How to care for Damascus Steel
The term “Damascus steel” can refer to two different types of ferrous (containing iron) materials characterized by the watery pattern produced from the controlled mixture and physical manipulation of the iron and steel. Western Europeans were first introduced to this material around the 3rd-4th centuries from the historical trading center of Damascus, in present-day Syria.
While there are examples of this material being produced in Damascus itself, its technical and physical origins are from India and the Middle East. Damascus steel is not to be confused with damascene, which is a process of inlaying gold leaf onto the surface of steel for the purpose of decoration. Cast Damascus steel, known as wootz, was popular in the East.
Today, metal workers still make swords from Damascus steel, and jewellery designers fashion it into rings or bracelets. Regardless of what the item is, the process of caring for Damascus steel is relatively simple. Routine maintenance—including polishing—will ensure the long life of your Damascus steel item. Before polishing the steel, thoroughly clean the item to remove any dust or debris.
So how do you care for your Damascus steel blades? Can the Damascus be hand polished to remove light scratching? And would the definition of the pattern be lost? Here’s how you do it…
Things you’ll need:
- Polishing cloth
- Oil for blades
- Sharpening stone
- Soft towel
How to do it
- Polish Damascus steel regularly with a polishing cloth. If the Damascus steel is in the form of a ring, do this done once a week. If the Damascus steel is on a decorative blade, you should polish it once every three months or more often if you use it often.
- Sharpen blades if they become dull. Use a good sharpening stone and oil for the best results, and polish the blade after sharpening with a soft towel. Do not use a polishing cloth to polish the blade when oil is on it.
- Wipe off all Damascus steel blades promptly after using them. This is important to keep the blade from getting rusty.
- Oil a Damascus steel blade once a year for decorative swords and knives. You do not need to sharpen it beforehand, but doing so will give the blade a rich luster.
- Polish Damascus steel rings with a bit of whitening toothpaste and a scouring pad, such as a Scotch Pad, for a matte finish, or just use the scouring pad for a semi-polished finish.
- Dry Damascus steel promptly after it gets wet. Do not leave excess water on the steel because, just like with any other metal, excessive water or moisture exposure can lead to rust.
How to Polish Damascus Steel
Things you’ll need:
- Warm water
- Mild dishwashing liquid
- Leather gloves
Cleaning the Damascus Steel
- Combine warm water and a few drops of mild dishwashing liquid in a container.
- For safety purposes, equip yourself with a pair of leather gloves if cleaning a sword or knife. The leather gloves will prevent you from accidentally cutting your hands during the cleaning process.
- Saturate the corner of a sponge with the water and dishwashing liquid mixture.
- Scrub the steel with the sponge from top to bottom on both sides.
- Wet a clean sponge with warm water. Rinse the steel with the sponge to wipe away the water/dishwashing liquid.
- Dry the steel with a soft towel. Do not let the steel air dry. Doing so may lead to rust.
Polishing the Damascus Steel
- Wipe the Damascus steel from top to bottom with a polishing cloth. For blades, polish once every few months.
- Use a small amount of whitening toothpaste and a scouring pad to polish Damascus steel rings.
- Polish the blade with soft cloth after you sharpen Damascus steel swords and knife.
How to Sharpen Damascus Steel Blades
As a general tip for sharpening Damascus Steel blades you might want to pull the blade across the sharpening rod slowly. Speed does not help sharpen a Damascus knife, and it increases the risk of injury if your hand slips with the knife held in it.
Things you’ll need:
- Straight ceramic sharpening rod
- Triangle cross-section ceramic sharpening rod
Sharpening smooth blades
- Hold the ceramic sharpening rod in your left hand.
- Place the part of the blade nearest the handle on the rod at a 20-degree angle. This called the “heel” of the blade.
- Pull the blade slowly from heel to tip across the sharpening rod. Use light pressure so you do not remove any of the metal from the blade.
- Turn the knife over and pull the blade against the rod again to sharpen the other side. Next, repeat the process once more on each side.
Sharpening serrated blades
- Hold the knife blade vertically and draw it from heel to tip down a triangle cross-section set of ceramic rods.
- Alternate sides of the knife as you work to sharpen the serrated edge. You do not need to sharpen each individual serration.
- Repeat two to three times on each side of the blade.