The use of Damascus Steel in kitchen knives can be somewhat of a polarising topic and poses several questions. Is there any real difference in performance between a Damascus Steel kitchen knife and regular steel kitchen knife? Is it all just for looks? Why are some Damascus kitchen knives so damn expensive and some are so cheap? Here we’ll answer these for you, sticking to the facts and giving you the information you need to make an informed decision about whether a Damascus Steel Kitchen knife may be right for you.
The term ‘Damascus Steel’ can actually refer to several different types of end product, each utilising different methods and materials. Damascus Steel, Wootz Steel, and Pattern Weld all hold some overlap with each other, but all epitomise a product that is the result of multiple steels that have been forged or cast together using different methodologies then etched to bring out a unique layered finish.
The first iteration of what is referred to as the ‘original’ Damascus Steel in first arose in Middle-Eastern sword making, of which the original technique has been lost for may hundreds of years. This Damascus Steel weaponry was the result of forging Wootz steel, produced in India and traded to the Middle East. Tales of the stunning beauty, strength, and sharpness of the weapons produced spread throughout the world, but the process for making Wootz, the critical component of Damascus Steel, was lost in the 1700’s, and with it, there went the original iteration of Damascus Steel itself. It’s original form has never been replicated, even after the efforts of modern day science.
This presents the argument that any kitchen knife currently available labelled ‘Damascus Steel’ is technically misleading, as all ‘Damascus Steel’ at present time is the result of Pattern Welding several different alloys together which are then forged and re-welded then ‘etched’ with chemicals to produce a Damascus-like pattern. This etching process eats away a particular steel in the blade, leaving the other steel(s) untouched. This process is subject to much experimentation by pattern weld Damascus Steel makers around the world and through arranging the varying steels in specific ways, incredibly complex shapes can be produced on the blade of the knife.
So what is modern day Damascus Steel made from?
The truth is, just about any combination of stainless or alternating high or low carbon steel can be used, in combination with nickel alloys and even in some cases, items like scrap metal, screws, and bolts.
The arrangement of these steels is sketched out and planned as to ascertain the final appearance and then welded together, forged and drawn out, then folded or cut and the process is repeated to attain as many layers as desired.
While these pattern weld Damascus steels are similar in appearance to the first Damascus Steels produced, their internal composition is entirely different.
Some types of modern-day Damascus steel are manufactured by layering stainless steel, resulting in a more subtle pattern. This layered stainless is then ‘clad’ onto a core of harder, more wear-resistant higher carbon steel.
Damascus Steel Kitchen Knives produced using this technique are more expensive, as the time required produces a blade of far superior quality that is durable, but also looks fantastic.
This is a process that has been favoured more and more by Japanese Bladesmiths in recent times due to its fantastic edge retention from the hardness of the inner core, and also the durability due to the layers of more flexible and stain resistant stainless steel on the outside.
Which brings me to the question, “Is Damascus steel better than modern day steel? In terms of strength, and durability, there are modern exotic alloys that can far outperform pattern weld Damascus Steel.
Often, the core cutting edge of a knife is made from high carbon steel and clad with Damascus steel, such as the Yoshimi Kato SG2 Gyuto. It’s core is an exotic alloy, SG2 Powder Steel, and the cladding is alternating layers of stainless steel with added nickel, resulting in the Damascus steel appearance.
But that doesn’t mean that a well made Damascus Steel kitchen knife is of any less use to a professional chef or home cook than a non-Damascus Steel one.
The true appeal of Damascus Steel lies in its unique and exotic patterned finishes, and whether or not they look better than non-Damascus Kitchen knives is entirely subjective.
Just like anything, you get what you pay for. Damascus Steel made the right way requires an extraordinary level of attention to detail, experience, and precision, and it all comes at a price.
If it’s cheap, it ain’t good, and if it’s good, it ain’t cheap.