Damascus steel knife care
Damascus steel is shrouded in a lot of myths and legends. According to stories, Damascus steel was born in the Middle East and was a weapon with flexible yet strong blades with a high degree of sharpness.
According to sources, it is believed that Europeans were introduced to this kind of weapon during the Holy Crusades to the Middle East. Since that time, stories about such a weapon began to spread around the world and inspired many people's desire to own this kind of cold weapon.
It was later that some metallurgical scientists tried to understand the creation process and the components of Damascus steel. As a consequence of these developments, some scientists managed to discover how to change the properties of steel by adding certain additives to their composition. This eventually influenced the development of the production of alloy steels. Alloy steels are nowadays an integral part of our lives, as they are used to produce a large number of everyday items.
In a nutshell, Damascus steel consists of a large number of metal layers with different carbon levels. Steel with a low carbon level makes the blade flexible and resistant to corrosion, while steel with a high carbon level makes the blade hard and provides a high cutting performance.
The individual re-forging and subsequent etching methods leave a regular or chaotic pattern on the blade.
Among knife lovers, knives with blades made entirely of carbon or damascus steel are popular for their high cutting properties. However, with all the positive properties there is one important feature - any steel with a high carbon content is subject to corrosion. Only Damascus steel, created on the basis of stainless or conditionally stainless steels, is an exception to this rule.
1. Damascus steel knife care
The proper maintenance of a Damascus steel knife involves using it for its intended purpose, as well as taking best care of it in order to keep it from rusting.
Previously, most Damascus steel blades were associated with bladed weapons and hunting knives. Nowadays, these knives are no longer exclusively expensive objects of art and almost all types of knives that work in various environments are made of Damascus steel.
For their long-term and high-quality service, it is enough to follow a number of rules.
1.1. The first maintenance step for a damascus steel blade - Cleaning after use
We already know that there are various carbon steels in the composition of the blade, so corrosion is the worst enemy of a damascus blade. For this reason, after each use, you must always wash and clean the knife. This step ensures that the main contamination is removed. Just rinse your Damascus steel knife with warm water. If the knife gets very dirty, you can use a non-aggressive dishwashing soap emulsion and a soft flannel or a rag. To avoid damaging and scratching the blade, do not use an abrasive kitchen sponge or a steel sponge.
To ensure that all dirt and bacteria are removed, you can disinfect the knife blade by wiping it with alcohol on a cotton cosmetic pad. Depending on the alcohol compound, it is a good idea to rinse the blade under warm water after wiping. You should do this because of the contact of the knife blade with the foodstuffs.
1.1.1. Aggressive chemicals
There are a number of special cleaning products that can be used at home for metal surfaces. Besides, there are special cleaning agents with a rather coarse grit. Do not use such products, because they can significantly damage the surface of the blade.
Damage can take the form of scratches or grooves if you leave any cleaning agent residue on the blade. This kind of damage is very difficult to repair.
It can also be dangerous for later use for food and for personal safety and health reasons.
1.2. The second step of damascus steel blade care - Removing moisture
After you wash your Damascus steel knife you should dry it. To do this, you can use a clean soft towel or a kitchen paper towel to remove the majority of the water. Then you can let the knife dry a little more on its own before putting it back in its place.
Be aware that if you keep your damascus steel knife in a knife block in special compartments or even on a magnetic strip, moisture can penetrate the wood and then affect the condition of the knife blade. It is also worth wiping the handle of the knife dry, as water can penetrate into hard-to-reach places at the base of the knife.
1.3. The third step of damascus steel blade care - Storage in a dry place
The external environment of the room also affects the condition of the blade. If there is a high level of humidity, moisture will affect the blade whether you want it to or not. For this reason, we recommend to store knives in a dry, ventilated area and avoid any places with moisture and dampness. A cupboard or a drawer with good ventilation can be a good place for storing knives.
1.4. The fourth step of damascus steel blade care - Protective coating
For even greater safety of both the blade and the knife in general, in case of long-term storage, you can apply a protective coating, which prevents the blade from getting wet. There are quite a few ways to do this.
There are plenty of natural oils, such as Japanese chamomile oil or mineral oil, which do not solidify and are acceptable for contact with foodstuffs. You can apply the oil to the surface of the blade and the handle with a spray gun or with a soft cloth.
You can use a wax-like lubricant that preserves the blade.
1.5. The fifth step of damascus steel blade care - Regular monitoring
The development of rust is still possible, despite all efforts in following the above mentioned instructions. To prevent this from happening, you should visually inspect the knife in storage on a regular basis. During this inspection, you can renew the protective oil or wax coating if necessary. All protective products should be used in a limited amount to avoid excessive moistening, which could lead to sheath damage, if there is one.
If it is your favourite item - you will certainly take it in your hand to check its condition.
1.6. General knife storage instructions
For storing knives, especially Damascus steel knives, you should use wooden blocks and separate sheaths. Some expensive gyuto style Japanese chef knives made of damascus steel can also have scabbards made of wood.
The sheaths of hunting knives are traditionally made of leather, which may also have a layer of wax on the inside.
If you have a sheath, you should also keep it clean and dry, so that it can properly protect the knife blade from external mechanical influence.
Even if you have a sheath, the knife should not be stored with other foreign objects. Every knife, even if it is sheathed, should have its own storage place.
If you store your Damascus steel kitchen knives in a block or in a stand with compartments, you should also follow some rules. The block should not be made of hard wood, and this also applies to wooden cutting boards.
With the block, you must remember that no moisture should accumulate inside and you can only insert the knife into the slot if it is perfectly dry.
The compartments in the unit or stand should also be checked, cleaned and dried regularly. If you wish, you can apply a thin layer of oil (see above).
All of the listed tips can be considered as a guide. If you follow all the points, your knife will serve you for a very long time without any need for restoration.
2. Restoration of damascus steel knife blades
If you are not careful enough or if the environment is quite aggressive and causes rust, you will need to do a manual restoration to prevent the rust from damaging the blade even more. But first of all, you must identify the cause of the rust to prevent it from happening again.
Then, you should assess the extent of the damage in order to choose a treatment for it.
The choice of materials for restoring a damascus steel blade is perhaps one of the most controversial issues. Many say what should and can be used, but at the same time there are contradictory statements indicating that exactly such means should not be used.
In most cases, it all comes down to the use of ordinary, but rather fine sandpaper. The question is how to use it right.
It is a good idea to use 600 FEPA sandpaper or finer. Depending on the severity of the damage, you will spend less or more time removing the rust, but you will definitely not do more damage to the blade.
Also, depending on the type of bevels, you can wrap the sandpaper around a thick sealing foam to ensure that the sandpaper fits closely to the blade surface.
If your blade has a structured surface, this method may not prove useful. In other words, the sandpaper will not fit into the individual grooves.
To solve this, you will need a chemical rust remover and possibly a polishing emulsion.
WD-40, Ballistol oil, are widely available as good rust removers and as coolants for sandpaper. Spray it on the blade and let it work for a while. Besides, the oil layer will slow down the initial aggression of the sandpaper a bit, if you make a mistake with the grit.
Polishing emulsion will help you to clean microscopic grooves, if there are any in the pattern after the original etching. This emulsion also has its own grit and should be matched to the damage level. It can be used with a soft cloth to work on the blade.
After each step or change of grit of sandpaper and emulsion, you should wash the blade and check the result. It is very likely that you will not be able to achieve the original factory finish at first. However, it is much more important to remove rust.
You can also use warm water and baking soda to make a paste. Then you should apply the paste to the rust spots on the already cleaned and washed blade. You will see the result in about 5-30 minutes. Then you should wipe, wash and dry the blade. The result may be different and may take more time, depending on the steel grade.
If this is not enough for you and you want to improve the appearance of the blade, you can etch the blade in vinegar, lemon juice, or if you know how to do it, you can also etch it in a solution of ferric chloride. This process is not too complicated, but it has a number of conditions and it is not entirely possible to carry out at home without sufficient experience and resources. Knife makers use this method, but it will not work for every blade and it is better to leave it to a specialist.
If you have a custom knife, just contact the master who made your knife. There may be problems with expensive or less expensive knives, as the knife masters often agree to restore only their own blades. Most likely, they will agree to restore your knife, but you may not be satisfied with the result of their work, so you should first to communicate on the forum or talk to a knife maker to explain in details what you would like to do and see if they can fulfill your request.
In any case, it is worth paying more attention to the conditions of storage and use of damascus blades than engaging in the more complicated restoration process.
It is not only an aesthetic pleasure to own a knife made of beautiful and high-quality damascus steel - the cutting qualities of such a knife exceed the characteristics of stainless steel blades in many ways, and with a good and proper sharpening its cutting becomes very aggressive. The main thing is to take care for your blade and prevent the appearance of brown patina and rust according to the tips given in this article.