Ask A Knifemaker: The Truth About Damascus steel

Damascus steel Skinning Knife

Redwood Skinner by Brad Vice courtesy arizonacustomknives.com

Brandon asksCan you help me understand all of these Damascus steel knives I keep seeing?  They look gorgeous, but are they just for looks?  Would one of these make for a good all-around knife?

Well, that’s a complicated question. First, let’s do a little freshening up on what exactly “Damascus steel” is. Damascus, Wootz, and patternweld are all names given to different types of steels and blades. Basically, the idea is that two or more steel alloys are forged/cast together through various methods to give the wavy artistic pattern that comes from such a layering process. Unfortunately, the technique for making both Damascus and Wootz steel has been lost to the centuries. Anyone claiming to be making authentic Wootz/Damascus these days is delusional. Or lying . . .

wootz dagger

wootz steel dagger

Traditional dagger cut from wootz ingot

99.9999% of the layered and forged steel these days is either san-mai or pattern welded (mokume and mosaic are a different thing all together.) San-mai steel is very common in Japanese knives, and it’s literally just a sandwich of 3 sheets of steel. Two outer stainless steels and a harder stainless or carbon steel core make up the cross section of a San-mai blade. No folding is done on a San-mai blade because the goal is to have a hard, protected edge that’s fused to the stainless steel but not mixed with it.

The other type of pattern-welded steel is the so called “Damascus steel”. Originally used in middle eastern sword making, the method has been lost since about the 16th century. The art form has resurfaced, though, and in 1973 bladesmith William F. Moran unveiled his “Damascus knives” at the Knifemakers’ Guild Show. Ever since then modern pattern-welded steel blades have been called “Damascus knives”.

You asked what they are used for. Well…the process of choosing steel for a Damascus blade is important. Many makers choose 2-5 alloys that play nicely together and make for a beautiful pattern. Once the knife is forged or ground to shape, the waves of steel alloy will meet at the edge and you can change the cutting performance of the blade by tweaking the alloy and its heat treat process.

devin Damascus steel blade

Zig-zag Damascus steel

210mm gyuto stainless damascus with 19c27 core, wenge handle

For instance Devin Thomas is a master Damascus steel maker. He forges every billet himself and has the process down to a science. Devin makes all-stainless Damascus steel, high contrast, double high carbon, and many, many exotic patterns. When he uses AEB-L and 304 together, it’s obvious that some of the stronger qualities of AEB-L will be watered down by the softer 304. But remember — forged together in a blade, differing alloys present at the blade’s edge can make for a micro-serration surface, aiding in sawing or slicing actions.

When it comes down to it, most of today’s super exotic alloys will outperform any pattern-welded steel. Owning and using a Damascus steel blade is about personal style and respect for the time and process of developing such a blade. A well-made Damascus blade will stay sharp for longer than most production quality knives, but if you’re looking for the ends-of-the-earth best performing blade steel, look elsewhere.

As with any knife-related subject, quality is largely determined by how much it costs. True “name brand” Damascus steel is of the highest quality. Devin Thomas, Chad Nichols, Brad Vice, and Rob Thomas are all makers that forge each billet with quality and care. Knives made from these steels will make fantastic knives. Unfortunately cheap knockoff stuff from China, Pakistan and India shows up on Ebay and other online retailers all the time. These knives are junk and will disappoint you. The rule of thumb is, if the price is too good to be true, it is.

If you have more questions on the subject, I’ll be more than happy to answer you in the comments.

For a great video explanation of Damascus steel from Knifemaker, click below. it is a great compliment to this article 


Knifemaker Will Woods is owner of Woods Bladeworks. He is TTAK’s “Knifemaker in Residence” and contributing author. 

comments

  1. Aharon says:

    Interesting article and thanks for putting ‘Damascus’ into perspective. I’m surprised that with modern science experts cannot reverse engineer a surviving Damascus blade from centuries ago assuming they do have historical pieces.

    1. ChuckN says:

      Part of the problem is the steels themselves. Because Damascus
      is a combination of steels, the rate of degradation varies. This
      can result in a sword having one or two main alloys but having
      the rest essentially rust away. The disappearing metal can still
      be detected but exact quantities are usually only a conjecture.
      The molecular bonding and structure could give clues to how
      the Damascus was made. But again with a pattern of ever
      changing steels; how accurate are the tests going to be. Like
      today there were good and bad knife makers; hard telling if
      the knife or sword tested was of reputable quality or junk.
      All in all, it’d be awesome if they could reverse engineer it,
      but it’s easier said than done.

      1. Aharon says:

        Thank you.

      2. oussef says:

        There is another issue with reproducing True ancient damascus. Original damascus was a “regional” product. Meaning that the quarries that yielded the Iron sand used in making damascus could have been lost to war or natural disaster. these raw materials likely had very specific chemical and physical qualities based a regions “flavor” of iron sand that allowed for the production of this damascus.

        1. USMCPOP says:

          Oussef, exactly. I have read some about Wootz steel. Seems that the ore or raw steel was from a certain area in India, perhaps. The ore may have had other trace elements in it, such as Vanadium or Molybdenum, which made the product more of a low-alloy steel. Once the smiths developed their techniques and processes, it worked wonderfully until the source of the special ore dried up.

          I heard that there was once a source of ore in Cuba that was very special. One mountain or mine somewhere. Sort of like diamonds and gold are only found in abundance in localized areas.

      3. Yomasa Hoochi says:

        The Japanese have been making their swords the same way for over 800 years. Creating tamahagane is as ancient as the art of black smithing.

      4. Josh S Moore says:

        What is your opinion on Dalstrong Chef Knives?

    2. Paul Newman says:

      http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/jom/9809/verhoeven-9809.html
      at least one group has done exactly that.

      1. Yeah, the “lost for centuries” bit turned me off the rest of the article. You can, in fact, buy crucible wootz. It’s not cheap, and the alloy elements have to be added rather than being inate to the ore, but it does exist.

        1. Meredyth Watts says:

          Slight correction, crucible wootz steel that you can buy today is not as high quality or endurance as that provided in antiquity. Thus the current “wootz” you are looking at is in actually a beta test on recreating the original

    3. Joe Thomas says:

      I’ve bought a few from eBay and for what I paid they’ve out done alot of brand named mom Damascus got 200$ buck knife that can’t stand up to one of my Damascus I paid 60 for they stay sharp but they are art work in them selves I got a,display case they look nice buck knives and alot of others are made in out of the country

    4. cyp says:

      Problem is not many traditional damascus blade survived. The art was not lost. The mine with the special steel simply got depleted. Most scientist agree that impurities such as crom, vanadium and if I remember correctly molibden caused the nano tubes that made damascus great. Most impurities are rare so modern damascus would be extremely expensive.

      1. Pako De Lucia says:

        carbon nanotubes are rest from bamboo used for heating

    5. BRLongBeach says:

      If you have one of those knives I can make one for you I make swords from scratch raw stainless steel folding 100 times 500 times whatever you want I can survive one I’ll bring it back

  2. Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    One of the last places where “damascus” or forge-welding of multiple layers of steel/iron was done regularly was in damascus barrel making for shotguns of 100+ years ago. Here’s some accounts of how the barrelmakers used to go about their craft:

    http://damascus-barrels.com/How_1.html

    I’ve seen the film referenced on that web site, and it’s very interesting what they were able to accomplish, including putting people’s names into the pattern of the steel.

    In the end, “fluid” alloy steel barrels supplanted damascus barrels even at the highest reaches of gunmaking by WWII. Today’s high-tech alloys for blademakers are just astounding. I wish we in the gun craft could move into some new, better alloys as the knifemakers have, but that appears to be too much to ask at this time. Some of the modern alloys used by knifemakers, if used in making gun barrels, could result in some shotguns with exquisitely light, fast-pointing barrel sets, yet still able to safely contain pressures.

    That 210mm Devin knife you showed is my idea of a kitchen knife. I’m sure my wife would disagree, but I’d rather have one really, really good knife with a strong back, excellent size and balance rather than a whole set with some goofy German name on them, wherein all of them are a compromise and a poor one at that.

    1. Ya I had to show that Devin Damascus knife. San-mai lamination with stainless Damascus is the epitome of form and function. Edge will last forever and the pattern is stunning!

      1. Robert R Naramore says:

        Where can I get a knife made of that type of Damascus steel?

    2. au saith says:

      The trick was to have the hole army to PISS in a barrel to quench the steel no kidding artificial ice rinks use Amonnia this was in a book Knight Crussader

  3. David says:

    I am of the persuasion that much of the Damascus mystique arose, not just from the techniques used, but also from the iron they started w/. Ancient cultures varied in their metallurgical abilities and often (more the farther back in time you go) relied on naturally occurring trace elements to harden their iron. I am willing to bet money there are or were a few mines/quarries around Syria that had iron deposits w/ higher levels of certain elements compared to elsewhere.

    There are numerous references in ancient texts of the iron from such and such a place of having a certain quality. Some places, like Damascus, had a rep for harder and/or stronger steel. Even the Bible may allude to this:

    Can anyone smash iron,
    Iron from the north, or bronze
    Jer 15:12

    This may be a reference to Damascus as that city is north(east) of Israel. Any thoughts Will?

    1. I’m a little shaky on the details but if I remember right original Indian Wootz steel was known to be smelted in a location on the side of a hill. Apparently the wind shear coming off the hill acted as a bellow for the forge. Because minerals native to this area were swept into the ingots made from the bellows all Wootz from this area developed a signature alloy and a reputation to match.

      As for “Damascus” steel being made in Damascus… its possible. Whats more likely is that “Damascus” steel was a forging technique handed down master to apprentice irregardless of location.

    2. ChuckN says:

      My understanding is that though Damascus steels were
      produced in Damascus it wasn’t exclusive. The name came
      about because Damascus served as one of the main trade
      centers for the western world. Wootz and pattern welded
      blades made in Persia or India would have ended up in the
      Damascus area. The steel then simply became synonymous
      with the name Damascus among western cultures.

      I think the reference in the Bible has less to do with the
      type of iron but simply just because it was iron. The timeline
      for Jeremiah is approx. 700 BC. This puts it in the iron age
      but Israel and farther south took longer due to the lack
      of iron deposits. Syria and Persia would have had a lot more
      time and ability to perfect smelting and forging techniques.
      There may have been Damascus steel, but I think it was
      probably just much higher grades of iron and better
      workmanship.

  4. Scott Carpenter says:

    I hate to ruin the party here, but the main premise, that true Wootz Damascus steel can no longer be made because the secret has been lost for the ages, is not true.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1981/09/29/science/the-mystery-of-damascus-steel-appears-solved.html

    Notice the date of that article 19 freaking 81. I would hope that someone running a site named “thetruthaboutknives” would be a bit more up to date.

    My 2 cents as a professional chef: a $10 knife from Marshall’s will out perform a $400 Damascus Miyabi any day of the week if it is maintained better. Steel your knives!!

    1. lanny Muir says:

      i cut through my mercer with my miyabi….. don’t know about you but i have trained many years and found that any blade regardless of where it is from can out perform any other blade as long as the wielder knows how to use it. i’ve used dollar store knives that work better than victorinox and wussthoff.

      1. Lara says:

        I am trying to get a really special knife for my friend who is a Chef, but I can’t ask her about it.. The knifemsker can do a Damascus blade or a Hannon blade. I think the Damascus looks awesome, but is it cliche and played out? The maker likes the hand polished Hannon because it’s more durable, unique and easier to maintain. I’d love any feedback possible!!

        1. I will make some inquiries.

        2. Lara Clayson says:

          Thanks!!

  5. Dr Duh says:

    Or maybe it’s carbon nanotubes

    ” In Reibold’s analysis, the nanotubes were protecting nanowires of cementite (Fe3C), a hard and brittle compound formed by the iron and carbon of the steel. That is the answer to the steel’s special properties – it is a composite material at a nanometre level. The malleability of the carbon nanotubes makes up for the brittle nature of the cementite formed by the high-carbon wootz cakes.

    It isn’t clear how ancient blacksmiths produced these nanotubes, but the researchers believe that the key to this process lay with small traces of metals in the wootz including vanadium, chromium, manganese, cobalt and nickel. Alternating hot and cold phases during manufacture caused these impurities to segregate out into planes. From there, they would have acted as catalysts for the formation of the carbon nanotubes, which in turn would have promoted the formation of the cementite nanowires. These structures formed along the planes set out by the impurities, explaining the characteristic wavy bands, or damask (see image at top), that patterns Damascus blades.”

    http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketscience/2008/09/27/carbon-nanotechnology-in-an-17th-century-damascus-sword/

  6. Daniel Konold says:

    Hi,
    Can you explain to me the different etchant solutions used to bring out the Damascus pattern? What are some of the most effective solutions and accessibility of purchasing those solutions? Is it true that some solutions help protect the steel from rusting after being soaked in them?

    Thank you,
    Daniel

    1. Any acid will work. Lemon juice or vinegar yield a very soft pattern. Ferric chloride etches more deeply. Muriatic doesn’t look as good on most alloys, but does for some. You’ll need to experiment. The latter two only need minutes to work. You can get FeCl at Radio Shack, Fry’s, or Amazon. HCl can be gotten at most hardware stores.

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  7. jamie simic says:

    Im getting a et of handmade damascus kitchen knives made and have been asked how many layers i want for the blade.. how do i know how many layers i want?

    1. Number of layers is not the primary factor, though more layers will lead to more grain structure at the edge. Proper forging and heat treating is far more important.

  8. Russ Bixby says:

    Um, I’m neither a liar nor delusional – but I do make traditional Damascus steel – not pattern welded stuff – in which the pattern naturally arises from the matrix as the blade is made from one molithic ingot. Allah’s Ladder, roses and all.

    Takes awhile, as you might expect – a week or so to make and treat the ingot, plus normal hammer time shaping the blade. Knives only – swords require a much larger forge than my li’l “rivet forge” in order to heat the metal evenly, and one hot spot will ruin the whole shebang. Also, the temperature range is narrow and critical; it’s far easier to keep an entire knife in view than an entire sword.

    I reverse-engineered the process in ’90 when working for Bond International Gold; at night I got to play with the analytical tools – the Denver office was the exploration division, where ore samples were tested. Moderately good hobby smith + engineering degree + microprobe = mystery solved.

    Hate to burst yer bubble there, scoob.

    1. Donny says:

      Why did you call him “scoob”? That’s not very nice.

      1. David Brewer says:

        He called him “scoob” because the man is an idiot. Do NOT think “Damascus barrel making” involves Damascus steel .. it refers to a technique .. AND the Pakistani knives are of the BEST quality you can get. He is a LIAR because if you have tested one you know they are VERY VERY WELL MADE KNIVES OF GREAT STEEL. “scoob” was being polite.
        David W. Brewer Melrose Knife Makers Melrose Florida.

  9. Zach says:

    I have been very curious of the Damascus blades. I am not a huge knife enthusiast though. I don’t want to spend crazy money on a knife. But I had a Kershaw Scallion that I carried everyday for practical use and self protection. Unfortunately I lost the knife and was looking at getting a new one. Kershaw offers the Scallion with a Damascus blade for about $95. Is that too low of a price for decent quality from Damascus? The knife is made in the US and has a life time warranty so that seems credible. But I am not a seasoned knife collector so I don’t know. Do you think that the Damascus blade on that would be high quality and worth buying the knife?

  10. olen cain says:

    question: I was putting my handles on my Damascus knife and I got some glue on the top of the knife. What do I do? This is my first time using Damascus steel.

    1. I sent Will a message. If no-one else is confident in an answer , I am sure he will be able to help.

      My guess, if it is like other epoxies, you are going to need to carefully just sand it away. I use the stuff woodworking, and that is about all I can do to get it off is sand or scrape.

      1. olen cain says:

        Thanks, what would be the best way to re-etch the blade

        1. Will Woods says:

          OK so first try and use a razor blade to separate the epoxy or at least cut and score the area you want removed then either scrape or sand away the epoxy. Make sure you go all the way down to bare metal in all the Damascus layers (you can tell this when it looks like a regular bright brushed pattern).

          To re etch the blade mask off all handle areas that should not be exposed to etchant. Buy Ferric Chloride from any RadioShack for $10. Mix 50/50 with water and dip the acetone cleaned and masked blade in for 30 seconds. Wash off all the yellow and black stuff. The pattern should show up now slightly. Repeat this dip and wash till you have the desired look. Neutralize the etched blade with water and Windex and IMMEDIATELY oil it. Then oil it again. Then wax or sealant if you plan on storing it as part of your collection.

      2. chris a sutton says:

        let it dry completely then heat the opposite side with a blow dryer till the metal expands then it should fall off and the next time you use glue on a knife spray the parts you don’t want to get glue on with wd -40 and wipe the part you want to glue with alcohol [ after the wd spray]

    2. STEVEN KAGE says:

      Over night soak in acetone or Xylene (Xylol) should loosen it up without affecting the steel for an easy scrape off.

  11. olen cain says:

    thank you for this information

  12. Connie Jones says:

    I have a knife with leather sheath marked CuttinEdge Cutlery and Pakistan on the blade. Any info?

  13. ben weiler says:

    any thoughts on perkin’s knifes

  14. Ian mac says:

    Evermadetraders.com is a Pakistan Damascus blade maker and I know you get what you pay for but I am a sword collector and they are willing to build me a Japanese Nodachi great sword. So maybe some of you could check them out and give me some feed back. I am not a wealthy guy my collection is only around 8 swords right now ranging from 200 to 500 doller cutters.

  15. Josh says:

    I had a question about Alabama Damascus steel. I am considering buying a Dwaine Carrillo sc250 with an Alabama Damascus blade. What are your thoughts on the quality of the material used.

    1. Will says:

      Lacy Smith at Alabama Damascus makes an excellent carbon steel Damascus at an affordable price. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy knives using their steel. Just remember its carbon steel and must be treated appropriatly.

  16. Cazador says:

    WR Case knives may be a little low brow for most participants here given what I have read, but they serve me well as everyday pocket carries. My question is in regards to care and sharpening of the “Damascus” blades Case offers….how to? Thanks in advance for your help.

  17. Jacob says:

    Ok so let’s skip ahead to toady if I were to forg I’d need a high carbon 1095 or 1085 fit example but what stainless would I use not all stainless is equal to each other so there for what would be the best for this type of forging I was told to look into nickel as well so there for what type of nickel is best I dislike the idea of ordering ask the way from Japan and having to judge the metal myself I’m not at all practiced in this art and it is probably experience as heck any help you could offer would be taken kindly thank you

  18. Aiham says:

    It is really nice article, i just want to comment and agree with the writer that manufacturing Damascus steel or sword is no longer exist.
    Im orginally from Damacus Syria where our ancestors used to make this steel.
    This craft already disapeared since long time.
    when you have a look at the ancient silk road you will relized that this craft was existed and made in Damascus Syria.

  19. wp says:

    Well not even close guys. There are way better choices for knife making with today steels. If I had to guess it was just pot luck by most of the so called experts from the past. Heat Treat is a science not and art as the old knife makers would have you believe. 40 years in the business…

    Choose 440 C SS or D-2 and you have one hell of a knife that will hold and edge better than any forged knife. You could also get a into some off the high speeds like REX 76 , or T-15 made by Crucible , you just have to temper them correctly and they will out last any Damascus knife, and hold and edge longer. Holding and edge is also a subjective to the user.

  20. Brian Gilbert says:

    Hi, I bought a Damascus chefs knife, from procook shopping January 2016, I have used it twice to cut roast beef, and it’s already got a chip in the blade,

  21. Page says:

    How do socks taste? Well let me know in a minute here. The reason for laying steel is to create a sharks tooth effect down the cutting-edge. This remains even when mirror honed. This allows way more cutting power, and CAN cut lesser steels. Which has been seen many times. The RC ratings are changed by the clay tampering which cheep western samurai swords paint the image of on their blades. And that is “WATER STEEL” which is commonly called damascus. Damascus which is where so called “woozie” was being produced. So named because of the sound it produced when being forged. Woozie steel was made from metals pulled from underwater volcanic channels, according to writings in 900 ad, and where more then likely of a much higher carbon count then anything else found at the time. In any case pattern welding is not the same thing as either. Welding can leave air gaps between the layers that will shatter if taking force. Also in the orient they layered the blades thousands of times, then clay tempered them while quenching them. A sword would not be given to a general unless it could cut through ten men straight.

    1. frodo says:

      the reason for layering steel is not “sharks teeth”. The reason one folds, not cuts and layers, is to straighten the grain. crap steel like what was available in the Damascus heyday was not reliable in its carbon dispersion among other elements. By stretching then folding repeatedly, one could thoroughly mix the carbon into the steel. i imagine the crap steel of the day much like rebar. mystery steel. Scattered amounts of carbon at various percentages. Heat, stretch, and fold 10 or so times and even rebar would be more predictable though still too low in carbon for knife making. The thing you all are missing is the difference between Damascus and pattern welding. You cant confuse them. The process of straightening grain is anti pattern, or more specifically- straight line. And pattern welding definitely is anti grain straightening. Both are only really useful for art. Particle metal technologies would dominate Damascus or japanese folding. Even d-2 would eat damascus for lunch. this isnt about familys of alloys though. Stretch,fold your steel, weld, repeat and youll get your damascus- no magic or mystery. No hidden vaults to search for secret recipes. Leave the romantic notions of cutting through 10 men for Thundar the barbarian fan fiction.

  22. Rogky nyc says:

    Bulat steel is used by some Russian smiths and some still make it. It is a tedious process and difficult to make properly.
    Supposedly there is a supplier that currently sell’s bars of Bulat for knife makers. You would have to search this out if it interests you.
    I myself will try to make my own bulat steel for my short Shasqua I designed when I make a move to cooler climates and out of California.

  23. Love It says:

    Love how you give your opinions as they are facts reading your article was a waste of time and didn’t teach me Nuthn other then you are a hater

    1. Uhm… What?

      Will holds a degree in knife making and metallurgy from SCAD. So it is more than opinion.

      And there is nothing I have ever read that convincingly contradicts anything that he has to say on the subject.

      Thanks for playing though.

  24. G Sharp says:

    No matter how much education any person has its all opinions. You take fact or opinion and a combination of both and base your opinion on that collection. Facts aren’t truth, facts change when new information is introduced. So if your looking for the real truth about ancient Damascus, you can only get opinions based on facts or other opinions or both. The truth will be an opinion on whether it’s the truth or not. Truth never changes, so it’s very rare to find any. My opinion as a person who enjoys finding a good knife is this. What are you going to use this sharp piece of metal for? Collecting, E.D.C. wall decoration or resale. As the one gentleman said, edge retention is subjective. I own an inexpensive blade that holds a better edge than almost any of my high end knives simply because of its grind. It’s a caping knife with a very thin hollow grind. I can easily shave with it after carving wood. My suggestion is to look without to much of a critical eye, take advice without to much of a critical ear and enjoy what you get. After all when it’s all said and done, it’s just a sharp piece of metal.

    1. Jason Bienia says:

      I like your answer it sounds philosophical and it speaks it’s own truth for those who have ears…
      Way to go…
      I agree.

  25. sir i believe that an edge of metals of 2 different strengths to be folly ,one metal would not hold the edge the harder metal would have ,i ‘m not fighting dragons or men in armor nor am i chopping a heated machine gun barrel all i desire is a camp ready smaller bowie that i don’t have to sharpen daily…

  26. Dan says:

    How do you protect the blade and how do you determine what is good Damascus from the bad? Is $300 a lot to spend on a 7″ 1095 steel with15N20 nickel alloy and rams horn handle? bought it in Hendersonville NC. A Mike Trotter is the maker.

    1. Gilbert says:

      Get a Global knife better than Damascus, real Damascus doesn’t exist.

    2. chris sutton says:

      look dude i’m new to the internet but not to metal or knives i prefer hard steel but i don’t use ti to fight armor clad enemies where hard or brittle steel would break and thru my time with knives (my application) i need a blade i only have to sharpen 1 or 2 times a year 9i know i will never find it )damascus is beautiful,,,,to look at (i’d rather marry an ugly woman with a good bass boat,that was a good cook,, than a pretty woman that couldn’t
      ‘t boil water)that just my opinion.

  27. JOHN SMITH says:

    Hi on a slightly different note i see an 440C stainless steel Damascus knife on Ebay. I was under the impression that 440C was not so good for forging/folding so am wondering if this would be a good knife? Thanks.

  28. Jason Bienia says:

    What can you tell me about Texanknives.com?
    Quality?
    Compare their hand made folder with a Benchmade folder?

    Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving

  29. Loretta says:

    Looking for a knife a Christmas gift and saw something called “Sanmai Damascus” or sandwich damascus, how nice will these be to an actual knife collector? Was looking on the Santa Fe Stone Works Website

  30. Cowboy says:

    Could you please explain the difference between AEB-L and 304 , 1095 and 15N20 or any other steel used for damascus blade made in the USA and which are made in the rest of the world. Surely if the same type of steel is used than what you say is incorrect as the spec’s are the same ????
    What I understand from you are saying that only US steel are good and the rest of the world are making rubbish ??????
    If that is the case please explain it to me so that I can also understand

  31. luigi says:

    What a joke…the technique has been lost for centuries…people have been making knives for centuries after the fact…we have better than ever understanding of metallurgy than ever before…seriously, what a joke.

  32. Nathan says:

    Always love to delve into a comments section…lol.

    Perhaps a practical question that could be answered by an “expert'(aren’t we all?…heh)?

    I read above that old style forging was primarily for cutting through armor, and that newer style blades wouldnt do that as well…nor would most people have a need to do so. Seems to make sense…

    Question is..is the old style forging as good or better (or worse) for say, cutting raw meat…or cooked meat? I have a sandwich Damascus Santoku that I use occasionally…it was a gift…Brand is Shun…nothing spectacular…but I havent really put it through its paces(again it was a gift, and I have heard that the middle layer of the “sandwich” has a tendency to chip easy), so I have stuck with my tried and true chef’s knife set of Henkels. I dunno, I *like* the *way* they cut much better, and its not just the different style of knife either…in fact I wish I had(or they made) a Santoku Henkel of the same material as the rest of the Henkel set.

    So does this cutting difference lie in the steel type, the angle of the grind, the Shun “Damascus” has a different angle…but I’m not going to change it. Have never even had to sharpen it…yet…and though I sharpen all my own stuff…might have that one done “professionally”(again a gift…dont want to ruin it).

    Thoughts?

  33. James says:

    Personally, imo, Damascus is not the best for knives. I don’t have any vandetta against Damascus myself, in fact I love it to death. I have many swords and even a spear forged with the Damascus method and they are not only beautiful and elegant but deadly and have made many sword play towers and dummies meet their doom. But I take high care of them. Truth is the Damascus method was made for weapons not cooking and while it makes one hell of a weapon it is purposely soft and more flexible for battle use therefore it typically doesn’t last as long in a kitchen. Sure it makes a good knife for a while it lasts, but with long term use it loses its shape and chips easier than a kitchen knife you’re accostomed to. And it’s a metal that requires delicate care and attention to properly take care of and to make it last to its fullest. If you’re not looking into sitting down and learning how to tend a knife more than basic, stay away from Damascus, it’s beautiful and purposeful, but its home isn’t the kitchen. You’ll find good use of it sure but 1 finding a real high quality Damascus blade is not easy or cheap and 2 the technique simply isn’t at home in the kitchen

  34. Vic says:

    Malaysian kris makers have continued making pattern welded damascus blades and their knowledge was never lost.

  35. Umar Farooq says:

    Hello,
    Sir/Madam, Hope you are fine , i am Umar from pakistan i have my own industry by name Daud industry , i made Damascus knives Handmade Custom. i want to like to do work with you as you say, i sell knives , Damascus knives , Damascus Blades , DAMASCUS Plates Bars.
    i will be so blessed if i get a chance to do work with you . please notice Dont ignore . we will deal very Good.
    Regards
    Umar Farooq

  36. Jim says:

    I don’t know much about knives but sounds like if you want a good strong hunting knife that takes and keeps a sharpe edge, your better off with an American made knife with American steel. I’m not interested is anything fancey, just highley functional. What brand or maker would you recommend that is readily available?

  37. Mike says:

    I had purchased a Damascus steel strait razor recently because it looked great and the price was right. I read that Damascus would not be the ideal steel for a razor but I took a chance. Glad I did! The razor was not honed and wouldn’t cut warm butter, but after several hours, it now shaves like a dream. I have used it several times and it’s only needed a bit of stropping as with most strait razors. It is by far the heaviest, thickest strait razor I own and looks the best.
    The razor was made in Pakistan, but seems to be of good quality. It was purchased from Frost Cutlery if any one is curious.

  38. Jason says:

    I bought a Damascus pocket knife and I kneed to know how to remove the oil that comes on it. I’ve been told by budk to use 409 but it doesn’t always do that great of job.

  39. Lee Pingel says:

    Neutron bombardment was recently used on Viking “pattern welded” (aka Damascus) swords. See http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2017/04/17/scans-viking-swords-reveal-slice-norse-culture.html. The scientists declared the blades would not have been useable in combat. I doubt they have real life experience with such blades. It would be interesting if a close match could be made and tested. Composite materials have characteristics much different from individual parts. For example case hardened steel tools.

    Their negative opinion is based on expecting case hardened blades. “Because steel is harder than iron, we would expect to find, in a fighting tool, hard steel edges and an iron core to absorb blows,”

    1. interesting link. Thanks

  40. Laurie Kidd says:

    I suggest William Woods take his degree and make some blades and get a Master Makers endorsement from the blade-smith guild in the USA and anyone else who thinks they’re an expert. Until you are confidant that you can consistently make and guarantee blades will stand up to the tests including the bronze rod edge spring back and 90 degree bend without cracking. And you have seen with your own eyes that others can produce such knives (or at least like myself-begun in some knife making endeavors and read and seen videos of these master-smiths) why would you comment with some feigned authority on a forum? any method of manufacture can be well or poorly performed and education and practice both have their place. Also forgotten by some may not mean forgotten by all. Individuals don’t have the resources of universitys but univerities trot the opinions of their sponsors. As for ancient craftsmen, I think there would have been as many who would have had memorys or records as otherwise, making their work more of a science than an art. and they would most likely been motivated to produce quality for the purpose of repeat custom.
    I myself have proved that education is only half of successful artisan-ship in my construction career of 17 years.

  41. Laurie Kidd says:

    I would like to point out that tempering blades in an oven or kiln no matter how sophisticated is bad practice, and nearly all production knife makers do it. the fact that the edge and the point have less mass than the spine means they get hotter and become softer than the spine, resulting in a soft edge that rolls and/or a brittle spine- no matter how good the steel is. if you don’t believe me- go buy a couple of reasonable reputable butchers knives and steel them on the spine of each other. Or indeed go to a butchers shop and observe them doing it! a sword made of any steel composition will snap in combat unless tempered with a softer spine than edge. A hunting blade will snap if dropped on something hard if it been bulk tempered. A sword will bend out of shape very easily if too soft in the spine so some delicate work is required here. metallurgy, tricky tempering with a torch, and blade geometry all come into it. Also, in those days these things were closely guarded secrets as much wealth and property could change hands due to weapon quality! just as hacking and high tech nuclear weapons and such are so contested nowadays!

    1. Presto says:

      Sorry you don’t know what your talking about. The most glaring example of your complete ignorance to this subject is elementary science. A chunk of anything held in any atmosphere where the temperature is held at say 400°f can not exceed the temperature in said atmosphere no matter how thin or thick, it can only hit 400° (as per our example) yes it will obtain that temperature before the thicker portions, but can not exceed the set temperature. If I shove a knife in my forge and pump air to the fire yes I can quickly burn the tip off well before the body of the blade gets even glowing, but I have shoved that blade into an atmosphere that is 3000°f+ not a steady 400°f. You are wrong making a blanket statement that all oven tempering is bad tempering. Done right there is nothing wrong with it. You can even achieve a differential temper in an oven. If your having problems with edge retention, breakage etc., I suggest you spend more money on your knives and stop using them as a pry bar or screw driver, those tools are oven tempered too, but are tempered to do a specific job. I think you will find that every tool you have in your tool box, unless it was hand made, was tampered in an oven. I have never had a Snap-On wrench bend or break no matter how stuck the bolt is, nor how much force I applied. I am pretty sure they temper them in an oven… just sayin…

  42. Laurie Kidd says:

    layering different carbon content steels together would be another way of producing a tough spine into a blade while retaining a hard edge so that one could temper the whole blade at one temperature.

  43. Mark66 says:

    Hello, do you allow guest posting on thetruthaboutknives.com ? 🙂 Let me know on my e-mail

  44. Jerry says:

    For damascus knife, I prefer to kubey damascus knife. It is very sharp. You can try it.

  45. Tino Consiglio says:

    Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge with everyone your a good Man

  46. Anthony says:

    Not sure how I feel about this article. There are a few inaccuracies, which have already been pointed out. The bottom line is that if I’m going to spend several hundred dollars on a knife, then it most certainly isn’t going to be my daily carry knife. I don’t mind spending two or three hundred for a daily carry, but I’m not spending thousands for a knife that I’m going to put through hard use. It’s a tool and not much more. However, that being said, my daily carry knife is a damascus blade and has never disappointed me in my daily tasks. It cuts rope, opens boxes, cuts zip ties, and generally performs very very well. I’m not skinning bears with it or anything, so my expectations are fairly low. I don’t really care where the blade was made. It was less than $100 and, is razor sharp, light weight (carbon fiber scales), and looks great. What damascus folder with carbon fiber scales doesn’t look great? I like it so much better than just a plain steel blade. It makes me smile to see it.

  47. Raymond says:

    Hello, I am wondering the difficulty of making/learning how to make damascus knives.(due to the beauty and art form) I have no exp, but I am trying to find knife making classes around the Houston area. I have been interested in smithing/forging for awhile now and would really like to get into it. Any information you could respond to would be a huge help. Thanks.

  48. Raymond,
    Hi, the only two schools that I know of that have courses on knife making are in Arkansas and North Carolina. I went to Montgomery Community College in Troy N.C. for knife grinding techniques but learned more about heat treating.
    The two gentlemen teaching the course were Tommy McNabb president of the north Carolina knife makers guild, and Ed Halligan both are master smiths.
    But check around the net there may be more schools around it’s just the two that I know of. I only use two types of steel when I decide to make a blade and that is 440C and Alabama Damascus
    Both work very well for me!
    Hope this helps,
    Winford.

  49. 19mep81 says:

    A quick question , I have an extremely old large roll around safe ( approximately 4 foot high by 3 foot wide) that has had all of the interior removed. my question is would the steel be suitable for knife making? I know there will be a hardness issue but I am thinking this can be resolved by adding softer steel and heat treat . Any thoughts ?

    1. I am not as expert as Will, but the most common way to tell is to take a piece of the steel and “Spark Test” it. Put it to your grinder, and the more extensive the spark pattern, the higher the carbon content and the better it will be for a blade.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spark_testing

      1. Walter Sorrells has an excellent video on the topic.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=parpu3fPF2Q

  50. Kevin Bryant says:

    How can I tell if my Dammacs knife is real

  51. Jason Smith says:

    This is truly a very informative article. I love Damascus knives with heart and soul. I would never own nothing but. For some very good information and Damascus products I would suggest this website. Thank You.
    http://knifearmory.ecrater.com/

  52. GRICE, Gregory N. says:

    I am really interested in learning more about the folded steel smithing that goes on in China today. Something like the ‘100 Year’ technique suggesting 100 layers. I guess it’s kind of the Chinese version of Damascus. I believe the best, or at least most widely known is the Longquanjian version. Any and all information would be very appreciated.

  53. Ryan says:

    What’s an average price for Damascus? At gun and knife shows you see all these Damascus style blades, how do you know it’s a good one or worth the price?

  54. J A says:

    I’m not sure if there is still interest in this topic here, but I thought it a likely place to share the story of Al Pendray and JD Verhoeven’s efforts to consistently product wootz damascus crucible steel. https://youtu.be/OP8PCkcBZU4 RIP Al Pendray.

    1. Thank You!

      We ran a tribute/eulogy to Al when he passed, and have linked the scientific paper in question, but this documentary is fabulous.

  55. George K. says:

    A friend recently told me that if the pattern cannot be seen in the blade after sharpening, it means it is not Damascus steel, in the sense of different steels folded, but that it is just a drawing/engraving on the blade, so, a scam. Is this right? Nearly all damascus knives I see around have no pattern on the sharpened edge. Can someone tell me if my friend was right?

    1. The pattern often doesn’t show up strongly until the blade is dipped in acid. While it is possible to etch a pattern into a blade, it would not look like pattern-welded steel. It is differing oxidation rates of the different steels involved that shows up as multi-toned color.

    2. When the blade is sharpened, it removes the oxidation and exposes fresh/bare steel. the pattern is there, you just can’t see it.

  56. Nick says:

    So what would be the recommendation for ‘ ends-of-the-earth best performing blade steel?’ Looking to use something in the kitchen as a consumer. Cut salami, bread, apples etc… Would like something that will cut smoothly and stay razor sharp forever. Ceramic knife maybe? Thank you.

    1. Paul Esterline says:

      Sorry there is no such beast. You can come close but all knives will eventually need sharping. Yes even the “famous” Ginsu knives get dull (don’t EVER waste your money on Ginsu knives, some one GAVE, as in free, me a set, and that was still too much to pay for them.)

      There are so many options some people will say 1095 will be best for what you want, but it can de hard to sharpen, and is prone to rust. Ceramic is ok, but it needs to be sent off to be sharpend, and don’t drop this very expensive knife or it will break!

      If you don’t want rust, and want to throw it in a drawer damp, then you wont get rasor sharp. If you want rasor sharp edge retention, you get non flexable, rust (high maintenance is maybe a better way to say this.mine dont rust, but you have to baby them a bit) and possible breaking. Everything is a trade off sorry to say. For everything you gain you lose something, you must pay some kind of price.

      There is no such thing, just yet,that is perfect in every way. You will need to decide if you want the razor edge of a high carbon steel or the care free of a stainless, or something in between. Personally as a knife maker, and a home chef, I like my 1095 knife, i also like my 5160 knife, (both have good sharp edges, hold them, but are like the prom queen and need a little TLC).

      I want to make myself a damscus chefs knife, but really only to show off. Also i dont like stainless at all! I only use it for blades when someone insists, i would rather use titanium (nope it doens’t hold an edge well, but it will NOT rust, and you will have to really try to break or bend it… good luck) Sorry i wish i had a better answer. I am sure most knife makers will agree with me that there is nothing like what your asking for (if there was we would ALL use it!)

      I do not know everything so I am sure other knife makers will have other recommendations for you and tell you why mine stink, still others will say something differt from the others, until you get around to another maker that will agree with me….. and repeat…

  57. Thomas says:

    I have what will hopefully be a simple question with an obvious answer. When a billet is fashioned, isn’t it normal for both sides of the flat edge to be semi consistent in flow? I recently spotted a knife that has a pattern on one side flowing on a slant, and on the opposite side, it flows in the exact opposite angle. If on one side of the blade the flow starts at the top of the knife towards the tip, and flows towards the handle angled down towards the blade edge, shouldn’t both sides do the same? This knife had the flow from tip to handle slanted towards the blade edge on the left, and on the right, it started at the hilt and flowed towards the tip and edge…I’m thinking someone used laser etching to accomplish this without making the obvious connection to a mirrored opposite side, am I wrong in this?

    1. Presto says:

      I think you found a fake. The pattern should go all the way through the blade, it will likely be at least a bit different on the other side, but to my knowledge no one is making real Damascus that is a reverse mirror image on the opposite side. There is no reason to do it, it would be a ton of work because you would have to make two pieces of Damascus then forge weld them together back to back. It is possible, but there is no reason to do it unless it was some super special, super expensive knife, and then I would brag about the fact that I did it. Don’t buy it even if you like it. I would rather see you buy a cheap China made piece of real (although junky) damscus then someone who is intentionally trying to deceive people. If you want a good Damascus knife at a fair price, I will make you one. Let me know…

      1. Presto says:

        Depending on how hard they etched you can sometimes feel the layers with your fingernail. It might not be much, but you can sometimes feel them. Also look at the back of the knife, true damscus you will see the pattern on the edges as well well as the face. Of course they could “paint” those edges too but I have not seen one yet that did.

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  59. Monique says:

    I was also attracted with the looks of Damascus steel knives and i have the same question as brandon. Thanks a lot for making me clear about it.

  60. Bert says:

    I am from the middle east and have respected researches about sword making techniques. The hardening and heat treatment of a real war sword is different from what you have ever heard. I can not explain it here, but if anyone is curious to know, can send me an email to know more about that. Parsfax@gmail.com
    Bert

  61. Tim says:

    So when knife makers on Forged in Fire make damascus knives they are lying? You still did not explain what damascus is then.

  62. Can you tell me how self sharpening knife is formed .What should be the properties of material used for making this type of knife.

    1. Paul Esterline says:

      There is no such thing as a “self sharpening” knife. Any one who clams a knife will never need sharpening is flat out lieing. The very best steel in the world, made into a knife, by the very best knife maker in the world will need to be sharpened – if you use it. In fact most knives should be at least honed before each use. If you got the idea that there was such a thing as a knife that was self sharpening, my guess is you got the idea from advertising on TV, such as the well known Ginsu knives. They claim that “they never need sharpening!” While that is not entirely a lie, it is also not the truth. They use long very small serations on thier knives that you can NOT sharpen. It doesn’t make it a good knife, nor does it make it a sharp knife. It is a cheap piece of thin junky stainless steel, that rips and tears whatever your trying to cut, it doesn’t cut it, it rips it in half. There is a HUGE DIFFERENCE! Take one of these knives and try to slice paper, or shave hair on your arm, you will very quickly see they are not at ALL sharp!

      The closest thing to a “self sharpening knife”I have ever seen was a knife in a sheath that had a built-in sharping system that honed the edge as you pulled the knife out. Hardly self sharpening, automatic shapening at BEST. To top it off, it did not work very well at all. Insted of trying to make a knife that doesn’t need to be sharpened. Concentrate on marking a knife so good that people will not mind sharpening it.

  63. j.g says:

    what if damascus’ was awesome for its time, but actually normal by today’s standards? might be that the writer and the contemporary people found it awesome, but that it cut no better than japanese katana? cus we have their impression, and that is what has been passed and left unto us, but as it is a matter of proportion, it’s like comparing old to new technology, hardly does old is better than new, but then again, we might never know how the ancient built old chinese ‘boat houses’, how old megaliths were moved from stonehenge and easter island, the pyramids, the incan’s, etcetera, heck dont you wonder and get amazed as to how your grandpa did some things? so it might really be a mystery, or a thing of blurry angled perspective or perception. what if we had the formula and went like ‘we were all running over this’? what if we discovered that the actual formula [which is likeliest never gon get to us] is no better than what we have today or know now?

  64. Tim Singleton says:

    So, without regard to the artistry portion of the equation for the moment, what is THE best steel from which to make a knife? Say you needed a knife blade 6 to 8 inches in length sans handle, for hard use, in adverse weather conditions that can maintain an edge over time that will not be out of place hanging on the kitchen wall.

    I am sure there are aspects relating to the question that I don’t even know to ask, but your comment “When it comes down to it, most of today’s super exotic alloys will outperform any pattern-welded steel” made me curious as to what steels make the best blades. Seems to me that is where to start but again, I am not a knife maker. My curiosity is, for the moment, just that.

    1. Paul Esterline says:

      That is a REALLY hard question to answer. First off every knife maker will have a differing opinion depending on what they have used, had good results with, and what they have had poor results with. The reason for the poor outcome may have been a fault with the Smith, and not the metal at all, but because of operator error thier opinion will be that X makes a CRAPY knife. I like some steel that other smiths won’t touch, but can heat treat these steels to perform very Well! If you want me to give you a list of steels I can do that but every knife maker that reads my list will say “that one is not good” and I am sure they will have one “why didn’t he include x steel!?” I like 1095, it holds an edge well but can be hard to sharpen, I also like 5160. I like the springyness of it. I don’t like ANY stainless, hate D2 (I can hear the out cry now… “WHAT ARE YOU NUTS!?” And I like S7. I don’t use many super steels. I think they get too expensive and too complicated to work with without much benefit in return. Almost any steel will make a good knife if you temper it properly. I use 1045 most smiths would consider it to low in carbon but I am really good a hitting the mark dead on in the temper. I also think that Damascus is taking the best of what ever steels you combine and getting something way better.

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Ask A Knifemaker: The Truth About Damascus steel

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