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Damascus steel

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Title: Damascus steel  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: History of metallurgy in South Asia, Ferrous metallurgy, Steel, Pattern welding, Chris Reeve Knives
Collection: Damascus, History of Damascus, Metalworking, Steelmaking, Steels
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Damascus steel

Close-up of an 18th-century Persian-forged Damascus steel sword

Damascus steel was a type of steel used for manufacturing blades in the Near East made with wootz steel imported from India.[1] These swords are characterized by distinctive patterns of banding and mottling reminiscent of flowing water. Such blades were reputed to be tough, resistant to shattering and capable of being honed to a sharp, resilient edge.[2]

The steel is named after Damascus, a city in Syria. It may either refer to swords made or sold in Damascus directly, or it may just refer to the aspect of the typical patterns, by comparison with Damask fabrics (which are in turn named after Damascus).[3][4]

The original method of producing Damascus steel is not known. Because of differences in raw materials and manufacturing techniques, modern attempts to duplicate the metal have not been entirely successful. Despite this, several individuals in modern times have claimed that they have rediscovered the methods by which the original Damascus steel was produced.[5][6]

The reputation and history of Damascus steel has given rise to many legends, such as the ability to cut through a rifle barrel or to cut a hair falling across the blade.[7] A research team in Germany published a report in 2006 revealing

  • "Damascene Technique in Metal Working"
  • "The Mystery of Damascus Blades"
  • "Secret's out for Saracen sabres"

External links

J.D. Verhoeven, "The Mystery of Damacus Blades", Scientific American, pp. 74–79, January 2001

  • Eric M. Taleff, Bruce L. Bramfitt, Chol K. Syn, Donald R. Lesuer, Jeffrey Wadsworth, and Oleg D. Sherby, "Processing, structure, and properties of a rolled ultrahigh-carbon steel plate exhibiting a damask pattern," Materials Characterization 46 (1), 11–18 (2001).
  • J. D. Verhoeven, "A review of microsegregation induced banding phenomena in steels", J. Materials Engineering and Performance 9 (3), 286–296 (2000).
  • Jeffrey Wadsworth and Oleg D. Sherby, "Damascus Steels", Scientific American, pp. 94 – 99, February 1985.

Further reading

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  5. ^ a b c d e f
  6. ^ a b c d e
  7. ^
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  9. ^ a b c Legendary Swords' Sharpness, Strength From Nanotubes, Study Says. National Geographic (2010-10-28). Retrieved on 2011-11-13.
  10. ^ Fountain, Henry. (2006-11-28) Nanotechnology in Sabres From Damascus, a New Look at the Seafloor and Predicting Reef Damage. New York Times Retrieved on 2011-11-13.
  11. ^ Goodell, B, Xie, X., Qian, Y., Daniel, G., Peterson, M., and J. Jellison. 2008. Carbon nanotubes produced from natural cellulosic materials. Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. Vol 8, 2472-2474.[1]
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Burton, Sir Richard Francis (1884). The Book of the Sword. Internet archive: Chatto and Windus. p. 111. ISBN 1605204366.
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  23. ^ a b
  24. ^ a b c d
  25. ^ a b c d
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See also

Prior to the early 20th century, all shotgun barrels were forged by heating narrow strips of iron and steel and shaping them around a mandrel.[24][25] This process was referred to as "laminating" or "Damascus".[24][25] These types of barrels earned a reputation for weakness and were never meant to be used with modern smokeless powder, or any kind of moderately powerful explosive.[25] Because of the resemblance to Damascus steel, higher-end barrels were made by Belgian and British gun makers.[24][25] These barrels are proof marked and meant to be used with light pressure loads.[24] Current gun manufacturers such as Caspian Arms make slide assemblies and small parts such as triggers and safeties for Colt M1911 pistols from powdered Swedish steel resulting in a swirling two-toned effect; these parts are often referred to as "Stainless Damascus".[26]

Damascus steel in gunmaking

Sanderson proposes that the process of forging and annealing accounts for the nano-scale structures.[23]

[23][9] A team of researchers based at the

Additional research

Cementite crystal structure. Iron atoms are in blue, carbon atoms are in black.

In Russia, chronicles record the use of a material known as bulat steel to make highly valued weapons, including swords, knives and axes. Tsar Michael of Russia reportedly had a bulat helmet made for him in 1621. The exact origin or the manufacturing process of bulat is unknown, but it was likely imported to Russia via Persia and Turkestan, and it was similar and possibly the same as damascus steel. Pavel Petrovich Anosov made several attempts to reproduce the process in the mid-19th century. Wadsworth and Sherby also researched [6] the reproduction of Bulat steel and published their results in 1980.

Anosov, Wadsworth and Sherby: bulat

Although such material could be worked at low temperatures to produce the striated Damascene pattern of intermixed ferrite and cementite bands in a manner identical to pattern-welded Damascus steel, any heat treatment sufficient to dissolve the carbides would permanently destroy the pattern. However, Verhoeven and Pendray discovered that in samples of true Damascus steel, the Damascene pattern could be recovered by aging at a moderate temperature. They found that certain carbide forming elements, one of which was vanadium, did not disperse until the steel reached higher temperatures than those needed to dissolve the carbides. Therefore, a high heat treatment could remove the visual evidence of patterning associated with carbides but did not remove the underlying patterning of the carbide forming elements; a subsequent lower-temperature heat treatment, at a temperature at which the carbides were again stable, could recover the structure by the binding of carbon by those elements.

J. D. Verhoeven and A. H. Pendray published an article on their attempts to reproduce the elemental, structural, and visual characteristics of Damascus steel.[5] They started with a cake of steel that matched the properties of the original wootz steel from India, which also matched a number of original Damascus swords to which Verhoeven and Pendray had access. The wootz was in a soft, annealed state, with a grain structure and beads of pure iron carbide which were the result of its hypereutectoid state. Verhoeven and Pendray had already determined that the grains on the surface of the steel were grains of iron carbide—their goal was to reproduce the iron carbide patterns they saw in the Damascus blades from the grains in the wootz.

Verhoeven and Pendray: crucible

[20] Since the well-known technique of

Characteristic "organic" pattern of Damascus steel

Moran: billet welding

Recreating Damascus steel is a subfield of experimental archaeology. Many have attempted to discover or reverse-engineer the process by which it was made.

Bladesmith forging a blade


The discovery of carbon nanotubes in the Damascus steel's composition supports this hypothesis, since the precipitation of carbon nanotubes probably resulted from a specific process that may be difficult to replicate should the production technique or raw materials used be significantly altered.[16]

[6][5] The original Damascus steel or

Production of these patterned swords gradually declined, ceasing by around 1750, and the process was lost to metalsmiths. 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,[15] or a combination of all the above.[5][6][16]

Loss of the technique

Damascus blades were manufactured in the Near East from ingots of wootz steel that were imported from India,[1] as well as Sri Lanka.[12] Archaeological evidence suggests that the crucible steel process started in the present-day Tamil Nadu before the start of Common Era. The Arabs introduced the Indian wootz steel to Damascus, where a weapons industry thrived.[13] From the 3rd century to the 17th century, India was shipping steel ingots to the Middle East.[14]

A bladesmith from Damascus, ca. 1900



  • History 1
    • Loss of the technique 1.1
  • Reproduction 2
    • Moran: billet welding 2.1
    • Verhoeven and Pendray: crucible 2.2
    • Anosov, Wadsworth and Sherby: bulat 2.3
    • Additional research 2.4
    • Damascus steel in gunmaking 2.5
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6

[9] suggesting how the nanotubes were formed in the steel. Some experts expect to discover such nanotubes in more relics as they are analyzed more closely.[11]

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