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July 16, 2020

WHAT IS THIS METAL CALLED DAMASCUS STEEL ?

This attractive and mysterious steel has captured the imagination of many people. So I will do my best to explain what it is and how it is made.

The terms damascus steel, damascened steel or damascene steel refer to 2 types of steel that look similar :

  • Wootz : It's a crucible steel that appeared in India and the Middle East around 300 B.C. which made the legend of Moorish swords during the Crusades, and the fame of damascus blades. Unfortunately, the know-how was lost during the 17th century because of a forgotten methodology and different materials available.
  • Today, what is called Damascus steel is Pattern Welded Damascus Steel. It appeared later and was named so because of its resemblance to Wootz. However the technique differs. The steel of the blade is obtained by alternately welding layers of soft and hard steel (low and high carbon) on top of each other. The number of layers varies from a few dozen to a few hundred depending on the desired pattern.

 

It is true that historically damask blades were made of wootz steel, but due to the rarity of the technique and its extinction in the 17th century, it has become legitimate and common to talk about damask steel when talking about pattern welded damascus steel. Currently 95% of the knives with damascus blade are made of pattern welded damascus steel.

pattern welded damascus steel

 

2. ORIGIN OF DAMASCUS STEEL: THE WOOTZ

According to some legends, damask is a supposedly indestructible steel with connotations combining beauty and magic! In truth, damascus steel is only steel. It has no magical properties but still has properties such as superplasticity and high impact hardness.

wootz steel

These "legendary" swords were made from a steel, the wootz, with a high carbon content (1.5 to 2%) obtained in India and the Middle East by carrying iron and carbon (charcoal no doubt) at 1200° in a hermetically sealed crucible. The slow cooling of this mixture allowed the formation of a network of cementite, forging at low temperature (blood red / cherry) broke the mesh of cementite without making it disappear, which allowed to obtain in addition to good mechanical qualities (hardness and flexibility which the crusaders suffered ...) very beautiful designs.

The objects obtained from these stacks are etched with acid; the acid attacking hard and soft steel at different speeds, lines of engraving will appear on the surface of the object.

This low-furnace damascus steel is called Wootz or ukku in the East and Bulat in Russia. At that time, the Arab culture introduced Wootz steel in the Syrian city of Damascus which imported it from Persia and Sri Lanka.


The main interest of damask is aesthetic; by playing on the number of layers, the materials used, various and varied deformations, an infinite number of patterns can be obtained.

Damascus has adopted a somewhat enigmatic reputation, since the first references disappeared around 1700 AD, a point marking the decline of patterned swords that would cease to be produced some fifty years later. The ancient tradition and know-how almost disappeared at that time.

Although the modern high carbon steels made by the Bessemer process in the 19th century surpass the quality of Damascus steel, it remains an exceptional material, especially for its time.

3. PATTERN WELDED DAMASCUS STEEL

Pattern welded damascus steel has its origins in the early Iron Age. It was discovered that by bending and welding in a carbon fire, it was possible to produce steel, a compound of iron that can be hardened to produce superior quality tools and weapons.

Almost every culture in the world has developed some form of rolled steel. There are still swords from the Viking era that show highly developed patterns. In Malaysia, the kris is known for its intricate laminated steel patterns. The most elaborate form was probably developed in Japan.

The Japanese, using a process of forge welding of a set of soft iron and a highly carburized steel called tamahagane, produce swords of exceptional quality and great beauty. Mokune Gane uses the same process but with non ferrous materials (gold, copper, silver, shakudō, shibuichi and kuromido).

4. MODERN HISTORY: WROUGHT DAMASK AND MODERN TECHNIQUES

The renewed attractiveness of damask blades and industrialization have led to the development of cheaper blades than those manufactured on a small scale.

They are generally steels used for kitchen knives because it allows a good conservation of the edge (linked to the high resistance core: VG10, VGMax ...) while displaying a beautiful decorative damask on each side of the blade.

Sano Series

The blade therefore has a high-strength core and multiple layers on both sides. This technique is found on many Japanese knives as well as on most modern damask kitchen knives.

5. WHAT USES FOR MODERN KNIVES?

yuniku series

The majority of damascus steel kitchen knives use a modern manufacturing technique using a high-strength, high-carbon core that is coated with a stainless wrought damascus steel to protect it from oxidation.

The blade then has good edge retention while optimizing corrosion resistance.

The number of layers used will allow for a variety of patterns and make each piece unique, the most popular are those with 67 layers.

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