The Cutting Edge

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How to Tell If You Have a Real Damascus Steel Blade

The knife world is plagued with fakes and frauds.

People on eBay are trying to pass off $400 Sebenzas as real and sellers on Amazon are unknowingly selling fake CRKT and SOGs to unsuspecting customers.

Because of all the tricksterism plaguing the knife community, I often get asked whether a knife is real or fake. While I recently wrote a guide on how to spot a counterfeit knife, it didn’t address another popular question — is my Damascus knife a fake?

Damascus knives are becoming more popular and more prevalent from the most popular knife brands like Spyderco (with the Endura and others) to lesser known brands like BucknBear.

What makes people even more confused about the legitimacy of Damascus steel is the vast price differences. Could a $50 knife with Damascus steel be real when you see other Damascus blades topping the $500 mark?

Let’s dig deeper.

What is Damascus?

Before determining whether your Damascus is fake or real, we should first define what Damascus actually is.

Damascus is that wavy pattern in steel that looks exotic and downright gorgeous.

I’m simplifying this a ton, but there are two ways to get “real” Damascus steel: Wootz and pattern-welded steel.

Wootz steel

The first real Damascus steel was introduced around the third century and was known by Wootz (and other names). It was a crucible steel that was made by melting pieces of iron and steel in clay pots.

Here is an excellent layman’s explanation from The Association For Renaissance Martial Arts:

It’s produced by melting pieces of iron and steel with charcoal in a reducing atmosphere (lacking oxygen). During the process, the metals absorb carbon from the charcoal and the resulting alloy is cooled at a very slow rate. This produces a material with a visible crystalline structure of varying carbide contents. Forging the material into a desired shape (such as a sword blade) alters the crystalline structure into the familiar waving or watered pattern that Damascus steel is known for. This technique is extremely work intensive and requires a high degree of skill to keep the necessary temperatures constant throughout the process.

This type of steel originated in India and was passed down by blacksmiths throughout the East. The steel was eventually introduced to Damascus, Syria. There are many theories why it is called Damascus, but we won’t go into it here.

The true way to make Damascus this way was lost somewhere in the 17th century as those handed down the knowledge died out. People in modern times have mimicked the process and likely have come close to recreating the original Damascus.

However, the soil composition and chemical properties of the steel used in the specific region make truly recreating that original Damascus likely impossible.

Pattern-welded steel

This is what people these days call Damascus. It represents 99.9 percent of all the Damascus steel you see.

This process involves forging two or more types of steel that complement one another and folding the steels together. Then, some acid etching is done to amplify the differences in the steel. This creates a wavy pattern that closely resembles the Damascus of old.

Pattern-welded steel fell out of fashion for centuries before being brought back to modern times singlehandedly by the ingenious Bill Moran in the 1970s.

Here is an image of the Moran Fighter from The William F. Moran Jr Museum

You will also sometimes see knives that say VG-10 Damascus. In this process, there is a VG-10 core with Damascus steel on either side. The steel is laminated in the mold of San Mai, in which three layers of steel are sandwiched together.

If you can’t wrap your head around what I’m talking about, watch this video from Walter Sorrells about the two types of “real” Damascus steel.

So, Is My Damascus Blade Real?

Some people still insist that any Damascus steel made through the pattern-welded method and etching is not real Damascus. Those people are simply wrong.

If you have a Damascus blade that was made with pattern-welded steel and some acid etching, then you do indeed have a real Damascus blade. Considering pretty much every single knife on the market that says it’s Damascus is pattern-welded steel, it’s not a big deal.

Damascus Knife - Chef Knife

However, in some rare cases, people will try to pass off regular stainless steel with no layering as Damascus by printing a design on the blade. These are pretty easy to spot because they either don’t look like Damascus or the pattern could just rub off.

Real Damascus is intrinsic to the steel itself but fake Damascus is only a facade.

For a quick look at a fake Damascus knife, take a look at this knife presented by the great Nick Shabazz and listen to how he determined its inauthenticity (starting at 10:01 and ending at 11:40) :

You can surprisingly add etching that looks similar to Damascus to any old stainless steel knife with some nail polish and ferric chloride. Just watch this video:

But many people still have concerns about the authenticity of their Damascus, so I’ll answer some common questions people have about the steel.

Why Isn’t the Damascus Visible Everywhere on the Blade?

A few years ago, I wrote a review of a BucknBear Damascus Hunting Knife. The comments are filled with people claiming that the knife I reviewed is a fake because you can’t see the pattern all over the blade.

Here’s one comment:

The Damascus pattern only exists on the main sides of the knife. No pattern shows on the edges or the back of tang, i.e., the area between two sides of the handle.

True Damascus steel should be like those cakes that have colorful layers. No matter where you cut the cake, the surfaces show the pattern.

There is a reason the pattern is not clearly visible on certain parts of a blade. Either the pattern was polished out after etching or it simply wasn’t acid etched. This video from BowieMaker shows how a Damascus blade does not look different than any other knife… until you dip it in acid for even a few seconds.

But the truth is, you can see the pattern in the steel, just very lightly. If there is a part of the blade that is not etched, you should still be able to see the pattern, albeit lightly, in different light.

I can see the pattern on the spine and file work of the BucknBear I have. It’s just not very visible.

What is that Residue Coming Off the Blade?

If you clean your Damascus blade you may notice some black residue coming off the blade. You may be thinking to yourself that this must be the print coming off. That’s probably not the case.

That is likely residue from the acid etching. That does not mean you have a fake.

Why is There a Huge Price Difference for Damascus?

Oh, you got a Damascus steel folder for only $40? It must be a fake.

Again, that’s not true.

Just like any other knife, Damascus varies in quality. Damascus handmade by custom knife makers with a care and attention to detail will cost much more than knives made in Pakistan.

For example, BucknBear has become known for making some great Damascus steel knives at relatively cheap prices. I reached out to them to confirm that their Damascus is 100 percent real and that their knives come from Pakistan.

Pakistan is a region known for making inexpensive Damascus blades. Even though the art of Damascus steel originated from that region, you can get some pretty poor quality knives if you don’t choose right. And just as with anything at cheaper prices, mileage may vary.

However, a low cost does not necessarily mean a fake. Don’t buy off eBay, but if you do, don’t be surprised to see a Damascus fixed blade on there from Pakistan for a few bucks. Beware of quality control issues and worse.

Of course, discerning the quality from junk is hard, especially when places don’t tell the steel used to make the Damascus.

Why Do Patterns Look So Different (or the Same)?

There are many types of patterns you can achieve during the process of making pattern-welded steel. Many of these have different names and looks — sharktooth, basketweave, typhoon, dot matrix, and more more. (Here’s a good look at some of the different patterns.)

You can achieve these specific patterns by folding the steel and manipulating it in very specific ways.

Probably the most popular pattern is the “random” pattern, which is why the Damascus may look different from one knife to the other. Either way, most Damascus has its own personality and look.

How Do I Really Tell If I Have a Fake?

If you’re really adamant on knowing whether your Damascus is real or fake, the only real way to tell is to completely polish the pattern out of the blade. You can use sandpaper to get that satin look. Once it’s nice and polished, etch it with ferric chloride or muriatic acid.

(I recommend reading actual knife makers for better advice and step-by-step instructions.)

If the Damascus pattern comes back, it’s real. If not, you have a fake on your hands.

Because Damascus can be done the real way pretty cheaply, finding a fake Damascus is rarer than you might think. Still, it’s always good to be informed and aware of what to look for.

30 Comments

  1. Marty Robinson

    July 3, 2018 at 6:57 am

    I beg to differ, IMHO, what we have here is Pattern Welded Steel, which is good but those who think that they have the original Damascus Steel, they are simply wrong. They are wrong for the reasons that you mentioned, the technique for making it was LOST (Or they did not have the same impurities in the material that they had before.). You said it yourself.
    However, the main difference between what we have now and what they had then is that the real, Original, Damascus Steel has Nanotubes and nano filaments in it, which were responsible for the steels incredible strength. I continue to stress this point, because, while I’m sure that all appreciated the look of the steel, it was the strength in battle that made the difference. If you are honest you will also chose the strength over the look, any day, and especially if your life depended on it.

    • Most woots swords were not that hard actually if you look at ones in museums and study metallurgy. Many steels are superior. Also people saying that a Japanese katana is damascus are completely wrong. That is called a hada with hi and low carbon. Damascus as we know is one steel containing a certin % nickel to resist acid and one not having any nickel and when dipped in acid the pattern appears

  2. where do you recommend buying online ?

  3. Niklas Andersson

    February 3, 2019 at 3:48 am

    Wootz is not real Damascus. It just a modern day attempt to make it. The original way that actually produced the insanely strong blades were lost, and it ONLY works with ore from one specific mine in Pakistan, due to having the correct components in it.

    • Tim

      February 4, 2019 at 9:07 am

      I agree to a certain extent and covered all of what you said in the post. However, these days, real Damascus is essentially pattern-welded steel now.

    • Actually a couple of Syrian brothers and some dude in Florida are the only three left.

    • Historians have since found this to be false. They now believe that the steel was not found in a min in Pakistan or anywhere in India thought they did produce some. Wootz was only produced in modern Day Syria in a mine about 80 miles south of Damascus. Sal Hadin or Saladin as he was known in the west had a castle built on top of this mine and produced the WOOTZ steel. Wootz is different because it gets fully melted down unlike other types and is air cooled and then reheated during the hammering process. The reason for the belief it was made in India first was because that is where western people first encountered it. Al Pendary is the only one who was able to consistently make blades that under a microscope where similar to those that are now in museums. Wootz is also unique in that it was a very small amount of veridum in it, and the way the carbites are layered. There is a great video on “Damascus Steel” called “The Secrets of Wootz Damascus Steel.”

  4. I bought three “Japanese Damascus “ paring knives Made in China from a seller on eBay. It is clear to me that they are imitation Damascus using a cheap etching.
    eBay seller says they are real despite the etching washing of very easily. Any advice to prove they are fake. Thanks

    • Tim

      February 27, 2019 at 9:29 am

      If the etching washes off pretty easily, then that means you should be able to re-etch it as well. You can etch them yourself with ferric chloride or muriatic acid to see if the pattern reemerges.

  5. What if the sharpened edge doesn’t show a pattern? Is that a sign of a fake?

    • Tim

      March 25, 2019 at 2:40 pm

      Not necessarily. Because the edge is sharpened, the acid-etching fades to become nearly invisible. If you re-etch it, it should be visible. It’s also possible that the blade is San Mai, which is laminated.

  6. No mention of labor cost overseas. The same knife blade can be made overseas for a fraction of what it costs to make it in the US because of labor costs.

    Companies, good knife companies even, figured this out years ago.

  7. I want to know what blade steel is used.
    If not stated I consider the blade is inferior.
    Geo.

  8. Hillary lost, get over it

    August 21, 2019 at 5:10 am

    I’m looking for a specific type blade, to do circumcisions. It must be very sharp and able to retain an edge. Suggestions?

  9. The Woots is not a Damascus at all! Completely, dramatically different technology!

    Also, Wootz secret was lost, Damascus secret WAS NEVER LOST! Damascus is a simple a composite of different steels by “forged” welding, as minimum two different metals: high carbon and low carbon. All Japanese swords are the type of Damascus, etc…
    Wootz is just an alloy, not welded or forged layers…

  10. Above all mentioned you still did not tell how to check if it is real Damascus steel. Ones in Uzbekistan I saw Damascus blade and I was surprised by it’s superb qualities. Only after that blade I understood that Damascus secret is LOST. People confused about look vs quality of the metal.
    You can ” simply a composite of different steels by “forged” welding, as minimum two different metals: high carbon and low carbon”, but it will never be a Damascus.

    • First of all it’s steel not metal you should learn the difference. Also he did explain how to tell if it’s “real” damascus and that is to polish the blade down until the pattern is no longer visible, then you would have to re-etch the blade in acid to get your “damascus” pattern back. If pattern does not reappear after etching then blade is not “damascus”.

  11. I have a hooey knife and just curious if anyone was familiar with that brand and weather they are actually Damascus blades

  12. Hiello. I just purchased 2 Brett Martin Damascus knives (supposedly). I came across a blog where the conversations were stating this man’s knives are fakes, probably from Pakistan, and that he has no FB page, which he does not. I’ve seen very few websites selling his product, but no commentary on the quality or anything of the the maker. One was advertised on Amazon, when I clicked visit, the product popped up but then instantly disappeared. I then did Amazon’s search, but absolutely nothing came from this Brett Martin. There is one on Pinterest, but not wanting an account with them, it does not provide a price . Worthpoint is another site, where their items are absolutely authentic. As a matter of fact, if something’s posted on Worthpoint, you can be sure ithe item has somewhat higher to high value. I cannot afford the $400 a year subscription fee in order to find out their selling price just for an occasional inquiry. The cover even has his name engraved in the leather, (which has a very strong chemical-like odor, not the smell of leather I know. My gut tells me this Brett Martin is a fake, and I definitely have no way to do the described testing. Ivan anyone please tell me if they’ve heard of this maker, or that it’s only presented with his name and is truly a fake. Thank you in advance.

  13. Robert Zeurunkl

    October 31, 2020 at 5:06 pm

    Even though Damascus steel is available on eBay for $30, I decided to try my luck buying directly from the knife maker in Pakistan. Paid $60 for a skinner knife, and when I got it, I was pretty impressed by the quality. The eBay stuff, you never know what you are going to get. But just as all arists vary in talent, if you find a talented knife maker in Pakistan, you can get some very nice work relatively cheap.

    One thing that was different about this man’s blades and the stuff on eBay, the eBay stuff all appears to have very wide bands, indicating not many “folds”, whereas this guy’s blade looks much more like higher quality Damascus that has very, very thin bands, with not a *lot* of contrast in darkness. The steel is uniformly colored and the difference between the bands is subtle. The cheap eBay stuff looks almost like zebra stripe.

  14. The author smugly states that those who hold that pattern-welded steel are “simply wrong,” he himself is deeply misguided. When an error is repeated often enough, it becomes accepted as truth. Another example of this is when people day “decimate” when they mean devastate. Decimate means to reduce by one tenth. This was what was done to a Roman legion that performed badly in battle. They killed every 10th man to motivate the others. This is the case here. The structure of the two steels at the microscopic level are completely different. In the video, Walter Sorrells repeats and compounds these erros. He says that English gun & knife makers referred to pattern-welded steel as Damascus, as if an error becomes more truthful because it was made 160 years ago. There are many references (as far back at the early 19th century) where the authors clearly state that what was being passed off as Damascus (pattern welded steel) was not true Damascus (Wootz/crucible) steel. The original makers of Wootz steel in the Middle East & Asia did not call it “Damascus.” That term was applied later by Europeans. The term was later bastardized to pattern-welded steel that approximated the cosmetic appearance of Wootz steel, but was structurally and functionally very different. I do not dispute that pattern-welded steel can be very aesthetically appealing, and time-consuming to produce, but it does NOT have the same characteristics at true Wootz/crucible steel.

    • Can you stop riding your hobby horse about the “real meaning” of decimate? Because it meant to kill 1/10 in Caesar’s day has no bearing on its meaning today. Is December the 10th month of the year? “Decem” = 10 in Latin. Word meanings shift over time. Get over it.

      “Deer” in English used to mean “animal,” i.e., any wild animal. Now it is applied only to “slender-legged, even-toed, ruminant mammals (family Cervidae, the deer family) having usually brownish fur and deciduous antlers borne by the males of nearly all and by the females only of the caribou.” Are you going to insist that you can apply “deer” to a badger or skunk or mouse and be understood? You could profitably spend time with a dictionary, reading not only the definitions but the etymologies. M-w.com would be a good place to start.

  15. Thank you for this very helpful article. I recently purchaed a knife from a brand called ROM knife, anyone knows about this company? Are their knives any good?

  16. I’m curious of the knife brand at the top of this blog the reverse b katana b, asking for a friend, is their damascus legit?

  17. James Staples

    July 30, 2021 at 4:08 pm

    I purchased my Damascus steel knife from Stauer. Is it real or fake?

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