What is Damascus Steel & How is it Made? [Explained in Detail]

10 Best Utility Knives Video
10 Best Utility Knives Video

The world of knives is far more complicated than most people realize. From different types of blades to the various ways in which certain knives are designed for specific purposes, knowing as much as possible about them makes sense.

But in this instance, we plan to focus on just one key area: to tell you everything you need to know about Damascus steel.

Don’t worry if you have never heard of Damascus steel before, as that’s all about to change. In fact, in the next few minutes, you will gain an in-depth understanding of not only what Damascus steel is but also why it’s so important.

So, let’s dig into it.

What is Damascus Steel Exactly?

Damascus steel does take its direct inspiration from the Near East, hence the name, and a knife made with this steel is easy to identify thanks to its wavy pattern. Honestly, there is something pretty cool about a blade made from Damascus steel, and if you look at images, you will see what we mean.

But this is not about how beautiful it is. Instead, it’s about learning what Damascus steel is, and what it can offer us in a knife that makes it so important.

Its Origins

The origins of Damascus steel stretch back into history. Think about times of swords and weaponry, and you get the idea. This type of steel is more than 1000 years old, and it still proves itself repeatedly in the modern world.

But the days of it being used to make razor-sharp swords are over. However, the technology and method of incorporating this type of steel into knives is undoubtedly something that is alive and kicking.

But one additional point we should make is that this trademark watery or wavy pattern in the steel is also known as Persian water steel. The truth is that it’s the same thing, just under a different pseudonym.

But it’s Not Like the Original

While it may sound cool, the idea of having a knife that is manufactured using the same process as something going back 1000 years that’s not going to happen. Instead, the modern version uses a different process.

The original Damascus steel utilized a particular type of steel from India called wootz. However, the main problem is that the method used to create Damascus steel using wootz was lost in the 17th century.

So, this does mean we don’t know how they made Damascus steel. Hence, the modern version is just an attempt to replicate it using a logical method.

But even though it’s not in the original format, it still seems like a step too far for people to complain that nothing can be referred to as Damascus steel, thanks to this point. It still produces the same end result using qualified methods, and the finished knife is just as sharp as those antique swords.

You should know what Damascus steel is.

How is it Made?

Before we dive into telling you all of the reasons why Damascus steel is so suitable for kitchen knives, it’s best to explain how it’s made. Knives made using this type of steel are not like your ‘run of the mill’ knives. Nope, what you get here is something completely different, but that’s also what we love about this type of steel.

But before we do that, a word of warning.

Not All Damascus Steel is as it Seems

As you will find out when we discuss how it’s made, not all Damascus steel knives are as they seem. Sadly, some knives on the market are listed as including Damascus steel, but that’s not the case.

What you get in some versions, which are usually rip-offs that are poorly made, is a basic steel knife where the manufacturer has effectively etched the watery design onto the surface.

That means you have a knife that is made just like any other basic knife on the market, and then this apparent pattern actually wears off over time. After regular use, you see it’s a basic knife underneath this etched layer.

So, we strongly suggest making sure you only ever purchase real knives made from real Damascus steel. It just saves all this disappointment in the future.

Now back to how it’s made.

How Real Damascus Steel Knives are Crafted

With real Damascus steel, what you are looking for in the knife is for this wavy pattern to exist throughout the entire blade. This is achieved through something known as pattern-welded steel.

What happens is the manufacturer lays down different layers of both iron and steel. These extra layers are then hammered together while the metal is at a very high temperature, leading to what is known as a welded bond.

Basically, the different layers of steel and iron become entwined and fuse together as the metal layers cool. 

But the process is far from finished after simply hammering the different layers together. 

When the manufacturer has hammered the layers together at that high temperature, they then use something called a blacksmith’s flux. The key to using flux, which is often made from silica, is to reduce the surface temperature of the metal being worked on.

The aim of reducing the temperature is to manage to stop the welding surfaces from actually oxidizing. If this were to happen, it would lead to a poor weld. In the case of a knife, it would undoubtedly come off second best, and it would often render the knife pretty useless.

The Watery Layers

The main thing that stands out with knives made using Damascus steel is the watery layer on the blade itself. This effect is achieved by forge welding several layers into the knife.

The manufacturer’s skill can result in different patterns emerging, but the wavy or watery pattern is undoubtedly the most widespread. But a good manufacturer can achieve more than that.

By adjusting the steel and iron composition, which also includes playing around with the ratio, they can effectively change the blade’s color ever so slightly. How the layers are forged will also make a difference.

That does mean each knife has the potential to be unique thanks to this combination of factors. 

Going back to the potential problem we mentioned earlier about a poor replication of Damascus steel, then you can immediately see where the difference lies between an authentic knife and a poor replica.

When a knife is manufactured correctly, these watery layers must go through the entire blade just as a default of how it’s all pulled together. If your knife is made up of these multiple layers, it is undoubtedly the same through the blade.

Even as the blade’s surface wears down over time, this same pattern remains. 

Why it’s So Good

Even though it may sound complex, thanks to various layers being forged together to create the knife, you probably want to know if it’s all worth the hassle? Well, the answer here is undoubtedly yes.

The main thing to remember with Damascus steel is that it’s not only beautiful to look at, but it’s also exceptionally strong and tough. Add in the fact it’s also capable of providing you with an extremely sharp edge, and it’s easy to see why this can result in a fantastic knife.

But let’s look more closely at the absolutely essential component of a knife, the edge.

The Edge of a Damascus Steel Knife

Thanks to the manufacturing process, the edge of a knife made using Damascus steel is exceptionally sharp, but that’s not all. Look closely, and you will notice the edge also has micro-serrations, which will make a difference.

These micro-serrations add an extra layer of sharpness to the knife. It means they make short work of cutting through all kinds of things, yet the amazing thing is they are so small you can’t even see them most of the time.

But don’t think for a second that these micro-serrations are fragile. No part of a knife made with Damascus steel is weak.

Instead, the edge is robust and stays sharp for longer than most people expect. 

Durability

A knife crafted from Damascus steel is also highly durable. It certainly delivers the sensation that this is a knife you can trust, 

The blade is not going to become blunt suddenly. It will last a considerable length of time before you have to even think about having it sharpened. In fact, you feel as if it just keeps going on and on, remaining as reliable as ever.

The Inner Core

This durability and sharpness are also largely down to the quality of the inner core of the knife. With the carbon steel versions, you will find that the inner core of those knives tends to contain a high-quality form of carbon steel. 

This inner core offers a certain degree of hardness to the entire knife. It’s then topped with the multiple layers of forged steel with this combination leading to that extremely sharp edge you are looking for.

But a Word of Warning

You will find that Damascus steel is not the most robust material out there for knives. So, if you see marketing material stating this, they aren’t being entirely truthful.

However, when it comes to a kitchen knife, you should find that Damascus steel offers more than enough strength to get through any requirement. When getting kitchen knives it’s important you consider those made of the best knife steel if you want to prepare food easily.

Damascus steel knife on a chopping board.

When to Use a Knife Made From Damascus Steel

A knife made from Damascus steel is perfect for slicing and dicing. This is essentially thanks to those blade serrations we mentioned earlier. 

Also, the strength of the blade means it can then appear thinner. This allows for more precision cutting, making it the ideal solution for anyone who wants to slice things as thin as possible.

Are They Worth the Added Cost?

We must stress that we are talking about the real deal regarding a knife made using Damascus steel. Those with the etched design only will be easily outperformed by your standard kitchen knife, so it’s not worth your energy even thinking about them.

But those knives made in the correct manner can cost you a bit extra compared to other knives, so it’s those we focus on.

The key to looking at value for money in this respect is the length of time these knives can last without sharpening them. Also, the blades don’t really break, so if you care for the edge correctly, they can last for a substantial time. You should still learn how to sharpen a knife so you can use them again once they become blunt.

The sharpness and balance in the blade mean that we see them as representing value for money. They can last you a lifetime with the correct care, and the fact you don’t even need to sharpen them that often is another bonus. 

But Damascus steel kitchen knives are perhaps best for those individuals who love spending time in the kitchen. If you rarely cook, then it’s probably not wise to go ahead and spend so much on a knife. It just won’t work out for you from a cost perspective. You can consider Victorinox kitchen knives that are not so expensive but are amazing in the kitchen.

Overall Summary

A knife crafted from Damascus steel is easy to spot, thanks to the wavy pattern on the blade. However, just check that this wavy pattern goes straight through the blade and does not simply stop on the surface.

It’s manufactured by forging different layers together. Undoubtedly, a high degree of skill and talent is required in the manufacturing process. But look beyond that pattern and focus instead on the simple fact that this knife offers ease of use, perfect balance, and the ability to slice and dice with absolute ease.

When manufactured correctly, Damascus steel is exceptionally sharp and highly durable. If you love getting serious in the kitchen, then it can represent value for money.

And that is all you really need to know about what Damascus steel is and how it can impact a kitchen knife. Many examples are out there on the market. Still, we just need to stress once again the need to ignore the cheaper models as they do not offer the authentic Damascus steel experience.

Push the boat out a bit, if you can, and invest in a quality knife crafted from Damascus steel. It will save you money in the long term, and you will then have a knife that constantly performs at the highest level in the kitchen.

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