View Full Version : Damascus steel. What's the deal?

01-10-2011, 01:33 PM
We were at another gun show this weekend. There was much interest around a knifemaker who had an entire island of tables and was selling his damscus steel knives. He imported the blades and did his own custom handles.

The knives ran about $60-$90.

They aren't visually appealing to me so can someone explain the pros, cons and appeal of damascus blades? This guy was cleaning house with them.

01-10-2011, 01:42 PM
Damasucs is a special mix of steels that basically has a pattern on it because of the way its made. Its not something you can easily make in your backyard (if at all), hence its appeal.


01-10-2011, 03:23 PM
Those were probably from pakistan or something to be sold at those prices. Good damascus is just what JPGRECO says. There is nothing superior that I have seen than a single steel except the look. It is more expensive cause of all the work and knowledge that goes into making the billets. I like the way it looks but is not something I would personally want for a knife just because of its cost. A 1095 blade could do the exact same thing that a damascus could do. Damascus was originally made for royalty long ago I believe. At least he admitted to putting the handles only, which is cool.

01-10-2011, 03:25 PM
Damascus steel is made by combining several different steels, heating, beating, folding, repeat, repeat, repeat...... The skill of the blacksmith will determine the end result. Good quality Damascus steel billets will cost more than the knives this guy was selling as a finished knife. You will often hear how many layers the steel has. If you start with two types of steel, fold it - you now have 4 layers, fold it again - 8 layers, fold it again - 16, 32, 64, etc. Starting wit 6 types - fold it - 12, 24, 48, 96, etc. The steel is welded (blacksmith welding) each time the steel is folded to form one solid piece. The number of layers in the final billet will be dependent on how many folds have been made. Over 1,000 is not uncommon. The pattern will be determined by skill and types of steel used. The patterns are then brought out with acid. The different steels will react at different rates.

It is not uncommon for hand forged Damascus steel knives to run into the thousands of dollars. A completed Damascus knife for $60 is suspect at best.

01-10-2011, 04:06 PM
I should add........

There is fake Damascus out there. It may look good, but is just a surface etching. Not saying this is what that guy was selling. I have seen some less expensive Damascus coming out of Pakistan - don't know about the quality though.

01-10-2011, 04:17 PM
You nailed it crash!

01-10-2011, 04:42 PM
I would actually think you would get a better quality knife with a single type of steel since the heat treatment is specific to that knife's steel. Damascus, being a mix of metals, will not temper the same.

I know the wiki article I linked to stated that gun barrels made from damascus are much weaker than standard barrels and I would assume the same is true for knives (especially for a poorly made damascus steel).

01-10-2011, 04:55 PM
Well if they are properly made and the steels are close in heat treat recipes then they would be hardened well. I haven't heard of a weld failure from the good dammy makers. If you use two steels that have a different heat treat method then one of the steel will not be at optimal performance.

01-10-2011, 05:11 PM
Very interesting. In fact his wife said the blades were imported from Pakistan. So this is more or less a decorative thing and as far as fuction goes not much is added?

01-10-2011, 06:27 PM
Very interesting. In fact his wife said the blades were imported from Pakistan. So this is more or less a decorative thing and as far as fuction goes not much is added?

Not necessarily. As I said, I do not know about the quality of the Damascus coming out of there. If hand forged, it is a labor intensive job. I would imagine that labor costs are not a big factor coming out of that region.

01-10-2011, 06:35 PM
It was my understanding, which might be wrong, that a damascus blade performed almost similarly to a serrated knife with a plain edge because of the two or more different metals having different properties along the cutting edge. Also that the mixing of the metals could make a blade more flexible once again because of the different properties.

But that could all be hog-wash.

01-10-2011, 06:39 PM
Not correct from my understanding.

01-10-2011, 06:40 PM
It was my understanding, which might be wrong, that a damascus blade performed almost similarly to a serrated knife with a plain edge because of the two or more different metals having different properties along the cutting edge. Also that the mixing of the metals could make a blade more flexible once again because of the different properties.

But that could all be hog-wash.

I dont know about the serrated edge performance..thats news to me but your right about the flexibility. Many good damascus knives are a blend of both high carbon and lower carbon steels. When they are quenched, the different steels harden at different rates. This will leave a stronger blade. I've played with some of the Ebay damascus from either India or Pakistan (cant remember) and it didnt heat treat very well at all. I never dared sell a knife made out of it.

01-10-2011, 07:12 PM
Well I have 1 "High end" Damascus knife. From my understanding this particular design, the Damascus can sell for $9/inch of steel(or higher depending on the steels, folds, work and quality of work as well as the pattern) There is about 11" of Damascus used in this knife.... so @ $100 worth of steel before any work is done at all. It is roughly a $400-$600 pocketknife, Although I wouldn't sell it for even more than that. This knife was a contest winner of many knives of the same design, by many prominent makers, on a knife makers forum. It is "Lizard skin" Damascus, Blade, back spring, and bolsters are all that pattern Damascus.





This is probably a higher quality Damascus than what you saw at that show. I would pit it on an equal or higher par (For use and edge retention so far) Than the 1095 knife I have of the same design ( but with Titanium bolsters and Back spring and a "Hamon" on the blade)....


01-10-2011, 08:09 PM
first of all; i doubt you've ever seen a damascus blade at a gun show, unles somebody was selling antiques.

a well done pattern welded blade is absolutely gorgeous and collecters will pay through the nose for it.

because of this, there is a lot of medoicore junk selling at a moderate price just because the maker used a p-welded billet. the kind of knife that might never well at any price if it where a monosteel.

most of the special advantages attributed to damascus blades (and wootz steel) don't even apply directly to modern pattern welds, but are also exagerated to the point of mysticism. the advantages composite blades actually deliver can be had from modern steels.

why would people want them? to some people, such as myself it's because they can be made gorgeous. can have extra warmth and dimmension a homogenous blade does not have.

some people may feel that the partial measure of appoximating the traditional techniques in making certain styles of blade honors the tradition, culture and identity of those who made them.

and as always, some people just like the hype.

with all of that said; for bladesmiths, the skill in making some of the amazing pattern welded and composite blades is at least as breathtaking as the effect. i'll probably spend a great many years trying to learn it.

01-10-2011, 08:17 PM
It was my understanding, which might be wrong, that a damascus blade performed almost similarly to a serrated knife with a plain edge because of the two or more different metals having different properties along the cutting edge. Also that the mixing of the metals could make a blade more flexible once again because of the different properties.

But that could all be hog-wash.

to the best of my understanding a damascus-like pattern welded blade performs like a carbide forming steel. there's a reason for that.

there are twenty dozen sets of theories (some more spurious than others) that explain how the various laminates of the various steels used perform and ultimately very little actual published reasearch. it's amazing since the various aspects of cutting and durability performance are directly measurable under even primitive condtions as long as a standard of integrity is maintained.

the fact is that we have seen monosteel swords that perform on par with nihonto katana. we have seen seen knives which cut silk with ease.

almost nothing people have insisted on believing for centuries is pure hogwash. it's usually got a kernel of truth and a ball of crap wound around it. it's what happens when you take a 10 yard idea and try to run a touchdown with it.

01-15-2011, 10:01 PM
You may or may not know but my only job is not running this forum, I also do a lot of work in the knife/sword industry.

IMO pakistan is the worst, I'm surprised you're seeing damascus out of pakistan. Anyways, I wouldn't buy any pakistan knife or sword.

The heirarchy for foreign mass produced stuff generally goes like this in my opinion.

1. Good chinese/taiwan factories/spain
2. bad chinese factories
3. india
4. pakistan

Obviously a mass produced item isn't going to compare with something hand made, but on mass produced scale, thats my opinion.

Damascus out of China I've seen good and bad, the bad stuff was earlier, I do mostly swords, not knives, knives probably had good stuff earlier. The asian style swords they've actually had good damascus for quite awhile, but some of those get up into four figures.

My company right now is having european style swords made in damascus in china. Real damascus, over 2000 layers. It isn't artistic damascus, some people who hand make it will do it just so to create a specific artistic pattern. It is still beautiful though

I would say that you definitely have performance value from it though, not just visual appeal. The fact is, it has to be worked, largely by hand. The bad earlier stuff I mentioned you could tell was done more mechanically, there was no organic feeling to the pattern, it wasn't folded nearly as much, and it was obviously done by a machine. Because you know the steel has been worked you can be sure it is stronger. Sometimes steel that is just cast and then stamped like some knife blank could have a defect in it. I had some returns recently of a throwing axe and they had broken on impact,obviously there was a defect in the metal. In a damascus application if that happened it'd be in one layer, and the many other layers would protect it, on this that had basically 1 layer, no such luck and it breaks.

01-24-2011, 11:53 PM
There is a cheaper Damascus that is not just etching. It's just got fewer layers one such is called 153 Damascus because it has 153 layers. Not all Damascus is made forging different steels together one of my favorite Damascus steels is called Cable Damascus. The that a steel cable and forge it into oneness. It makes for some beautiful patterns and the blades have a flexibility, a resilience to stress fracturing probably born from their cable beginnings. This flexibility is part of what all Damascus blades are famous for. That and their ability to take a very fine, sharp edge and hold it. Modern steels are not inferior to Damascus which was the pinnacle of steel making 400 years ago. For a hard use field knife I'd rather have D2 or A2 tool steel or Carbon V carbon steel(sadly no longer made), a ATS34 stainless or AUS-6 or 8. 4116 Krupp is pretty good too. and SK-5 Carbon. Cold Steel San Mai III is legendary about those with a love of tactical knives.

10-19-2012, 10:23 PM
can you send me a picture of a good quality Damascus blade on a sword, i'm in the market for another katana, can you direct me to a good website, i'll check it out.
also can someone tell me what this is, it looks to be something special but i truly have no idea (this is an amazon link)


i apologize if this wasn't the way to go about it. look like some of you people are in the industry so i figured i'd ask.

i already have one katana bought it from amazon. and i love it. of course i get what i paide for i just needed to start somewhere.
this is what i have

10-20-2012, 10:04 PM
I agree with all of the above the only thing I'd like to add is that with a power hammer making pattern welded steel is substantially easier then working it by hand...just to give you an idea to do a 200 layer billet by hand takes me 4-6 hours to do this with a power hammer reduces the time to about an hour. Being just a random pattern billet the knife is going to be at least double the cost of a monosteel blade of the same size. When you want specialized patterns it makes the cost exponentially increase. The same knife (say a 5 inch blade utility knife) prices as follows monosteel knife: $225, random pattern 200 layer damascus: $500, more complex patterns or mosaic: $600+ all of these knives will perform the same but the preference is mostly aesthetic.

10-20-2012, 10:28 PM
Ok, really; let's stop confusing Damascus steel and pattern welded steel.

Bush Monkey
10-21-2012, 05:20 PM
If a damascus maker chooses different steel, each with it's own independent heat treating formula, "matches" them perfectly and then heat treats the multi-steel blade using a single heat treat formula, something has to be sacrificed? If heat treating is steel specific, as it is professed to be, then heat treating different steels the same way is sub-optimal.

from Alpha knife supply:

15n20 Heat Treating Information:
Austenitize: Heat to 1480. Quench in oil.
Temper: Temper at least once for 30 minutes. Tempering twice for two hours each time is preferred. Use the table below to achieve desired hardness.


1080 Heat Treating Information:
Austenitize: Heat to 1545-1615 and hold for 5 minutes. Quench in oil.
Temper: Temper twice for two hours each time. Use the table below to achieve desired hardness.


Dwane Oliver
10-21-2012, 10:22 PM
Alot of mastersmiths make their damascus from 1080 and 15N20 , which by the way has the same heat treat process.
A properly made damascus steel should perform as well as a mono steel. They pass their tests with it. ( Mastersmith Performance Test that is )
I have seen some makers use 52100 / 5160 / 203E / 15N20 , in a billet. The 203E does not have much carbon it it , so it won't get as hard as the other steels in the mix. There for you get the "serrated" type of edge.
The advantage is the latter of the 2 has more contrast ( the 203E is brighter than the 15N20 ), it still makes a great knife , better than a Buck , but not as good as the first.



Bush Monkey
10-27-2012, 01:43 PM