Damascus steel: swords, knives, daggers

Gifts for men,
common mistakes


Damascus steel

Damascus steel is a name used by a few of Western cultures since the Middle Ages to mark a category of steel used by Middle Eastern armourers in 1100 - 1700 AD. The damascus steel swords can be identified by the distinctive patterns of banding and mottling reminiscent of flowing water. Such blades were reputed to be not only tough and resistant to shattering, but capable of being honed to a sharp and resilient edge.

A sword from Damascus
This knife is from Damask, but it was not forged from Damascus steel.

Knives in the window of souvenir shop. Bazaar Hamidiye in Damascus
Knives in the souvenir shop. Bazaar Hamidiye in Damascus, Syria

In this photo you see knives in the window of a souvenir shop at Hamidiye market in Damascus. All the knives here are with blades hidden in the painted sheath. Why? The real damask steel has a beautiful patterned surface - the result of multilayered workpiece. Of course, souvenir shops sell souvenir knives from the East, which are sometimes made of very low quality steel.

Close-up of a 16th century Iranian Damascus steel sword.

Close-up of an 18th-century Persian-forged Damascus steel sword

Damascus swords are characterized by distinctive patterns of banding and mottling reminiscent of flowing water.
(Photo by Rahil Alipour Ata Abadi)

The reputation and history of Damascus steel has given rise to many legends, such as the ability to cut through a rifle barrel or to cut a hair falling across the blade.

The original method of producing Damascus steel is not known. Due to differences in raw materials and manufacturing techniques, modern attempts to duplicate the metal have failed. Today, the term is conventionally used to describe steel that mimics the appearance and performance of Damascus steel, usually that which is produced by the techniques of crucible forging or pattern welding.

Damascus steel Knife "Vandreren"
Damascus steel Knife "Vandreren"Imtex.ch 

Damascus steel Knife "Aide"
Damascus steel Knife "Aide"Imtex.ch Photo by Andrey Zhivotov

Characteristic "organic" pattern of Damascus steel

Perhaps this Damascus steel never made in Damascus!

Balinese kris (or keris),
a type of dagger found in Malaysia,
the southern Philippines and Indonesia.
Photo: Gwes

Many historians believe that Damascus has never been famous with its blacksmiths. In ancient times, the best blade steel made in India, Persia, and in some areas of Syria. In Europe these knives and daggers fall through Damascus market - so the steel was named "Damascus."
In another version the masters of Damascus bought Indian steel billets and forged knives, swords and daggers. Blacksmiths experimented a lot and eventually created the technology forge welding. Strip steel with different carbon contents were collected in a package and forged. The resulting strip folded in half and forged again. And so while the number of layers reached several hundred.
Damask masters noticed that if you dig in a metal in the ground for a long time, the metal (purified from the rust) is markedly improved. The fact that rust first erodes the place where most non-metallic impurities (sulfur, phosphorus).
In the photo above you see knife, swords and daggers in the window of souvenir shop (the bazaar Hamidiye in Damascus). Knife blades are hidden in the painted scabbard. Why? This damask combines high hardness and elasticity and has a beautiful patterned surface - the result of multi-layer perform. Of course, a souvenir shop is selling souvenir "knives from the East", sometimes - from the metal of very low quality. And if you want a knife of good steel, it is better to buy it from the manufacturer.
In Russia any good steel, including Damascus, was called "Bulat", chronicles record the use of a material known as bulat steel to make highly valued weapons, including knives, axes and swords. Tsar Michael of Russia reportedly had a bulat helmet made for him in 1621. The exact origin or the manufacturing process of bulat is unknown, but it was likely imported to Russia via Turkestan and Persia, and it was similar and possibly the same as damascus steel.


The kris is an asymmetrical dagger with distinctive blade-patterning achieved through alternating laminations of iron and nickelous iron (pamor). While most strongly associated with the culture of Indonesia the kris is also indigenous to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines where it is known as kalis with variants existing as a sword rather than a dagger. The kris is famous for its distinctive wavy blade, although many have straight blades as well.
In former times, kris blades were said to be infused with poison during their forging, ensuring that any injury was fatal. The process of doing so was kept secret among smiths. Different types of whetstones, acidic juice of citrus fruits and poisonous arsenic bring out the contrast between the dark black iron and the light colored silvery nickel layers which together form pamor, damascene patterns on the blade.
The kris blade forging uses iron with a small content of nickel to create this pattern. The faint pamor pattern has been found in the kris from Majapahit period, which was acquired from iron ores with small nickel content. Most probably this iron ore was imported from the island of Sulawesi.
The best material for creating pamor is acquired in a quite unusual way, as it is made from rare meteorite iron. Traditionally the pamor material for the kris smiths connected with the courts of Surakarta and Yogyakarta originates from an iron meteorite that fell to earth at the end of 18th century in the neighborhood of the Prambanan temple. The meteorite was excavated and transported to the keraton of Surakarta; from that time on the smiths of the Royal territories Vorstenlanden used small pieces of meteoric iron to produce pamor patterns in their pikes, kris and other weapons. After etching the blade with acidic substances, it is the small percentage of nickel present in meteoric iron that creates the distinctive silvery patterns that faintly light up against the dark background of iron or steel that become darkened by the effect of the acids.

Some content from Wikipedia