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Friday, January 28, 2011

Damascus Steel and Georgian Bulat Swords (part 2)

Elite Russian officer's model 1913 presentation "Golden Weapon" with a badge of order of St. George for Gallantry. The Damascus steel blade is decorated with military symbolics and the pommel bears cypher of the Emperor Alexander III. The blade is marked with name of the city - Moscow. The hand painted and enameled order of the St. George is attached to the pommel. All original parts including the St. George knot. LINK to all pictures

So, at the beginning of the XIX century the Russian army, considered one of the strongest in the world, was not armed with good blades. It was necessary to pay serious attention to the production of cold weapons in Russia. The Chief of Weapons Factories and Finance Minister, E.F. Cancrin was ordered to organize manufacturing of Damascus steel blades. Eliazaroshvili, whose art was widely known that time, was approached by Cancrin’s people. There is evidence that Karamon Eliazaroshvili in 1828 revealed the recipe of Georgian saber steel. K. K Cholokashvili found this recipe in the old "Acts of the Caucasus Archive Company." From this description it becomes clear how complex was the method.

"For a sword or a saber take 5 pounds of flat iron, put in a furnace and heat it so that it can be cut into three parts along the length of the strip. Then cut each part into two pieces, which will form 6 equal parts, the length of each is equal to a quarter yard (a quarter of ‘arshin’). Then take two pounds of steel, boiled and raw, put in a bucket, heat it so much that you can cut it into three parts along the length of the strip, equal in size of the iron parts.

Then take two pieces of iron mentioned above, inserting one piece of prescribed steel in it, weld and sand with other parts of the iron and steel. When the iron and steel welded together, forge a welded piece in a 1/2 yard length, (ie, in ‘polarshina;), breadth three-quarters of an inch (3/4 of ‘vershok’) and a thickness of one-eighth of an inch (1/8 of ‘vershok’). Then glow in the hearth each piece of this and sprinkle the top and bottom with crushed cast iron (which should be prepared in advance like sand), using the iron blade. Total cast iron needed are 6 pieces for iron of one pound. 

After this re-forge each piece in double, (one yard length, width half an inch). After finishing the above, bend each piece 5 times and cook them together in the furnace with sand, then using a skin material stretch out the rod a length of a half a yard, cut into two parts, weld again with sand, stretching out a new half a yard rod, cut in half again. Then put in the middle of the rods a ½ pound strip of steel, of the same length and width as iron pieces, weld together with sand, and finally forge a strip-like saber, but, shorter than a saber by two inches (2 “vershka”). Then cut its both sides, using a chisel and make it like a big file. Then whittle down the cuts, clean with a file. In a quarter of an hour, clean it from dust powder and check if it looks good and as desired, and it is ready now"

It is known that in the 30s of the XIX century Russian students were sent to Tbilisi. In 1832 George Eliazaroshvili makes a sword and sends it back with his Russian students to the Russian Emperor Nicholas I. These weapons are now stored in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petesrburg (Leningrad) and in the Historical Museum in Moscow. K. K Cholokashvili also quotes some archival documents from 1888, which state that "the best swords in the Russian cavalry were those that were made by Eliazaroshvili students.

Eliazaroshvili’s method is very similar to existing descriptions of sword production methods with an artificially carburized surface from northern parts of India. The stripes of iron repeatedly sprinkled with crushed iron, and then by multiple forging at "welding heat" created a concrete strength surface. These blades had a sharp blade, elongation and toughness. They are inferior in quality only to ‘bulat’.

The information above about welded Damascus steel (welded bulat) are the most recent. By the end of XIX century almost nobody in the world was making cold weapons from welded Damascus steel. The secret of its production was soon completely lost. Interestingly, that times in India Damascus bladed weapons were produced from conventional varieties of English or Swedish steel.

In USSR many of these secrets of welded Damascus steel became known through the work of the Georgian scientist, ethnographer K. Cholokashvili who deciphered a number of ways to produce it. He found the recipe of Georgian bulat and sent it to the Institute of Metallurgy, Georgian Academy of Sciences. The methid had been carefully studied. As a result, one of the shops of Rustavi Metallurgical Plant (led by Georgian SSR Academic F.Tavadze) obtained prototypes of welded Georgian Damascus steel in modern conditions. Prototypes fairly well resembled the patterns and properties of original museum exhibits.

By Yuri G. Gurevich "Damask Pattern Puzzle" (Part 2: "Damascus steel and Georgian Bulat") - Moscow: "Knowledge" 1985 - 192 pages
Translation based on material published at