Story by Joshua Swanagon, Photos by Jim Cooper (SharpByCoop Photography)
Although there are different techniques and materials that can take an exquisitely designed knife and dress it up, there is one that enhances it in strength, performance and undeniable beauty – Damascus.
Although the creation of Damascus is a very involved process – and best suited for a dedicated article written by a bladesmith skilled in forging Damascus – the basics of it will help to get you started in your appreciation of this beautiful artform, and help you know what to look for.
Presumably named after the capital city of Syria, Damascus is comprised of two different types of steel (sometimes up to 6 different types) that are cast, or forge welded together, and is over 2,000 years old. Although the process originated as cast Damascus, in modern times it has given way to pattern welded Damascus – due to the techniques for making woots (a type of steel made in India over 2,000 years ago from which Damascus was cast) being lost in the 1700s.
There are different methods for creating Damascus, such as canister and stacked, and each produces its own results. The more a Damascus billet is folded and layered, the more the pattern will tighten up and really start to show. High end Damascus can have hundred of folds, and once acid etched (a process in which the different types of steel react differently to the acid and highlight the pattern in the steel) will have an amazing watery or feathery look.
One of the exciting things about Damascus is that there are many different patterns that can be achieved, such as feather, raindrop, ladder, twist, etc. and each provides a completely different aesthetic to the knife it is used to create. Often times the pattern used for a particular knife is almost a window into the soul of the creator and helps the knife take on a life of its own.
However, not all knife makers make their own Damascus, with some opting to purchase already expertly crafted bars of Damascus from companies like Alabama Damascus, Las Vegas Forge, Chad Nichols Damascus, etc. With that said, it is important that you know what to look for, because there are a lot of knives out there that are constructed of Pakistani Damascus and they will not hold up like true Damascus.
Sometimes it can be easy to tell by the price alone. Damascus can be very expensive to create, because it takes so much extra time and effort to create the gorgeous patterns that it is so well known for. If you see a Damascus knife and it is made by a credible maker and selling for hundreds to thousands of dollars, it is most likely legitimate Damascus. However, if you see a knife from a questionable maker and it is $50 – buyer beware. I can’t personally think of any circumstance where anyone can make a true Damascus knife for $50.
Purchasing a custom knife already makes a statement that you enjoy and appreciate the quality things in life. The benefits of a good custom knife are plenty and range from heirloom quality that you can pass down, to having one of a kind craftsmanship that is a joy to use.
When you purchase a custom knife made out of Damascus, you are moving from a simple tool to a functional piece of art. When Damascus is made right, it is tougher and has better edge retention than a standard single steel billet. With a Damascus blade you are not only getting a piece of art that will outperform most other knives in its category, you are getting a tool that will look oh so good doing it.
Stay sharp and keep it real. K&G
Model: Large TrapperBlade Material: Ladder Stainless DamascusBlade Length: 4 inchesOverall Length: 9.125 inchesHandle Material: Mammoth IvoryBolster/Guard Material: 416 Stainless SteelFacebook: @Bill.Ruple.10Instagram: @BillRuple
Model: Damascus BowieBlade Material: Hurricane Mosaic DamascusBlade Length: 10.25 inchesOverall Length: 15.75 inchesHandle Material: Premium Sambar StagNotes: Winner “Best Damascus Knife/Best In Show” 2019 SydneyWebsite: www.McIntyreKnives.comInstagram: @McIntyreKnives
Model: Long Pull LockbackBlade Material: Bill Burke Feather DamascusBlade Length: 3.5 inchesOverall Length: 7.75 inchesHandle Material: Premium Sambar Stag NaturalBolster/Guard Material: 416 Stainless SteelWebsite: www.SwensonKnives.comFacebook: @SwensonKnivesInstagram: @SwensonKnives
Model: Darkstorm Fighter and Hunter SetBlade Material: 80CrV2/15N20 DamascusBlade Length Fighter: 7.5 inchesOverall Length Fighter: 12.5 inchesHandle Material: Blackwood with zirconium spacer and nickel silver peened pinBolster/Guard Material: Wrought iron guardWebsite: www.FreeHillBlades.comFacebook: @FreeHillBladesInstagram: @FreeHillBlades
Model: BeavertailBlade Material: 1084/15N20 DamascusBlade Length: 3.5 inchesOverall Length: 7.5 inchesHandle Material: Musk OxBolster/Guard Material: multimedia game (nonferrous metal forged into a Damascus pattern) angled ladder patternWebsite: www.MikeTyreCustomKnives.comFacebook: @MikeTyreJSInstagram: @MikeTyreKnives
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Joshua Swanagon has studied survival in both urban and wilderness environments in Colorado and Michigan for most of his life, while also adding experience in harsher terrains abroad. He utilizes his experience and years of diverse martial arts and combatives training and real world application as a self-defense/combatives instructor, published freelance writer and Field Editor for various magazines in the fields of knives, survival, self-defense and tactical subject matters. Joshua also brings with him his years of experience as Editor of, and Subject Matter Expert for Knives Illustrated Magazine.
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