Traditional Damascus steel, also known as Pattern Weld, Damascene, or Damast, was first produced over two thousand years ago. It has lived in legend and is referred to as the steel of the ancients.
Damascus swords and knives dominated the weapon industry from the Iron Age to the Viking age. Alexander the Great was said to have had a Damascus sword, and even Aristotle commented on the high-quality of the Damascus steel blade. Its origins can be traced back as far as 500 A.D. In India, it was called Telangana, Wootz or Ukku steel. It then found its way to Damascus, Syria, which was the center of trade in that region for war equipment such as knives, swords and armor.
However, Damascus steel had been a lost technology from the early 1700's up until World War II. It again has gained popularity since the mid 1970's.
From what we know, the original Damascus steel swords may have been made near Damascus, Syria, in the period from 900 AD to as late as 1750 AD but quickly gained its reputation during the Crusades.
Damascus steel was the name that the Crusaders gave to the steel that they had witnessed slicing through their own, lesser quality swords, cutting the sword in half in a single swipe without ever losing its edge. The next swipe would do the same to the body of that less fortunate Crusader.
The steel that was forged by the sword smiths of Ancient Damascus was such a well-kept secret, that it cannot be perfectly replicated even today. The process was lost to the middle-eastern metal smiths around 1750 AD, possibly because sources of ores containing trace amounts of tungsten and/or vanadium needed for its production were depleted. So with the raw materials and recipes of the metal smiths' to make these items no longer available, it causes a bit of a problem. Numerous attempts have been made to recreate the process with varying success, but the original process remains speculative at best.
Modern day Damascus steel is a very sought after commodity. I would say for more than just the logical reasons such as its quality and its beauty.
It is also due to the mystery and the history that continually surrounds it, intriguing others to have to own a little piece of it.
"The Process"The process has been around for thousands of years and those that are trying their best to create an authentic item for you, are replicating the steel the best they can, the way it was made in the past, but doing so with a bit of modern technology.
I’m not going to hold it against them and neither should you. They are all artists in their craft and genuinely have a passion for what they do.
We should thank them for their time and not ridicule then for it. To start, the process of producing a Damascus knife is called pattern welding.
If you don’t have the drive to wax your truck, you probably do not want to take up blacksmithing. It is a tedious process but with much reward.
Pattern welding is taking multiple layers of metal, folding them together, and bonding them by forge welding. What this does, or what it should do depending on your degree of expertise, is give you a nice blade that is both hard and flexible. It also gives you that awesome Damascus steel look that we all want to have in our collection.
Getting the exact carbon content in the mixture for the steel is a pain in the, you know what. If you get too much carbon, you got a pile of cast iron on your hands and if it is too little then you have a pile of wrought iron. Today a mixture of high carbon steels are used for the layers. Usually a basic carbon steel like 1095 along with a nickel bearing carbon steel like 15N20. The nickel in the steel resists the acid etching giving the blade the brighter layers you see.
"Forging And Finishing"
Pattern welding is like using building blocks. Different steels are stacked in a pattern into a block or billet, putting them together and holding them with a steel wire until the first weld is in place. The more intricate patterns are often layers of Damascus that have been twisted or deformed in some way, cut and stacked in a manner that when welded together gives a very unique pattern to the finished blade.
The pieces are thinned out drastically, and then removed from the furnace where the blacksmith folds the steel over and over; most commonly you will have over 500 layers when the smith is done. The folding and adding of the layers are what makes the steel strong. The whole process is what causes the steel to be as great as it is. The process gives you a sharper blade than that of other common steels.
Finally, after the blade of the Damascus knives are shaped, they are placed back into the furnace until it reaches a temperature of 1500 degrees. It is removed and is quenched in oil. The blade then needs to be tempered so it is heated back to 425 degrees for about 2 hours. After it cools, it is sanded with fine sandpaper and sharpened. The etching in the blade is done by using a mix of acid and water to eat away the softer metal revealing that Damascus steel look and feel.
You will want to own one of these steel items, if not for the durability, then certainly for the beauty and the history. You will stare at them for hours at a time.