Whether you’re a knife enthusiast or you simply enjoy cooking with reliable tools, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of a Damascus knife.
In fact, even if you haven’t, you have probably seen one or held a similar blade before.
Damascus steel has an impressively beautiful and recognizable look that sets it apart from others.
But what is a Damascus knife exactly? Is it more than just a pretty chef knife?
What Is a Damascus Knife?
A Damascus knife has a unique blade that is easy to distinguish from other kitchen knives.
It features a delicate wavy pattern that almost looks the same as the surface of a tranquil ocean.
These beautiful patterns are also comparable to the ones on Damask fabric.
What History Says
To understand what is Damascus steel knife, you will want to look at its origins.
According to legend, the local blacksmiths from the city of Damascus became world-renowned for producing the best blades using a unique technique of steel fabrication.
It is said that they were able to produce the strongest swords through a lengthy and painstaking process of repeatedly heating and folding steel.
The result is a stronger blade with the iconic swirly pattern.
Compared to the brittle steel swords produced in this era (roughly 900 AD), which were said to be only as durable as hard plastic, this was indeed an impressive achievement.
These stories, however, are just that—unsubstantiated tales without hard evidence.
Sadly, records of the original techniques were said to have been lost during the 17th century.
Hence, there’s currently no way to determine whether these blades did exist or not.
How Are Damascus Knives Made?
For this article, whenever we talk about what is Damascus steel knife, we’re referring to blades that have undergone a similar technique to produce the wave-like pattern.
In these modern times, blacksmiths use three methods to create Damascus steel knives:
The first method involves forge-welding different types of steel together.
Then, trained blacksmiths twist and masterfully manipulate the welded steel to produce the pattern.
This method is why Damascus steel is also sometimes referred to as pattern-welded steel.
Some blacksmiths even call their work pattern-welded Damascus steel.
Purists would argue, however, that there are main points that differentiate the original Damascus from pattern-welded steel, including the raw materials used and place of origin.
For instance, the original Damascus was said to have been produced using a material called wootz steel sourced from India and Sri Lanka.
Unlike pattern welding, the second method involves using a single type of steel.
A blacksmith repeatedly flattens and folds the steel until the material reaches the ideal number of layers.
Again, the goal is to produce the pattern we all admire about this type of blade.
Forging with Pre-made Damascus Steel
Finally, a lot of blacksmiths simply buy Damascus steel instead of making them from scratch.
Taking this route allows them to still get the effect they want minus the effort and the cost.
The good news is, this also means many knife enthusiasts get to enjoy quality steel kitchen knives without breaking the bank.
Damascus Knives vs. Others
You might have noticed that there is a particular focus on the pattern.
The art and science of metallurgy had transformed by leaps and bounds compared to how it was when the Damascus steel technology was first developed.
Thus, it is no surprise that other blades out there are deemed to be better than Damascus knives.
This is especially true when it comes to durability and performance.
Even so, there’s no denying the fact that many of them don’t look like the art pieces that Damascus blades are.
What Makes Them Beautiful?
Here’s a question that we also frequently get: what makes them so beautiful?
Aside from the processes we just talked about, plenty of modern Damascus knives also undergo a production process called acid etching.
It is a technique of pattern welding performed specifically to bring out the beautiful patterns hidden within the blade.
There are two types of acids usually used in acid etching.
Muriatic acid produces a mirror-like look on a polished finish and a delicate grey on grey pattern on a matte finish.
Meanwhile, ferric chloride creates a dark pattern that is more distinct and higher in contrast.
You can expect this unique pattern regardless of whether the blacksmith chooses to go for a polished or matte finish.
How To Sharpen Damascus Steel
With all the considerable skill that went into making a Damascus knife, it is only natural that you want to care for your investment.
For us, Damascus is more special than all the other steel kitchen knives we’ve used so far.
There are three ways to sharpen a Damascus blade.
With a Whetstone
To sharpen a Damascus knife using a whetstone, lubricate the whetstone first, either with oil or water.
Then, put it on a sturdy, even surface.
Holding the knife with the edge facing away from you, slide it flat against the whetstone in light, even swipes.
Keep in mind that the angle that you hold the blade will impact the efficiency of your sharpening.
You also need to count how many strokes you’ve made on the first side to make it even with the other one.
Continue the process until your knife is sharp.
Be careful not to over sharpen your knife to ensure its longevity.
With a Tabletop Sharpener
What sets a sharpener apart from the other sharpening tools here is that it offers you a choice to determine the level of coarseness you want.
In other words, you get more control over how you want your sharp edge to be.
To sharpen a Damascus steel with a tabletop sharpener, start at the roughest level before moving on to the finer ones.
Then, insert the blade into the slot and apply just enough pressure to sharpen it but not too much to warp it.
During sharpening, you’d want to pull the blade towards you from the handle to the tip.
Repeat this process four to five times before moving on to the next coarseness level and until you reach the finest one.
With a Honing Steel
If those two methods aren’t for you, perhaps you’re better off using a honing steel instead.
For this, you’ll want to hold your honing steel at a vertical, 90-degree angle.
You then place the back edge of the knife against it at an angle that will allow you to make a sweeping downward motion from the bottom of the blade to the tip.
You’d want to repeat the process for the other side as well.
Again, be sure to count how many times you’ve made this motion for one side so that you can do the same for the other.
A Knife To Last for Years
Ever wondered what is a Damascus knife and how are Damascus knives made?
We hope that we have given you an idea of the history and mastery that go into these blades.
The best part is, knowing how to sharpen Damascus steel can ensure the longevity of your knife and let you enjoy a lot of meal preparation with it for years to come.