For Damascus Twist barrels, see Skelp. For the album of the same name, see Damascus Steel (album). For Operation Damascus Steel, see Rif Dimashq offensive (February–April 2018).
Close-up of a 13th-century Persian-forged Damascus steel sword
Damascus steel was the forged steel of the blades of swords smithed in the Near East from ingots of Wootz steel either imported from Southern India or made in production centres in Sri Lanka, or Khorasan, Iran. These swords are characterized by distinctive patterns of banding and mottling reminiscent of flowing water, sometimes in a “ladder” or “rose” pattern. Such blades were reputed to be tough, resistant to shattering, and capable of being honed to a sharp, resilient edge.
Wootz (Indian), Pulad (Persian), Fuladh (Arabic), Bulat (Russian) and Bintie (Chinese) are all names for historical ultra-high carbon crucible steel typified by carbide segregation – Hammered Damascus steel
Loss of the technique
Many claim that modern attempts to duplicate the metal have not been entirely successful due to differences in raw materials and manufacturing techniques. However, several individuals in modern times have successfully produced pattern forming hypereutectoid crucible steel with visible carbide banding on the surface, consistent with original Damascus Steel.
Production of these patterned swords gradually declined, ceasing by around 1900, with the last account being from 1903 in Sri Lanka documented by Coomaraswamy. Some gunsmiths during the 18th and 19th century used the term “damascus steel” to describe their pattern-welded gun barrels, but they did not use crucible steel. Several modern theories have ventured to explain this decline, including the breakdown of trade routes to supply the needed metals, the lack of trace impurities in the metals, the possible loss of knowledge on the crafting techniques through secrecy and lack of transmission, suppression of the industry in India by the British Raj, or a combination of all the above – Hammered Damascus steel
Recreating Damascus steel has been attempted by archaeologists using experimental archaeology. Many have attempted to discover or reverse-engineer the process by which it was made.
Moran: billet welding
Pattern on modern “Damascus knife”
Detail of handmade hair-cutting scissors from a Japanese company, 2010s
Since the well-known technique of pattern welding—the forge-welding of a blade from several differing pieces—produced surface patterns similar to those found on Damascus blades, some modern blacksmiths were erroneously led to believe that the original Damascus blades were made using this technique. However today, the difference between wootz steel and pattern welding is fully documented and well understood. Pattern-welded steel has been referred to as “Damascus steel” since 1973 when Bladesmith William F. Moran unveiled his “Damascus knives” at the Knifemakers’ Guild Show.