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Common Tread

Video: Stop throwing out your old chains and take up blacksmithing

Jun 15, 2020

Don’t throw out your old motorcycle chain just yet. There’s a secret hack you need to know.

If you take that chain and go learn some advanced blacksmithing, you can turn it into a sweet dagger for opening all your packages from RevZilla! Mostly joking, although the trusty utility knife in the shop is looking pretty boring compared to this craftsmanship. YouTuber shurap shows the full process of turning a steel motorcycle chain into an ingot, and then into a beautiful tool. I’m guessing the chain he’s using is plain carbon steel, though it could be an alloy of some kind. 

It might be best to call this damascus-style steel, rather than actual damascus. Purists will point out that we don’t know exactly how damascus steel was made. It’s (almost certainly) named for the city of Damascus, now the capital of Syria, where goods made from the wavy steel were sold and made. Damascus steel doesn’t necessarily mean it was made in that city, though.

Either way, the raw material used to make damascus is a high-carbon crucible steel called wootz, which was traded as ingots from India, Sri Lanka and the surrounding region for some 1,500 years. The steel was pretty high-performance material in its time, if not the first high-performance metal, and all kinds of legends sprung up around it. A sword made with the stuff would have been a big deal. I have to think that people then, as now, knew it had to be something special just by the way it looked. 

Damascus patterns vary from waves and “ladder” shapes to swirls and twists. Some take on a mosaic look. Once the final shape is ready, intentional processes can highlight the lines in the steel, which shurap does towards the end of the video. Motorcycle chains seem to be a fairly common choice for folks making chain damascus. Find some motorcycling friends and you’ll have free junk chains for life! I did find one custom bike that used Damascus, but it’s an older post on the Cyril Huze blog and the pictures aren’t very big. So it goes.

Ever do anything cool with an old motorcycle chain? I have a couple kicking around...