What is Damascus Steel and is it Good?
Many people have some pretty big questions about whether Damascus Steel is a good quality metal or not. This is a popular question for good reason, as Damascus steel has been a metal shrouded in mystery for an incredibly long time, even dating back before the European Middle-Ages. Since then, the metal has had an interesting history and has recently been put back in the spotlight thanks to advances in forging and blacksmithing knowledge and technology. With this said, there are two main questions that must be answered when dealing with Damascus Steel. The first is what exactly is Damascus steel, and the second is whether it is actually good.
What is Damascus Steel?
The nature of Damascus Steel is still quite a point of contention in the metallurgy community and for good reason. According to The New York Times’ article on the makeup of Damascus steel, the first mentions of metal like Damascus steel originate from the time of Alexander the Great. These writings mentioned that the creation process for weapons and armor based on this material was kept from many people. According to legend, weapons made of Damascus steel could cut feathers in mid-air and had an interesting pattern on the blades themselves.
As stated before, the writings regarding the creation of Damascus steel were not forthcoming. Even though some texts from Asia Minor claimed that the steel had to be tempered with the blood of a dragon or plunged into the body of a slave in order to transfer the slave’s strength to the weapon. But, now, we know these claims to be false, as there is no such thing as dragons and strength cannot be passed from a person to a weapon. Moving forward in time, the forging process was lost to even the Middle Eastern blacksmiths who swore to keep it secret, as the advent of firearms caused the production of metal blades and armor to significantly drop. But, this did not stop inquisitive minds from seeking out the true origin of the metal.
The 19th century was a period in which many scientists attempted to determine the metal’s composition. These studies came to the conclusion that Damascus steel was actually made out of what is now known as wootz, which is a type of steel commonly forged in India. The scientists then attempted to determine the makeup of the wootz from the Damascus steel blades. They first believed that certain amounts of silica and aluminum gave the steel its special properties, but they were wrong. Later scientists even tried adding uranium to the blades to see if it created something similar to Damascus steel. Modern scientists have now figured out that the wootz was most likely forged with iron combined with wood or charcoal in order to add more carbon content. This combination of ingredients was then heated at around 2,300 degrees for multiple days and later cooled over the course of 24-hours. The heat and higher than usual carbon content are what gave the blades their strength and unusual patterned appearance. Today, now that the process of creating Damascus steel has been recovered, companies like Spyderco, Benchmade and others have been making Damascus steel knives.
Is Damascus Steel Good?
Firstly, it is clear by the previously mentioned forging process that Damascus steel blades and armor are quite special, as they look like items made out of no other metal. But, does this actually mean that they are good quality and worth the money. Well, according to experts, yes! One of Damascus steel’s highest profile proponents is aStraightArrow, one of the internet’s most reputable and popular knife connoisseur and reviewers. In their guide to Damascus steel, they claim that the metal can essentially endure any type of abuse or force put upon the knife, which is why Damascus steel is such a great metal for carving and hunting knives. The extra carbon in the makeup of the metal simply makes it stronger than most other types of steel. Not only does the extra strength of the blades make them better for simple cutting, but the carbon also tends to make the blades last longer than blades made out of other materials. In fact, if you wander over to a local museum that has as considerable exhibit regarding ancient warfare, it is possible that they may even have a Damascus steel weapon that has survived the test of time thanks to its creation process.
Damascus steel has always held a special place in collector’s hearts, but now, thanks to pop culture, the type of metal is becoming more prominent. It is generally known that the metal called Valyrian Steel, from the popular television show and book series “Game of Thrones” (or “A Song of Ice and Fire”), is essentially a stand-in for Damascus Steel. In the show, Valyrian Steel looks like no other type of blade and seemingly cannot be broken by normal levels of force.
But, back to the question at hand. Is Damascus Steel good? The short answer is yes. It is a good quality metal with unique qualities. But, is it the most practical metal for everyday use? Not really. Good quality Damascus steel knives tend to be quite expensive and hard to come by. In most cases, you are better off just finding a high-quality knife made out of a more practical type of steel. With this said, if you do not mind the price and want something made out of a true one-of-a-kind type of metal, Damascus Steel may be the way to go.