It’s widely held that knives made from Damascus steel are the best knives known to man. But is it true? There is a certain amount of myth surrounding this high-quality steel starting with its origins in Middle East , not Japan as commonly held. Let’s explore what’s true and what may be exaggerated about these knives.
Damascus steel wood has been used to make elaborate knives and swords for centuries. Today a metal smith first layers two types of steel that are then fused at high temperatures. Mechanical hammers weighing 600 to 1000 pounds are then used along with other heavy equipment to form patterns of different types. A solid bar of material is finally produced, from which the bands are cut. While basic pattern types can be repeated, no two bands will ever be just alike.
Thanks to the recent resurgence of knife making arts over the last few decades, the art of making Damascus knives has been regained. Although we can’t know exactly how the modern process compares to the older one, we know that today’s Damascus steel knives are not made of the same metals as in historic times. They do appear similar, and they have the same strength and sharpness as those ancient swords.
During the long years of the Crusades, the armies of Europe found themselves badly outnumbered. Not only were there more Saracens than Crusaders in the Holy Land, but also the armies of Islam were much better equipped. They rode sleek, swift horses bred for the hot desert climate, wore a chain mail light enough to provide them mobility yet strong enough to stop European blades, and used weapons made of a steel so well-forged that it bent under pressure without breaking, yet held an edge so sharp it could cleave a man in half with only the force behind one arm. What was the secret steel of the Near East; it’s forging guarded so well by the sword smiths of Syria? That steel was called Damascus steel, a term used by the Crusaders to describe the metal used by the artisans and sword smiths of Damascus, Syria.
Most modern Damascus Steel Knives are made from knife blanks, which aren’t quite the same thing as Damascus steel. They differ in that they are made from pattern welded steel which uses a folded metal method. The resulting knife blank is made from the layers that result from the process, shaped and polished into a blade and the sharpness of these knives makes them a top notch kitchen high quality knife.
Sometimes acid is used to reveal the natural pattern in the Damascus knife blank. It doesn’t create that pattern; it only accentuates it. However a knife blank treated in this manner is not truly a Damascus knife blank anymore.
Damascus steel can be finished to a high polished which will understate the contrast between layers of metal, or thin acid finish which when applied produces a rougher texture which dramatically displays the pattern in the metal.