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What Are The Differences Between Wootz and Damascus?

April 4, 2023339 ViewskniveSource

Still not many people have heard of Wootz

while so called Damascus steel has gained some popularity. The knives made of Damascus are supposed to be of high quality what, together with their long history, may seem prestigious to the potential buyers. However, contemporary knives advertised as Damascus steel knives, more often than not, have nothing to do with the original products meaning they are not as good as expected.

What is more, many sources confuse Damascus steel with Wootz.

It is good to know the difference between Damascus and Wootz steel. By no means are they the same what you can read in many Internet sources. What they do have in common is the place of origin: Damascus in the Middle East, from where their fame spread to the medieval Europe. Unfortunately also thanks to the city name, the terms Damascus steel and Wootz steel started to be used interchangeably. Today, not many know about the history of those terms and most of all could not distinguish between the two.

Wootz originated in India where it used to be manufactured between 1000 – 500 b.c. (different sources give different dates).

It made its way to the quickly developing city of Damascus (Syria, then Persia). Thanks to this trading center Wootz started to be called Damascus steel and Europe got to know about it thanks to expeditions of Alexander the Great. Wootz become famous because swords and sabers made of it were exceptionally sharp and resistant. There were fascinating yet scary legends about candles sliced in half or helmets cut in two just with one slash.

Sadly, technology how to manufacture Wootz has never reached Europe. Around 500-700 years ago it fall into oblivion and Wootz as such disappeared. The city of Damascus stopped selling Wootz in favour of white weapon made of pattern welding steel. Although it was a completely different material it was referred to us Damascus steel, and – to this day – layered, pattern welding steel is known as Damascus steel.

Every now and then people tried to recreate Wootz steel but it was not until the beginning of the 19th century when Russian metallurgist Paul Petrovich Anosov successfully brought back to life steel very similary to legendary Persian and Hindu steel. Further successful attempts and publications are more recent (the 20th and 21st century), published mainly by experts like Verhoeven, Sherby or Wadsworth.

Nowadays, Russia is considered to be the cradle of research and production of Wootz. Contemporary Wootz is probably not exactly what is was back then in India or Persia yet the best smiths are able to swell exceptionally flexible and hard Wootz that can take much more then any heavy-duty steel. Unfortunately, due to hight costs and time consumption, not many smiths are eager to make Wootz steel. The best quality Wootz knives are then unique on a global scale.

Where does Damascus steel comes form?

Did you ever wonder, where Damascus steel is coming from? Damascus is well-known for its watery pattern. It may have appeared for the first time in Syria from 900 AD and one of its potential origins is that it is named after Damascus, the capital city of Syria.

There are two other possible sources for this term:

Originally Damascus steel was cast from wootz, a type of steel made in India. It was the first high quality steel produced in the world. Weapons made from wootz became famous in the 3rd and 4th century. Unfortunately, the methods of making wootz were lost in the 1700s, so the source material for Damascus steel was lost.

Nowadays, there are various techniques for making Damascus steel including pattern-welded Damascus. Apart from making any knife’s design unique, Damascus steel knives are known for their remarkable sharpness and durability.

Damascus steel is not a single type of steel but a combination of several materials which we call the pattern-welded practice. It is made by layering iron and steel and forging them together by hammering them at high temperature to form a welded bond. Forge welding many layers produces the watery pattern.

The question remains how to recognize Wootz and not to be deceived.

The price you need to pay is one of the indicators – good quality cannot be bought for cheap. Nevertheless, it is good to be able to visually recognize Wootz blades, especially to tell the difference between so called Damascus steel. The pattern on Wootz resembles a mixture of salt and pepper whereas the pattern on Damascus steel is more like contour lines on a map. But as we said before, the perfect process of forging leaves the best quality hard matrix Wootz patternless.

The pattern typical for Wootz is the effect of crystallization in the right temperature. It consists of two elements: relatively soft and elastic matrix responsible for flexibility and resistance of the blade and hard carbides giving the hardness and agressive cut. In Damascus steel the pattern comes from interchangeably pounding together soft and hard steel.

To sum up the differences between contemporary Damascus and Wootz steel, we point to the technique of making affecting both the look and quality of a final product. In fact Wootz could be described as crucible steel emerging in the process of melting and not forging.
Damascus steel as we know it now is the effect of forge welding multiple layers of different types of steel (soft and hard) resulting in a visible pattern which is more a decorative feature than functional quality.