damascus knives come in a variety of type for any number of purposes that range from camping and survival to wood-cutting and hunting. The composites banded together to make a Damascus knife necessarily depend on the type of knife and the context in which it is expected and/or intended for use. Some common types are listed below:
The beautiful thing about any type of Damascus knife is that, by design, it endures any forces put to it. Not only is a Damascus knife strong but also long-lasting.
Below are some beautiful examples of Damascus blades I have come across. Most of the top production brands like Spyderco, Benchmade, Kershaw and others have released limited editions in Damascus recently.
Knife enthusiasts like Damascus knives for many reasons. That’s a great thing because such diversity reflects versatility inherent in Damascus that is absent from other blades. The history of Damascus steel also draws favor, as it comprises a mystery that offers a sense of intrigue and enhances the ancient tradition dramatically.
The most common aspects of damascus knives that enthusiasts consider ideal are the aesthetics and high performance. Damascus knives boast stylish patterns that metal workers engrave into the blade during the forging process. No two Damascus knives are alike. In fact, each knife is one of a kind and valuable as an expressive work of art.
As for the high performance, carbon-rich metals forged together offer a sense of power from billeting and banding that is alien to many current blade designs. This extends to the molecular composition of the blade as well as the precision and care that are typical in production, making such power synonymous with Damascus design.
Are damascus knives worth owning and using? Again, the answer is subjective. Blade owners would likely agree that Damascus knives serve well in certain contexts over others. Two commonly hailed scenarios are, as described above, the love of the uniqueness in style and artistic patterns, as well as the implementation of weaponry as seen in hunting and military exploits, although many chefs own Damascus knives as well. These knives are quite special and valued. Indeed they hold a unique prestige with knife collectors today.
After 2,000 years, Damascus style and tradition are still going strong, and, in light of their mystique and special quality, they will undoubtedly last a long time to come.
You can’t buy damascus knives without pondering the great serrated vs. plain edge debate. What makes this decision even more difficult is that most models come with the option of plain, partially serrated and sometimes even fully serrated blades. To help you parse through the info and figure out which edge suits your needs, we’ve laid out the pros and cons of each.
For centuries, there was only one type of edge: the plain edge. It wasn’t until fairly recently that serrated edges began to grow in popularity. To really understand the basic difference between the two, we first have to look at the types of cuts a knife can make. The first is a push cut. This is done when you push a knife through something, like shaving or peeling an apple. The second is the pull cut. These are cuts that require you to pull the knife across something in order to cut it, like cutting rope or slicing a piece of bread.
Advantages: The general consensus is that having damascus knives with a plain edge is better at performing push cuts. Along the same lines, the single sharp edge allows you to have better control, more accuracy and cleaner cuts. A separate advantage is that the plain edges are significantly easier to sharpen and don’t require you to send it back to the factory for sharpening.
Disadvantages: One of its major downsides is its inability to saw and perform pull cuts. Similar to how you can’t cut a loaf of bread with a plain edge knife, you can’t slice objects that require sawing motions very efficiently.
Recommended Uses: If you find yourself performing push cuts throughout the day, a plain edge will suit you well. Although it doesn’t perform well on wood or rope, it will excel at things like shaving and skinning animals.
Advantages: The disadvantages of the plain edge are the advantages of the fully serrated edge. It does a better job with cutting tougher materials. The reason for this is that additional strength comes from the higher pressure per area due to the serrations. Serrations also tend to be thinner, which allows them to cut better than plain edge knives.
Disadvantages: Serrated blades, while better at cutting hard materials, are much clumsier than plain blades. You would, for example, not want a doctor to perform surgery with a serrated blade unless you want jagged punctive cuts in your vital organs. Serrations are also significantly more difficult to sharpen. In most cases, if you to retain the original blade, you would need to send it back to the factory for sharpening.
Recommended Uses: When you take stock of your everyday tasks and notice there’s a lot of hard cutting and sawing, a serrated edge is your best bet. Although it has some limitations, a fully serrated blade is useful in specific situations.
Advantages: A partially serrated edge is a mixture of both edge types and has overtaken the fully serrated edge in popularity. The combo edge is more popular because it allows you to use part of the knife for push cuts and the other part for rigorous cutting.
Disadvantages: The combo edge has some of the same disadvantages of a serrated edge, such as sharpening difficulties. However, other aspects, like its clumsiness, are fixed by the plain part of the knife. Another thing to consider is the placement of the serrations on the blade because they aren’t always useful for certain tasks.
Recommended Uses: If you’re looking for the best of both worlds, a partially serrated edge is the way to go. It combats some of the negatives of serrated edges but allows you to keep the sawing ability on your knife.
When browsing through damascus knives, you’ll see a wide range of blade lengths—from the whopping 7.5-inch blade on the Cold Steel Espada XL to small 2-inch blades found on many multi-tools. Even though it may only be a difference of a few inches, the size of your blade can make a huge difference.
Like all the other considerations that go into purchasing damascus knives, this is usually a matter of preference. Still, we break down some of the pros and cons of the various blade lengths below.
Advantages: It may seem more advantageous to get a larger buck knife, but knives with blades 2.75 inches and shorter have a number of benefits. The first, and oftentimes most important, asset is that damascus knives with small blades are usually legal everywhere. Many knife laws set the acceptable length arbitrarily below 2.75 inches, so having one of these smaller knives will ensure you’re compliant with almost all knife laws.
Smaller blades also have the advantage of being, well, small. Their size allows for an easy carry that’s not as burdensome as larger knives.
Disadvantages: The obvious downside of small blades is that they aren’t as strong or versatile as larger blades. Due to their size, they are often slipjoint blades, meaning they won’t lock into place and are prone to failure during extreme use.
Recommended Uses: These are good for light everyday carry when you only use the knife for basic tasks around the house like cutting string or opening small boxes.
Advantages: When we put together our best damascus knives guide, every knife fell into this range of blade length. Blades between 2.75 and 4 inches have the benefit of being small enough to be mobile but large enough to handle a wider range of tasks. The blades at this length also have various locking mechanisms that allow you to push it during strenuous tasks.
Disadvantages: There aren’t too many disadvantages of medium-sized blades, but some local knife laws may ban knives larger than 2.75 inches, so it’s important to be on top of laws in your area.
Recommended Uses: This is the sweet spot of blade lengths for damascus knives. Medium blades are ideal for pretty much any task, from small things to the heavy duty.
Advantages: damascus knives with blades larger than 4 inches have many of the advantages of larger fixed blade knives but are much easier to carry discreetly. These knives are focused mainly on self-defense and are more intimidating than small blades.
Disadvantages: Large blades tend to be heavier, making carrying them more burdensome. The blades also make the knife bulkier and less discreet. In some locales, these knives may not meet certain requirements for the law.
Recommended Uses: A large blade is not always practical on an everyday carry knife. These are often seen as novelty knives for display purposes but can also be used for self-defense. It’s important to look at your local laws when carrying a knife with a blade larger than 4 inches.
All blades are not created equal, especially when it comes to damascus knives. It’s important that you know the blade types in your knife and what their optimal uses are. Here’s a quick and easy guide.
The clip point is one of the most popular blades in circulation today. The back (unsharpened) edge of a clip point has a concave shape, designed to make the tip sharper. This creates a “cut out” area that can be straight or curved.
Ideal Use: Clip-point blades are great for everyday needs, but can also be used for hunting. Since clip points have a narrow point, it’s better for piercing and the deep belly makes it optimal for slicing.
The drop point is another great all-purpose blade. The dull section of the drop-point blade runs straight from the handle, eventually sloping down gently to meet the sharpened edge and forming the point.
Drop-point blades are usually found on hunting or survival knives, but they can also be found on some larger models of Swiss Army knives.
Ideal Use: Drop points are ideal for skinning and piercing, because they have a large belly and a controllable point that makes it easier to avoid nicking internal organs.
The straight-back blade is also referred to as a normal blade because it’s a very traditional blade shape. The front of the knife has a curved edge while the back has a straight, dull back that allows for additional pressure.
Ideal Use: The normal blade is an all-purpose knife great for chopping and slicing, which is why it’s a design you often find on kitchen knives.
A needle-point blade is symmetrical and sharply tapers into a point. The thin point is great for piercing objects, but it’s very vulnerable and can break pretty easily. Needle-point blades have two sharp edges, but the lack of belly makes it difficult to use for slicing. Needle points are much less common on folding knives, but they can be found on certain knives like stilettos.
Ideal Use: The specialty of the needle point is piercing, so it’s not good for much but it can be a great asset for self-defense.
On a spear-point blade, both edges rise and fall equally to create a point that lines up perfectly with the center of the blade. Spear-point blades have an extremely sharp point that is good for piercing, though only if both edges are sharpened.
Spear-point blades can be single or double-edged. They do have a small belly, but aren’t nearly as well suited for slicing as drop-point or clip-point blades.
Ideal Use: The spear point is best with piercing, but unlike the needle point, it has a belly that allows for some slicing.
The tanto point, which is also sometimes called the chisel point because of its resemblance to a chisel, is a well-liked point because of its unique look and strength. A tanto has a high point with a flat grind but no belly.
Ideal Use: The tanto point is not an all-purpose blade but its design does make it great for push cuts and piercing tougher materials.
If you’re clumsy with a knife, do yourself a favor and get a sheepsfoot blade. Though ideal for cutting and slicing because of its flat cutting edge, a sheepsfoot blade has a dull point that makes it difficult—though not impossible—to injure yourself.
Ideal Use: Sheepsfoot knives are popular among emergency responders, as they allow them to slice away at seatbelts and other restraints without stabbing the victim by accident. They were originally made to trim a sheep’s foot, which also makes them good for whittling.
A trailing-point blade has a back that curves upward to make a deep belly perfect for slicing. This design is fairly lightweight, but the point is very weak.
Ideal Use: The large cutting area makes the trailing point ideal for skinning and slicing.
This tiny blade is often found on Swiss Army knives. The dull and sharp sides of the blade slope at the same degree, making it appear similar to a spear point.
Ideal Use: These knives were previously used for sharpening a quill in order to make writing instruments. Though not exceptionally sharp, a pen blade is a great tool to have in your pocket and is perfect for small tasks.
The wharncliffe is nearly identical to the sheepsfoot except for a few minor differences. First, the back of the blade starts to curve closer to the handle for a gradual curve. These blades are also significantly thicker than you’d normally see on a blade this size.
Ideal Use: Perfect for things like carving wood and cutting ability, the wharncliffe is a great all-around blade.
The spey-point blade gets its name from having the dubious honor of once being used to spey livestock. The blade has a mostly straight edge that curves upward and a straight back with a short flat edge that runs to the tip.
Ideal Use: Spey-point blades are often found on knives with multiple blades and are great for skinning fur-bearing animals.
The hawkbill is a very distinctive blade type that resembles the curved shape of a hawks bill. It has a concave cutting edge and the spine of the blade is typically dull.
Ideal Use: The shape of the blade is limiting so it isnt great for everyday carry, but it excels at the jobs its good at, such as opening boxes, stripping wires, cutting cord and more.
Other Blade Shapes
The previous blade shapes are the most common ones that you’ll see, but there are also an array of modified versions and completely original designs found in only a few knives. For example, Spyderco has several unique shapes like the leaf-shaped blade not found in this guide. By using the outline of the shapes above, you can figure out what the ideal use of any blade type would be.
This attractive yet mysterious steel has captured the imagination of many so I’ll do my best to explain what it is and how it’s made.
The word “Damascus” goes back to medieval western cultures and refers to an earlier style of craftsmanship that first emerged in India around 300 B.C. This craftsmanship was prolific at the time, and was likely named for the region that made it famous.
Damascus steel is not pure. In fact, this uniqueness is its charm and its mystery. The material is characterized by multiple bands and mottling welded together in patterned fashion to create decorative blades of any shape and/or length with an inability to shatter. The identification of composites in original Damascus steel remains unknown today, as no records exist describing them. Yet modern Damascus steel-making follows the practice of combining pure metals, varying in terms of personal preference and need. Though metalworkers can choose and blend materials to form steel billets, iron is favored for its carbide-enhanced solidity and fortitude.
Historically speaking, Damascus steel has adopted a somewhat enigmatic reputation, as early references disappeared around 1700 A.D., a point marking the decline of patterned swords that would cease in production some fifty years later. The ancient tradition and significance of Damascus steel, however, have never been forgotten, hence the booming industry that exists today.
The sciences behind Damascus steel and steel-making are quite involved, yet they affirm the ingenuity and complexity with which Damascus techniques and processes have come to be known and respected. Metallurgy and chemistry serve as a basis for the composition and the multiple applications necessary for steel production and use.
Interestingly, Damascus steel was considered something like “super plastic,” not because of some idea that it was not genuine metal—although it was never pure in that sense—but because of the durability attributed to the former reference. Despite the fact that various types of modern steel have superseded Damascus blades in performance, the chemical constitution indigenous to original production processes involving the latter rendered blades of the time exceptionally stringent and powerful.
Since 1973, modern Damascus steel blades have been constructed from a variety of steel types welded together to form billets. These billets also routinely contain strips of iron to provide the necessary firmness on a molecular level. As a result, they are stretched out and layered according to the needs denoted by the particular application of the blade and the preferences of the blade owner. This indicates Damascus steel blades are produced not in assembly-line fashion but on the basis of individual customization.
The procedure is simple: steel ingots form billets that are folded like “sandwiches” within other metal types. The resulting product can comprise anywhere up to hundreds of layers, and is certain to have a solid density and varied design. This tested process ensures both the integrity and uniqueness of Damascus steel every time.
Still, the basic composition of the Damascus steel consists of two dichotomous structural types: ductility and brittleness. The former allows for compression of the material to absorb an increase of energy that would otherwise minimize or eliminate failure in the integrity of the blade. The latter is misleading, since brittleness generally relates to weakness. In this case, however, the word refers to the degree of flexibility needed to prevent shattering or breakage, as well as to facilitate edge sharpness.
This structural phenomenon ensures the Damascus blade to cut easily and remain durable. The convex grind offers sharpness to the thinness of the edge so that sliced material yields to the sides during the stroke and thus minimizes “sticking” that often occurs with blades having blunter edges. The structural brittleness, then, necessitates the convex grind.
On a deeper level, carbon nanotubes form in the steel to allow malleability and sustained strength during the forging process. The heavy concentration of carbon assures a decisive quality in steel integrity that guarantees high performance. This explains why carbon is crucial in the development of Damascus steel blades.
During the forging process, small steel ingots gradually form into the preferred shape of a blade. This causes the alignment of iron carbides into bands that form unique patterns. These patterns are reminiscent of grains in Wootz steel from ancient India and reflect old aesthetics and style of production. Metalworkers today are able to replicate much in the same order in which Damascus steel was known to exist centuries ago.
Below are the lists to the general heating and finishing processes for preparing Damascus steel. Again, the specifics vary according to need and want, as well as the type of metals being banded together. The basic processes always remain the same.
The heating treatment for Damascus steel involves a preset temperature between 1,500F and 2,000F, depending on the banding, and a mixture of both cementite and austerntite.
The following steps illustrate the subsequent finishing treatment.
The previous steps describe how to heat and finish Damascus steel while the following shows the entire process. Hence, knowledge in the former two is required beforehand in order for a metal maker to complete that which is below. This order serves as an indication of both the specifics involved and how everything works together.
Making Damascus steel blades has a simple progression, yet requires ongoing care and meticulousness. Still, the process is a time-consuming one. This is necessary to ensure both desired aesthetics and the development of an effective, well-balanced blade.
Here’s a great video which shows the process:
Blade steel is one of the most important aspects of a knife, but it’s also a complicated subject filled with jargon. You can read thousand-page books on the subject and still lack knowledge.
This next section barely scratches the surface of choosing a blade steel for damascus knives and we highly recommend checking out the full guide that some of the info is taken from: A Guide to Pocket Knife Blade Steel.
The first version of this guide broke down the steels between stainless and carbon steels (as do most sites), but the reality is that neither term is really correct. All steels contain carbon and not all stainless steels are truly stainless.
So, Zvi broke it down into five very general aspects to consider when selecting a blade steel.
If you’re just looking for entry-level alloys with solid performance for mundane EDC uses you can opt for 420HC, 440C, 8Cr13MoV, 8Cr17, 12C27 and many others. After that, it only gets better with high end alloys like ZDP-189, M390, K390, K294, Aogami and Shirogami.
Even though blade steel is really important, it’s even more important to keep it maintained. A well-sharpened blade made from low-quality steel will outperform the finest steel that isn’t properly kept.
A high-quality blade handle is important because it ensures your grip stays tight on the damascus knives. Each material has its own advantage in terms of performance and comfort, but it can also be a matter of aesthetics and personal preferences that dictate what you decide on. Here’s a brief breakdown of the most common type of handle materials and their characteristics.
Lightweight and often coated with a protective film, aluminum is frequently used in newer knives. It provides excellent grip and is especially suitable for knives that will be used in harsh weather conditions.
This synthetic plastic is made from cellulose nitrate and is known for its ability to morph into any color of the rainbow. Celluloid can also be fabricated to resemble most natural materials, such as ivory, horn, stag, pearl, amber, agate, tortoise shell and wood.
Another popular type of damascus knives handle, bone comes in a number of varieties, such as giraffe bone, jigged bone (often called stag), scored bone and smooth white bone.
Wood handles come in numerous forms. Stabilized woods are soft woods, like buckeye and burl, which must go through a stabilization process to make them hard enough to function as knife handles. Other woods that are commonly used for knife handles are blackwood, box, elder, bubinga, curly maple, koa, rosewood, snakewood and thuyas.
An extremely durable material, G10 is made of fiberglass, which is soaked in resin and compressed before being baked. G10 is strong, but also lightweight. It is water-resistant and handles well in inclement weather. For this reason, G10 is often used for tactical and survival knives. It is most commonly black, but can have other shades as well.
Micarta is also known for its toughness, though it is not quite as hard as G10. A composite constructed from cloth or paper and phenolic resin, Micarta is especially popular in the plastic industry. Canvas micarta is frequently used in knife handles. It comes in either yellow or tan, though after it ages it will turn red/brown.
Titanium handles are corrosion resistant, highly durable and lightweight. These are mostly found on newer damascus knives, and despite their strength and performance, titanium handles are sometimes perceived as cold and impersonal.
Zytel is essentially unbreakable. Developed by Du Pont, Zytel is thermoplastic that’s resistant to impact and abrasion. Its low cost and durability has made Zytel a popular handle material. Although it has some very slight texture, Zytel is often augmented by manufacturers to create a better grip.
The blade doesn’t have to be the only thing on your knife made of steel. Handles made from stainless steel have some of the benefits as blades made from stainless steel. The material is corrosion-resistant and very durable. It can be a bit heavier and has a lower threshold to withstand tension than other metals like titanium. Despite unifying the look of a knife, some people find the look cold.
Delrin is another thermoplastic from Du Pont. The material feels like a heavy, dense plastic that’s very smooth. Its softer than some of the other materials, so it will occasionally get scratches and scuffs, but it’s very durable.
Stag handles, which are made out of deer antlers that have naturally fallen off, have a rough texture that allows for a stronger grip. One of the major downsides of stag is its cost, which can be exorbitant.
The prevalence of rubber in many other products gives rubber handles on damascus knives an instantly familiar feel and texture. Similar to Kraton, the material is usually used as an inlay to other materials but it can also be wrapped around the frame for a full rubber handle. Although it has a nice grip, rubber is not as durable as other synthetic materials.
Similar to Zytel, Kraton is a thermoplastic but it’s soft and flexible. This is why Kraton is often used as an inlay to other materials or wrapped around a knife’s tang. The material is very grippy and gives a great sense of security when holding the knife.
Mother of Pearl is a composite material made by mollusks. Basically, it’s what makes up the outer layer of pearls and is occasionally used in premium knives. It has a white iridescent appearance and is known as a long-lasting material.
Another aspect of damascus knives you need to consider is the opening mechanism. The speed and comfort with which you engage your knife can be the difference between life and death but also a matter of convenience when doing everyday tasks. Here are the three general categories to choose from.
For most of the centuries damascus knives have been around, there’s only been one way to open your knife: with your hands. The hand is a very useful tool (almost matched by the knife) and it was the only way to engage the knife. There are actually a few methods of manual opening. One of the classics is the nail nick. You can normally find these on traditional damascus knives and Swiss Army knives. These are little grooves in the blade that allow your nail to grab the blade and open up.
The other method is the thumb stud. This is typically a protrusion in the blade that allows you to open the knife with just your thumb, allowing you to use one hand. Spyderco has a variation of this with the round hole that acts as an inverse of the thumb stud.
The switchblade, which automatically engages with the push of a button or switch, was outlawed in the United States in 1958 because of its perceived danger toward society. Since then, states have slowly been legalizing switchblades, whether outright or with some restrictions. The federal law also has some exemptions that allow use of switchblades for law enforcement, military and those with one arm. Before buying and carrying a switchblade, it’s important to research your local knife laws and make sure you are in accordance with the law.
The assisted opener is a relatively new addition to the realm of knives, but it’s quickly become a very popular mechanism on knives. First built in 1995 by Blackie Collins, an assisted-opening knife has an internal device that engages the blade once a certain amount of pressure is applied to the knife. The key difference between an assisted opener and a switchblade is that a switchblade has a bias toward being open while an assisted opener requires force to be opened.
What’s a pocket-knife lock? It’s the mechanism that keeps the blade open and prevents it from snapping down onto your fingers accidentally. damascus knives rely on several primary lock types. Without further ado, here they are:
The liner lock is the peanut butter and jelly of the pocket-knife world. There’s nothing spectacular about it, but it gets the job done.
The liner lock works with one section of the liner angled toward the inside of knife. From here, the liner is only able to go back to its old position with manual force, thereby locking it into place.
Meanwhile, the tail of the liner lock is cut to engage the bottom of the blade under the pivot. If the user wants to disengage the lock, he has to manually move the liner to the side away from the blade bottom.
A slipjoint is commonly found on traditional damascus knives but it doesn’t actually lock the blade in place. Instead, the blade is held in place by tension from a spring or flat bar. Once enough pressure is applied against the blade, it can move back to the closed position. Slipjoint knives aren’t designed for heavy duty work but for light, everyday tasks.
The back lock is one of the most basic and earliest used pocket-knife locks. It works when a locking arm, which sits along the handle spine, is molded with a hook that fits into a notch on the back of the blade behind the pivot.
The hook is dragged by tension from the back spring into the notch, locking the knife with a snap.
In exhibitions by the knife company Cold Steel, mid locks have refused to buckle under hundreds of pounds of pressure, impressing many knife owners. Mid locks resemble back locks, except for the fact that the release mechanism is in the middle of the handle spine as opposed to near the butt end of the knife.
A frame lock works by utilizing the handle to assist in folding the knife. The frame lock is positioned with the liner inward and the tip engaging the bottom of the blade. It’s released by applying pressure to the frame; when opened, the pressure on the lock forces it to snap open across the blade.
A frame lock is very similar to a liner lock. This image shows the difference.
Ring locks are cheap, long lasting and easy to use. These locks work when the owner turns a ring wrapped around the pivot of the knife to a position where a break in the ring allows the blade to open. After the blade is open, the ring must be turned again, so that the space through which the blade was opened is blocked. These are most commonly found in Opinel damascus knives.
A lever lock is locked by a pin near the pivot bolster, which is inserted into a hole drilled in the base of the blade. When the pin is through the hole, the blade is locked either open or closed. Lever locks are often used on automatic knives, such as switchblades.