Damascus Sword steel was a type of steel used for manufacturing sword blades in the Near East made with wootz steel that was imported from Southern India. Damascus 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.
The steel is named after Damascus, the capital city of 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. Damascus steel is made with a wavy surface pattern produced by hammer-welding strips of steel and iron followed by repeated heating and forging. This was one of the strongest blades and used chiefly for knife and sword blades. Such items were often marketed, but not necessarily made, in Damascus during the medieval period.
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The original method of producing Damascus steel is not known. Modern attempts to duplicate the metal have not been entirely successful due to differences in raw materials and manufacturing techniques. Several individuals in modern times have claimed that they have rediscovered the methods by which the original Damascus Sword steel was produced.
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. A research team in Germany published a report in 2006 revealing nanowires and carbon nanotubes in a blade forged from Damascus steel. Although certain types of modern steel outperform these swords, chemical reactions in the production process made the blades extraordinary for their time, as Damascus steel was superplastic and very hard at the same time. During the smelting process to obtain Wootz steel ingots, woody biomass and leaves are known to have been used as carburizing additives along with certain specific types of iron rich in microalloying elements. These ingots would then be further forged and worked into Damascus steel blades. Research now shows that carbon nanotubes can be derived from plant fibers, 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.
Some sword and knife manufacturers simply etch the blade to produce a light and dark pattern but that isn't really Damascus steel, because the pattern can be worn away. What is known as modern "authentic" Damascus is created through a process known as pattern-welded Damascus. A sword smith begins the process by choosing at least two different types of metal that harden and temper similarly. He then layers the various types of metal into one stack; this is called a billet. The billet is then placed into a hot forge and this causes the metal to become malleable. The sword smith then places the billet under the hammer which assists in the lengthening process of the metal. The steel is folded and this process is repeated several times. The various layers that Damascus steel is famous for is created through this folding process. The pattern of the blade will depend on how the sword smith works the billet. Arguably, the most important part of creating Damascus steel is the heat treatment. In order to create a durable blade that will meets performance standards.