Damascus steel knives, firearms, and other metal pieces are becoming more popular as craftsmen and rediscovering the art. As more Damascus knives pop up in the market, buyers and smiths new to the material want to know: is Damascus steel strong?
Not All Damascus is Created Equal
Damascus is made of multiple metals which are fused together to create a single piece. The contrast between steel types creates those distinctive patterns, especially when etched and oiled.
Like pretty much every other metal product on the market, the strength of Damascus steel is directly related to its quality. Great Damascus is made from high quality materials, and the forging process is meticulous to ensure that there are no voids, cracks, or risk of delamination while you’re working with the metal.
It’s a common misconception that when you work with Damascus, the risk of delamination – the layers coming apart – is just something you have to deal with.
Realistically, that’s not the case.
Good quality Damascus doesn’t delaminate. Sure, it’s possible for any smith to have a bad batch, but any brand of Damascus that has repeated delaminations probably has weak spots in the metal. Cracks, voids, and delaminations are a sure sign that you’re working with Damascus of poor quality, and the strength of your steel probably isn’t up to snuff.
Ask around before you choose a brand of Damascus to use for your own projects, and if you hear more than one story about delaminations or voids in the material, it’s probably wise to choose a better brand.
Meanwhile, whether you’re working with Damascus steel billets or buying a finished Damascus product for your use…
Beware Cheap Damascus
Junk is junk.
If you decide to buy a cheap Damascus knife or budget billets, odds are you’re getting something that’s pretty, but not particularly practical.
There are lots of cheap “Damascus” knockoff knives on the market. They’re a little more expensive than a basic, budget blade, but they’re priced far lower than high quality Damascus steel blades from reputable sources.
In the case of metal goods, you usually get what you pay for.
Crafting reliable and durable Damascus takes time and meticulous attention to detail. Like any artisanal craft, that kind of integrity comes at a premium price.
If you’re going to get a quality Damascus knife, you can reasonably expect to pay $200 at the very least. Beware those “bargain” blades in the $50 to $100 range.
Treat Your Damascus Correctly
Another thing that impacts the strength of your finished Damascus piece is how you heat treat it.
Carbon and stainless Damascus austenitize and temper at different temperatures, and some types of Damascus can even be cryo-hardened, too. If you’re working with Damascus billets or blanks, be sure to heat treat it appropriately for the metal type.
Properly annealing, heat treating, and tempering a piece of Damascus is an important part of the process and greatly affects the quality of the finished product.
Etching Damascus helps bring out the contrasting colors in the pattern. Poorly etched pieces will often have spots.
Once you have a Damascus piece, be sure to care for it properly. Keep the metal oiled and avoid long-term storage of Damascus blades in leather sheaths because the leather can hold moisture against the metal, causing rust. For more on polishing, sharpening, and cleaning Damascus, see this quick guide to caring for Damascus.
So, Is Good Damascus Steel Strong?
High quality Damascus steel is not the strongest metal you can get. For most projects and uses, though, it’s plenty strong and durable.
There are some modern metal alloys that are incredibly strong, and if you’re working on a project that needs to stand up to the absolute harshest conditions imaginable, you should probably use one of those.
However, for something like a hunting knife, a golf club head, or even a firearm component, good stainless Damascus will do the trick.
Damascus has an added advantage for things like kitchen knives, as the combination of metals creates micro-serrations on the edge that keep your blade super sharp. Damascus also tends to stay sharper for longer, which is a definite advantage for slicing and dicing.
Remember, too, that there are different kinds of Damascus.
Carbon Damascus is softer to work with but once hardened, it’s harder than stainless. Stainless Damascus is handled a little differently, so if you’re going to work with it, make sure you heat treat it correctly.
The idea that Damascus steel is too soft, brittle, or unreliable for practical applications comes from the prevalence of cheap, poorly made metals. If you’re using good quality materials from a reputable forge, Damascus is plenty strong.