Garcia (author)eruger2014-09-16

I would love to have one, that or a forge press. I'm not confident enough to try and build one myself though.

i see. that makes sence XP. should have thought of that.....

No worries.

Bowtie41 (author)badideasrus2014-09-16

I agree,also in step 2,the author talked of coatings,that also should burn off with oils,etc. when hot enough.The fact that the chains are made from different hardness metals,when forged correctly,should make awesome blades or other projects,yielding both hardness,and flexibility.HEAT THAT MOTHER UP!!!!LOL

Armeria Garcia (author)Bowtie412014-09-16

The coating I referred to was actually a nickel plating so it was actually able to hold up in the forge. I'm not sure how well other coatings would hold up though such as the fancy colored anodized chains.

Prophes0r (author)2014-11-08

I really like the look of the striations you got using this method.

However; unless you traveled back in time to the middle-east, it is not Damascus steel. It is just pattern welded steel, which mimics the look and structure of ancient Damascus steel but is not the same.

Example: If I take a modern bronze alloy and make a sword with it, I did not just make a Bronze Age sword. I made a sword, and it is bronze, but putting the words bronze, age, and sword in that order gives it a totally different meaning.

bettina-sisr (author)Prophes0r2014-12-24

Actually I think it is appropriate to call it Damascus, because it is referring to the pattern, not the steel. Like saying French Fries, they're not actually potatoes from France, but the way they're cut and cooked. Am I making sense? Although you are correct if someone says "authentic Damascus steel sword" made today because the original formula is not known today. Peace, and no disrespect intended, just my 2 cents:)

Armeria Garcia (author)Prophes0r2014-11-08

Thanks. I actually go over all of that in a previous ible. I say Damascus because for a lot of people the modern connotation is that of pattern welded steel.

Fikjast Scott (author)2014-10-10

this is great, very nice job


Dark Solar (author)2014-10-01

Like the patterning in the...ummm....'lozenge/dog-tag' type thingy. Maybe lay a series of tack weld across the top/sides of the billet before starting consolidation and grinding them away after first heat rather than a wire wrap?

Dark Solar (author)Dark Solar2014-10-01

Addendum: I keep a 10x12 sheet cake pan with an inch of borax in the bottom right next to the forge. Yank it, roll it, throw it back for a 20 seconds, then hammer away. :D

I actually keep my borax in a bread box.

Initially I was going to weld it all over to keep it together. I was just too lazy to bust out the welder when the wire wrap would only take a minute.

Menirz (author)2014-09-17

While there's a few issues calling that Damascus steel, it certainly is a cool technique. Nice job man.

Still, I'd love to see someone make real damascus steel, seeing as its a largely lost art that modern science has trouble recreating. They do know that they had frickin carbon nanotubes holding them together so thats pretty epic.

Armeria Garcia (author)Menirz2014-09-17

Thanks, I use the word Damascus not because I think it is Damascus steel but because lots of people associate the term with pattern welded steel. You should check out the NOVA special "secrets of the Viking sword", a smith makes real Damascus/wootz style steel in it.

Menirz (author)Armeria Garcia2014-09-20

Ahh, that makes sense! And thanks, ill be sure to check it out.

Menirz (author)Menirz2014-09-17

Also, after reading through some of the comments I feel bad about mentioning the not technically damascus part. Its a great technique, people really need to stop giving you so much grief for it. Or at least make it more civil/constructive. Keep up the good work.

Armeria Garcia (author)Menirz2014-09-17

No worries. Some topics just get some people riled up.

Bowtie41 (author)2014-09-16

Now,now,there's supposed to be a "be nice" policy.This was done as an "art piece",not a true Damascus.You posted several nice tips(no WD-40,oils etc)The main point is the metal never got hot enough to "properly" forge,but it DID make large inclusions which is what the author "wanted" for the "art piece".But to tell them "I would never personally show to anyone. If you know what you're doing you won't lose any of the chain, you'll get solid welds and you won't have any inclusions",is rather mean to the author,and may hinder them from trying something again.They did not say they were blacksmiths with 12 years experience.It was not meant for strength,just looks.

Armeria Garcia (author)Bowtie412014-09-16

This was a first attempt at bike chain Damascus and thus requires a bit of tinkering. I've done lots of other Damascus that turned out perfectly but I had a better idea of what steel I was working with. Different steels forge weld better at different temperatures. I'm used to forge welding 10xx series steels so running the forge for an unknown based on what you are used to doesn't always work. Some people are stuck in their ways of thinking and would rather criticize instead of giving legitimate advice. Just how the world works I suppose.

tsmith110 (author)Armeria Garcia2014-09-16

I apologize if I've offended you, i will pull my post. I'm sorry you didn't find the information I posted as constructive criticism, people don't learn from their mistakes if people tell them well done on something that's not very good. I do think you should research damascus because you'll find no where that tells you to oil up the metal. The WD40 is why you get inclusions. I'm sure your other damascus has inclusions in it as well if you use WD40 on it. You might not be able to see it, but they're there. Good luck to you.

Armeria Garcia (author)tsmith1102014-09-16

I realize that using wd40 is not common but let me put it to you this way: 99% of the material that is included in inclusions is comprised of either FeO, Fe3O4 or Fe2O3, wd40 is comprised of various hydrocarbons ( compounds with C, H and O), the running forge is a continuous combustion reaction which means that hydrocarbons and O2 are converted into CO2 and H20. The point I'm making with an incredibly long run on sentence is that the addition of wd40 adds nothing that wouldn't already be in there. I got inclusions because I didn't keep hitting it enough and that's it. Chemically speaking, saying that wd40 will certainly give you inclusions is saying that all forge welds in existence contain inclusions.

* Just wanted to amend the above comment. Hydrocarbons have C and H. I must have added the O because I still had the basic combustion formula in my head. Hydrocarbons are flammable nonetheless.

you must have been thinking of carbs... i know i was. mmm... donuts...

In my head I read the "mmm...donuts" part in Homer Simpsons voice.

tsmith110 (author)Armeria Garcia2014-09-16

Look, I apologized and pulled my original comment. You can spout your periodic tables all you want, you obviously know more than the hundreds of other older blacksmith's and bladesmith's. You obviously are a professional Master Blacksmith and can learn nothing from anyone else because you know it all. I bow to you and will not question your skills or knowledge again. Good luck to you.

Armeria Garcia (author)tsmith1102014-09-17

I'm just trying to get you to understand where I'm coming from. Everything I know about smithing comes from older smiths online. The only difference is that those smiths are open to having a civil dialog and explaining why certain things should be done. Some of them even explain using "periodic tables" as you put it.

Armeria Garcia (author)2014-09-16

Everyone has a method that works for them. I picked up the wd40 thing from the older smiths online. This was my first attempt at welding bike chain so the inclusions were an unfortunate product of having never done it before.

ahooper (author)Armeria Garcia2014-09-17

Have a look at the resources and guys there are awesome.

Armeria Garcia (author)ahooper2014-09-17

I've actually picked up quite a few tips and tricks from the guys on that site.

texdanl (author)2014-09-17

What EVER you want to call it, it looks very cool and interesting. THAT is what you were after and you were 100% successful. I'm going to have to give this a try myself when I get my forge set up. I don't understand the thing a lot of folks seem to have about WD-40. I use it for nearly EVERYTHING. First aid, fishing. Cleaning you name it WD is involved. Thanks for a very good instructable. Don't sweat the grumps. They are like the spell checkers that can't figure out what a word means if you are one letter off in the spelling.

Armeria Garcia (author)texdanl2014-09-17

Thank you very much.

Digital Wizard (author)2014-09-16

Looks to me like it needs to be forged some more. Heat it and beat it...keep going. Fold it over and keep going. Eventually you'll get it down to a proper billet.

Yep, the same thing has been commented said several times already. Thanks all the same.

At the time I made that comment I hadn't seen others had, nor had I reached the end where I saw you were making something ornamental and not for use. If you got the look you were going for, you did it right. ;)

It was a first attempt and it didn't go quite as planned. I kinda like the aesthetic that the inclusion added to the piece though.

Dain Unicorn (author)2014-09-16


Wish I could get access to a forge again, reminds me of heady days 20+ years ago when I played at being a junior-apprentice.

Thanks. It's never too late to start forging again.

True, I started at 50.

eruger (author)2014-09-16

By the way, I forgot to say that this is gorgeous! It's esthetically similar to reticulation in silver which I've always loved (Reticulation is done by a completely different process though).

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