What is Damascus steel?
Damascus steel is known for its beautiful pattern which gives each knife a unique appearance. It’s a very strong and high-quality steel being used for centuries.
But what exactly is it? Damascus steel with the typical damascus pattern is a term being used for folded steel and steel formed by combining numerous layers of steel. Through the folding, a process of heating and forging, a particularly strong composition is made and, as a result, a unique pattern is being created. There are two different methods of production for obtaining damascus. This is the reason why there are two variants of damascus: wootz steel and pattern-welded steel.
What is so special about Damascus steel?
Damascus steel is often praised for its exceptional appearance. The different layers and patterns which the steel are made of, make it a particularly beautiful product. But that's not the only reason damascus steel enjoys such a great popularity. The refined crystal structure of the steel undergoes the process of frequent folding and forging. This makes the composition stronger guaranteeing that there won’t be any impurities on the product
What many people don't know is that damascus steel was first discovered in India. From there it made its way to the Middle East and Damascus salesmen were the ones who lent its name and fame introducing swords and daggers to Europe and this is how the name damascus steel was born.
Wootz steel is formed by the authentic production method. Centuries ago, probably around the year 300, the very first damascus steel was made
Wootz steel is considered better than modern damascus steel, but this is not true. Wootz steel was simply the best steel they had before the 1800s.
Typical of wootz steel is that it is manufactured in a crucible. Iron, carbon, vanadium, glass and leaves are all together being heated. The glass guarantees that the mixture is protected from the outside air which means that the steel doesn’t change its structure. The vanadium makes the steel particularly wear resistant but ensures that there is an equal distribution of the structure, as well. Here, the damascus pattern is formed by the number of cycles the steel is heated. This is surely not to be confused with pattern-welded steel.
Making wootz steel is a complex process of heating, maintaining the right temperature and exact proportions in the composition. For a long time this knowledge was supposed to be lost and with it the hope to turn this idea into reality again. But after many studies, the recipe was rediscovered in 1980. Today this method is only used by real fanatics and blacksmiths. The production of damascus steel was enabled by the use of other, modern technologies, requiring a less labor-intensive method: pattern welded steel.
Pattern welded steel
Pattern-welded steel is obtained by combining several layers of steel. Those layers often consist of different steel grades. The different layers create a pattern of different colors. The process of folding and forging makes this pattern appear more complex and true works of art can be seen in the steel.
The most common shape of pattern-welded steel consists of several layers of steel. However, steel contains a lot of impurities and they need to be removed during the process of forging. By repeatedly doubling the pattern while folding and flattening it again, there are layers with different degrees of impurities in the steel, which forms the layered pattern. Darker and lighter lines can be found. These patterns can be made visible by the use of chemical treatment.
Concerning the patterns, there is a wide range of being creative. It is also possible, for example, to create different patterns: V, N or W patterns. Twisting and turning the laminated steel during the heating process.
Forging other steels can be added, too. This provides better properties of the pattern depending on its requested use. For example, people often choose for a combination of carbon steel and mild steel. The carbon steel then turns into the cutting edge of the blade and the softer steel provides the overlap and support, which provides a good combination of hardness and elasticity.
Mixing different types of steel
When using different types of steel, the blacksmith will hammer the two metals together and forge them into one whole. For this reason, welding powder is needed. As a result, the two steel grades stick together, but this isn’t a kind of glue. At a temperature of 1000 ° C, the powder will ensure that oxide and other impurities cannot stick to the surface of the steel. As a consequence, there will be a compound emission and a clean weld remains where the metals melt together. Afterwards, the process of heating and hammering is repeated in order to get the steel in the desired shape. This is the reason why the temperature is very important.
Once the two metals are fully connected, the steel should not cool off too quickly when hammering. Therefore, straw is used in order to ensure the cooling process is not happening too fast. When hammering, the heated piece of steel is covered with straw, which immediately catches fire. That way it retains some of the heat. If the steel cools off too fast, it will indurate too quickly and can break. Neither will the two metals attach enough which results in a bad weld.
Today damascus steel is yet essentially made for aesthetic purposes. Although very much high-quality steel, there are now plenty of other, more efficient methods for producing high-quality steel products.