Damascus steel

Oct 20, 2000
I conducted a couple of searches and was unable to answer some questions regarding damascus steels.

Am I correct that damascus is the process whereby the steel is formed?

Is the purpose of making d. steel esthetic, or does it serve a compositional or properties function?

I had assumed it was esthetic, however I recently saw a post which, I swear, said something about getting a d. steel to an RC of 90! Is that possible (or even desirable)? If you could do it, it seems like it would chip like glass.

Thanks, Jack
A search of this forum revealed 41 topics which mentioned 'damascus' or more properly, pattern welded steel. This is only the most recent: Damascus Steel

There are three more archives full of information you can search and several other forums like the custom and shop talk forums which will produce a great wealth of information which relates to your questions.
Happy reading.

I have never heard of Any steel (iron based metal alloy) with a RC of 90 or, for that matter, any hardness greater than around 63 which will not 'shatter like glass'. And many steels are impossible make at that degree of hardness anyway. Someone claiming an RC value of 90 for an steel has committed a typographical error, I think.

Most steel called Damascus today is actually pattern welded steel. This is made of many pieces of steel which are heated and hammer welded together.

True Damascus steel was named for the city where most of the sword smiths worked the Damascus steel into swords. The completed swords were also distributed from Damascus, thus also influencing the name. True Damascus, or 'wootz' steel was usually made in India. It was made from iron and carbon heated in a closed crucible, yielding homogeneous cakes of steel weighing 2 to 3 kilograms. See an excellent article here: http://swordforum.com/forge/roadtodamascus.html

True Damascus was in actuality a fairly soft steel by today's standards, although it was quite high in carbon (up to 1.7%), and very flexible. Rc hardness of the center of the blade ran below 10, and the edge ran Rc 20-30. For an excellent article on this subject, including the three reasons that the process was lost until recently, see: http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/9809/Verhoeven-9809.html

The fallacy that wootz steel cuts well because of microscopic ridges is a fallacy; the ridges of cementite (Fe3C) exist, all right, but the particles are about 6 micrometers in dia, and the ridges are 30 to 70 micrometers apart. This is far too close together to affect cutting in any gross physical manner. Wootz cuts well as the cementite particles are very hard (cementite is a form of carbide) and this tends to keep the edge sharp.

Hope this helps, Walt
(certified spec sheet guru)

[This message has been edited by Walt Welch (edited 12-02-2000).]