The most common search engine phrase drawing organic visitors to TTAK is “What is Damascus Steel?”. Will Woods’ “Ask a Knifemaker: The Truth About Damascus Steel” is the most common landing page for that search, with just shy of 300k page views all time. Reader JA left a comment on that post yesterday, linking a new documentary titled “The Secrets of Wootz Damascus steel” It follows the late Al Pendray, legendary knifemaker, and metallurgist JD Verhoeven’s quest to refine the process of producing authentic Wootz steel.
Ben Franklin once said, “If you want to be remembered after you die, write something worth reading, or do something worth writing about”. I wager a guess that Mr. Franklin would include being the subject of a documentary video were the technology to to have existed at the time. He also co-wrote something worth reading for that matter – “The Key Role of Impurities in Ancient Damascus Steel Blades” (with JD Verhoeven and WE Dauksch), which while a real, peer-reviewed scientific paper, is a fascinating read for an educated layman as well.
Al Pendray passed away earlier this year but he lives on through his work. Like the ancient smiths producing the original wootz, he has passed on the secrets of this legendary smelting and forging process. I never had the chance to meet Al, but I am extremely glad I watched this video. He was a son of a farrier, and the down-home practical smith is apparent, but also apparent is Al’s deep understanding of the internal structure of the steel – honed by decades of experience, research, and experimentation. Al’s personality clearly shines through in how he relates to the Jordanian smith who visited him with ore from Saladin’s mine.
I have shared other smelting and forging videos, like the complete ore-to-sword making of this traditional Korean sword, but this video is a class above. It really goes into great detail about the secrets of Wootz Damascus steel. Not just modern patter-welded steel, but authentic Wootz Damascus.
The documentary is produced and narrated by Mike Loades, whom you will probably recognize from his appearances on The History Channel.
Not only is he a weapons expert and enthusiast himself, but his baritone British makes the 50 minute run time fly by, keeping one’s rapt attention.
Well worth a watch this weekend if you can find the time.