Issue 37 Unusual Suspects – Damascus Blades Patrick Vuong Join the Conversation It took us five years to make this Damascus blade buyer’s guide happen. Why so long? Was it insane amounts of procrastination? Nope. That’s just how long it took for the price of this specialized steel to go down enough for companies to offer them at quantity. While some custom knifemakers still charge “unobtainium” prices for them, most production knife companies now have at least one Damascus model that fits in the more reachable “limited edition” range. Why so expensive? Damascus is a combination of at least two different types of steel that — after many time-consuming and expensive processes known as pattern welding — forms a single piece with distinctive wavy layers. Named after the Syrian city where it gained a worldwide reputation, Damascus steel is actually a modern recreation of ancient wootz steel from India. Scientists don’t know how the Indian alloy was made, but scholars know that it was used in swords imported to the Middle East starting in at least the 3rd century. Modern knifemakers say their Damascus blades offer similar benefits — a durable composite that doesn’t chip or break (like soft steel) yet is incredibly strong and stays sharp (like hard steel). Oh, and they’re delicious eye candy for the knife knut. Make: W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co. Model: Sway Back OAL: 5.56 inches Blade Length: 2.125 inches Blade Material: Blued Carbon Raindrop Damascus Steel Weight: 2.2 ounces MSRP: $125 URL: www.wrcase.com 411: The smallest knife of the bunch features a Wharncliffe blade whose Damascus pattern resembles a topographical map. The pairing of its intricate bronze-ish swirls with a bone handle (jigged and treated to look like stag antler) gives it a fascinating new-school mix of two very different old-school styles. Quite the American thing to do and rather cool. Made in the USA. Pros: > Hybrid aesthetics > Quality construction and materials > Sharp Damascus blade > A reasonable price tag for a Damascus knife Cons: > Jackknife design means there’s no pocket clip or thumbstuds. > Narrow handle Make: Columbia River Knife & Tool Model: KISS Commemorative OAL: 5.77 inches Blade Length: 2.28 inches Blade Material: Damasteel Damascus DS93X Steel Weight: 1.7 ounces MSRP: $200 URL: www.crkt.com 411: This Ed Halligan-designed folder spawned a genre thanks to its sophisticatedly simple two-piece construction. The frame-lock body and chisel-grind blade allows the KISS to be slim while it’s sizable pocket clip doubles as a money clip. This commemorative edition honors the late Halligan by attaching a gorgeous Damascus blade to a titanium body; beautiful upgrades to a beloved fan favorite. Pros: > Slim, compact knife design for the ultra minimalist > Pocket clip doubles as a money clip. > Gorgeous blade is razor sharp. > For a Damascus, it won’t break the bank. Cons: > Tanto blade is less versatile than other blade shapes. > Without scales, the handle is rather thin and not ideal for hard or extended use. Make: Bear & Son Cutlery Model: WSB07D OAL: 6.25 inches Blade Length: 2.75 inches Blade Material: High Definition Damascus Steel Weight: 2.2 ounces MSRP: $149 URL: www.bearandsoncutlery.com 411: This Bear & Son folder fuses the look of an ancient Asian blade with vintage American aesthetics to create an unusual style — in a good way. This trapper-style folder features a smooth bone handle with nickel silver bolsters surrounding the elegant Damascus blades. Unfortunately, both its clip-point blade and its spey blade (which can be used for neutering livestock or skinning game) didn’t cut as well during our testing. Made in the USA. Pros: > Comes with two blades: a versatile clip-point and a spey for neutering or skinning animals. > Fascinating fusion of visual styles > Relatively affordable for a Damascus knife Cons: > The blades sometimes “pushed through” cuts rather than slicing smoothly during our test cutting > Classic design means no thumbstuds or pocket clip Make: Benchmade Knife Co. Model: 698-181 Foray OAL: 7.34 inches Blade Length: 3.22 inches Blade Material: Loki-patterned Damasteel Weight: 3.46 ounces MSRP: $800 URL: www.benchmade.com 411: Say hello to the Bugatti of the bunch. This pimped-out version of the Foray features a marbled carbon fiber handle with mother-of-pearl overlays, DLC-coated hardware, and an exclusive Loki-patterned Damascus blade steel from Damasteel. But all that bling isn’t overcompensation. The base model is already a stellar folder thanks to its versatile drop-point blade profile, ambidextrous AXIS locking mechanism, and Goldilocks-like length and weight. Pros: > High-quality materials and workmanship > Damascus blade’s Loki pattern looks heavenly > The blade cuts and pierces like a lightsaber > Feels great in hand Cons: > Nitpicking here, but the mother of pearl overlay kind of clashes with the Damascus pattern and carbon-fiber handle. Make: Boker Plus Model: Urban Trapper Damasteel OAL: 7.7 inches Blade Length: 3.4 inches Blade Material: Damasteel Weight: 1.7 ounces MSRP: $309 URL: www.bokerusa.com 411: This is a modernized gentleman’s knife based on the traditional trapper folder with a blade made by Damasteel. The ladder pattern is mesmerizing, while the edge slices with ease and the tip punctures like a needle. Plus, the skeletonized frame-lock handle is made of titanium. So why is it just $309 when its competitors are twice that amount? It’s made in China. Fortunately, Boker puts out quality products no matter where they’re made. Pros: > Lavish-looking gentleman’s knife > Lightweight and slim > Flipper tab opening is fast and smooth. > Unlike other frame-locks that unlock awkwardly, this closes as easily as a liner-lock. Cons: > Handle might be too thin to get a comfortable grip for those with large meat hooks Make: Fox Knives Model: Desert Fox Damascus OAL: 8.5 inches Blade Length: 3.7 inches Blade Material: Björkmans Twist-patterned Damasteel Weight: 5.8 ounces MSRP: $789 URL: www.bokerusa.com 411: This pitbull of a knife comes from Boris Manasherov, a gun-maker, engineer, and Krav Maga instructor. So, it’s no surprise that it’s a tactical knife for daily use first and a showpiece second. Damasteel’s Björkmans Twist pattern in its super sharp blade reminds us of flowing lava, a lovely complement to the blue anodized titanium handle. While we’re not fans of its overly contoured grooves, the frame-lock body is designed for smooth blade deployment and closure. Pros: > The Damasteel blade fillets cardboard as if it were fresh game > Futuristic look combined with premium materials and a functional design > Outstanding construction Cons: > A little hefty > The frame is “too ergonomic” — unless your hand is the same shape and size as Manasherov’s, it might not fit quite right in your paw. Make: Spyderco Inc. Model: Endura 4 Ti Damascus OAL: 8.75 inches Blade Length: 3.83 inches Blade Material: DPS 15 Steel Weight: 4.2 ounces MSRP: $310 URL: www.spyderco.com 411: The Endura is one of Spyderco’s most popular knives, so it only makes sense for the Colorado-based company to offer a Damascus version. The DPS 15 blade steel was manufactured in Japan by sandwiching two layers of Damascus steel around a VG-10 stainless steel core. Combined with a titanium lock-back handle, Spyderco’s trademark thumbhole, and an adjustable pocket clip, this Damascus blade offers good value for its $310 MSRP. Pros: > Blade has a crazy sharp edge and pointy tip > Endura base model is already a proven winner > Lock-back offers strong locking mechanism > Considering its materials, it’s relatively affordable. Cons: > Configuration of the Endura forces a saber grip Make: Cold Steel Inc. Model: Night Force OAL: 9 inches Blade Length: 4 inches Blade Material: DSC Damascus Steel Weight: 4.6 ounces MSRP: $440 URL: www.coldsteel.com 411: This “classy tactical” folder is a beast in unicorn’s clothing. The 4-inch clip-point blade is made from charming rose-patterned DSC Damascus Steel, and it shaved through our cardboard test material with tremendous speed and accuracy. As a perfect yin to the blade’s yang, the handle is made of a sleek G-10/carbon-fiber laminate that’s comfortable in forward or reverse grip. This upscale specimen is made in Italy. Pros: > Remarkable cutting and stabbing powers. > Innovative HTR opening mechanism is an angled thumb-ramp that lets you open the blade quickly and safely. > Incredibly well built, strong, and durable. Cons: > We’ve noticed that most of Cold Steel’s new lock-back knives have a grittiness when pushing down on the rocker bar to unlock them; the Night Force is no exception. 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