Take 20% off these Damascus steel chef knives

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/11/07/take-20-off-these-damascus-st.html

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Ah, the damasukasu’s cousin. Doesn’t look hand-forged…

It’s interesting how the MSRP has zero relationship to the actual retail price. I know that MSRPs are made up, but this is just giving away the game:

  • “Japanese set” (aka our friend Damasukasu): MSRP 599.99, ARP 49.99
  • “Master set”: MSRP 299.99, ARP 69.99
  • “Hand-forged set”: MSRP 89.99, ARP 69.99

Behavioral Economists Hate Him!


Interesting item. In Neal Stephenson’s “Baroque Cycle” (I think the second book but I"m unsure) he makes the point that it was actually made in India, but was named Damascus steel because that was the closest place to Europe where it could be obtained. Wikipedia says that steel ingots called “wootz steel” were shipped from India to the Near East, where it was used in the production of Damascus steel blades.


I guess they’re not total shit.

I’d still prefer to make my own knives.

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Wootz was invented in a few places in South, East, and Southeast Asia.
Pattern-welded steel was created in quite a few places including Europe. In many ways it was used to compensate for the deficiencies in steel before the creation of good, reliable, crucible-made spring steel.


I use an Escoffier carbon steel knife I inherited from a friend for most of my food prep. It’s an excellent blade, it holds a better edge for longer than any of the good quality stainless steel blades I’ve had. And I’d much rather have a great working blade than a knife that’s destined to be an “heirloom” which should be “displayed” in my kitchen - it’s a kitchen, not an art gallery or a snob chamber.

No one actually knows how the original Damascus steel “raw” material, wootz, was made, although close imitations have been created through reverse-engineering based on modern analysis. So all modern “Damascus steel” blades which claim to be made from modern “wootz” are imitations based on scholarship and modern technology.

Knives using modern steels but created with pattern welding (real Damascus blades were pattern welded), while not “Damascus steel” (since the actual steel is different) are sometimes sold as “Damascus steel”. It all depends on whether or not you call any pattern-welded blade a “Damascus” blade, I guess, which seems unfair to all the other ancient blade makers who also used pattern welding.

Modern carbon steel out-performs Damascus steel (original or re-created), so the only reason to own it is the pretty patterns on the blades. I prefer better steel to pretty steel, myself.

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This is all completely untrue. Al Pendray and Dr. Jan Verhoeven figured out wootz back in the '70s, and people even make it at small “hammer-ins”. We have extensive chemical analyses of original historical wootz “bulat” and antique blades. As for modern steel outperforming wootz, it depends on what you want. If you want a hypereutectoid steel that has lots and lots of carbides in a softer iron like matrix, then it’s f-ing amazing. If you want something rust resistant or more uniform in properties, then yeah, not so awesome. Wootz is simply one of the original dentritic carbide materials.
As for old school pattern welded “damascus”, that never got lost. Also there have been extensive metallurgical studies performed on old pattern welded blades from scandanavia etc…
And… Japanese sword technology is technically a layered material as well, and that’s never been lost either…
As for modern pattern welded steel not performing up to the standards of “modern carbon steel”, what do you think it’s made of? Modern smiths use modern “carbon steels” for their pattern welded material, and as long as their heat treat is good, it’s just like any other modern alloy. Hell, one of the fun things to do is to try to make “super damascus” by tweaking which alloys you use to make your pattern weld to get the benefits of some of the more recently developed alloys. I personally like to use two high alloy “high carbon” steels to make my damascus (1084MF/15n20), which gives you a nice high contrast blade with all the benefits of modern alloys/metallurgy.

But yeah, TBH, there really isn’t a big advantage to damascus over a single alloy steel nowadays, it’s mostly for the pretty. That being said, as noted above, there really isn’t a disadvantage either.

If you want to see some amazing “damascus” blades in action, google videos of the American Bladesmith Society Mastersmith test. For your mastersmith ranking, all the blades are pattern weld, and you need to do a performance test with one that involves shaving hair, chopping a 2x4, cutting a 1"free hanging manila rope, then shaving hair again (i.e. it has to get to this stage without edge dulling or damage), then putting it in a vise and bending it to 90 degrees without it breaking. I’ve personally witnessed blades fail horifically during this test, and I’ve seen others pass with flying colors. If that’s not “performance” then I don’t know what is.


Not true. We know how pattern-welded steel was made. Wootz has also been made continuously in different parts of the world, and as long as twenty years ago there were some excellent papers in the metallurgy literature on exactly what refractory compounds must have been used, identification of the special leaves mentioned in early texts, so on and so forth. Georgian smiths still make their “black” steel, and smiths all over the Islamic world can easily recreate “Mohammed’s ladder” and similar effects.

That’s also assuming there was an “original Damascus steel”, a contention which you would have a very hard time proving.

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The Wizened Artisans of Ancient Days (really wizened, none of that fake spray-on wizening) would have sold you their families and half their gonads for a reliable supply of 5160.

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F yeah! One of my favorites. Such a good all around (and really tough at working hardness steels).

There’s a certain mystique around the old stuff. Just look at Japanese swords. Original tamahagane wasn’t some sort of super steel. In fact it’s fairly meh. The layering was just to drive off impurities. The genius was in the purification and the composite structure of the blades, using different carbon content steels to maximize hardness on the edge where you need it, while giving some toughness to the spine or core. I’ve made tamahagane, and honestly it’s a much lower performing steel due to the almost total lack of alloying elements (even when done really well). Historical Japanese smiths would have killed for some of our factory 1070 or 5160. Some people got really bent about Howard Clark’s L6 bainite “Japanese” blades, but I suspect that historical smiths and samurai would have been really really interested in them…


“Yeah, but which steel did Hittori Hanzo use?”

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well, it cuts through other metals and stone, so I’m going to say “lightsaber”…

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