What is Damascus steel?

What is Damascus Steel?

One of the most alluring and fascinating metals in the world is known as Damascus steel.

Anyone who’s caught an episode of the TV series “Forged in Fire”, will have some idea of how damascus steel is made domestically.

Metals with different properties are sandwiched, then welded together in a billet. The billet is heated and hammered or pressed until the different metals form as one, and then thinned down and ground until a blade is formed.

If you own a Damascus steel knife or Damascus steel ring, you’ll appreciate its beauty.

But what is it about a Damascus steel blade that makes it so attractive? How does modern steel compare?

This blog explores the origins of steel and its role in blade design over the years.

1. Where Did Damascus Steel Get its Name?

Man forges damascus steel by hand outdoors

As with many historical theories, fact becomes muddied with fiction. It appears that no one can provide accurate proof why Damascus steel is so called. 

One of the most plausible speculations is that the steel was named after the city of Damascus in Syria, who traded with India. Damascus may also refer to patterns formed in the metal when compared with Damask fabric (also thought to be named after the city).

The creation of original Damascus steel can’t be discussed without another type of steel ingot called ‘Wootz.’ 

Wootz steel ingots were created as long ago as the third century BC in Southern India, now known as the Tamil and Kerala regions. However, it would be over a thousand years before western societies created steel comparable to its strength and durability.

Indian craftsmen would ‘smelt’ black magnetite and pearlite ore with carbon (often charcoal) in sealed clay pots (later metal pots) called ‘crucibles.’ 

The wootz ingot at the time was legendary for its strength and flexibility. As a result, Wootz steel became known as the best steel for millennia.

How Was Wootz Steel Made?

Wootz steel was formed by a forging process where the impurities or slag were heated and hammered out of ore rock. The resulting metal was used for sword blades and other precious items and traded to neighboring countries.

The characteristic of the forging process of Wootz steel resulted in a pattern caused by the martensite and pearlite matrix of higher carbon steel. The pattern resembled a water flow, and wootz steel is the first known damascene pattern recorded. In addition, the fabled Damascus steel sword originated from wootz steel.

Genuine Damascus steel needs some basic explanation about steel. Steel is an alloy (a composition of more than one metal) made primarily from iron and around 1.5% carbon. Ancient metalsmiths or sword makers were tasked with creating strong and yet flexible steel, but early methods meant they got what melting at high temperatures allowed.

After experimentation, the ancient Damascus sword makers discovered that certain ores produced superior steel blades for strength while others produced flexibility. So they combined the steel by cutting it and folding it together. The folded steel began to show the properties of a versatile steel blade.

2. What is Damascus Steel?

Chef in black apron and black gloves balances a chef knife against a cutting board

8'' Chef Knife | Shogun Series X | Dalstrong ©

The resulting experiments meant that combining the two properties of strength and flexibility became a version of the original Damascus steel we know today.

Now, Damascus steel is made in all manner of patterns and combinations of strengths and flexibility.

Steel blades with varying degrees of hardness are created to make beautiful, individually crafted knife styles.

A modern Damascus knife is regarded as being the pinnacle of sharpness and design. In addition, the edge retention of a Damascus knife is exemplary.

3. What Are the Modern Manufacturing Processes Of Damascus Steel?

Mini cleaver with damascus steel sticking into a cutting board by the tip of the blade

4.5'' Mini Cleaver | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

True Damascus steel consists of layers of different steels forged together. Today, many more than just two layers are used than were used with the original Damascus.

The method of manufacturing involves the refining of iron after successive hammering, folding, stretching, cutting, and forging together.

Repeating this process several times will result in steel of hundreds of layers and a Damascus steel ingot. 

This first stage of manufacturing allows for a vast amount of different designs and patterns to be produced. 

These are some of the most common patterns;

  • Ladder Damascus 
  • Herringbone Damascus
  • Basketweave Damascus
  • Diamondback Damascus 
  • Dot Matrix Damascus
  • Fireball Damascus
  • Mokume Gane 
  • Raindrop Damascus

4. Knife Recommendations For Dalstrong Damascus

1Slicing & Carving Knife 12" | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

Slicing & Carving Knife 12" | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

Almost as beautiful as any ancient Damascus steel sword, this carving knife makes light work of the toughest meats and poultry. Stainless Damascus design means you never have to worry about cleaning. Instead, simple soap and water washing and a towel dry, and it’s ready for the next challenge.

Why do we think you’ll love it;

  • This knife is super sharp and has a wonderfully sleek line.

Why you may prefer something else

  • You might prefer steel that isn’t patterned, or the length of the blade is not quite what you’re looking for.

2. Butcher's Breaking Cimitar Knife 10" | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

Butcher's Breaking Cimitar Knife 10" | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

This blade offers superior control and maneuverability to expertly slice through flesh and cartilage, a knife for the serious butcher or chef. Portion cuts like a master, effortlessly gliding through meat like butter & allowing you to trim briskets without ripping. Rock-hollow divots minimize adhesion, preventing food from sticking by reducing friction. Hand-polishing reveals the distinctive Dalstrong Tsunami Rose’ Damascus patterning.

Why do we think you’ll love it;

  • This is a professional knife for the serious chef or butcher. The hollowed edges reduce friction, and cleaning is a breeze.
  • Scalpel like sharpness at a staggering 8-12°degree angle per side 

Why you may prefer something else

  • Not everyone likes a Damascus pattern. You might prefer the cleaner lines of another series of the knife.
  • You may prefer a bullnose butcher knife

3. Paring Knife 3.5" | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

Paring Knife 3.5" | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

The Shogun Series 3.5” paring knife is a precision specialist. The narrow blade tapers to a point, making paring an easy task. The Shogun Series is precision forged from folded steel Damascus of Japanese high-carbon AUS-10V steel with 66-alternating layers for stain resistance and durability. Cryogenic tempering with liquid nitrogen increases the steel's crystalline structure.

The resulting blade has enhanced strength, flexibility, and hardness.The super-steel core possesses extra high carbon levels, allowing for scalpel-like sharpness with exceptionally long-lasting edge retention. 

Why do we think you’ll love it;

  • If you’re after a supple yet robust and sharp knife, The Shogun Paring knife is ideal.
  • Hand-polishing reveals a magnificent visual pattern, Dalstrong’s ‘Tsunami Rose.’

Why you may prefer something else

  • The handles are black, and the Damascus is distinctive. Perhaps you would prefer a different shape, design or color.
  • This knife is ideal for meal prep, but if you are primarily cutting large pieces of meat, you will want to go for a larger knife. 

4. Fillet Knife 6" | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

Fillet Knife 6" | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

The Shogun Series 6” curved fillet knife is masterfully engineered for filleting, skinning, deboning, descaling, trimming, and butterflying fish and poultry. The narrow blade curvature lends the tip to work around bone and in-between skin with minimal drag efficiently.

The incredibly sharp blade glides through meat or fat, creating a clean and painless tissue separation from the bone.  With a mere 2.0mm thickness at the spine (the Shogun Series typically are 2.5mm thick), the blade has the perfect balance between moderate flexibility and strength.

The Shogun Series blade is precision-forged from a single Japanese high-carbon AUS-10V steel with 66-alternating layers of SUS410 Damascus cladding for stain resistance and durability. In addition, a premium-quality polymer Dalstrong PerfectFit sheath with embossed Dalstrong logo and pin is included with the set to ensure your blade is carefully protected.  

Why do we think you’ll love it;

  • There will be no more struggling with fish skins and losing half of the fish meat with this knife.
  • It’s a stunningly sharp knife and worth the investment

Why you may prefer something else

  • Colors and the overall look of a knife are the usual reasons someone may prefer a different blade.
  • Some people prefer a longer fillet knife

5. Kiritsuke Chef's Knife 8.5" | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

Kiritsuke Chef's Knife 8.5" | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

As steel blades go, this one is top of the pile! The Shogun Series 8.5” double-bevel kiritsuke is a push-cut master. The long straight edge and sword-shaped tip make this blade is a lethal beauty.

This blade fuses the design of both traditional Japanese Yanagida fish slicers and Usubas vegetables knives. In Japanese cuisine, the kiritsuke is typically reserved for a Masterchef.  

Why do we think you’ll love it;

  • As sharp as many katana swords, this chef’s knife is so finely edged, it’s almost cruel.
  • Perfect for a range of kitchen prep work

Why you may prefer something else

  • You might prefer a more traditional 'Western' chef's knife
  • The pattern on the knife may not be your cup of tea

6. Cleaver Hybrid & Chef's Knife 8" | Crixus | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

Cleaver Hybrid & Chef's Knife 8" | Crixus | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

As mighty as the legendary Valyrian steel from the Game of Thrones series, this cleaver will deal with the most stubborn meat carcasses. The well-designed cleaver and chef’s knife hybrid means you don’t have to swap blades when preparing your food constantly.

The laminated steel indicative of the Damascus blade is highly polished to reveal the beautiful Dalstrong Dalstrong Tsunami Rose’ Damascus patterning. This cleaver is easy to handle, and wow- so sharp! “The Crixus” is a uniquely engineered chef knife and cleaver hybrid designed for meat lovers. If you’re looking for something different, you’ve found it. This specialty blade honors its gladiatorial namesake by making quick work of any challenge.

Why do we think you’ll love it;

  • A curved profile allows for clean, perfect slices through meat and sinew, while the width and weight let you chop like a cleaver. 
  • All of our Shogun range comes with a sheath for protection for the knife and you.

Why you may prefer something else

  • You may prefer a more traditional cleaver, rather than a hybrid
  • The Tsunami Rose’ Damascus patterning isn't for everyone

7. Utility Knife 6" | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

Utility Knife 6" | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

Just as sure as a well-known caped crusader would have his trusty utility belt in a time of need, you too can possess this great 6” Damascus utility knife.

Pure stainless Damascus steel makes dicing and slicing a pleasure. Paring and peeling is a dream with the Dalstrong Shogun series of utility knives.

The Dalstrong Shogun Series 6" utility knife is the professional, high-performance solution to many culinary challenges. Some chefs often prefer this knife as a smaller alternative to the chef's knife. A sharp blade is essential where more precise cuts are needed, such as trimming broccoli, green beans, or smaller vegetables. The slight curve to the belly also allows for moderate rocking cuts. 

Why do we think you’ll love it;

  • The ergonomic style of the handle and sharpness of the blade makes cutting easy and repetitive without tiring the hand or arm.
  • hand-finished in the Honbazuke 3-step method, creating a beautiful mirror polished edge at a staggeringly acute 8-10 degrees.

Why you may prefer something else

  • Some may prefer a longer knife or a shorter peeler.
  • This is a quality knife, and therefore the price may be out of some people's budget for a utility knife

8. Bread Knife 10.25" | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

Bread Knife 10.25" | Shogun Series | Dalstrong ©

Ten and a quarter inches of sheer serrated bliss! The Dalstrong Shogun Series professional bread knife is your bakery companion.

Soft or hard crusts stand no chance with the serrated edge of this perfectly formed blade. Cut anything from roasts to melons, and you won’t even feel the resistance.

Hand polished, revealing a magnificent visual Damascus pattern: Dalstrong’s ‘Tsunami Rose.’ High carbon steel for scalpel-like sharpness and exceptional edge retention.  

Why do we think you’ll love it;

  • The stay-sharp serrations and edge retention make this Damascus knife worth investment.
  • In addition to bread and pastries, this knife is perfect for pineapples and other tricky hard shelled fruit and veg. 

Why you may prefer something else

  • You could be looking for a color to complement your kitchen or a non-serrated blade.
  • Some people prefer their bread knives to have a shorter blade

5. Frequently Asked Questions About Damascus Steel

    Is ore metal?

    Ore is a rock containing a metal compound. High-grade ores contain a more significant percentage of ore. The ore is forged at high temperatures to remove the metals.

    What is an ingot?

    An ingot is a block of metal. Ingots range from blocks weighing a few ounces to massive steel ingot pieces weighing hundreds of tons. Bars are produced from pure metals to a host of alloys. 

    What is ‘Smelting’?

    Smelting is the process of extracting metal from ore by intense heating and melting.

    What is Crucible Steel?

    Crucible steel is high carbon steel created by enriching low-carbon iron with extra carbon in a crucible (a clay or metal pot of varying size and shape) in the liquid state.

    Where did the name ‘Wootz’ come from?

    No one is sure, but the best theory is that the word "wootz" seems to be a mispronunciation of ‘wook,’ the Tamil language root word for the iron carbide, or ‘Ukku,’ meaning ‘to melt.’

    What is ‘Slag’?

    Slag is the by-product of impurities remaining after the desired metal is separated from the raw ore. Slag contains a mix of metal oxides and silicon dioxide. However, slags can also include metal sulfides and elemental metals. 

    Historically, the slag was removed by heating and hammering until the impurities were removed. Today, although these processes still occur, chemicals are also introduced to purify the metal further.

    Is stainless steel better than modern Damascus steel?

    Stainless steel and Damascus steel have different uses, though they can overlap with manufacturing steel blades. As with stainless steel blades, Damascus blades are not made from a single type of steel. Instead, Damascus is an alloy, just as is stainless steel. Their names refer to their finish and how they’re made. Modern Damascus stainless steel is forged together.

    How does modern steel compare to old Damascus steel?

    As you might expect, modern steel has far fewer impurities and superior consistency in its manufacturing. In addition, modern steels have consistent heat treatment, making more predictable and more robust steel than an original Damascus steel.

    What is a San Mai blade?

    ‘San Mai’ means three parts in Japanese.

    A San Mai blade refers to a knife, blade, or sword with extra hardened steel forming the blade’s edge. Softer, more flexible metal envelopes the hardened material on both sides.

    What is ‘Rockwell hardness’?

    The Rockwell scale is a recognized measurement based on the indentation hardness of a metal. A Rockwell hardness test measures the depth of penetration of a diamond cone indenter under a given load compared to a measure from a preload. Different scales, denoted by a single letter, use other loads or indenters. The resulting test determines the rate of the hardness of the metal. Rockwell hardness is not just used for metal.

    Shop Dalstrong Shogun Series Knives Today

    Written by Mike Miller
    Mike is a late arrival to cooking. However, experimenting with vegetarianism and seafood is a new passion. That is if all the ingredients and tools are there! His curries are the talk of the family -and often in a good way! In his spare time, Mike has also discovered that walking ‘can’ be as enjoyable as driving after all!

    What is Damascus steel?

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