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titleMosaic steel
Johan Gustafsson

I was born in 1964 in a town called Norrköping, a 2 hour drive south of Stockholm, very close to the east coast of Sweden. The area where I live and work is well known for ancient monuments from the Viking era and castles from the 13th-15th century. Occasionally, Viking swords and other relics are found in the area. Archeologists have documented an ancient weapon forge that was active from around 1170- 1500 AD, I can see the site from my house.

The shore of a nice lake called Roxen and a river called Motala Ström are only a 5 minute walk from my house. It means a lot to me to live that close to water. I enjoy fishing and boating, I tend to catch a lot of big bass. I also enjoy the great game of ice hockey. I am involved in sponsorship and game day promotions for the local ice hockey team, playing in the second division.

When I began making knives in 1993, I got so addicted; I decided that this is something I really want to work with. From early on in my knife making and forging career, I have been focused on getting maximum contrasts in the steels and trying to find the most unusual handle materials that exist. I use exclusively Swedish tool steels when creating and forging the mosaic damascus steel, such as 15N20, 20c, 2550 and 17va.

It is very important for me, to experiment with different materials and steels, trying to improve all the time! At least 4-6 weeks every year, I put everything aside, and go “wild” experimenting in the workshop.

I make all kinds of knives. Although making folding knives has been something that I have been focusing on a little bit more, I really enjoy making all kinds of fixed bladed knives too. In the spring of 2004, I began experimenting with forging mosaic damascus steel for wrist watches. I now have a small exclusive production running.

Mosaic steel

What is Damascus steel?

Another way to describe it is Pattern welded steel. It is a technique that has been used more than thousand years. Some say the technique comes from Asia, some say from the Middle East (Damascus), others say it comes from Scandinavia and the Vikings. No one knows for sure. In those days, the technique was used to create stronger and better swords than the enemy. The forging became so refined that even today’s specialists wonder how it was done. One of the results is that a very nice pattern appears in the steel , when slightly etched in acid, or when the patina of using it a long time shows on the surface of the steel. In those days a very good sword and knife smith, was worth his weight in gold….

How is it done?

I mix two different steels, for example one pure carbon steel with 1% carbon and one carbon/nickel steel with 1% carbon and 2 % nickel. I forge weld these two and draw the steel by forging to double lengths, folding the piece in the middle and forge welding again. This procedure gets repeated until the amount of desired layers are achieved, let’s say 120- 140 layers. After this, when the piece is approximately 1inch thick (25mm) 1½inches wide (35mm) and 10inches long (25cm), it is time to do some drilling or grinding into the piece. This will show off like nice waves or pools when the steel is finished. By drilling or grinding one third into the piece on each side and then heating it up and forge to the desired thickness, I achieve the pattern I want. After grinding, heat treating, grinding again, polishing, etching for 10-15 minutes in acid, cleaning in water, drying, and finally slightly polishing, we have the finished blade.

What is Mosaic Damascus steel?

This technique is more complicated and time consuming. Using a square tube, 2x2 inches high and 4 inches long. I fill the tube with steel rods of varying dimensions and nickel sheet, this way I create an image that will be visible when the steel is finished. This procedure takes a very long time. I forge weld the “package” together. When it has cooled down, I cut slices that I then forge weld together again, carefully shaping the steel to fit the desired blade or bolster.

How is the coloring done?

I use a boiling solution that is called nitro blue, when the blade is all finished (see “how is it done); I put it in the nitro blue for a few minutes. The Swedish tool steels react well to the blueing solution, the varying alloys in the steels react differently, thus giving me an array of interesting colors.

Generel_view Assembly Air hammer The anvil

Amber Amber
Amber is the common name for fossil resin that is appreciated for its inherent and interesting mixture of colours and it is widely used for the manufacture of ornamental objects worldwide. I always try to find unique textures when working with this material. Its deep gem-like color can enhance the appearance of almost any steel. A fantastic material to work, smells like flowers when grinding it. It gives a three dimensional feeling when polished.

Betar Walrus tusk
Walrus tusk is a beatuiful material to work, the very old tusks has a fantastic variation of colors. It is a bit similar to Mammoth tusk (see below). Most of the tusk material is found in Alaska and Greenland. A tusk that is just a few hundred years old is white or white/yellow. I am always looking for tusks that are 10-50 000 years old, that is when all the nice colors appears.

Coral Coral
This material is a little bit brittle to work, but gives a very nice look when it is finished. It is very stabile. 1 and 2 are stabilized coral and 3 is stabilized and dyed fossilized coral, and very hard to find.

Glass Glass
I have always been fascinated with glass, and after some experimenting, I have developed a technique to fuse different kinds of glass and use as handle material. This gives me a wide variety in creating different patterns colors and designs, which fits nicely with the steel I create.

Mammoth tusk Mammoth tusk
A quite well known material in the knife business, the outer part of the tusk usually have very nice colors, the colors comes from different minerals, depending on where it was found, different parts of Siberia, Alaska, or in the ocean. The inner part of the tusk is from white to brown, also depending on where it was found. The tusk material is normally between 15-30000 years old.

Ox Musk ox
This is a very unusual material, it looks like a mixture of pearl and antler, when it is polished, it gives an almost transparent, three dimensional feeling, It is the fore head shield that is used. The material comes from Greenland.

Prehistoric Prehistoric
Somtimes I come across unusual and desirable prehistoric (15-100 000 thousand years old) materials that I use as handle materials, or just collect them because they are so special. such as: 1: Shinbone from a giant horse. 2: Lower jaw from a cave bear. 3: A Mammoth rib. 4: The nose from a big saw fish: 5: Bone from a Whalrus jaw. 6: Buffalo horn.

Pearls Pearl
These are my three favourite varieties of pearl. 1: Black Lip Pearl, as the name tell it is a very dark pearl, the nicest quality also shows purple, green and red tones, this one is a little bit harder than Mother of pearl and Gold lip pearl. 2: Gold lip pearl shows of gold tones in a mixture of purple and white. 3: Mother of pearl, this is the most well known pearl, used in many ways. Shows of white with gold and purple tones.