Have you ever gone knife shopping and gotten lost in all the descriptions of the different types of steel? One often comes across the terms ‘Damascus steel' and ‘stainless steel', but what do they even mean? What is the difference between Damascus steel and stainless steel? Let's find out.

Stainless Steel

Wusthof Classic Series Carving Knife 2 Set Pc

Wusthof Classic Series Carving Knife 2 Set Pc

Contrary to popular belief, stainless steel is not just one type of material. It's a family of different types of steel that are resistant to corrosion caused by heat, water, and acidic compounds.

Let's unpack this slowly. Steel is a combination, or alloy, of iron and a small amount of carbon. It is stronger than just plain iron, but still prone to rust and corrosion. To make it corrosion-resistant, it is combined with at least 10-30% of chromium.

Here are some common features of stainless steel.

Resistant to Corrosion

Stainless steel is resistant to corrosion because it contains at least 10.5% chromium.

Chromium reacts with oxygen in the air to form an invisible layer of chromium oxide, which protects the steel. What's more, chromium is self-healing. Yeah, that's right. Every time the metal gets scratched or dented, the chromium will react with oxygen and form another layer to protect the steel.

Stainless steel can be made further resistant to heat and acid by adding other elements such as nickel, molybdenum, and copper.


As we will see later, when it comes to sharpness and durability, there is no difference between Damascus steel and stainless steel. The different elements that go into making stainless steel combine to make it strong and long-lasting. It can thus be made into a very thin blade with long edge retention.


Because stainless steel is strong, durable, and easy to maintain, it can be used for many things. It can be used for kitchen cutlery, kitchen appliances, outdoor knives, in hospitals, and even in construction.

This was all about stainless steel. Let's now dive into Damascus steel and see what it's all about.

Damascus Steel

Tojiro Pro Flash 63 Layer Damascus Chef Knife 27cm

Tojiro Pro Flash 63 Layer Damascus Chef Knife 27cm

Damascus steel is steel known for the lovely wavy or watery pattern on its surface that dates back to as early as 500BC. It was mostly used to make sword blades, which gained fame for their remarkable sharpness and hard-wearing durability as well as their beauty. Damascus steel is one of those things whose name people can't seem to agree on. There are three common theories about where it came from:

  • It was steel made in Damascus

  • It was steel that was sold in Damascus

  • It is named after the damask fabric pattern, which also features intricate wavy designs. Incidentally, the word damask is also thought to derive from damas' which is Arabic for watered.

Have you ever hidden something so well that you couldn't find it when you needed it later? Well, that's what happened with the secret of how to forge Damascus steel blades. It was so well kept by the forgers that eventually, it got lost sometime in the 18th century. The raw materials needed to forge the steel were no longer available and the secret was no longer handed down.

Modern technology has made good attempts to reproduce Damascus steel using modern materials, with various levels of success. Here are the main characteristics of Damascus steel.

The Material

Like stainless steel, Damascus steel is not a single type of steel material. It is an alloy just like stainless steel. The name refers to how it looks and how it's made. Different types of stainless steel are forged together to produce Damascus steel. This is what produces the swirling patterns, but more on that later. Examples of different steels used include:

  • VG10 steel- a stainless steel alloy that features carbon, molybdenum, chromium, cobalt, vanadium, manganese, and phosphorus.

  • VG2 steel- contains carbon, chromium, nickel, copper, and molybdenum.

Tojiro VG10 Clay Steel Chinese Knife 22.5cm (Thin Blade)

Tojiro VG10 Clay Steel Chinese Knife 22.5cm (Thin Blade)

In addition to producing remarkable patterns, the use of different materials to make Damascus steel serves other purposes:

  • Carbon gives extra strength, sharpness, and edge retention.

  • Nickel confers a silver color and enhances corrosion resistance

  • Manganese improves the structure of the grain.

  • Chromium makes steel corrosion-resistant and improves tensile strength and hardness.

Unique Patterns

A major difference between Damascus and stainless steel is the appearance. Unlike stainless steel which only has a plain shiny surface, Damascus steel has to swirl, wavy patterns. These were originally due to impurities such as tungsten in the blocks of wootz steel that the steel was smelted from.

That, and the process of layering each blade a number of times during forging resulted in the stunning Damascus blade pattern. Modern metallurgists don't use wootz steel anymore but they've figured out how to reproduce the signature patterns using modern materials.

Miyabi Birchwood 5000MCD Chef Knife 16cm

Miyabi Birchwood 5000MCD Chef Knife 16cm

Many-layered Blades

A major difference between Damascus steel and stainless steel is how they look. While steel is simply plain on the surface, Damascus has the unique watery or wavy pattern, which forms because of how the steel is forged.

A simple multi-layered blade can have three layers of steel. Hard steel at the core sandwiched between two soft steel layers, with the hardcore only exposed at the cutting edge. The soft layers give extra durability while the hardcore provides a sharp, long-lasting edge.

When the many layers of steel are alternately heated and cooled, they twist and fold and the final lengthening, flattening, and hammering of the steel reveals the patterns.


Like stainless steel, the different elements in Damascus steel give it a combination of flexibility and hardness that make it durable, sharp, and with long edge retention.


One notable difference between Damascus steel and stainless steel is how they're used. While stainless steel can be used to make other things in addition to knives, Damascus steel is only used to make knives. You can consider this feature to order your next set of knives and feel the difference yourself.

Final Words

Although the main difference between Damascus steel and stainless steel is in how they're made, how they look, and what they're used for, the bottom line is that they both are strong, durable, and make good material for knives.

The difference damascus steel and stainless steel

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