Loading... Please wait...


A Primer on Damascus Steel

“Damascus” is a common label given to modern pattern-welded steel. The original Damascus steel refers to wootz, pulad or bulat steel (the name being dependent on where the steel is worked), a type of crucible steel ingot imported from India and used in Middle Eastern / Central Asian swordmaking.


These ingots and the resulting sword blades were characterized by distinctive banding and patterning, or watering. These swords had a reputation for durability and an exceptional cutting edge. The earliest known crucible Damascus sword blade was excavated from a 3rd - 4th century A.D. burial in the Russian Northern Caucasus.


By the mid to late 18th century, this swordmaking technique was lost to metalsmiths and the production in India of these crucible steel ingots ceased as well for reasons unknown. There have been many studies of the properties of Damascus steel and much speculation into how it was produced, but definitive, indisputable answers to the mystery of it’s composition are still not known.


Modern Damascus, or pattern-welded steel, was popularized in the 1970’s by legendary knifemaker, Bill Moran, who unveiled his ‘’Damascus knives” at a Knifemaker’s Guild show, reintroducing the technique to the knife buying public.


Pattern-welded steel is made from two or more types of steel welded together to form a billet. The blacksmith heats the steel, draws it out, folds it over and then repeats the process until he gets the desired number of layers. When the desired number of layers is achieved, the blade is submerged in an acid bath which acts on the different steels and draws out the contrasts. This layering of the steel forms the banding and patterning on the blade similar to the original Damascus steel, hence the term “Damascus”.


Generally, the more layers a blade has, the more sought after it is and the more expensive it is. The degree and complexity of the patterning on the blade creates value as well. The functional value of pattern-welded steel is the formation of a microscopic serrated cutting edge caused by the grinding down of the layers.


Modern Damascus steel knives are very popular among knife enthusiasts and are carried in the product lines of most major manufacturers. Pricewise, on the lower end, Damascus knives imported from China, India and Pakistan can be hand forged or manufactured and are inexpensive by Western standards. In the mid-range, manufactured and semi-custom Damascus steel knives are available from a few major brands; the “custom” being the hand forged pattern-welded steel blades. On the high end, true custom handmade Damascus steel knives are usually made to order by experienced bladesmiths who work from a waiting list – sometimes years long.


Sign Up For Monthly Knife News & Special Offers

  • Terms of Use
  • Privacy Policy
  • Sitemap