What is Damascus Steel?

There are many opinions on the origins of Damascus steel.  Blade magazine states that it can be dated as far back as 1500 BC.  This early Damascus steel usually contained crucible steel made from liquid forms of high and low carbon steels creating a homogeneous alloy.  We translate the word for this as “Wootz” steel.  It is believed that Wootz was smelted with carbon-containing plant material to give it more strength and later it was a product of hard and soft steels.  The name “Damascus” is likely referring to a region in the Middle East.  Damascus is the capital of Syria.  It is possible the name for the steel was derived because the swords were sold or made there.  There are several theories of the origin of the name.  At that time, the blades made from this steel were superior.  They were hard and flexible making them highly sought after and unique.

Our modern version of Damascus steel is more specifically called pattern welded steel.  The process is similar, but different from the traditional technique.  Now, we take 2 or more different types of steel and/or other metals and layer them to make different patterns.  In the early 1970s, Bill Moran brought pattern welded steel back to popularity and many bladesmiths have followed suit.  What we currently think of as Damascus steel is the combination of 2 (or more) different metals into a homogeneous piece that can be shaped into a blade or tool.  Many great knife makers have done some incredible things with different patterns.  Some have even used powder metals to make some intricate pieces.  Larrin Thomas has an excellent post on the use of powder metals at Knife Steel Nerds linked below.  

The topic of what has been done with “modern” pattern welded steel would be more of a compendium than a short summary.  I may try to take that on at another time.  This is merely a brief rundown of the history of Damascus and pattern welded steel.  If you’re interested in more information on the history of Damascus steel and would like to see some great examples, I have included the links to my research below.  

Who Made the First Damascus? - BLADE Magazine

Damascus steel: the forgotten metal used to forge some of the world's most amazing blades

Damascus steel - Wikipedia

The History of Powder Metals in Damascus Steel - Knife Steel Nerds

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