Damascus, San-mai, Wootz, Forge Welded, and Eletro-Etching
There seems to be some confusion as to what is Damascus and what isn’t. Real Damascus can usually only be found in museums. The secret recipe/formula was lost over 200 years ago.
Modern day “Damascus” is actually a steel combination that the original Damascus was made of, and can be found in a steel combination known as ‘Wootz’. What we are calling Damascus today is actually “Forge Welding’. Layers of different types of steel are stacked in together; heated to a critical temperature; then pounded out and folded over and put back into the forge and reheated to critical temperature. This is done multiple times. The resulting piece of Forge Welded Steel can be anywhere from 3 layers to thousands of layers. The more layers, the more expensive the blank will be. This stuff is bought by the inch not by the foot like other steel.
San-mai is a type of Forge Welding that uses a High Carbon Steel center which is sandwiched between more pliable metals. This makes the resultant steel tougher and more flexible than a straight High Carbon Blade. It is often mistaken for Damascus, but if you look at the spine of the blade you will see a dark strip running down the middle of the blade with lighter colored steel on each side as in the image below.
On a Forge Welded blade, if you examine the spine you will see hundreds of tiny lines running the length of the blade spine. These are the layers of folded steel. That is how you can tell a real Damascus blade from a fake one. There are two types of the fake stuff coming out of the Middle East. One looks and feels like the real deal – however, the steel used is very inferior steel that will not hold an edge. The other one again ‘Looks’ like Forge Welded steel, but when you feel the blade it’s surface feels rough and looks crude in comparison to the real steel. I’ve bought some of this stuff from the Middle East and taken the belt grinder to it only to find it is a plain steel that has been etched to look like a Forge Welded blade. There are no layers of different metals. People often ask if my knives are Damascus. They are not, unless I specifically say so in the write up on them. They have been ‘Eletro-etched’ and I do not TRY to make them look like Damascus.