Titanium Damascus Knives (Timascus, Moku-Ti and Zla-Ti)
Experiments with titanium laminate and damascus began more than half a century ago. Titanium dioxide by its properties has a number of features, due to which it can be used in the production of knives (see the article for details). Among them are low weight, high strength, including side loads, full corrosion resistance. It can also be subjected to different types of special treatment to obtain metal of different colors. Among them is primarily anodizing, which has good durability. However, custom craftsmen, especially those who work with Damascus on a regular basis, wanted to obtain from titanium exactly the pattern similar to Damascus steel: colorful, individual and not fading with time. These experiments led to the creation of titanium damascus, produced under the brand Timascus, as well as some other types of laminates made of the same material.
The first industrial experiments to create damascus from titanium alloys date back to the middle of the XX century, when metallurgists received samples of the so-called "Nitinol" (Type 60 Nitinol), an alloy consisting of 40% titanium and 60% nickel. Its main quality was the so-called "shape memory effect," which allows the bent material to return to its original state when heated. In addition, the material is non-corrosive and non-magnetic. The alloy did not become widespread because of the complicated manufacturing process and is very rarely used in the manufacture of knives.
Over the past 30 years, titanium alloys have become very popular. First of all, due to the activity of enthusiasts from the United States. The most popular was Timascus, a titanium composite created by American craftsmen Tom Ferry, Bill Cottrell and Chuck Beebe. Its manufacturing process has been patented. The purpose of the titanium damascus was to produce a corrosion-resistant, non-magnetic and lightweight laminated material that could give the knife the most beautiful appearance possible without the drawbacks of steel damascus. Timascus is composed of two or more titanium alloys (most commonly CP and 6AL4V grades). Each type of titanium alloy makes it possible to obtain an individual color combination. The laminate acquires color both by heat treatment and by additional anodizing.
In general, Timascus is processed in the same way as other titanium alloys, and the welding process is similar to that of steel damascus. To create a laminate, different layers are welded, followed by forging. Each weld is followed by processing on a surface grinder and only then by the next weld. Grinding is what makes this material so expensive. During the grinding process, titanium is sheared off and turned into chips that cannot be used later, which means that the material consumption in the manufacture of Timascus is very high. It can be up to 80% of the size of the original workpiece. In order to obtain the most saturated colors after each welding, a finer and finer grinding is applied.
Timascus can have a wide variety of patterns, the most common being:
Mosaic pattern. When it is created, the pattern goes all the way through the workpiece, and the lines and shape are not erased by sanding. Mosaic patterns take several days to make. Patterns often require making a blank, then cutting and welding the blank and creating a new pattern to work with subsequent layers. This pattern costs substantially more than the others. In this case, the damascus pattern comes through on only one side of the blank and runs all the way through.
Black Timascus is a Timascus that contains zirconium in addition to titanium alloys. Its structure resembles a mosaic pattern, which appears only on one side of the blank. Its quality characteristics make it heavier than titanium composite and less flexible.
Double patterning, in which there is a different pattern on each side of the blank. Timascus blanks with a double pattern are the least expensive. Most of the patterns on one side of the double-sided blanks are called Nebula.
Ultra-thin Timascus (UTT). It is quite rare for manufacturers to produce strips made of so-called "ultra-thin timascus". The thickness of the blank in this case is 0.080 inches or less. This is an extremely capricious material, which has great difficulty keeping it flat and has a tendency to bend heavily.
Despite the exceptional characteristics of the finished product, the manufacture of Timascus is complicated by several technological features. First and foremost is the possibility of permanent weld failure and delamination of the workpiece. The forging press requires maximum control to weld the layers together without distortion. This process is called "precision forging" and requires a high level of skill from the blacksmiths.
Timascus is a quite popular material in the manufacture of both fixed and folding knives. It is used in the creation of bases, bolsters and tips. And on folding knives, it is used for pads and even full-size handle strips, as well as the most expensive carrying clips.
A special type of titanium laminate is the so-called Moku-Ti. It is made in Blue Springs, North Mississippi, by a small company called Chad Nichols Damascus. The purpose of the material was to produce a corrosion resistant, non-magnetic, lightweight multi-layered damascus that would be suitable for knife decoration. The structure is that of a mokume (damascus with a wood grain pattern) with titanium laminates. The material consists of titanium alloy 6AL-4V and "commercially pure" Grade 1 titanium, bonded together similar to the creation of Damascus steels. The manufacturing process of Moku-Ti is very complex and toxic. Welding is done under vacuum using hydrofluoric and nitric acids. MokuTi gives the knife an exceptional visual effect through swirling or mosaic shades of blue, gold, orange, silver and pink, depending on the composition of the materials used.
In addition to Moku-Ti, Chad Nichols produces Zircu-Ti, a titanium-zirconium layered composition with a full volume thickness pattern. Zircu-Ti is less flexible than Mocu-Ti and has more weight. When oxidized, the zirconium in its composition takes on a dark gray, anthracite color, and the other constituents are oxidized in the same way as on Moku-Ti.
The Russian enterprise AiR from the city of Zlatoust in 2009 implemented the technology of production of the layered titanium composite Zla-Ti. It is created on the base of titanium alloys VT1.0 and VT6. Diffusion (forging) welding of metals at the company is made according to its own unique technology. Most often the result is a "wild" pattern. But the laminate is also produced in a great variety of patterns: "pyramid", "drop", "big rose", "twist", etc. Billets are supplied to customers in the form of rectangular or square strips of metal.
Titanium damascus has become a fairly common material for the most expensive, one-of-a-kind knives. It gives them an extra value and often equates them to jewelry and art objects.
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