If you’re writing about steel types you definitely have to include Damascus Steel. Legendary and beautiful, it is a must have for any collector.
Damascus Steel Origins and History
Originally produced in the Middle East, production eventually expanded to much of Europe and Asia. The process for making Damascus Steel blades was a closely guarded secret for most of 800 years. Beginning in the 3rd century the production finally ceased as recently as 1750ad and the knowledge was lost.
Many myths are attributed to these blades, including the ability to cut through another blade or a rifle barrel as well as cutting through a feather in midair and the ability to maintain its sharpness through many battles. How much of this is true is unclear, however it is possible that it could have done heavy damage to a cheap blade of the era.
While the method has been lost, much is known about these blades. Most were produced from Wootz, a form of steel made in India. While the exact recipe for this isn’t known, it is believed to have been produced at temperatures as high as 2300 degrees and held there for days before being allowed to cool gradually. It was then sent to the Middle East where the blades were produced at relatively low temperatures. This allowed more carbides to remain in the blade which gave it the mottled appearance that they are known for.
The method of quenching the blades during production is also unclear and may have much to do with it renowned strength. Rumors vary from quenching the blades in the urine of redheaded boys to the urine of goats fed a diet of ferns. Some of the more grotesque stories involve quenching the blade by running it through the body of a slave. The constant seems to be that the blades were quenched relatively slowly. Most methods of quenching probably had as much to do with superstitious beliefs as well as the metallurgy.
Damascus Steel Today
These days any blade made by layering steels or pattern welding is called Damascus Steel. This is not to be confused with the Wootz steel. This is done by folding the near molten steel and hammering the layers together to weld them. This results in the same mottled appearance as the Wootz steel and most of its characteristics. The most famous of the layered blades are the Samurai swords of japan, which had something close to a million layers.
Damascus Steel Pros and Cons
The layered Damascus Steel produced these days really benefit from the variety of steels available. The combinations are vast. You can combine a non-stainless metal such as 1095 with a harder stainless to bring the characteristics of both into a single blade. 1095 and 15n20 steels are a popular combination. You get out of these blades what is put into them. A good Damascus Steel blade is quite labor intensive and therefore costs more however many people claim that they will hold an edge better than a single steel knife.
If you’re buying one, be prepared to spend the money. You can buy them for $40 but you get what you pay for. I’d be ready to spend at least a couple hundred dollars. If you like to collect knives then you need one of these. They are beautiful, cost more and by many accounts perform a little better than many single steel blades.
I intend to get one and will write up a full review when i do.
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