Probably one of the most coveted collections in any chef’s kitchen is the Damascus knives: tough, sharp, but flexible and easy to hold and grip by the hand.
Even better are the personalized knives that bear the name of the kitchen master. After all, not everyone can own a modern Damascus, and even if they can buy it, not all deserve the prestige and story that come with it.
But what makes this type of knife so special for professionals? Why does it cost so much in the market? To understand its value is to look back in its history.
A Weapon Like No Other
There are two Damascus knives in history: the real one and the modern Damascus.
The real Damascus knife has a long and complex tale that dates to the time of ancient India. Back then, the country was highly known for manufacturing wootz steel, which is crucible steel. Crucible steel combines many bands of metal like iron and another steel then mixed with substances like sand, ash, and glass.
All these were then added in a crucible, a metal or ceramic that can melt these components at extremely high temperatures. The end product was a kind of steel that featured high carbon content and a unique, aesthetically pleasing pattern on the blade.
According to some historians, this steel appeared even before Christ was born. As routes opened across the world, Indians traded with Syrians, who might have likely gotten hold of the famous wootz blades.
From this steel, Damascus, Syria’s capital, might have developed its weaponry industry. It now imported wootz not only from India but also from Sri Lanka and Persia. The craftsmen also learned to fuse various types of steel without losing the essence of the knife-making process.
The material became extremely popular during the Middle Ages, especially during the Crusades. Around this time, some experts believe that owning a Damascus sword could mean survival for its owner.
The weapon was durable, so it didn’t break immediately. The edges were sharp that they could end the life of the enemy quickly, but it was also flexible that it was easy to hold and maneuver.
Over time, the production of wootz declined and the primary materials for making original Damascus knives were depleted.
In the end, the actual recipe for making wootz steel or even the first Damascus swords disappeared in the pages of history, but many of its fans tried to replicate the techniques and methods.
The Process of Making Damascus Steel
Today, no Damascus knife can claim that it is “authentic” or pure. For it to be like the original, its primary material has to be wootz, and nobody knows how to make the real one now. Moreover, the common practice of making the so-called Damascus knife seems to be different from the original.
However, the knife can possess similar significant elements that make it both beautiful and precious: strength, flexibility, and design.
One of the most popular methods of making this knife is to forge-weld, a practice that has been around for many years in Europe and has been erroneously considered as the main technique in making the original Damascus weapon.
In this process, the craftsman or the weapon maker combines various types of metal, preferably iron and steel. The fusion will transform them into billets, which are semi-finished metal bars with either square or round cross-sections.
The manufacturer then manipulates these billets, twisting and turning them until they can produce patterns similar to the Damascus steel. However, the maker can also consider using only one kind of steel that it folds over and over, forged under extreme heat, so it develops into layers that make up the knife’s design.
Because of the intricate process of making the knives, it is one product that cannot be mass-produced. Further, not everyone can forge or make professional modern Damascus knives.
The best people are members of the American Bladesmith Society capable of creating at least 300 layers of steel. They also go through various levels before they become professional smiths. These explain why the price can be hefty, especially for high-quality ones.
The knives that earn the name Damascus are definitely nowhere near the quality and style of the original. These are less likely to give you the same level of protection should you go to war.
However, in the kitchen, it can reign supreme. It is easy to maintain as users only need a whetstone. Those made of stainless steel can last for years since they don’t corrode, and they can hold their razor-sharp edges for a longer period.
Thus, anyone who gets a place in the kitchen certainly needs—and deserves—a Damascus knife, a partner they can trust for years.