Damascus steel is produced on a mass scale by some of the best in the business
Forging damascus steel for knives and ancillary products on a broad scale makes the beautiful and highly popular knife material readily accessible to the marketplace, and drives the creativity of custom and factory knifemakers. The availability of the resulting damascus knives is reaching new levels while bringing on innovation at the same time.
At Nichols Damascus, owner Chad Nichols touts his willingness to put together “laminates of any kind we can think of.” Nichols Damascus is busy with titanium and copper alloys, carbon and stainless steels.
“We have a pattern called Boomerang, and any configuration we make it in sells very well,” Chad commented, adding that he believes the popularity of the material has increased dramatically due to the internet and social media.
He asserts that his forging operation charts its own course. “We’re just having a good time playing with hot stuff,” he smiled, “and we make a lot of core material. This is where we clad a homogeneous steel like Magna Cut with a damascus on the outside.”
WANTS & DESIRES MET
A family-owned business situated just north of Sweden’s capital of Stockholm, Damasteel has focused for years on making top-quality steel for custom knifemakers, among other lines of business. “Over the last couple of years we have released our Dragon family of damascus patterns, culminating with the release of Svavner, which we launched alongside the release of HBO’s House of the Dragon,” noted owner and iron master Per Jarbelius. “They used our steel to create the Valyrian swords for the Targaryen family. It was an amazing project to get to work on.”
Damasteel has also just released Drakkar, a patterned steel in sheet form. It’s a first for the company and Jarbelius says it has been well received, emphasizing its nesting options with the ability to go from bar to sheet. A product line called Damacore has been available in DC18N and DC21R steel for a few years now and signaled a major expansion in the company’s repertoire. “It’s becoming even more popular as the number of san-mai offerings grows on the market,” Per noted. “We’re hoping to eventually be able to offer every pattern we do in both the DC18N and DC21R.”
Philosophically, Jarbelius relates that Damasteel has always paid attention to the wants and desires of its market. “We make patterned and un-patterned stainless steel, and our priorities have always been performance and beauty,” he explained. “Our artistry is core to our identity, and we want to make patterns that connect with users on an emotional level. Research and development is a big part of what we do. But hearing from makers is equally important; we value the opportunity to get feedback from people using our steel.”
Damasteel further connects with its user community each year in hosting the Damasteel Chef Invitational, showcasing the talents of top-class culinary knifemakers. The evening event provides a glimpse inside the shops and workspaces of incredibly talented artisans. “It’s absolutely world class,” Per concluded. “It’s a great learning experience, too, for people who have never used our products. They can ask questions and connect with our team as well.”
Forging An Industry
Vegas Forge concentrates on the production of high-quality damascus steel in a variety of exotic patterns and alloy combinations. “In 2016, we opened our shop in Las Vegas and quickly discovered that many of our potential customers were extremely hesitant to use damascus steel again due to some bad experiences they had had in the past with other damascus steel companies or makers,” explained owner Jesse Harber.
According to Harber, customer service is a watchword at Vegas Forge. Returning customer calls, handling inquiries, responding to emails, and delivering orders in a timely manner complete the full circle from outstanding damascus to overall satisfaction.
“Once we had solved that, we turned our focus on creating new, interesting patterns, new billet shapes and different alloy combinations,” Jesse advised. “In the beginning, we had 10 damascus patterns that we offered customers, all flat billets which are what knifemakers primarily use. Today, we offer 26 flat-billet damascus patterns. We offer most of those patterns in stainless or carbon damascus as well as titanium damascus and mokume gane. In addition, we have eight round-bar damascus patterns that we sell to customers who make things out of round bar like custom rings, pens, razors and such. We also make blocks of damascus in six different patterns for manufacturers of guns, golf putters and other products.”
The most recent patterns to emerge from Vegas Forge include Virus, Lytic, Forged Koa and one that is so recent that it remains unnamed thus far. Virus depicts what most people would think a virus looks like under a microscope—sporadic circles and lines that are “beautifully chaotic.” Lytic has the look of lytic DNA cycles under the microscope.
“Both of these patterns were created during the pandemic, so that’s where the inspiration—if you want to call it that—came from!” Harber laughed. “Forged Koa looks like a rare piece of twisted koa wood. It has multiple depths and contrasts to make it look like koa. It’s made by stacking 600-plus pieces of steel into a can and then lightly twisting it. As you grind into it, the pattern opens up and exposes all 600 layers, which is pretty spectacular.”
A few years ago, Vegas Forge began producing a titanium damascus that Harber dubbed Damtanium. The combination includes damascus with layers of Grade 2 and Grade 5 titanium. Almost simultaneously, the company introduced Zirmascus, an alloy of zirconium and titanium layers.
“We’re always trying out new steels in our san-mai damascus,” Jesse added. “San-mai is like damascus, but at the center of the damascus billet is a solid core. We have used Elmax, Magna Cut, and Nitro-V, to name a few.”
All this experimentation and innovation is the product of an expanding horizon and an imagination that isn’t inhibited or afraid to step into some uncharted territory. Harber thinks the future is bright at Vegas Forge, and the new product array has brought ever-increasing interest to the doorstep.
“In the beginning, the knife world kept us alive,” he declared. “We were getting no love from other industries. Today, the knife world still accounts for half our business. There isn’t another industry that we love more. We’ve attended hundreds of knife shows over the years, and there is no doubt that knife people are our people. We sell to a lot of custom knifemakers as well as larger manufacturers. I love the custom world, and I don’t even know how many custom knives we own at this point.”
Incorporating Copper And Bronze
Coy Baker founded Baker Forge & Tool in 2019 with a focus on damascus and san-mai. That bedrock quickly elevated to include non-ferrous laminate steels. Baker Forge is now an industry leader in copper and bronze laminated steels with dedicated distribution centers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.
“Our current buying market is about 80 percent to the knifemaking industry, about a 50/50 split between retail custom makers and commercial knife companies,” Coy related. “We cut our teeth in the custom knifemaker market in the beginning and have slowly expanded into the commercial side. We aim to always be able to provide damascus steels to everyone from the hobby smith to the biggest knife companies.”
Among the most popular Baker Forge damascus patterns are the copper and bronze laminates. However, one-off custom runs generate real excitement. One trending steel group is Elite CopperMai, a damascus blend of copper, 1084 carbon steel, and pure nickel over a solid core of 80CrV2 carbon steel, creating either a ripple or chevron pattern.
“This layout is very appealing to customers due to the stark contrast between the layers and its ease of finishing,” Coy remarked. “We have been expanding into using new core steels in our laminates. Recently, we have used some Hitachi #2, which quickly became a crowd favorite for its edge-retention properties. Later this year we will be expanding into Apex Ultra steel and possibly some other stainless options.”
This quick look inside the damascus steel industry offers a glimpse of past, present, and future. The tried and true, the cutting edge, and what will be are coming together to keep pattern steels fresh and exciting among makers, users and then the wider buying market.
Read More On Knife Steel:
- 3 Knfie Steel Basics
- What Are The Best Blade Steels?
- Is Steel Type Really The Most Important Factor In A Knife?
- San-Mai: Knive Steel Trinity
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