What Is Damascus Steel
Easily one of the most versatile and well known forms of steel, Damascus steel has long been sought out for its ability to maintain a sharp and resilient edge. Historically it was a commodity only afforded to the wealthy, and has long been a symbol of a quality product. It can be recognized by the intricate and beautiful wood grain pattern formed through the process of folding the steel in on itself, resulting in a metal that is extremely pure, strong and flexible.
Damascus steel is thought to originate in India but it was often used by blade smiths from all over the middle east. The time period in which the technique was used ranges from 300 BC to 1700 AD, at which time the method was lost. Ingots known as “Wootz” steel, thought to contain trace amounts of vanadium, were the primary source of steel when being forged. These ingots were shipped largely across the middle east and even into Japan.
There have been many claims about the properties of Damascus steel, all of which are unsubstantiated. It was commonly thought that it could cut through a sword made from lesser quality steel, the barrel of a gun, and even rock, and this made it highly sought after. It is important to note that these claims have never been substantiated. It is believed that the strength of Damascus steel is due to nanotubes and nanowires created from the materials used at the time and the forging process itself.
Sadly, the traditional methods were lost as it was suspected that the smiths that could produce such high quality blades kept the method a closely guarded secret, and only passed pieces on to their apprentices. It has also been theorized that perhaps the art died due to the depletion of, or shift in, the source for the raw materials used in the forging process. If the levels of tungsten and vanadium found in the new sources of the ore differed from those found in the original source, the technique may have no longer worked, thus halting the production of Damascus steel and resulting in the art being forgotten.
Although the methods of manufacturing traditional Damascus Steel have been lost and forgotten, there have been many attempts to replicate the process. Modern methods employ pattern welded steel. This method uses slices of steel and iron that are welded together. This is then heated, drawn out, and folded, creating the beautiful layered pattern reminiscent of traditional Damascus Steel while adding the strength and durability to the micro structure of the blade.