Historically, there is probably no type of steel fabled more than Damascus steel. From the ancient times, steel forgeries from Near East and the Indian subcontinent produced Damascus steel blades that were known for their sturdiness, sharpness, and unique look.
Damascus steel was made from a combination of Wootz steel and particular forging techniques that have been lost through the sands of time. From the 3rd and 4th centuries and all the way to the 18th century, Damascus steel was known for being perhaps the best type of steel for blades and knives.
Sadly, these special forging techniques were lost, as was the Wootz steel. However, in recent times, we see a resurgence of a different forging technique and a reinvention of the Damascus steel. But it’s pretty safe to say that the modern Damascus steel is (often) a far cry from the original Damascus steel.
When Was Damascus Steel Discovered/Rediscovered?
Discovery of Damascus Steel
Wootz steel, which was the main component of the original Damascus steel, was discovered in ancient times, probably sometime around 3rd century BC. But it was not until the 3rd century that the forging process for the Damascus steel was discovered.
Wootz steel originated from Sri Lanka and South India but was soon transferred all around the Middle East. Soon, local forgeries started to use Wootz steel to forge a very special type of steel. It was produced with a very special forging technique for Wootz steel.
By casting iron and steel together under a reducing atmosphere with little to no oxygen, the metal started absorbing more carbon from charcoal, resulting in a very sturdy type of steel, called Damascus steel. And the special wavy pattern is still up for debate; some claim it’s due to the wind that the steel was exposed to after the forging process.
Why is the Steel Called Damascus Steel?
And so, a legend was born. After the 3rd and 4th centuries, Wootz steel was traded all across the Middle East, and the forging technique became the golden standard for forging the finest blades around.
One of the main trading areas of Damascus steel was Syria, which could explain the reason behind the name of the steel. Some say that the name (Damascus) was due to a high volume of trading in Damascus, Syria’s capital. Others say that Damascus was the primary center for creating Damascus steel.
Whatever the reason was, the name remains, and it developed in something of a legend within the forging world.
The Decline of Damascus Steel and Rediscovery
During the 1700s, the routes of trading for Wootz steel started to change. Natural factors, decline in mining of the Wootz steel, and a loss of tradition when it comes to Damascus steel production were all major contributors to the decline of the Damascus steel.
What followed was a century of darkness for Damascus steel. Swords and knives from this steel became something of a myth – very rare and hard to find. But in the second half of the 20th century, there was a resurgence in popularity of Damascus steel.
To this day, the original process of producing Damascus steel is still unknown. Many scientists have tried to explain the forging process for creating this type of steel – almost all of them failed. But the appeal for the beauty and effectiveness of the Damascus steel remained.
Despite all the technology and science behind the project, nobody was able to uncover the process behind the Wootz steel, and how it was mined. That’s why modern Damascus steel blades are made as a result of a very different type of process.
The Damascus steel we see nowadays is pattern-welded Damascus steel. It’s a forging procedure where several irons and metals are cast together by hammering them at high temperatures, producing the famous watery effects on the modern Damascus steel.
What Is So Special About Damascus Steel?
Not only that, it looks great, but it’s one of the sturdiest and durable types of steel out there.
The original Damascus steel was known to be far superior to the irons and metals that were used at the time. It was also very unique in appearance, thanks to the waves on the blade, and the forging procedure was also somewhat unique.
The Damascus steel we see around us today is a bit hit-and-miss. Some marketers market their steel as Damascus steel purely based on looks, and it’s clear that the quality is just far behind the original.
The best types of Damascus steel from today are great, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that nobody has been able to replicate the Damascus steel from the ancient times, where it was believed to be the best steel around.
Damascus steel is not a pure metal. It’s a combination of metals and impurities with high carbon concentration values, making it unique in its own way. And the stories or the myths of how the original Damascus steel was made make it something of a legend among metallurgists.
There are many myths about the steel out there. Some say that it was forged with by adding the blood of enemies to the forging process – a myth, of course, but it just goes to show how big of a legend the steel became. Others say that the patterns on original Damascus steel were caused by the winds which were used to cool down the steel.
How Many Layers Does Damascus Steel Have?
The requirements that some forgeries have for their Damascus steel are very high. For example, to become a Master Smith according to the American Bladesmith Society, the smith should be able to forge a Damascus blade with over 300 layers of steel.
The requirements for the top-of-the-range Damascus steel products nowadays are pretty high. As I’ve already mentioned, several hundred layers of steel are normal for high-quality Damascus steel blades. It’s made from several layers of irons and metals and then cast over with alloys, which will protect the steel from corrosion. Most Damascus steel blades are of very high quality.
However, the truth is that many smiths and sellers will offer you Damascus steel of inferior quality. In those cases, the number of layers is lower, and the price is also lower, usually. And they sell their blades as Damascus steel blades purely because of the way it looks.
Does Damascus Steel Rust Easily?
Modern Damascus steel is corrosion-resistant, as it’s made from several high-quality steel alloys that protect the steel from rusting.
As for the Wootz steel, it’s probably a fact that it wasn’t as good as the modern alloys that protect the steel from corrosion. However, at the time that Damascus steel was popular, it was meant as the premium type of steel, and possibly the best anti-corrosion steel at the time.
A lot of it comes down to the forging processes that we use today. Today, we use electric furnaces with steady, high temperatures, which makes it easier for us to control how the blade is made, and how the alloys are applied. In ancient times, these forgeries were not that easy to control – the temperatures often varied, making it harder to stay consistent with the forging.
What is the Advantage of Damascus Steel?
In ancient times, Damascus steel was quite vulnerable to dulling and snapping. It was still not as durable as the steel we have today, and that’s mainly due to the production techniques, but also due to the advancement in the metallurgy technologies.
What are the advantages of using Damascus steel?
- The combination of low and high carbons in the blade allows the blade to become semi-serrated, allowing you to cut through materials easily.
- Extremely sharp blades
- Damascus steel blades are gorgeous to look at
- They stay sharp for longer
- These steels can be used for various means – cooking, outdoors, decoration, etc.
- Damascus steel has a rich history.
Are Damascus Steel Knives Worth It?
I think that yes, Damascus steel knives are worth it. Not only do they look great, but you’ll also get extremely sharp knives with a unique look and feel to them. They are very versatile knives, as they can be used for cooking, outdoors, and various different means.
High-end Damascus steel knives can dictate a steep asking price, though. But you’ll also be getting premium quality of a knife, so if you really want a top-end Damascus steel knife, you’ll have to spend slightly more.
But you’ll want to buy the Damascus steel knives that are of a high level of quality, and not knives that are marketed as Damascus steel knives but are in reality, not Damascus steel, but they just look like it.
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Last update on 2021-01-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Damascus steel knives are some of the most beautiful knives on the market. They have a rich historical value, as Damascus steel is one of the oldest and most traditional types of steel. Sadly, the forging procedures for the ancient Damascus steel has been lost, but the resurgence of the modern Damascus steel provides us with plenty of quality.