The Fall of Damascus

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by jideta, May 8, 2020.

  1. jideta

    jideta Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 8, 2020
    When did it happen?
    Oh, like forty years ago when I was buying and selling blades Damascus separated the men from the boys so to speak. Only the awesome guys messed with it; just too hard to make and it was big bucks.
    Now I can get a Damascus knife for like $20!
    Seems like it has really fallen from grace, cheapening even the 'real' hand made Damascus.
    Can someone tell me the story?
    DanLoop likes this.
  2. not2sharp

    not2sharp Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 29, 1999
    It is still hard to do and the good stuff is still big bucks. 40 years ago Damascus blades were almost a lost art, and they were said to be imbued with almost magical metal properties. We we have since found out the the latter claim is untrue; and that modern homogeneous steels are far superior. Also, by now, the secret is out and just about anybody can take a crack at making Damascus and they have. The cheaper stuff is mostly junk steel imported from Pakistan.

    Still, making a good solid billet that is both attractive and worthy of knife use is challenging and that kind of stuff remains the purview of talented Master smiths.

  3. jideta

    jideta Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 8, 2020
    Not that there's anything wrong with that.
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  4. not2sharp

    not2sharp Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 29, 1999

    Here are some outstanding damascus blades by Johan Gustafsson

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  5. cbach8tw

    cbach8tw Gold Member Gold Member

    Jan 9, 2006
    I think some nice Damascus knives by Dan Graves here on the forum are works of art and still at great prices. And I have seen some nice pieces from GL Drew too.
  6. Mannlicher


    Nov 19, 2008
    I have a set of hand hammered folded steel Viking style cutters by Dr. Kevin Colwell. 22 inch langsax and a 10 inch sax. They are as good at working as they are to just look at.
  7. Ron Sabbagh

    Ron Sabbagh Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Sep 15, 1999
    I agree that the popularity of hand forged damascus has declined, but great damascus is still great damascus. Look at the work of makers like Owen Wood, Bruce Bump, Gustafsson, others. I think we still live in a knife world where tacticals predominate and the hand forged damascus steels are just not as popular as they once were.

    Manufacturers figured out how to make cheap damascus but that is exactly what it
    a quality hand forged damascus with a great pattern and geometry, good heat treat and sharp still no small feat and should be appreciated for what it is.

    There are also big differences among damascus. My damascus knives that are hand forged are much different than the stainless varieties that you find on a sebenza and others. The hand forged blades are almost 3 dimensional in appearance and texture...simply amazing. You need to go to a show to see & feel the differences.
    Last edited: May 8, 2020
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  8. Ben Dover

    Ben Dover Gold Member Gold Member

    Aug 2, 2006
    There are just too many other steels today that are far superior.

    Damascus was great in it's day, but it's day has passed.
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  9. jideta

    jideta Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 8, 2020
    I have no doubt that excellent Damascus is being done.
    I'm not a 'steelophile' and I look at Damascus from a purely aesthetic view.
    Search eBay and you get 27k hits for Damascus knives.
    So much Damascus that I don't even bother looking at them anymore. That's sad.

    I think the younger 'collectors' have no idea what Damascus used to symbolize.
    In the olden days, a Damascus blade was virtually unobtainium.
    Now that I have the means, I'm not even interested.
    I take that back: I'll probably get a Damascus blade from someone, but not because it's Damascus.
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  10. Larrin

    Larrin Gold Member Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Gold Member

    Jan 17, 2004
    I don’t think the popularity of hand forged Damascus has declined. But cheaper Damascus is more common. The relatively inexpensive Japanese factory Damascus has also built in popularity over time.
  11. not2sharp

    not2sharp Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 29, 1999
    Johan is now also making watches. Here is yet another example of great damascus work.


    It's a beautiful way to do metal. But it is overkill for box cutters, camp choppers and zombie slayers.
  12. Ron Sabbagh

    Ron Sabbagh Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Sep 15, 1999
    valid points. It takes a bit of knowledge to help you search through the myriad of damascus offerings nowadays. And you are right...the young'uns grew up with supersteel, so damascus may be now represent something that "the boomers used to use" but I assure you that dog can still hunt.

    A similar comparison can be found in the world of firearms. Back in the day, a Smith and Wesson Detective special was the cat's ass of EDC carry. Nowadays it's your favorite "black plastic" pocket rocket, be it Glock or Sig. But I still carry my Smith & Wesson. It's designed NOT to fail and it hasn't in 30 years. It also has an aesthetic that the "superior" Glocks and others cannot match. Oh well, that's my personal preference. I'm glad we have options.

    Here is a Bruce Bump fighter I own that can cut with the best of them. I'll take the rope challenge with any modern steel. But it sure is a lot prettier to look at than a Busse or Cold Steel.

    93B5D6B3-18BB-436A-BAE2-A09B9B81F5C5.jpeg A665EA02-CA7D-412B-B1F7-69EF560AF04C.jpeg A4D07BF2-1778-4618-8C60-792BCF67B9A4.jpeg
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  13. afishhunter

    afishhunter Basic Member Basic Member

    Oct 21, 2014
    I'm not sure why Damascus is not as popular today in cutlery as it was in the 1800's and before to say the 1960's or 1970's.
    Styles and tastes change?

    No doubt there will be a Damascus "revival" sometime in the future, or we are already in one.
    I really don't recall any production Damascus knife from the mid 1970's to at least the late 1990's or very early 2000's.
    Today you have Case (at least occasionally), Boker, and Lion Steel to name just three - there are others, making production knives with Damascus blades. (and they are not using the mystery steels Damascus made in the Pakistan and India regions .)
  14. eveled

    eveled Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 11, 2016
    I never understood Damascus on a user. It had its place in history but regular steel out performs it now.

    It is a art, and it is beautiful. I think of it like fancy engraving. Nice to look at but not needed on a working knife.
  15. JParanee

    JParanee Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 23, 2006
    There is no fall of Damascus and it performs just fine

    cheap Pakistani Damascus is what it is but quality damascus is still a wonderful art form and performing steel

    here is some incredible work by MS Jason Knight that exemplifies what is out there if you have the funds to cover it



    Some of Bagwell’s


  16. MarkN86


    Sep 3, 2012
    To me it's always been about looks rather than function, this is supported by the fact that carbon and semi stainless steels are paired to accentuate the pattern. It may have been better in the days when they had difficulty getting good iron, removing the impurities, and controlling the carbon content. The fact is, we have created powdered steels with elements they didn't even know existed back then.

    I read somewhere that there's a chance that in a quench that different steels can contract at different rates and cause the layers to separate. Not sure if that's true but it sounds like something that could happen.
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  17. Ben Dover

    Ben Dover Gold Member Gold Member

    Aug 2, 2006
    In the final analysis, it comes down to whether you're buying the blade to use, or to look at.

    Kinda like a wood stock on a rifle. Pretty, but grossly inferior for a user.
  18. MarkN86


    Sep 3, 2012
    I wouldn't say it's grossly inferior, but I know where you're coming from. Both examples are problem prone and more difficult to make correctly. There are Damascus blades and wooden rifle stocks that work and last as well or better just because the extra care and attention that has to be put into it in order to do it the right way, that's where the extra cost comes in. It strongly depends on who makes it and if they care enough to put the effort forth. I have a Skyline in Damascus and while I haven't put it to extensive testing, edge retention is at least as good as 14C28N.

    No-name cutlery companies selling cheap imported knives for $20 generally don't care enough to make sure their blades are going to hold up, some of them may just be a false pattern etch and not real Damascus. A company like Alabama Damascus that Kershaw uses on their knives is real Damascus and it does seem to work fine. I guess technically if one wanted to say it was "Forged Damascus" they wouldn't be lying either way, depending on which verb you use.

    Hand made Damascus is labor intensive and is not cheap. It looks so good though, if you have the cash to burn and really want it I'd say it's worth it.
  19. Arathol


    Jan 1, 2003
    Wood is hardly inferior, designs are inferior.....and some are better than the good they were banned because the international 10m rules committee claimed they gave the shooter an unfair advantage...


    Like everything else, if the design sucks, it doesn't matter if its pretty. It just won't work....A good design that actually works is better than a pretty design that doesn't. If its a good design that is pretty, so much the better...
  20. jideta

    jideta Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 8, 2020
    I think part of the problem is determining which is 'real' and which is the cheap stuff.
    At this point, going by price doesn't always mean anything as I think some makers are lowering their prices to 'match' the influx of imported Damascus billet. There seems to be some middle ground where I cannot decide which is which.
    Example: I was just looking at a cable Damascus fixed blade for less than $200!
    Of course high end is high end, but what's to stop some unscrupulous person from marking up their inferior products to make it seem like it's higher quality?
    It doesn't really affect me for I like unusual blades but to the layman or younger person who doesn't know it poses a problem. Or maybe the problem is all in my head!
    I mean if you like it, don't worry about it, right?
    Then again, purchasing inferior Damascus thinking its high quality would tend to give Damascus a bad reputation.

    After thinking a bit, I take back what I said about Damascus being only an aesthetic thing.
    Damascus meant that a blade was hand forged and not just created by stock removal. This from back in the day when forged was thought to be better (I still think it is!). It also usually meant that the blade was a custom.
    Now, not so much.

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