What is Damascus steel?
Damascus steel was a type of steel used in Middle Eastern swordmaking. Damascus steel was made from Wootz steel, a steel developed in India around 300 BC.
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,
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 in which the original Damascus steel was
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, but no evidence exists to support such claims. A research team in Germany published a report in 2006 revealing nanowires and carbon nanotubes in a blade forged from Damascus steel. This finding was covered by National Geographic and the New York Times.
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 carburising 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, and 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
The origin of the term Damascus steel is somewhat uncertain; 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).