Are Damascus steel kitchen knives worth it

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Many manufacturers currently offer kitchen knives with Damascus steel blades at a premium.

Besides looking cool do such knifes have any better characteristics compared to simply good forged stainless steel kitchen knives?

Best Answer

At the time of my engineering degree (mid-1990s), the knowledge for true Damascus steel was lost, much like the knowledge of the recipes for the concrete used in the Roman Colosseum.

It's possible that more materials analysis has been performed since that point, as there have been a number of groups who would like to reproduce the process to determine how it compares to modern steel. (museums aren't willing to subject the known pieces to destructive testing).

With modern steel, they intentionally introduce small proportions of other metals to interrupt the crystals that form as the metal is cooled; this helps to improve the strength of the steel as there isn't a single sheer plane that could allow fractures through the whole item. They're also better able to control the cooling process, so that they can control what crystal structure forms in the steel as it's annealed and quenched.

My understanding of true Damascus steel is that it's likely two different crystaline structures, one more ductile (so it can compress to absorb more energy without failing) and the other more brittle (which can hold a sharper edge). The two work together similar to today's composite materials.

Most of the stuff sold on the market today is laminated from two or more metals. In many ways, it's more similar to the folding process of high-quality Japanese blades, but with dissimilar metals. As the sheets are mostly parallel to each other, I would suspect that the strength improvement isn't as high as the more erratic patterns in true Damascus, but this is likely countered by using metals that are independently stronger.

So, to answer the specific questions:

  • Do they have some better characteristics? Probably.
  • Are they worth the additional cost? Not likely for the type of forces they'd be subjected to in a kitchen.

Most people are better off getting some decent but cheap knives and replacing them more often. Victorinox Fibrox regularly wins America's Test Kitchen's ratings of knives.