Whats in a name?, you’ve seen all those lovely wavy patterned steel blades on Damascus hunting knives, Damascus pocket knives and even Damascus kitchen knife sets, invariably you have also noticed the price which is generally considerably more than their standard steel blade versions.
This poses some questions for anyone outside of the manufacturing process,
just what exactly is Damascus steel?,
are Damascus knives better than my regular knife?,
just why are they more expensive outside of the obvious aesthetics?.
So lets begin with the first question, what is Damascus steel, well in truth the real Damascus steel that was cast from wootz, a type of steel originally made in India over two thousand years ago is gone from history, the method has been lost and even with all our modern forge advancements and ad-nausea attempts to reverse engineer the method remains lost. You can shop for Damascus knives here.
The technique for producing wootz was lost in the 1700s, so the source material for Damascus steel was lost. The name Damascus steel is generally thought to originate from the likeness the pattern in the steel has to damask fabric, given Damascus was a major trading hub at the time 3rd / 4th century and with wootz steel being imported for steel production there it could be either or a combination of both, though it is not known for sure.
So back to the question at hand, in simple terms within a modern context what is Damascus steel?, when two or more steel alloys are forged/cast together using various methods that is what gives the blade its distinctive wavy pattern, what comes from this layering process is what is referred to as Damascus steel.
Next question, are Damascus knives better?, To be perfectly honest, many of today’s modern alloys will outperform any pattern welded steel (Pattern-welded steel is made by layering iron and steel and forging the metals together by hammering them at high temperature to form a welded bond).
Purchasing a Damascus steel blade is more about style and an appreciation for the extra time and effort involved in the process of making a Damascus steel knife.
A well made Damascus steel blade will generally keep its edge for longer than most standard production steel blade knives, if out and out performance is the key element to regard in your purchase then go with something else.
Finally, just why are they more expensive outside of the obvious aesthetics?. simply put it is the extra processes and time involved to produce what we now call Damascus steel, it is the reason why they are generally more expensive than their steel blade counterpart.
Interesting footnote, as mentioned above the wootz / original Damascus steel method was lost in and around the 16th century having been around for more than 2000 years, a tad mysterious to be sure, the term Damascus steel reentered the lexicon around 1973 when William Moran unveiled his “Damascus knives” at the Knife makers Guild Show.