Damascus steel has a long history, and its unique look holds a strong allure for consumers. But what exactly is it, and is it any better than other types of steel?
1. What is a Chef Knife
The chef knife is the kitchen go-to. It’s the one-size-fits-all solution for home cooks to arm themselves with. It has, as the kids say, “Main Character Energy.” And this is because the chef knife is an extremely versatile tool that is well suited for just about any kitchen task you can throw its way.
Of course, it does have its limitations, and there are specialty knives for certain tasks that a standard chef’s knife can’t quite pull off. But by and large, the chef knife (also known as a chef’s knife – it’s complicated) will be able to take care of most of the daily tasks of a regular kitchen. To read more about the chef’s knife, click here.
2. What is Damascus Steel?
In the world of knife materials, Damascus steel is one of the most sought after. There’s something about the look of it that drives people crazy – the wavy pattern near the edge of the blade where the various layers of steel are visible. It’s very visually attractive, and we’d be lying if we said that visual appeal isn’t one of the defining reasons why we are drawn towards certain instruments and not others.
But hang on a second. What even is Damascus steel? Is it all it’s cracked up to be? And how do those wavy patterns get made on the knife? Let’s talk about it, and break down why a Damascus chef knife is just about the most sought-after kitchen tool right now.
Well, it’s not as cut-and-dried as you might imagine. The question of what qualifies as Damascus steel is surprisingly contentious today, being a source of vigorous online debate (although, to be fair, just about everything is a source of vigorous online debate).
As the name implies, Damascus steel comes from the city of Damascus, where local blacksmiths were considered to be some of the finest in the world. With their unique techniques of steel fabrication, they would create some of the most gorgeous swords in the entire world. These blacksmiths would utilize a complex process involving heating and folding the steel onto itself many times, creating a stronger blade.
These methods also resulted in the traditional “swirl” blade pattern you still see on Damascus blades. It’s been called reminiscent of waves crashing over a beach. These original techniques have been washed away with the ages. But Damascus steel (or rather, the modern-day equivalent) continues to be popular due to its look and performance.
Here’s the kicker: ever since the days of ancient Damascus, there have been major advancements in the field of metallurgy that resulted in steel types that are considerably stronger than what you might have found over a thousand years ago. It’s hard to imagine that the blades of old Damascus could realistically stand up to the kind of blades we routinely produce today.
The continued popularity of Damascus steel has more to do with appearance as well as the sense of built-in tradition that comes with the style. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with that.
3. How Are Damascus Kitchen Knives Made?
Modern-day blacksmiths use a simple technique to achieve the Damascus steel look while still crafting knives that stand up to heavy use: they mix and match. Sometimes they use a process called pattern welding.
Most high-end knives these days are made by putting together layers of different types of steel. This is why you sometimes hear about knives or other kitchenware having a certain steel “core”-- this will be the hard, brittle steel that acts as the cutting core. Then this core is laminated between layers of softer steel.
This softer steel accomplishes two things: it serves as a shock absorber for better performance, and it is the outward-facing portion of the blade. The “cladding” as it were. So this cladding is what you most commonly look at, and most kitchen knives these days will use Damascus steel as the cladding instead of the core.
Modern Damascus steel knives tend to be forge-welded from different types of steel that is then manipulated into a pattern, or they’re made from high-end stainless steel blades melted together in a crucible. The stainless steel Damascus end result gives us that swirly pattern we’ve been discussing, achieving the look of Damascus steel of old.
In other words: these days you’re more likely to find a knife that uses Damascus steel as the cladding over a different steel cutting core.
If you can find a Damascus steel knife that is made from layers of high-carbon steel with an inner core of a high-carbon specialty steel, that’s the ideal. Not only will you get a gorgeous blade but you’re also guaranteed a high performing kitchen tool.
4. How to Sharpen Damascus Steel Knives
There’s nothing worse than a knife with a dull blade. One of the great things about Damascus knives is that they hold their edge really well, but as with any knife, you will need to sharpen it at some point. Thankfully, sharpening a Damascus knife is as easy to do as sharpening a stainless steel or high carbon steel knife. There are a few different ways to do this. The most common ones are:
Whetstones are easily the best method to sharpen kitchen knives. Don’t worry, we understand it might seem like an intimidating process, but it’s actually pretty straightforward – check out our explainer on how to sharpen a knife with a whetstone. Just hold your knife by the handle and angle its blade towards the stone until you achieve the correct precision.
It takes a little while to get the hang of it, and it might take a few tries before you get really good at it, but the same can be said of any great skill in life. Learning how to sharpen knives with a whetstone is something you won’t regret doing any time soon.
They are a more affordable, simpler solution. These usually come with slots for the different types of sharpening, and all you have to do is run your blade through each slot a few times. Each slot will have a different effect on the blade, and this will vary from sharpener to sharpener. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions to a tee.
Honing Rods are a pretty common tool in the kitchen. Of course they’re tremendously useful, but honing rods don’t exactly sharpen your knives. As their name implies, honing steel rods are for honing, which means to reposition and align the edge of the blade.You should have no problems using this with a Damascus steel knife.
As you can see, sharpening your Damascus steel knife is just as easy as sharpening any other type of kitchen knife you have. Don’t be afraid!
5. The Very Best Damascus Chef Knives
Now that we’ve explored Damascus steel and better understand what is meant by “Damascus chef knife,” as well as the different things you should be looking for when shopping for Damascus steel chef knives, let’s actually look at some of the best options available in the market.
Dalstrong’s Shogun series is a fantastic and widely acclaimed collection of kitchen knives featuring everything from the tried-and-true mainstays (such as chef’s knives, paring knives, butcher’s knives, etc) and some more specialized types of knives. And they happen to use high-quality Damascus steel, resulting in knives that feature an artful presentation as well as stunning kitchen performance.
As far as I’m concerned, this is the very best chef’s knife money can buy. I’m not just talking about chef’s knives made of Damascus steel, I mean all around. The fact that it’s 8 inches long makes it perfectly suited for most kitchen tasks, and its dimensions are ideally weighted for comfort and ease of use. The fact that it also happens to be a stunningly beautiful object is almost beside the point.
This gorgeous 8” chef’s knife from the Shogun series is a remarkable piece of culinary engineering, effortlessly mixing performance and looks. It was painstakingly handcrafted over 60 days using high-quality Japanese steel, with 67 layers of Damascus cladding, sharpened under the ancient 3-step Honbazuke method. It looks great, it feels great, and you need it.
- Has an AUS-10V Japanese super steel core, with 67 layers of Damascus cladding, making it razor-sharp and absolutely stunning to look at.
- Speaking of looks, the blade features the gorgeous Dalstrong Tsunami Rose blade pattern.
- Tapered bolster gives it a “zero-balance” grip; easy and comfortable to use.
- Ergonomic handle made of military-grade G10 Garolite.
- If you’re used to using a rocking motion when cutting herbs, you might find it a little tricky to get used to this one, but it’s only a matter of practice.
- The 8” size makes it ideal for most kitchen uses; however, some people are in need of something a little larger (or, sometimes, smaller); read on for more size options.
While most people will tell you that chef’s knives should be in the 7-8 inch range, there are times when you need a little more. If you’re a home cook or professional chef who does a lot of prep work and are in need of an absolute powerhouse, this 12” chef’s knife is indispensable. It’s an absolute master at chopping, slicing, dicing, mincing, and more. And with its size, you’ll be able to prep twice as much in half the time.
This awesome 12-incher is ideal for heavy duty prep work, as well as cutting through large fruits such as squash, pumpkin, and watermelon. You’ll also find it extremely easy to slice through large pieces of meat. A fantastic tool for anyone who needs to work through large amounts of prep in a short amount of time… or just thinks huge Damascus steel chef’s knives are cool.
- Precision forged from a single piece of ultra premium Japanese high-carbon AUS-10V steel, with 67 layers of Damascus steel cladding.
- Because of its design and length, you’ll be able to leave the tip on the cutting board, relieving arm and wrist strain.
- A comfortable ergonomic handle made of military-grade, inert, non-porous G10 garolite, a fiberglass-like material.
- Extra high carbon layers in its core, allowing for great sharpness and edge retention.
- 12 inches is pretty large for a chef’s knife. Home cooks should assess whether they need a chef’s knife this large or whether they’d be comfortable with a smaller, easier to handle chef’s knife.
- This knife is towards the upper end of the price range represented in this list. It is an investment, so keep that in mind if you’re thinking of buying it.
A hybrid of the classic chef’s knife and a meat cleaver, this 8” Crixus knife from Dalstrong’s Shogun series is a powerful and imposing tool. Not only is it one of the coolest looking chef’s knives you’ll ever lay eyes on, its design is also perfectly suited for meat lovers, pitmasters, and BBQ enthusiasts. Poultry, beef, pork, fish, wild game, and even produce tremble in fear at the sight of the Crixus.
Bringing together the best of both worlds, this cleaver / chef’s knife hybrid features a curved profile for clean, perfect slices through flesh, skin, and sinew, all while featuring a weighted front half like a cleaver, allowing for easy sectioning and portioning of your meat. A highly-functional knife, and a must-have for your kitchen.
- An 8” precision forged blade with a Japanese AUS-10V super steel cutting core, as well as 67 layers of high carbon Damascus steel cladding.
- Features Dalstrong’s elegant Shogun Series Tsunami Rose blade pattern.
- Its tapered bolster provides a great “zero-balance” feel, making it great to handle.
- The cladding is rust and corrosion resistant, making this knife extremely durable.
- This is a hybrid of a cleaver and a chef’s knife. If you’re looking for more of an all-purpose chef’s knife, check out the other options in this list. And if what you’re looking for is a meat cleaver, there are various options available here.
- This knife features the traditional cleaver hole on the corner, which some home cooks might not be particularly fond of.
Have you ever heard of the kiritsuke? The kiritsuke knife is considered the Japanese version of the multi-purpose chef’s knife. It combines the design of traditional Japanese yanagiba (fish slicers) and usubas (vegetable knives). It features a long straight edge and a sword shaped tip.
Traditionally, in Japanese cuisine, the kiritsuke is reserved for master chefs. This is because the use of a single-bevel knife is considered to require skill. However, this version of the kiritsuke is double bevel, which makes it easier to use and to maintain. An incredible Japanese style chef’s knife with stunning looks and mind-blowing performance.
- The knife features an 8.5” precision forged ultra-premium Japanese AUS-10V supersteel cutting core blade, at 62+ Rockwell hardness.
- An absolutely beautiful knife, sporting Dalstrong’s elegant Shogun Series Tsunami Rose blade pattern.
- Features an extremely sharp, scalpel-like edge, hand finished to a mirror polish using the 3-step Honbazuke method.
- Nitrogen cooled for enhanced hardness and flexibility.
- This kiritsuke is not exactly the same as a traditional chef’s knife, and if you’re looking for that you should check some of the other options available on this list.
- Some home cooks might prefer a wooden handle, while this one is made of G10 garolite.
And hey, maybe you’re looking for something a little smaller than the knives we’ve explored so far. Perhaps you’re looking for a short length chef knife that’s highly maneuverable, nimble, and easy to use for precision cuts. In that case, this excellent 6” chef’s knife is exactly what you’re looking for, ideal for all manner of tasks that some of the other knives here might be a little too big to pull off.
- This is an extremely sharp knife at an incredible 8-12 degree angle per side.
- This is a 6” precision forged blade with an ultra-premium Japanese AUS-10V super steel cutting core and 66 layers of high-carbon Damascus stainless steel cladding.
- The knife is full tang for maximum robustness.
- An amazing value for the price, making it an ideal gift for the knife lover or kitchen enthusiast in your family.
- This 6” knife is smaller than average for a chef’s knife, but of course it has its uses. However, if you’re looking for the traditional multi-purpose chef’s knife, maybe look into knives in the 7-to-9 inch range.
If the idea of a more nimble and maneuverable chef knife sounds appealing to you but you still want to stay within the regular size range for it, this awesome 7” is the perfect in-between choice. No less menacing than some of its larger counterparts, this is a highly versatile kitchen tool that will sail through culinary challenges like a pro. Slice, dice, mince and chop with aplomb and without even the slightest hint of fatigue.
- Hand-polished spine for enhanced comfort.
- Nitrogen cooled blade, aiding in flexibility and corrosion resistance. Also has cryogenic tempering for better strength and flexibility.
- A very cool looking knife, with the Tsunami Rose blade pattern and hammered finish.
- The bolster provides great balance and finger protection.
- Shorter than the average chef’s knife, however, that may very well be exactly what you’re looking for as well.
And on the opposite end of the spectrum we have this 9.5” chef’s knife. A superior tool for the discerning home cook. It features a slight curve to its belloy and a narrower blade width, making it easier to slice and lighter than its shorter counterparts. This also makes it a great tool, and more maneuverable than you would expect from a knife of this size.
- A 9.5” precision forged blade with a Japanese AUS-10V super steel cutting core, as well as 66 layers of high carbon Damascus stainless steel cladding.
- An absolutely beautiful knife, sporting Dalstrong’s elegant Shogun Series Tsunami Rose blade pattern. The kind of knife you want to show off on your wall mount.
- A scalpel-like edge, hand finished to a mirror polish using the 3-step Honbazuke method.
- 9.5” is pretty big! Most home cooks will realistically not need a knife this size. Ask yourself if this is what you’re looking for.
- Just in terms of form and function, at this point you’re basically just one step removed from a slicing knife; if you’d rather explore the benefits of a slicing knife, check out this collection.
6. Frequently Asked Questions
Is Damascus good for chef knives?
Chef’s knives are probably the most important daily-use knives that any cook can have. Damascus steel is good for chef’s knives thanks to its attractive look, great performance, and sense of built-in tradition. Damascus chef knives are extremely powerful kitchen tools that also look amazing.
Are Damascus knives worth it?
Damascus knives are highly regarded thanks to their ability to maintain their sharpness, as well as for their attractive visual appearance. Whether they’re worth it or not will be entirely up to the buyer (as they tend to be somewhat more expensive than other types of steel), but they’re definitely in the upper echelon of desirability when it comes to knife materials.
Are Damascus blades better?
Damascus blades are excellent. When it’s multiple layers of Damascus cladding and a high quality steel core, Damascus blades combine pleasing aesthetics with outstanding performance. This makes them a highly sought-after types of steel for many kitchen knife enthusiasts.