A History of Damascus Steel

Jul 7th 2018

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The mystery behind Damascus steel blades has fascinated knife enthusiasts for years. Its distinctive patterning and its reputation for razor-sharp cutting edges that never dull have made them a popular choice among collectors and for  everyday carry.

The secrets behind the creation of Damascus steel knives were closely guarded by master knife makers dating back thousands of years and were lost for a period spanning from the Middle Ages until the 1970s, supposedly due to the depletion of the ore needed to create the steel alloy.

Pre-Christian Beginnings

The steel is named for the city of Damascus in modern-day Syria where the techniques for forging this type of steel were developed. Early examples of Damascus steel weaponry have been found to date from as early as the 3 rd century AD, but historians believe that Damascus steel weapons may have been used by Alexander the Great as he conquered the Middle East.

Following the Trade Route

Damascus steel was developed as Wootz steel ingots began to be imported to Damascus from India and Sri Lanka. The Wootz steel was combined with a variety of metal composites, the exact identification of these remains unknown, according to the maker's preference. Unfortunately, the exact traditional method for combining the materials is no longer known.The gradual decline in production of Damascus steel after the 17 th century is suggested to be due to the lengthy disruption of these trade routes and an inability to find sources of Wootz steel and ores contained the required trace impurities closer to Damascus.

The Spread of Damascus Steel through Europe

Damascus steel became renowned through Europe during the 11 th century as Crusaders returned from the wars telling tales of swords that could slice men in two without dulling the blade.

What followed was a period of popularity for Damascus steel weaponry throughout the Middle Ages until the 17 th century when both the source of the ore, composites and techniques to produce the steel were lost.Unfortunately, the techniques used to create fine Damascus steel were lost for centuries. However, they were later revived in the 1970s thanks to knife maker William F. Moran who unveiled his modern Damascus steels blades at the 1973 Knifemaker’s Guild show.

Though the process Moran used to create his modern Damascus steel blades is technically pattern welding, this technique came to be interchangeable with Damascus steel, and Moran established the 300-fold minimum to distinguish Damascus steel from standard pattern welded steel.

The precise composition and structure of Damascus steel continues to intrigue not only knife collectors but also researchers. As recently as 2006, researchers have been conducting experiments on the nature of Damascus steel and the controlled thermal cycling process required to create the delicate damask pattern.

They discovered that the techniques used to create these amazing blades created steel that had the properties of a superplastic, hence the flexibility of the blade, as well as being very hard, while the discovery of nanotubes within the structure is suggested to give the steel its distinctive pattern which was an impressive feat given the equipment and materials available in the era of production.

Final Thoughts

Thanks to the innovation and creativity of modern bladesmiths, you can now buy yourself a Damascus steel pocket knife, fixed blade, or even knives with Damascus handles which combines strength, flexibility, and durability to make them a hardwearing knife that will serve you well for everyday carry.

You can buy fine Damascus steel, including a Damascus steel pocket knife on sale if your timing is right, at reputable online stores.