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The Best Damascus Knives of 2021

Originally used to forge the blades of swords from around 750 CE, Damascus steel is an ancient material with a rich history. Swords made from Damascus steel had distinctive banding and mottling patterns that resembled flowing water, and were tough, resistant to shattering, and could hold an edge well. Modern Damascus steel is different from ancient Damascus steel, but can still be very hard and sharp, and aesthetically beautiful. In this article, we’ll look into the history of Damascus steel, and the best Damascus steel kitchen knives on the market today.

Shun Classic 8” Chef’s Knife with VG-MAX Cutting Core – Best Overall

Zelite Infinity 8 Inch Chef Knife Executive Chefs Edition – Best Value

XI-Home Hammered 8″ Damascus Kitchen Knife – Budget Pick

Levinchy Damascus 8 inch Professional Handmade Chef’s Knife – Best for Beginners

Dnifo Professional 8 Inch Damascus Steel Chef Knife – Most Stylish

Everything You Need to Know About Damascus Steel

First of all, let’s take a closer look at the history of Damascus steel, and what Damascus steel means today.

The History of Damascus Blades

Recognized by its distinctive watery or wavy pattern of light and dark metal, Damascus steel is thought to be named after an Islamic craftsman who lived sometime between 750 and 945 CE.[1]

As well as being visually beautiful, Damascus steel was valued for its hardness, flexibility, and ability to retain a sharp edge. This made weapons made from Damascus steel vastly superior to their iron counterparts.

Ancient Damascus steelmaking techniques cannot be replicated in modern day, as the steel was cast from wootz, a type of steel originating from India over two thousand years ago. Items made from wootz became popular in the third and fourth centuries as trade items sold in Damascus, but the techniques for making wootz were lost in the 1700s. Despite a great deal of research and attempts at reverse engineering, no one in the modern day has been able to replicate cast Damascus steel.

Modern Damascus steel is not the same as ancient Damascus steel. Even if the exact same techniques were used, the result would be different, as Damascus steel was made using a metal called Wootz steel, which no longer exists.

Modern steel originated in the 19th century and is made using a method called the Bessemer process: the first inexpensive process that allowed for the mass production of steel.[2] This process is no longer used in modern-day construction material production, but it laid the foundation for the development of steel used today.

Modern steel has a high carbon content and is of higher quality than Damascus steel, as well as being far easier to mass produce. However, ancient Damascus steel is regarded an outstanding material, especially when we consider the time in which it was made.

Some modern ‘Damascus’ steel simply uses an etching of light and dark patterns onto the surface of the blade. This produces a Damascus steel-type pattern, but it can wear away as the etching is just a surface treatment. Modern blades can more accurately approximate the effect of Damascus steel by using a high-carbon steel and forging with pattern welding. 

Pattern-welded Damascus steel bears the same watery pattern throughout the metal just like ancient Damascus steel, and also possesses many of the characteristics of the metal. Pattern-welded steel is made by layering iron and steel and hammering them together at high temperatures, which forms a welded bond. Welding multiple layers of iron and steel like this produces the characteristic visual effect, as well as being able to produce a very sharp and hard blade. However, this is still not true Damascus steel, only an approximation, as the composition of the steel and way the layers are forged differ from the original.

Sharpness and Hardness

We mentioned sharpness and hardness as some of the strong characteristics of ancient and modern pattern-welded Damascus steel. But what effects do these characteristics have on kitchen knives?

Sharpness is determined by the angle that you sharpen the blade to. Most knives have a bevel on both sides, so sharpening both sides to, say, 20 degrees results in an overall angle of 40 degrees. The lower the angle you sharpen to, the sharper your blade will be, but at the cost of durability. For this reason, most knives are typically sharpened between 17 and 22 degrees, which provides a good balance between sharpness and toughness.[3]

Another key factor to how your knives cut is hardness. There are three main things to consider when thinking about knife hardness:

1.     Harder steel will make a knife stay sharper for longer

2.     Softer steel will make knife maintenance easier

3.     If a steel is too hard, it will become too brittle to use for knifemaking

The secret to a good knife is getting this balance between hardness and softness right, so that your knife is easier to maintain and less likely to break but retains a keen edge for a satisfactory amount of time.

“There was never a good knife made of bad steel”

Benjamin Franklin

The Rockwell hardness scale (HRC) is used to measure this balance between hardness and softness. When it comes to kitchen knives, the most common HRC ratings are between 52 and 64.[4] Below 52 HRC, the steel is likely to be too soft for a kitchen knife, so a sharp edge would not hold properly. A knife with a HRC between 52 and 54 is fairly soft but would do for a decent and inexpensive knife. Most professionals and home cooks ought to look for a knife with a rating of 55 and above, with the most premium steels having a rating between 59 and 64 HRC. Anything above this would be too brittle, and far more likely to snap.

The Damascus blades reviewed below fall between 58 and 62 HRC, giving them superior edge retention and meaning you won’t have to sharpen them as often, as well as boosting their toughness and making them less likely to bend. However, it also makes them more brittle and prone to chipping if dropped, or if they are used on hard surfaces or to cut tougher food. The key to getting the best out of a hard and brittle blade is through appropriate knife care. Check out our best knives for slicing briskets to see how knives with different hardness ratings can be more appropriate for different foods.

Knife Care

Knife care is essential for all your kitchen knives, and this is especially true for Damascus knives. Their intricate patterns can be prone to water spots, rust or corrosion if not cared for correctly, and their often high hardness levels leave them slightly more prone to chipping or shattering than other knives. Luckily there are a few things you can do to protect them and keep them lasting for many years.

The first thing you can do to prolong the life of your Damascus blades is to clean them properly. Although many knives these days are dishwasher safe, you can definitely extend their lifetimes by handwashing them. Use warm, running water and a gentle detergent to wipe the blade clean, then ensure they are properly dried before putting away to prevent moisture damage. It’s always best to clean your knives right after use, rather than letting food dry on the blade. This means you’ll never have to leave your blades soaking in water for extended periods.

It’s also important that you store your knives properly, as this can have a huge impact on their sharpness and, particularly with harder blades, the likelihood of them chipping. Pro chefs tend to use a knife case or roll, and you can improvise one with a tea towel if you’re transporting your knives. For most home cooks though, we’d recommend a knife block or magnetic rack to protect the blades from wear and tear.

Never just chuck your knifes in a drawer, as this is likely to chip them and you’re much more likely to cut yourself when getting them back out. If you must store them in a drawer, you should take a look at getting sheaths that fit your blades to protect them and your hands.

It also pays to use a suitable surface when chopping. Glass and metal boards are the words for your knives as they dull the edge of your blade with every chop, and the impact can easily chip or even shatter harder blades. The best choice is bamboo or wood. Plastic is fine too, but it harbors bacteria more readily than wood or bamboo.

Finally, be aware of what you’re chopping. Blades with a high Rockwell hardness like the Damascus knives below are very sharp but can’t provide the durability required to hack through bones or dried, shelled, frozen or otherwise hard food. Make sure you properly thaw frozen food before trying to chop it with a Damascus knife and leave everything else to a more suitable knife.

If you follow these tips, your Damascus blade is far more likely to remain sharper for longer and chip-free for many years.

Sharpening Your Knives

Although their hardness means that you won’t have to sharpen your Damascus blades as often, it’s really useful to know how to sharpen properly to keep your blade on best form and avoid damaging it. You might have heard that a sharp knife is actually safer than a blunt knife, as the increased pressure needed to cut with a blunt blade makes it far more likely to slip and cut you.

There are a range of tools you can use to sharpen or hone your knife’s edge. The video below demonstrates how to use a honing steel, pull-through sharpener, and a whetstone. If you’re looking for recommendations for knife sharpening stones, we’ve got you covered.

The Best Damascus Knives for 2021

Now we know all about the history of Damascus steel, what contributes to a knife’s sharpness and hardness, and the best ways to care for your knives, let’s home in on our top picks for Damascus knives in 2021.

Shun Classic 8” Chef’s Knife with VG-MAX Cutting Core – Best Overall

·      Length: 8 inches

·      Weight: 7.13 ounces

·      Layers: 69

·      Rockwell hardness: 60-61

·      Tang: Full

·      Edge bevel: 16 degrees

‘Shun’ (pronounced ‘shoon’) is the Japanese word used to describe the exact moment that a vegetable is at its very best, a fruit is at its sweetest, or a piece of meat or fish is at its most flavorful.[5] This concept is central to the culinary world, and a philosophy that Shun Cutlery echo when crafting its kitchen equipment.

This 8-inch chef’s knife from Shun’s Classic range is handcrafted in the city of Seki in Gifu, Japan – known as the ‘City of Blades’ for its 800-year history of bladesmiths crafting knives, swords and cutlery.[6] Shun states that its process takes over 100 individual steps, and marries modern technology and premium materials with ancient handcrafting traditions.

68 layers of stainless steel surround a VG-MAX cutting core, Shun’s exclusive steel formula. Extra tungsten helps to craft a sharper edge, added chromium lends corrosion resistance and additional cobalt and carbon give strength and durability to the cutting core, which is sharpened to a 16 degree angle on both sides.[7] This results in a sharp blade with great cutting power.

Of course, this extreme sharpness, alongside a Rockwell hardness of 61-62, comes at a cost – this blade is the most likely to chip or break of all the blades in this list. However, this is counteracted in part by the curved blade edge which encourages a rocking motion when cutting, helping to prevent shattering or chipping.

Staying true to its heritage, Shun has employed a traditional lightweight Japanese handle rather than opting for the weightier Western style. The ebony pakkawood (a hardwood infused with a plastic resin) construction is durable and water resistant, and balances the blade nicely, bringing the total length to 13.5 inches.[8]

However, the asymmetrical handle grip is better suited to right-handers. Shun claims that around 60 percent of left-handers have no issue with the handle, but this doesn’t exactly fill us with confidence – if you’re left-handed, you might want to reconsider.

Overall though, this is a fantastic Damascus knife that stays true to the Japanese style. Shun also has 6- and 10-inch blades, as well as a wide range of other excellent knives. Its registration system and lifetime free sharpening service only serve to sweeten the deal, making this knife our top pick for the best Damascus blade.

Zelite Infinity 8 Inch Chef Knife Executive Chefs Edition – Best Value

·      Length: 8 inches

·      Weight: 10.8 ounces

·      Layers: 67

·      Rockwell hardness: 61±1

·      Tang: Full

·      Edge bevel: 12 degrees

Manufactured over 60 days in Yangjiang, China’s capital of knifemaking, Zelite Infinity’s 8-inch Damascus chef’s knife pairs the sharpness and hardness of Japanese steel with the construction and heft of a German knife.[9] The blade has a beautiful tsuchime (hammered) finish, highlighting the beautiful Damascus effect.

The 2.4mm thick blade is made from high-quality stainless steel and is 57mm deep, to ensure knuckle clearance when cutting. High Rockwell hardness means a sharp and hard blade, but the curved edge encourages a rocking motion in order to keep the blade sharp and chip-free. Zelite Infinity’s ‘air-blade’ design helps to prevent food sticking to the blade, another useful feature when chopping.

A comfortable tapered bolster leads into the rounded and triple-riveted handle, made from G10 garolite – a military grade premium material made from fiberglass and epoxy, used for its resistance to heat, cold, moisture and impact.[10] The Zelite Infinity classic three metal mosaic rivet is a nice touch, adding to the understated visual impact of the Damascus knife.

However, at 10.8 ounces, this blade does carry a fair bit of German-style heft. This is great for certain kitchen tasks, but at times it does feel a bit strange using a knife so clearly influenced by Japanese styles that just doesn’t have the lightness and delicateness you’d expect, particularly for more intricate jobs. Don’t worry though, if the executive model sounds a little heavy for your liking, the standard version is much lighter. 

We ought to mention that Zelite Infinity also offers great customer service and support, alongside a lifetime warranty on all their knives (provided you purchase directly from Zelite Infinity rather than a reseller).

This all comes together to deliver a quality knife that is great value for money, from a brand who really seems to care about delivering the best for its customers. Zelite Infinity also has a wide range of other knives in this Damascus style, including a 4-inch paring knife, a 5.5-inch serrated utility knife, 6-inch boning and nakiri knives, a 7-inch santoku knife, and a 9-inch kiritsuke chef’s knife.

XI-Home Hammered 8″ Damascus Kitchen Knife – Budget Pick

·      Length: 8 inches

·      Weight: 8.8 ounces

·      Layers: 67

·      Rockwell hardness: 62

·      Tang: Full

·      Edge bevel: 12 degrees

XI-Home’s hammered 8-inch Damascus knife is made with 67 layers of steel and a hand-polished spine, hammered to create a stunning visual effect. The VG-10 steel core has a high carbon content, resulting in great cutting power, and is also rust- and corrosion resistant.

The vibrant red non-slip pakkawood handle is ergonomically designed and balances the mid-weight blade well. The full tang is visible through to the end of the blade, and triple-riveted in place for increased robustness. The central pin also has a nice mosaic design, similar but less intricate than the Zelite Infinity Damascus blade.

Unfortunately, the pins in the handle do stick out a little bit – not enough to cause a major issue, but not exactly an indicator of ultra-high quality hand craftsmanship either! To be honest, we wish XI-Home had focused on fixing this before including more premium touches, like the hand-polished spine. But don’t worry – if the pins are really bothering you, they’re easy enough to file down, as long as you don’t mind a little extra work in exchange for the money you save.

Overall, XI-Home delivers a decent Damascus knife, especially for the price. If you want the aesthetic of Damascus steel on a lower budget, but don’t want to skimp on functionality, the XI-Home’s 8-inch blade might just be the best pick for you.

Levinchy Damascus 8 inch Professional Handmade Chef’s Knife – Best for Beginners

·      Length: 8 inches

·      Weight: 7.84 ounces

·      Layers: 67

·      Rockwell hardness: 60±2

·      Tang: Full

·      Edge bevel: 8-12 degrees

Levinchy’s 8-inch Damascus steel chef’s knife is a great all-rounder, suitable to a wide range of kitchen tasks. The 2mm thick blade has a Rockwell hardness of 60±2 and an 8-12-degree bevel on each side of the cutting core, and delivers a reliable sharpness without compromising its ability to hold an edge.

The pakkawood handle is ergonomic and doesn’t slip in the hand. It also balances the blade well. This knife is light – almost as light as the Shun! – making it comfortable to use and highly maneuverable, perfect for more complex cuts.

It’s worth adding that this blade includes a frosted protective case and arrives in a premium matte gift box with red suede protection inside – a really nice touch.

Overall, the quality of the blade and the premium packaging result in a reliable knife and a gorgeous package which will look proud in any kitchen. We’ve given it our Best for Beginners award as this knife is bound to inspire any chef starting out on their cooking journey, alongside instill the importance of good knife care too. Levinchy also offer a 5-inch utility knife, 4.5-inch steak knife, 6-inch boning knife and 7-inch santoku knife for expanding your collection later down the line!

Dnifo Professional 8 Inch Damascus Steel Chef Knife – Most Stylish

·      Length: 8 inches

·      Weight: 11.3 ounces

·      Layers: 67

·      Rockwell hardness: 60±2

·      Tang: Full

·      Edge bevel: 8-12 degrees

The first thing you’re likely to notice about this Dnito knife is the striking combination of Damascus patterning with the gorgeous blue and brown handle. The unique handle is actually made from burl wood and G10 garolite. It is resistant to heat, cold, moisture, rust and impact, as well as being comfortable and non-stick in the hand. Unfortunately, you can feel the join between the resin and the wood, but only if you’re really looking for it. However, the visual effect more than makes up for it!

The blade has a VG-10 stainless steel core with a high carbon content, resulting in great edge retention and a Rockwell hardness of 60±2. The blade design also keeps the blade non-stick, so you won’t have to worry about food like onions or garlic getting stuck the the blade as you chop.

This Damascus knife is the heaviest on our list – great for providing a little more power to your cutting, but seemingly at odds with the Japanese knife philosophy. Just like the Zelite Infinity Damascus knife, the weight might shock you a bit if you’re used to handling traditionally light Japanese knives.

Dnifo also has 3.5- and 5-inch options for your more intricate cutting tasks. It also offers a lifetime warranty. This blade will certainly stand out in your kitchen, and the visual impact earns it our most stylish award.

The Final Verdict

As you can see, if you’re looking for the best Damascus knife for you, there are a wide range of great knife options on the market today. All the knives we’ve taken a look at are strong options, but our personal favorite is the Shun Classic 8” Chef’s Knife with VG-MAX Cutting Core. It has a hard and sharp blade that requires some care, but if you look after it properly, it will serve you as a great knife for many years. The lightness of the blade feels like what you’d expect from a Japanese blade, and the Damascus patterning is beautiful yet understated. Add to all that Shun’s lifetime free sharpening service and the result is a brilliant choice of Damascus knife for your kitchen.

Shun Classic 8” Chef’s Knife with VG-MAX Cutting Core

FAQs

Q: Which knife type do I need?

A: There are a wide range of knives available on the market, even electric knives, and each one has its own strengths and weaknesses. The most commonly used knives are the chef’s knife, utility knife, and paring knife. If you’re just starting out though, the first one we’d recommend to buy is a high-quality chef’s knife. If you’re looking for more info on the different types of knives, check out our ultimate guide to kitchen knives.

Q: Why would I want a knife that is more likely to chip?

A: Knives with a higher Rockwell hardness are more likely to chip due to the fact that they are more brittle, but this brittleness also gives them a high level of toughness, making them less likely to bend. This hardness also increases the blade’s ability to retain an edge, meaning it will stay sharper for longer, and reducing the amount of sharpening you’ll need to do. It’s all about striking a balance between sharpness and brittleness. For kitchen knives, the best balance comes at a Rockwell hardness between 52 and 64.

Q: My knife has chipped! What do I do?

A: Oh no! We’re sorry to hear your knife has chipped, but don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. You can take your knife to a professional to have it fixed, or have a go yourself. Our knife maintenance guide will show you what to do.

In future, try to avoid cutting overly hard ingredients like bones, shelled nuts or frozen food, and watch out for harder chopping surfaces like metal or glass boards. And don’t store your knives chucked in a drawer, as this leaves them prone to chipping – instead, go for a knife block or magnetic strip.


[1] Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. (2 May 2021), ‘Damascus Steel Facts and Naming: How it got its name and how it’s made’. Accessed at: https://www.thoughtco.com/damascus-steel-facts-608458.

[2] Kevin Forestell (21 October 2020), ‘The Bessemer Process: What It Is and How It Changed History’. Accessed at: https://dozr.com/blog/bessemer-process.

[3] James Lupton (1 November 2017), ‘Knife Sharpening Angles’. Accessed at: https://sharppebble.com/blogs/blogs/detailed-discussion-on-knife-sharpening-angles.

[4] Elliott Bell (10 June 2019), ‘What the Rockwell Hardness Scale Can Tell You About a Kitchen Knife’. Accessed at: https://misen.com/blogs/news/rockwell-hardness-scale.

[5] Savory Culture (date unknown), ‘Shun: the Essence of the Seasons’. Accessed at: https://savoryjapan.com/learn/culture/shun.html.

[6] Selena Hoy (date unknown), ‘In the City of Blades’. Accessed at: https://visitgifu.com/specials-of-gifu/seki-blades/.

[7] Matt Davidson (15 April 2020), ‘Knife Steel Composition Chart’. Accessed at: https://knifeinformer.com/knife-steel-composition-chart/.

[8] G.D. Palmer (date unknown), ‘What is Pakkawood?’. Accessed at: https://www.hunker.com/12003642/what-is-pakkawood.

[9] PR Newswire (24 October 2016), ‘China’s “Capital of Knives and Scissors”, Yangjiang, Presents Its Exquisite Craftsmanship to the World’. Accessed at: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/chinas-capital-of-knives-and-scissors-yangjiang-presents-its-exquisite-craftsmanship-to-the-world-300349643.html.

[10] EngineeringClicks (28 September 2020), ‘What is Garolite? Your guide to G10 Material – Its Properties & Applications’. Accessed at: https://www.engineeringclicks.com/garolite-g10-material/.