posted on Feb, 6 2005 @ 04:29 PM
Being involved in Renaissance history circles (well, including Renaissance and Medieval), I know several modern day swordsmiths. Two of them have
worked with Damascus.
In the glory days of the sword, swords were made stronger by folding the blades. This process was simple, though time consuming. The blade, as it
was forged, was hammered out to twice it's desired width, and folded over. This process was repeated until the desired number of folds were made.
The more layers in the steel, the stronger the blade was (much like modern plywood). The number of layers in the steel also increased exponentially
with each fold. Example: first fold = 2 layers; second fold = 4 layers; 3rd fold = 8 layers; 4th fold = 16 layers, etc.
Damascus used this method to strengthen an already strong steel. The reason for the pattern in the Damascus steel is because of the original state of
the steel - wound steel cable. In starting with a 6 strand cable, each strand made from 6 wires, you already had a sort of layered effect within the
steel. Also, the way that the cable flattened out, the primary strands already interlocked with each other, making the steel far stronger than
starting with a steel block, as most swords were made from. Add in the folding technique, and you had some of the strongest swords available at the
By today's standards, Damascus is really nothing more than a semi-hardened steel. The carbon steels in use today are far stronger, though they
don't offer the same attractive pattern that Damascus had.
To a sword afficionado, however, Damascus is still a wonderful thing, however, simply because of the time involved in creation, as well as the simple
beauty of the blade. Even today it is still very expensive, once again, because of the time required to forge it.
The most impressive modern Damascus blade I have seen was made by a friend of mine who goes by Shark in the circuit (unfortunately, it looks like his
website is now down, since his apprentice took over the main business). He is known for crafting high-quality, fully usable fantasy replica swords,
all hand forged with great care. The Damascus sword he made that sticks in my mind was an "Elven" blade, reminiscent of Lord of the Rings. It was
a classic leaf blade (narrow towards the handle, then widening out before coming to a point). The overall length of the blade was about 32", and
roughly 40" for the entire sword. The blade had been folded 200 times (it took him close to a year to forge it, and will never be for sale), and
held an edge like no other blade I've seen. It was so sharp that it would cut clean through a 1" thick piece of rope that had been thrown into the
air like it was nothing. This was also the blade he had used at one point to demonstrate the lack of quality of most swords out there today. He
placed a competitor's sword into a vice, and used this leaf blade to cut right through the blade of his competition in a single stroke. There
wasn't even so much as a nick left on his leaf blade.
It's the potential for feats such as this that would have had many Damascus blades labelled as "magical" in times of antiquity. In the age of the
sword, Damascus was an incredible technology. In today's world, it's little more than a curiosity of times past.