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What is damask steel?

In this time, there are many knives with a blade of damask steel again. What is damask steel exactly and does it have an added value?

Answer of Knivesandtools:

Damask steel is steel that consists of a high number of steel layers welded onto each other. Damask steel is also called Damascus steel or folded steel.

Traditionally, the aim of making Damask steel was to improve the characteristics of a piece of steel. A piece of rough steel was welded into a longer piece and then folded and welded onto each other again. By repeating this a few times you obtained a piece of steel consisting of hundreds of layers.

This had two advantages:

  • Imperfections in the steel are distributed over the piece of steel, which makes the weak spots disappear. The crystal structure of the steel is also refined by sharpening. This meant swords and knives could be made that are much less prone to breakage.
  • During the production of Damask steel the steel is heated in a fire. The steel takes in carbon from the fire and by repeatedly folding the carbon is spread over the whole steel. The carbon makes it possible to harden the steel.

In this time, that is no longer needed to make high quality steel. Making Damask steel has become an art form. Usually two or more different steel types are used. For example two steels with a different carbon content. This makes the layer structure more visible. Often, Damask no longer consists of layers, but of more complex shapes as can be seen in the illustrations. When a blade of Damask steel is ready, it is often processed chemically or mechanically to make the layers more visible.

Industrial damask

Besides the very precious Damask steel produced on a small scale, mostly by very skilled 'artists' damask is also made industrially. That is the Damask steel usually used for kitchen knives. (Kitchen knives of 'real' Damask steel cost many hundreds of euros.)

With industrially manufactured damask often high quality normal steel like VG10-steel or 3G-steel, is welded between two layers of factory made Damask steel. The damask then only has a decorative function because the steel on the cutting edge consists of a single layer.

That is clearly visible in the steel on the illustration here. The damask pattern ends on the bottom of the illustration, for the cutting edge. Also look at the two illustrations with the section 'Answer of The damask there does run to the cutting edge.