Damascus steel knife owners know all too well the glory and appeal of the intricate and distinctive Damascus pattern. Rippling and flowing water current-inspired patterns adorn each hand-forged billet. Ancient and modern blacksmiths share a passion for hand-forging this remarkable type of steel.

From its Medieval roots to its use by the modern gentleman, hand-forged Damascus steel has been a treasured commodity and life essential. Learn all about the origins of this ancient steel-making technique, the process used to make its breathtaking patterns, and how to preserve Damascus steel’s legacy and original luster.

VIDEO: William Henry Founder Matt Conable Explains Hand-Forged Damascus Steel

What Is Damascus Steel?

Damascus steel refers to a type of steel that originated in India and became popular in sword-making from 300 BC to 1700 AD. Originally called wootz steel, Damascus steel’s unique patterns of banding and mottling remind collectors of flowing water.

Damascus steel was beloved for its toughness and resistance against shattering, while still being able to be honed to a sharp and cutting edge. Damascus steel is made from several types of steel welded together to form a billet.

Damascus steel’s patterns vary depending on how an artisan works with the billet. The Damascus billet is extended and folded until the desired number of layers is formed. Billets can be forged with hundreds of layers for a distinctive look.

Today, the ancient art of Damascus steel making is a lost art form only practiced by a small number of dedicated artisans who aim to keep the legacy alive. Master blacksmiths from around the world innovate upon these ancient techniques with their own artistic touches and modern technology.

Damascus steel has earned a cult reputation among knife enthusiasts. Its mythology has been bolstered when it is compared to the fictional Valyrian steel in Game of Thrones by the author himself. Renowned for its strength and sharpness, Damascus is the ultimate tactical tool.

How Is Damascus Steel Made?

Damascus steel is only produced by a few artisans committed to keeping the tradition going. Damascus steel pocket knives can take up to two years to produce. During the months or years-long process, more than 30 artisans and about 800 individual operations result in a collaborative work of art and function.

To begin the Damascus steel-making process, artisans must select the materials to forge. During the forging process, sheets of different grades of steel are heated, welded, and fashioned into pieces to be heated and welded again and again into a billet. 

Master smiths use tools such as an anvil, a hot enough forge, and a power hammer to construct their pieces. Forgers typically use two steel grades to create a stunning contrast when polished. Forgers will use high-carbon steel and other metals to create alternating dark and bright patterns.

How Strong Is Damascus Steel?

Damascus steel is prized for its beauty and strength. Its resilience, however, depends upon the quality of its materials and the forging process used. Professional forging ensures the blade is free of cracks, voids, delamination, or other irregularities.

While not the strongest metal on the blade market, high-end Damascus steel is strong and durable enough to serve almost any purpose. Modern metal alloys are impressively strong and able to withstand harsh conditions.

There are also different types of Damascus steel that differ in strength. Carbon Damascus, for instance, is soft to work with but becomes stronger than stainless steel when hardened. Stainless Damascus still offers unparalleled durability and charm.

How To Make Different Patterns Of Damascus Steel?

Some billets incorporate copper and stainless steel exhibiting a bronzed and sunburst pattern. Other billets use alternating layers of stainless steel and nickel silver to produce an undulating pattern across the bevels of the blade. Some materials can be dark-etched for contrast or etched and re-polished for a more subdued pattern.

Depending on the Damascus pattern, anywhere from 40 to 90 percent of the steel that a master smith starts with ends up as scrap on the floor. A master smith peels, sands, grinds, and re-forges the steel to an exquisite core with a mesmerizing pattern.

How To Sharpen Damascus Steel

Damascus steel blades can be artisan-crafted, but can also lose their fine edge in a matter of just a couple of months. Inexperienced sharpeners should avoid sharpening Damascus steel for practice. Hand-sharpening with pocket knives and cheap knives can build up experience.

Professional and adept Damascus steel sharpeners will use whetstone made out of ceramic, diamond, or other coarse materials. Power-operated sharpeners can lack the precision of hand sharpening Damascus steel.

William Henry recommends pocket knives be sharpened every 18 to 24 months. The designer charges a nominal fee to sharpen blades. Pocket knife collectors without any experience in sharpening can trust original designers to restore the blade’s razor-sharp edge.

How To Care For Damascus Steel

A Damascus steel blade pocket knife that has been carefully crafted over hundreds of hours deserves the utmost attention and care. A legacy masterpiece requires a safeguard for maximum longevity. Damascus steel requires special care for it to retain its original luster and beauty.

Many hand-forged Damascus blades are made out of high carbon steel with small amounts of chromium in the alloy. While high in carbon steel, the blade can easily rust if not cared for. Collectors should ensure to keep their blades clean and dry to avoid rust or staining.

After cleaning and drying a Damascus steel pocket knife, you should lubricate the blade with a specialty wax to protect it from moisture. Avoiding rust ensures the Damascus’ pattern remains as striking and vivid as the day it was hand-forged.

Abrasive elements such as textiles and chemicals can significantly affect the blade’s look. Using a rough cloth or metal cleaner can remove the etched oxidation that makes the blade’s pattern visible. If the etching is altered, you can send in your blade to the original designer for repair.

Storage conditions are crucial to a blade’s longevity. When it’s not being used, a Damascus steel knife should be stored in a dry interior environment free from fluctuations in moisture levels and temperature. A box or soft case can do the trick.

How To Make Damascus Steel Knives

After the blade is finished, the handle can be inlaid with a range of high-quality materials including sustainably sourced metals and gems and exotic materials such as a fossil woolly mammoth tooth, fossil coral, and more distinctive embellishments for a bold and daring look.

William Henry offers pocket knife collectors a range of striking Damascus steel patterns. Our Copper Wave patterns are hardy, sharp, and radiant. Our Wave Damascus is composed of alternating stainless steel and nickel silver layers. From the hand-forged Damascus to the exotic adorning gemstones, each component of a William Henry pocket knife is meant to last.