How A Damascus Chef Knife Is Made? | Jonas Blade

How A Damascus Chef Knife Is Made?

When I exhibit my work at shows, there is a subset of people who approach to defend the virtue of “true” damascus steel. They contend that the modern version of it is a different animal, and it should in fact be called “pattern welded steel” instead. It is difficult to say precisely where this idea comes from. While that is a fundamentally erroneous statement, it does have a valid historical basis. 

Here is the breakdown of what we will look at:

How Damascus Is Made

How Damascus Was Made

The History Of Damascus

How Damascus IS Made

When I make damascus steel for a chef’s knife:

  • I start with two different alloys of high carbon steel. 
  • I forge weld—fuse—them together into a single bar at very high temperatures.
  • Then I manipulate and fold the bar (and thus the layers within the bar) to produce patterns using the contrasting appearance of the two different alloys. 

To describe this process as pattern welding feels comfortably accurate; the pattern is produced by forge welding two steels together. 

How Damascus WAS made

If a smith had made a chef’s knife out in Damascus, Syria 1000 years ago:

  • He would have started with a type of small-batch smelted steel called “wootz,” or simply “crucible steel.” 
  • He would then forge out that ingot of steel and begin his own process of folding and manipulation as a way to refine and strengthen the steel. 
  • A pattern would emerge as a byproduct of this folding and forging. 

When Syrian smiths began folding wootz, they most likely referred to it simply as steel, or wootz steel; it was just their way of making steel and steel items. But as it happens, the quality of the work they were able to produce with these methods was very high relative to other steels available at the time, so it began to build a reputation. 

At shows, when visitors see my chef knives made of damascus, people will sometimes draw the distinction between “true” damascus and modern pattern weld for themselves. This distinction is popular amongst those who are historically curious and are interested in swords, knives, and weaponry. The deeper truth is that this distinction has been unclear since the very beginning. 

The History of Damascus 

As it happens, smiths halfway around the world had been producing patterns in steel for more than a thousand years by the time a crusader could admire a Syrian sword. Pattern welded steel blades date back to at least the 1st Century AD and had reached a very high level of skill and artistry by the year 300 or so. The techniques were primarily used to make swords and other important weapons, and there is not much evidence for ancient damascus chef’s knives. 

As far back as our written records go, the two terms (“damascus” and “pattern welded steel”) have been used interchangeably by historians—the experts whose writings are the only records we have. This being the case, it is clear that the right way to treat the distinction between the two methods for producing patterns in steel is that both methods make materials called “damascus.” Not all damascus is wootz, just as not all damascus is pattern welded. 

My chef’s knives are made of pattern welded damascus. Perhaps I’ll make some out of wootz at some point to really confuse my visitors.

Come check out the damascus chef knives from Jonas Blade’s Collection made over the last 10+ years!

About The Author

Zack Jonas was born and raised in Massachusetts in the 1980’s and is still a New Englander today. With his growing love for art over the years, he took an introductory bladesmithing class at MASSart. It was there that he learned one of his most valuable lessons, which is that everyone has some insight worth learning. Today, he is a full-time bladesmith and feels incredibly fortunate to have found his calling.