Damascus steel kitchen knives from Japan

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Japanese kitchen knives impress with their dreamy patterns. No other knife fascinates so much with patterned and designed blades.

Damascus kitchen knives impress with their fantastically beautiful patterns.

The variety of patterns is almost unlimited. Roses, Wilder, Cross, Twist and  mosaic damask, and many more.

But this layered steel actually came about due to a lack of good raw materials. The first welded composite steel was made from iron ores smelted in a kiln. The lobes obtained in this way were rather inhomogeneous iron sponges.

They had to be forged indefinitely to expel the slag. How much of the important carbon remained in the iron was a matter of luck. Iron that was too low in carbon and brittle was then reheated (cemented) with charcoal to increase the carbon content.

Nevertheless, in the end you had different steels, either too soft or too hard. That’s how the idea came up to combine the two not quite perfect steels using the welding and forging process.  

By etching the different layers, Damascus steel gets its pattern of different light and dark shades of grey.

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Damascus material consists of steels that are often inferior to perfect knife steel in terms of edge retention, corrosion resistance, elasticity and service life.

You buy such a knife mainly because of the beautiful look. A real eye-catcher in the kitchen.

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Inlay steel is the steel that makes the knife edge hard.

For Damascus, steels that can be easily forge welded are usually used. One has to be a bit more resistant to the etching that puts the paint on the blade than the other. The more resistant steel results in the light parts of the pattern, the other turns gray to black.

Every blacksmith has his own recipe. It also depends on the purpose for which the composite steel is used. Kitchen knives have different properties than hunting knives.

Often thesmith will combine a carbon steel like 75CrV1, 1.2842, or 80CrV2, or one Manganese steel that can be welded to a very common stainless steel such as X50CrMoV15 or nickel steel 75Ni8.

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Depending on the hardness and elasticity, different carbon steels such as 1075 or 1.2519 can also be used. So there is no such thing as Damascus steel, but as already mentioned, even in the times when this legendary material arose, you had to forge weld what you had.

Colleagues also swear by utility steel as the starting material. Old files, ball bearings, saw blades and armored pipes. All of this can be the basic material of a good sweat pack.

The fire-welded Damascus knife, consisting of many layers of the best steel, is often less hard than a better stainless steel kitchen knife.

The best steel in the middle, the heart of the steel sandwich

In order to achieve greater hardness, knives are forged with so-called single-layer steel.

In the final folding process of the steel package, carbon steel is inserted. This is how the cutting edge of the fully forged and ground knife comes out exactly from this central carbon steel insert.

Only carbon steels such as C75/1075 carbon steel or C100/1095 can be used as single-layer steels, as these achieve a hardness of over 60 HRC.

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Japanese kitchen knives and European forging tradition 

The classic Asian kitchen knife has a flat blade that ends in a narrow, forged tip. The thorn-like extension is the Erl.

The tang is inserted into a wooden handle, glued and the handle is driven onto the mandrel up to the blade. A collar made of metal, horn or tortoiseshell protects the wood from traveling during this process. This ferrule also protects the front part of the handle from damage.

The design flaw, the critical point

The same problem arises with all inserted blades, as the technical term goes. The transition between wood and steel is open. This is the neuralgic point.

This is exactly where moisture penetrates the handle along the steel. Wetness causes the steel to corrode and the wood to swell. The distance between steel and wood increases over time, the effect accelerates. Last but not least, the tang is rusted and the wooden handle is loose and cracked.

Only high-quality, top-class Japanese knives are perfectly sealed and the wood used is optimally waterproof. This prevents this effect.

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European tradition in knife craftsmanship. On the way to the perfect kitchen tool.

For a long time, European knives consisted of slotted blades and wooden handles. The handle was subject to the same effect. The tang rusted and the handle came loose.

To change this, the blade was forged over its entire length so that the steel was embedded in two handle scales. The grip shells were riveted on to ensure a permanent hold. The classic.

But here, too, the moisture crept under the handles when used in the kitchen.

In the last century, technical developments made it possible to forge large numbers of round steel rods in a die into a knife with a bolster. The bolster is the thickening that creates the transition at the end of the blade to the handle.

This solid and at the same time elegant piece of steel protects the handle and the handle material from damage against penetrating moisture.

In order to rule out the problem of moisture completely, plastic handles are often seamlessly molded on European kitchen knives today. In the toughest kitchen use, absolute durability is guaranteed with these chef’s knives.

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A lot has been said about the different knife traditions between West and East.

We will continue the blog about Asian kitchen knives, because it is very important to us to point out the bad imitations from the Far East. Where are their weak points and where to find the customer traps.