What is Damascus Steel?
Damascus steel swords are made from a process called pattern welded folded Damascus steel. Pattern welded folded Damascus steel is a layered steel process that uses traditional techniques to distribute carbon. In the past, blacksmiths discovered that adding carbon to steel made the steel much stronger. The problem they faced is that the carbon was difficult to distribute evenly throughout the blade. This caused parts of the sword to be too hard, while other parts were too soft. Hard blades lacked the flexibility required to withstand hard strikes. This lack of flexibility would cause the sword to fracture or completely break. Soft blades would warp or quickly lose their edge. Without proper carbon distribution throughout, the swords were not structurally sound.
This led smiths to create folded steel. The process of folding the steel was to layer carbon steels, heat them, and hammer them evenly to distribute the carbon. Steel with high carbon content remained very hard, even after this folding process, so blacksmiths began adding layers of softer metals and steels to the layering process. This allowed the smiths to control the amount of carbon in the sword, thereby softening the steel so it became flexible while staying hard. This created the positive effect of beautifully layered swords. The layering also allowed easy visual observation of the distribution of carbon within the sword. This permitted buyers of the swords to visually inspect the sword with limited need to test it.
How is it Made Now?
Modern technology allows carbon to be distributed without this process. Most Damascus steel swords are blended steel that are stamped or painted to get the effect of the folded steel. While folded steel may no longer be required for sound sword making, it does provide for excellent swords while maintaining the beauty of a traditional sword. For example, Battling Blades, a high carbon and Damascus steel sword designing and manufacturing company, uses a detailed and highly intricate Damascus steel technique. Blacksmiths use 11 pieces of steel, including five layers of 1095 steel, fold the layers five times, making 352 layers. 1095 steel is the highest carbon steel commonly used in swords. It has a carbon level of .95% which is one of the highest carbon levels for any type of steel used in swords. The most common high carbon swords and high carbon Damascus steel swords are made with 1045 steel which only have .45% carbon content in the steel. 1045 steel is typically not hard enough to maintain a strong edge on a sword. Instead, 1095 steel is optimal for maintaining an edge and is an incredibly hard steel. 1095 steel typically has a hardness of 56-58 HRC. Combining 1095 steel with #43 and #40 carbon steels creates the perfect combination of hardness and durability with a Rockwell hardness rating between 55 and 56 HRC. This is similar to the hardness of 1060 steel which maintains optimal strength and flexibility. An example of the folding process and steel layers is below. This is the process used by Battling Blades blacksmiths when making high carbon Damascus steel for their swords:
Blade Material: Damascus steel
6 Pieces of Carbon Steel #43 and #40
5 Pieces of High Carbon Steel 1095
1st Fold- 11x2=22 Layers
2nd Fold- 22*2=44 Layers
3rd Fold- 44*2=88 Layers
4th Fold- 88*2=176 Layers
5th Fold- 176*2=352 Layers
The result of this process is a sword that is structurally flawless and beautiful.
What Should I Know Before Buying a Pattern Welded Folded Damascus Steel?
There are several questions you should ask before purchasing a high carbon Damascus steel sword:
- What high carbon steel is used? Is it 1095 or 1045 steel? If it is a steel in the middle, what is the softer or harder steels used to create the optimal hardness?
- How many layers are in the steel? Typically, four folds are the minimum required for effective distribution of the carbon.
- What is the HRC or Rockwell hardness of the steel? Optimal sword HRC for high carbon Damascus steel swords is between 55-56.
- Is the blade folded? The answer to this may seem clear as the sword will likely have patterning on the blade, but many patterned high carbon Damascus steel swords are stamped or painted. These patterns can be damaged.
Pattern Welded Folded Damascus Steel Sword Purchasing Guide