The history of Damascus steel
Damascus steel has a long history...originally it was used for swords and armor during medieval times...the origin of Damascus steel was the middle east, specifically the Islamic blacksmiths. It is unclear if the word Damascus is derived from the city in Syria or if it comes from the word “damas” which means "watered" in Arabic. Both are possible...this type of carbon steel was forged in Damascus but the early patterns on the steel surface were also compared to a "watered" pattern and are sometimes referred to as watered steel.
Regardless this early steel was renowned for its hardness and ability to hold an edge, both critical elements in a quality sword. These swords were legendary and remarkable for the time...these were the times of the Crusades when legends were made. Stories are told about how the English broadswords were no match against the smaller, harder scimitar swords of Saladin's Islamic army. Europeans tried to replicate the process in medieval times to no avail...some believe these attempts are the earliest forms of material science.
Saladin and his Damascus scimitar
It is debated that nanotubes were present in the original steel, possibly due to using plant fibers during the forging. The patterns that developed ranged from ladder patterns to rose patterns. Regardless Damascus Syria was a booming town for weapons manufacturing for about 600 years up until the 17th century. The steel used to make Damascus was imported from India, wootz steel, it was a very good grade of steel for its time. What made this material so strong was the way the makers were able to control the carbon content of the steel which increased its strength and gave it the ability to hold an edge like no other sword of its time.
Close up view of a 13th century scimitar showing Damascus steel
Unfortunately, the true secret to Damascus steel was lost to time in the early 1900's. It is unclear why but 2 theories suggest it was the loss of supply of the wootz steel, others believe the technique for forging the steel was lost as it was a tightly held trade secret for specialized blacksmiths. Unlike Mokume which techniques were saved and passed down. Some have tried to replicate this technique and come close but the secret is gone…
19th Century photo of Damascus sword makers
Modern Day Damascus Steel
Today the term Damascus steel is often used when referencing a “water pattern” steel but it is technically wrong although commonly understood and accepted. A more accurate description of this type of steel is “pattern welding”. The pattern welding process has also been used for centuries by Europeans, Vikings, and most famously by the Japanese Samurai and the forging of their katana.
Late 15th century Japanese samurai sword
In this process, individual blanks of different steel types are welded together in alternating layers. The material is heated, compressed and hammered to fuse the layers, the material can be folded and the pattern can be manipulated by twisting and applying pinpoint pressure to break up the layers.
Although modern steel manufacturing has vastly exceeded Damascus steel characteristics and capabilities, the material remains a true mystical legend...
Stainless Steel Damascus
Carbon Shaving Co. was the first razor manufacturer to use Stainless Steel Damascus in our single edge safety razors. For our stainless Damascus steel, we use 304 stainless steel and 316 stainless steel. However numerous grades and combinations of steel can be used, in Damascus knives, Damascus steel straight razors, or cutthroat razors, layers of carbon steel are used. The reason carbon steel is used is because it is harder and will hold a sharper edge for longer than stainless steel(or titanium). Greater maintenance and care is required to keep the blade dry as carbon steel will rust much quicker….
Making Damascus Steel Safety Razors
We have our Damascus steel custom forged by USA blacksmiths, skilled at the art of making our modern version of Damascus steel. We use this higher quality steel because it allows us to produce a higher quality end product that is free of inclusions and impurities. We then cut the forged metal into individual blanks for machining. The material is generally harder than 304 or 316 as the forging process has a tendency to harden the material, we run the CNC machine slowly and use special coolant, it has a tendency to break tools as it machines through the multiple layers. Quality Damascus steel will not de-laminate at any point...a true test of quality Damascus steel.
Carbon Shaving stainless steel Damascus blank
After machining, we begin our finishing process. Each piece is hand-sanded to remove machine lines. The next step is we acid etch each piece individually to reveal the pattern of the metal. The acid attacks the less resistant metal first (304 in our case), this creates the valleys on the surface, the 316 material becomes the peaks as it is much more resistant to the corrosive acid. Not all the pieces can be used to make our Cx safety razor, we only use the best patterns by test etching each piece prior to a full etch. After etching the material is then further sanded and polished. As this material is stainless steel it will not hold a patina and takes a lot of time before any rust(iron patina) will appear, unlike carbon Damascus steel.
The weight of our stainless Damascus shavers are similar to our Stainless Steel Razor. The Cx-316L stainless steel double edge/single edge safety razor and our Damascus Cx models shave similarly. The etch adds a unique feel to the skin but remains smooth, the blade is still held tightly with our pinch design.
For care, a periodic scrub with dish soap and a soft tooth brush will keep it clean. We also recommend a gentle boil in water to keep your Cx sanitized and clean, I usually follow up with a dip in alcohol. Taking it to a jeweler who can sonic clean and steam clean your Cx is also handy but not needed….
At Carbon Shaving Co we intend to try to keep the tradition of custom forged single edge shavers alive with our Cx safety razors. Expect to see more of this material in the future...feel free to contact us if you are interested in one.