A visit to bladesmith master Karim Khedira.
Spraying sparks, glowing steel and hammer blows – Karim Khedira is one of the last remaining bladesmith and is passionately dedicated to one of the oldest crafts in the world. We were invited in his forge and were able to witness, between the heat and the dust, how a damascus knife is created. This was a community project with the Rollschleifer Owners Club, its members voted on the attributes of the unique piece, which was then jointly developed by Karim and Timo Horl. As we entered Karim’s rustic-looking workshop in Liestal, Switzerland, we traveled back in time. Instead of modern technologies, we discovered old fashioned machines with foot pedals like the “Herkules” pneumatic forging machine from the 1940s. We were carried away by Karim’s contagious passion for his craft and by the way he produces the noble damascus masterpiece through a sense of proportion, precision and attention to detail.
In the first step, Karim chooses three different steels and takes a specific look at the carbon percentage – the higher the carbon is, the harder the steel will be. This aspect is important for the stability of the blade. A decisive point for the later appearance of the damascus knife is the respective components of nickel and manganese in the steels. “These will give the blade its final characteristic pattern. The more different steels are being used, the more contrast the blade will later have.”
Between the high temperatures and the intense sparks, Karim is dividing the steels in three equal parts and folds these to billets. Briefly welded and roughly sharpened, Karim brings the metal block transports to the pre-heated oven of 1.100 – 1.200 degrees for fire welding. This process allows the steels to combine themselves and merge into a billet. Briefly taken out of the oven, Karim is powdering the steel with borax, which creates an airtight surface. Using the “Herkules” air hammer, Karim then forges the steel block and stretches it out to a length of approximatively 50 centimeters. He divides the result in four equal parts again, which he then refolds, rewelds and regrinds to one steel billet. By repeating the process, the initially invisible damascus pattern is created. After the third run, the stretched steel has a total amount of 256 layers. Karim will then forge the knife out of this billet.
Inspired by the Japanese bunka knife, our damascus knife gets a beveled tip and a straight back. After Karim has defined the transition from the handle to the blade, he will reduce the hardness of the steel by softly annealing in the 700 degree oven. This way, it can be processed better. Afterwards, the surface grinder provides a flat surface and reduces the thickness of the knife to about three millimeters. As soon as this thickness is achieved, Karim works out the contour of the unique damascus during belt grinding. This step needs absolute precision.
The blade gets its pre-grinding at the big, rotating grinding stone, and therefore gets ready for cutting. After the heat treatment for a stable, hard blade, our unique piece is quenched in oil out of the 850 degree stove. In order for the blade to achieve its hardness of use, the raw knife is put in the oven for two hours. Sharpened and polished again, Karim then dips the knife in hydrochloric acid. We find this the most fascinating step! The etching permits the damascus pattern to come to light. What looks like magic to us, is really just simple chemistry. By polishing on the buffing wheel, Karim brings out the damascus pattern in full glory. After Karim has attached the handle from black, exclusive moor oak, the last step is grinding the knife on the bank stone which has a #3000 grit.
We are now finally holding the unique knife in our hands! Made of 256 layers noble damascus with a blade hardness between 61 to 63 HRC, and a total length of 31 centimeters. The blade is 18 centimeters long. We directly used the opportunity to try sharpening the knife with our HORL 2 Sharpener. The height of the knife is perfectly suited for our Sharpener. In order to bring out the whole potential of the damascus knife, we used the extra-fine corundum whetstone of our HORL Premium Sharpness Set. The fine #6000 grit of the whetstone gives the blade the final grind and refines the edge.
“While forging, it is important to have a sense of proportion and an artistic flair. To this day, not much has changed from the original craftsmanship with the exception of the machines. It fascinates me every time, to put the raw steel in the fire and to bring the shape with my own strength, in order to work out the details of my knives more and more precisely. I understand why forging knives was seen as magical, because it needs a lot of knowledge“
– Karim Khedira