Skull and Bones Damascus Steel Lanyard Bead

Starting the second lanyard bead out of  damascus steel by Geoff Keyes (  Above

, I’ve engraved the outlines really deeply, so I can carve the skull in 3D, but below the surface in Japanese shishiaibori style.  I began with a wide graver (Lindsay Universal, 116 degree), followed by a narrower graver (Lindsay Detailer, 96 degree).  Each subsequent pass makes the cut deeper and deeper.  I finished deepening it even more with third pass with an onglette.

Above, I’ve darkened the bead for better visualization.

Here, I’ve begun the part of the shishiaibori process that makes it all come alive.  I’m using small flat gravers and carbide burs to carve the skull inside the deeply engraved outlines.  All of the skull will be inside those lines, and the highest point will be the original surface of  the bead.  Sorry for the lousy image…photography isn’t my strong suit.

Above is a simplified graphic explaining the Shishiaibori technique.

Here I’ve finished carving the interior of the skull.  I’ve done most of the surface refinement using small punches (made from discarded burs).

And a darkened version – I can’t help but want to know what it will look like when finished.  The bead is now ready to inlay the bones in 24 karat gold.  This kind of inlay is quite straightforward

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, and I’ve discussed it many times before.

Since this is damascus steel (or pattern welded steel, as it is sometimes called), I have to etch the surface in order to discover the lovely surprise waiting inside.  Prior to etching, damascus steel looks like any other kind of steel.  However, since I’ve spent all this effort carving the skull and inlaying the gold bones, I’m going to have to mask off the parts I don’t want etched.  I’m using a Charbonnel lacquer masking agent (the dark stuff covering the skull and the bones).

I prefer to use ferric chloride as the etching agent for steel.  Thats the icky looking yellow-brown liquid in the jar.  It’s by far the safest and most effective of the various agents I could use – most are acids, more difficult and dangerous to handle, with nasty vapors during the etching process.  I’ve jammed a dowel into the hole in the bead so I can extract it during etching to see how things are going without running the risk of damaging the masking.  About two hours in my chilly studio worked well in this case – yes, temperature plays a large part in this process.

The different types of steel Geoff Keyes used while making the damascus layers etch at different rates, and take on different hues during etching, revealing the surprises hidden inside.

Here’s a closeup of the bead after etching, so you can see the intricate details of the damascus steel.

Geoff_Keyes_Skull_Bones_Lanyard_BeadAnd here’s the bead from all sides, in all of its’ glory!

The Geoff Keyes Damascus Skull and Bones lanyard bead is complete, and soon to depart for America and into Geoff’s hot paws.

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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