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What’s so special about Japanese Damascus steel?

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  November 2, 2022

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You might’ve seen cool-looking Japanese knives with a wavy textured pattern on the blade and wondered what that is.

Well, that’s Damascus steel.

Japanese Damascus steel is widely considered to be some of the best in the world.

What's so special about Japanese Damascus steel?

Damascus steel has a distinctive wavy pattern that distinguishes it from other types of steel. The hardness and flexibility of Damascus steel, as well as the steel’s ability to retain a razor-sharp edge, make it highly sought after.

You might’ve heard about professional chefs who only want a Damascus blade. They will usually buy a Japanese knife and search for a Damascus kitchen knife because of the good edge retention.

In this guide, I’ll explain why Damascus steel knives are so popular and discuss all the things you need to know about this Japanese bladesmithing material.

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What is Japanese Damascus steel?

Japanese Damascus steel is some of the best in the world. Many modern Japanese kitchen knives are made from this type of steel.

This type of steel is known for its unique and intricate patterns, as well as its high level of strength and durability. Therefore, most people can identify the Damascus pattern quite easily.

Many chefs and knife enthusiasts consider Japanese Damascus steel to be the best option for knives due to these factors.

One of my favorite gyuto knives is made with Damascus steel for example.

This type of steel is known for its unique and intricate patterns, as well as its high level of strength and durability.

The beautiful Damascus patterns are created by forge welding multiple layers of steel together and then etching the surface to reveal the patterns.

The high level of strength and durability is thanks to the steel’s high carbon content. This makes the steel extremely hard, but also more brittle and susceptible to chipping.

However, when properly cared for, a Japanese Damascus steel knife can last a lifetime.

Modern Damascus steel blades are often made by taking two different types of steel and forge-welding them together.

This results in steel with a high carbon content, which is perfect for knives. The high carbon content makes the steel extremely hard, but also more brittle and susceptible to chipping.

To avoid this, most Damascus steel knives are made with a softer, lower carbon steel core. This makes the knife more flexible and less likely to chip.

The Damascus steel is then forge-welded to the core, resulting in a strong and durable knife.

You’ll notice the pattern-welded steel which looks like there are waves on the steel.

What makes Damascus steel so special?

In kitchen knife design, the most common examples are high-carbon stainless steel blades from Japan.

Home cooks, as well as professional chefs, are always buying a modern line of blade products – the hidden treasure known as the Damascus Steel Knife.

The Damascus knife offers new advantages never seen in the normal knife. This beautiful pattern welded blade has an extremely sturdy finish and also has excellent flexibility for edge retention.

As well, the quality of the steel is second to none. The best Japanese Damascus steel is made from a combination of high carbon steels that are forge-welded together.

This process creates steel that is not only strong but also has beautiful patterns. The patterns are created by the different types of steel used in the forging process.

As well as being visually stunning, these patterns also help to make the steel stronger.

The way the steel is forge-welded means that there are no weak spots or grain boundaries. This makes the steel less likely to break or shatter under impact.

So, if you’re looking for strong and beautiful steel, Japanese Damascus is the way to go!

What are the benefits of Damascus steel?

There are many benefits to using Damascus steel. Some of these benefits include:

  • Its strength and durability
  • Its unique and intricate patterns
  • Its ability to withstand high temperatures
  • Its corrosion resistance

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why Damascus steel is considered to be some of the highest quality steel in the world.

What sets Japanese Damascus steel apart from other types of steel?

For centuries, Damascus steel has been known for its wavy pattern that looks like light and dark streams of water on the steel.

Thus, the Damascus pattern is the main defining feature that sets this steel apart from the others.

Apart from the fact that Damascus steel is visually appealing, its hardness and flexibility make it a sought-after material.

Damascus steel knives are far superior to iron-based ones.

When you compare Damascus steel to other types of steel, you can see that it holds an edge better and is less likely to chip.

If you get a knife made from basic stainless steel, it’s more likely to rust and discolor.

But with Damascus steel, you get a knife that is not only beautiful but also durable. If you take care of it, your Damascus steel knife can last a lifetime.

How is Damascus steel made?

In the past, old methods were used to make Damascus steel but these days modern technology can work wonders to produce steel.

There are several steps involved in making Damascus steel. First, the steel is heated to a high temperature.

Next, it is hammered and folded to create the desired number of layers.

Once the desired number of layers has been reached, the steel is shaped into the desired form.

Finally, it is etched with acid to reveal the patterns.

How is Damascus steel knife made?

Chances are you’re not buying a Damascus steel sword and you’re actually thinking of getting a good Japanese kitchen knife.

A Damascus knife is made using the special steel which is manufactured by folding back the steel lots of times (i.e. 16, 32, 64, etc.)

If you look closely at the number of wavy lines on the knife blade’s surface, you can tell how many layers it has.

Nowadays, it’s pretty much impossible to find a ‘true’ Damascus steel knife since the process of making it is so time-consuming and difficult.

You won’t find knives with hundreds of layers of folded steel since it just adds extra cost with very little benefit.

Even though it’s impossible to find a ‘true’ Damascus steel knife, you can still find some pretty good ones that have about 16 or 32 layers of folded steel.

The more layers there are, the better the quality (and the pricier it’ll be).

What type of steel is best for Damascus?

Forging Damascus blades requires a different amount of steel depending on the intended use of the blade.

There are two types of steel used to make Damascus steel; high carbon steel and low carbon steel. The high carbon steel is used as the base layer, while the low carbon steel is used for the top layer.

The high carbon steel is heated to a very high temperature, then cooled very quickly. This creates a hard outer layer.

The low carbon steel is then heated to a lower temperature and cooled more slowly. This creates a softer inner layer.

The two types of steel are then forge-welded together. This means that they are hammered together while they are hot.

Once they are cool, the steel is then etched. Etching is how the Damascus steel gets its unique patterns.

Blades made from high carbon steel are known for their resistance to corrosion and sharpness, respectively.

Examples of types of steel used to make Damascus steel knives:

How many layers are in Damascus steel?

The number of layers in Damascus steel can vary, but typically, there are between 16 and 100.

But if you look at most knives on sale, they advertise them as having 67 or more layers of steel.

However, expert bladesmiths say that the best blades are made of anywhere between 300 and 500 layers.

Any more layers will be too much.

However, there are no real rules and there is no set number of layers that Damascus steel should have.

The number of layers will depend on the desired final product. For example, some Damascus steels have over 250 layers.

When it comes to knives, wavy lines on knives indicate the thickness of a layer. 16, 32, and 64 seem to be the most common number of Damascus steel layers.

How many times is Damascus steel folded?

The process of folding Damascus steel can vary, but typically, the steel is folded anywhere from 10 to 32 times. This results in a very strong and durable blade that has a beautiful and unique pattern.

One of the things that make Damascus steel so special is the fact that it’s still being made using traditional methods. In fact, the process of making Damascus steel hasn’t changed much in centuries.

This is one of the reasons why Damascus steel is so prized by collectors and knife enthusiasts.

Do all Damascus steels have patterns?

Yes, all Damascus steels have patterns. Fake Damascus will not have patterns.

The patterns are created by acid etching the steel. This process reveals the different layers of steel that were used to create Damascus.

Why are the patterns so important?

The patterns add to the beauty of the steel and make each piece unique. They also help to disguise any nicks or scratches that may occur over time.

The patterns on a Damascus steel knife can be very intricate and detailed.

You’ll often see Damascus steel knives with patterns that resemble wood grain, leaves, or even snakeskin.

What is the difference between raindrop and ladder Damascus?

Raindrop Damascus has a random pattern of circles that resemble raindrops.

Ladder Damascus has a linear pattern that looks like a ladder.

Is Damascus steel strong?

Yes, Damascus steel is very strong. It gets its strength from the high carbon content in the steel. The more carbon, the stronger the steel.

This makes Damascus steel ideal for knives and other tools that need to be able to withstand a lot of wear and tear.

Many chefs working in busy restaurants prefer to use Damascus steel knives because they hold their edge well and are less likely to break under pressure.

Depending upon your Damascus steel choice, its strength and durability are very different from one type to another.

For quality Damascus knives, the hardness is 60 on the Rockwell scale, which is quite high. In a low-end Damask knockoff blade, the HRC can get something in the ’30s to ’50s.

Although Damascus Steel is the most robust steel available to the market, it is reliable and well-rounded. They’re unique in that they use steel as their material.

A combination of steel alloys creates a robust and resilient blade.

What is the history of Japanese Damascus steel?

The history of Damascus steel is a bit of a mystery. It is believed to have originated in the Middle East and was used to make swords and other weapons.

The steel gets its name from the city of Damascus, Syria, where it was first used.

So before, we can talk about how the Japanese developed Damascus steel, we need to discuss its Middle Eastern history.

Damascus steel was initially an unregistered forging technique used by Near Eastern and Middle Eastern blade manufacturers in what is now Syria’s capital city.

In spite of some evidence to the contrary, the first mentions of Damascus steel date from between 300 and 500 A.D. However, at the time this steel was mostly used to make swords for battle, not cutlery.

During the Crusades in the 11th century, the Crusaders saw the legendary sharpness of Damascus steel in action by the Arabic warriors. This is how Western Europe had its first taste of Damascus steel.

The flat of a Damascus steel blade is marked by a variety of swirling patterns.

It’s thought that the original inspiration for the intricate designs came from blocks of wootz steel mined in India and Sri Lanka.

To make Damascus knives, wootz steel ingots were mixed with various “impurities” such as tungsten and vanadium during the traditional Indian smelting process and then layered multiple times.

For centuries, the Arabs were able to successfully import wootz ingots. Due to changes in boundaries and the destruction caused by wars as well as depletion of wootz reserves, this unrivaled metal alloy was no longer used.

Sadly, by the middle of the 18th century, both the blades and the methods used to make traditional Damascus steel had vanished.

Damascus steel in Japan

The first Damascus steel blades were brought to Japan by the swordsmith Kunitoshi from Sagami province in 1334.

He learned the technique for making this type of steel from an Arab swordsmith living in China.

Kunitoshi’s student, Kanemitsu, is credited with perfecting the process of creating Japanese Damascus steel.

He combined traditional Japanese sword-making methods with the new technique for making Damascus steel, which resulted in a stronger and more beautiful blade.

Kanemitsu’s blades were so prized that they were presented as gifts to the shogun and other high-ranking officials.

The process for making Damascus steel was kept a closely guarded secret for centuries and was passed down from swordsmith to apprentice.

As a result, very few Japanese swordsmiths were able to make Damascus steel blades.

The process for making Damascus steel was finally revealed to the world in 18th century by a Japanese swordsmith named Nobuhisa Sagawa.

Sagawa was the first to write down the steps for making Damascus steel, which he did in a book called “The Secret of Making Swords.”

The process involves layering different types of steel and then forge-welding them together.

This creates a blade with unique patterns and unparalleled strength.

Where is Damascus steel made in Japan?

Sure, you know that ancient Damascus steel blades were first made in the Middle East, Europe, and Japan but do you know where they’re made today?

Nowadays, most of the world’s Damascus steel is made in Japan.

There are a few reasons for this.

  • First, the quality of Japanese steel is some of the best in the world.
  • Second, Japanese swordsmiths have centuries of experience perfecting the art of making Damascus steel blades.
  • And lastly, the process for making Damascus steel is a closely guarded secret.

As a result, very few people outside of Japan know how to make this type of steel.

If you’re looking for a high-quality Damascus steel knife, then you should look for one that’s made in Japan.

These beautiful knives are made in Sakai, which is a city located in Osaka Prefecture.

This city has been home to Japanese swordsmiths for centuries and is still considered the best place in the world for making Damascus steel knives.

They produce many steel types in this region.

Sakai is also home to some of the most famous knife makers in Japan, such as Masamoto, Hattori, and Shigematsu.

When it comes to choosing a Damascus steel knife, you really can’t go wrong with one that’s made in Sakai, Japan.

This city has a long history of producing some of the best knives in the world.

How to care for and maintain Damascus steel knives

Now that you know a little bit more about Damascus steel, you may be wondering how to best care for your Damascus steel knives.

Here are a few tips:

  • Avoid putting your knives in the dishwasher, as this can damage the blade.
  • Hand-wash your knives with warm water and mild soap, then dry them immediately.
  • Store your knives in a cool, dry place (a knife stand is a good option).
  • Use a cutting board made of wood or bamboo when cutting with your Damascus steel knife, as this will help avoid damaging the blade.

Also consider getting a traditional knife sheath, or saya, to protect the sharp edge of your Damascus steel knife.

With proper care, your Damascus steel knives will last for many years to come.

Why does Damascus steel rust?

Damascus steel can rust like any other type of steel. The main reason it rusts is that it contains iron.

When iron is exposed to oxygen and moisture, it will start to rust. There are ways to prevent rusting, such as using a clearcoat or keeping the knife oiled.

Do you have to oil Damascus steel?

Yes, it’s important to oil a Damascus steel blade to keep it from rusting.

How often you need to oil it will depend on how often you use the knife and what type of environment it’s in.

If you use your knife frequently or if it’s exposed to moisture frequently, you’ll need to oil it more often.

You can buy special Damascus steel oil, or you can use mineral oil.

Just make sure to avoid using vegetable oils, like olive oil, as they can go rancid and cause the knife to rust.

Can you sharpen Damascus steel?

Yes, you can sharpen Damascus steel knives.

In fact, a Damascus chef knife is such a popular choice because it can be sharpened repeatedly and keeps a sharp blade which makes it perfect for slicing meat.

However, because of the unique patterns on the blade, it’s best to have a professional sharpen your knife for you.

If you try to sharpen it yourself, you run the risk of damaging the beautiful Damascus patterns.

However, there’s nothing wrong with using a Japanese whetstone to sharpen your Damascus knife.

If you’re skilled at knife sharpening using such methods, you’ll get your Damascus knife razor-sharp at home.

Can you sharpen Damascus steel knives with a whetstone?

Yes, the best way to sharpen a Damascus steel knife is with a Japanese whetstone.

The sharpening process is similar to that of any other type of knife. First, you’ll need to choose a whetstone with a grit that’s appropriate for the level of sharpness you want to achieve.

For a really fine edge, you’ll want to use a finer-grit stone.

Next, you’ll need to soak the stone in water for about 20 minutes before beginning to sharpen.

Once the stone is ready, you can start sharpening your knife by holding it at a 20-degree angle and moving it back and forth across the stone. Be sure to use even pressure on both sides of the blade.

After a few passes, you can increase the angle to 30 degrees if you want a sharper edge.

Once you’re happy with the sharpness of your knife, you can rinse it off and dry it before using it.

How do I care for my Damascus knife?

Proper care is essential to maintain the longevity of your Damascus knife.

Be sure to always hand wash and dry your knife after each use. Never put it in the dishwasher!

Use a mild soap and avoid using harsh chemicals or detergents.

It’s also important to keep the blade oiled. A light coat of mineral oil is all that’s needed. I like to use KUROBARA 100% Pure Tsubaki Japanese Knife Maintenance Camellia Oil for this.

Do not store your knife in a sheath for extended periods of time as this can cause the blade to rust.

Be sure to regularly inspect your knife for signs of rust or damage and take it to a professional for sharpening when needed.

With proper care, your Japanese Damascus steel knife can last a lifetime.

FAQs

What is the best brand of Damascus knives?

There are a number of great brands that make Damascus knives.

Some of the most popular brands include Shun, Tojiro, and Masamoto. You might’ve also heard of Dalstrong which is a very popular knife brand sold on Amazon.

These brands are all known for their high-quality knives, and their Damascus knives are no exception.

If you’re looking for a great Japanese Damascus steel knife, any of these brands would be a great option.

What is the highest quality Damascus steel?

There are a few different types of Damascus steel, but the most popular and well-known is Japanese Damascus steel.

This type of steel is known for its unique and intricate patterns, as well as its high level of strength and durability.

Is Damascus steel safe?

Yes, Damascus steel is safe to use. It is a very strong and durable type of steel that will not easily break or chip.

Is Damascus steel a lost art?

No, Damascus steel is not a lost art. There are still plenty of craftsmen who know how to create this unique and beautiful type of steel.

What are the benefits of a high level of strength and durability?

A high level of strength and durability means that Damascus steel knives and other tools will last a long time. They won’t need to be replaced as often, which saves you money in the long run.

Japanese Damascus steel is some of the best in the world. It is known for its unique and intricate patterns, as well as its high level of strength and durability.

If you are looking for a knife or tool that will last a long time and look great, then Japanese Damascus steel is the way to go.

What steel is better than Damascus?

There is no one “better” type of steel. Each type of steel has its own set of properties that make it better suited for certain applications.

For example, some steels are better at holding an edge, while others are more resistant to corrosion.

It really depends on what you need the knife or tool for as to what type of steel is best.

Is Damascus steel magnetic?

Yes, Damascus steel can be magnetic because it is made with iron. However, the level of magnetism will depend on the exact composition of the steel.

Some Damascus steels have a higher carbon content, which makes them more magnetic. Others have a lower carbon content, which makes them less magnetic.

Does Damascus steel still exist?

Yes, Damascus steel is still being made today. However, it is not as common as it once was.

The process of making Damascus steel is very labor-intensive and time-consuming. This makes it more expensive than other types of steel.

How tell if Damascus steel is real?

In order to determine whether or not steel is Damascus, you can simply grind it down and then use an etching process to re-etch it.

There’s a chance the pattern is only found on the surface, in which case the steel isn’t considered Damascus. If it’s a surface pattern only, it’s a fake Damascus steel.

The simple act of sharpening the knife is all that is required to test this because the pattern should run through the whole steel, not just the surface.

Are there any disadvantages to Damascus steel?

The main disadvantage of Damascus steel is that it is more expensive than other types of steel.

This is because the process of making Damascus steel is very labor-intensive and time-consuming.

Another disadvantage of Damascus steel is that it can be difficult to find. Not all knife makers or blacksmiths know how to make it.

No knife is perfectly good and the Damascus knife’s beauty is no exception.

In reality, Damascus blades are one of the most re-purposed blades in the market which often receive poor-quality variants fabricated from knockoffs.

Buying fake Damascus knives will cause inconsistent edge performance because the different steels are not well layered and mixed together. Knockoff Damascus steel blades are also prone to chipping and rusting.

In the case of “Damascus”, the disadvantages can be a total reverse of the advantages mentioned previously.

If you’re looking for a Damascus steel knife, you may have to do some research to find a reputable maker.

Takeaway

Despite the loss of its original manufacturing methods, modern Damascus steel has many advantages.

The blade made of steel ingots is extremely strong and thus a strong knife for cutting tough food items in the kitchen.

Besides providing long-term stability and corrosion resistance, the blade also has an antirust coating. In addition, the blade edges are quite adequate, but you need to continue sharpening and steel honing.

The finest Damascus steel in the world comes from Japan. This steel has a high level of strength and durability. There are layers of steel folded on top of each other which form a “wave pattern.”

Japanese Damascus steel is the best steel to use if you want a long-lasting tool or knife.

It’s hard to beat a Damascus steel chef’s knife, deba knife, or santoku knife. Even German knives can’t really compete in my opinion!

Next, check out my guide to the different must-have knives in Japanese cooking

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.