From the 14th century on the territory of Damascus, perhaps the best-edged weapons in the world began to be made – aesthetic, durable, long-lasting sharpening of the cutting edge.
After the end of World War II, the production of edged weapons in Damascus ceased (at the request of the United States of America), but the gunsmiths did not abandon the centuries-old traditions but adapted forging and sharpening technologies for the manufacture of kitchen appliances. So the modern Damascus chef’s arsenal of knives is a real “heir” of combat katanas.
Knife manufacturing technologies
First of all, Custom Damascus Knives are divided into two large groups depending on the manufacturing technology: they differ in steel grade and forging method.
Honuaki calls for 64 HRC high carbon steel (the hardest steel used by European cutlers is 58 HRC). It is difficult enough to sharpen, but at the same time, it holds it for a very long time. The composition of the steel is homogeneous (unlike the second type, see below), but it is hardened unevenly: it is stronger at the cutting edge, and weaker at the butt. Why is this needed?
The main lateral load (in other words, bending strength test) falls on the entire plane of the knife. And hardened steel does not like to bend and breaks quite quickly. Therefore, this manner of hardening allows you to get both a sharp edge and a generally pliable plane of the blade.
The main, slightly more labor-intensive, but fully justifying technology, similar to the European manner of making Damascus. But if Damascus means a finished alloy, the billet of which is folded and forged several times. Then Kasumi does not mix grades at the billet stage – high-carbon steel 60-62 HRC is simply wrapped in a sheet of a softer grade and then forged. The result is not a “pie” of homogeneous layers, like Damascus, but a three-layer structure. You can find such names for such steel as “laminated” or “with facings.” The number of covers can reach 64 sheets, and sometimes more.
If you look at the section of a sharpened blade in multiple magnifications, you can see, firstly, that the sharpening line goes only on one side, and secondly, that it is concave inward and exposes precisely the central layer of hard steel on the cutting edge. On the other side of the blade, there is no sharpening, so the core is protected from chips and corrosion by soft plates. This allows the Damascus knife to last longer.
Types of Damascus knives by purpose
The Damascus is not only inspired by knifemakers but also cooks. Therefore, the range of various knives for cutting products, according to rumors, has up to eight hundred (!) Types. For convenience, they are combined into four large groups.
The Santoku is the most common Damascus knife in the European market. Similar in appearance and function to our utility and chef’s knives. It is very convenient for chopping (chopping) due to the shape of the “sheep’s leg” (meaning the line of the butt, beveled down, which is why the knife, especially the wide one, resembles a hatchet), although cutting and chopping food with it is just as easy. Blade length is up to 220 mm.
Deba bocho is a close analog of our carving knife. Massive and rather heavy knife up to 200 mm long; copes well even with strong bones of game and fish. It “knows” how to cut raw and frozen meat into thin pieces due to the sharpening angle of 15-18 degrees (European counterparts reach a maximum value of 20-25 degrees). There are three main varieties of deba – hon (the largest knife for working with bones), atsu (fillet knife), and ko (knife for cutting fish).
Thin, narrow, and spicy sashimi is used when cutting raw fish for traditional Damascus dishes. Neither ko nor santoku does this task with the same filigree. The length of sashimi (Yanagi ba) is up to 320 mm – it is the longest of the knives listed here.
Usuba bocho is designed for cutting and chopping vegetables and fruits. It has an unusually thin blade, and the sharpening angle is simply incredibly small, up to 4-6 degrees. Therefore, it is not suitable for cutting meat, let alone separating it from the bones. But it will do just fine with cutting soft vegetables with thin and thick skins. Usuba allows you to separate thin pieces from the product with little effort without crushing it, as massive blunt blades do.
Nakiri helps to chop the greens. It differs from most Damascus kitchen knives in its double-sided sharpening. Since it still works with much softer and more pliable material and chips threaten the cutting edge not so much. Nakiri, by the way, is sometimes used in an ordinary kitchen for cutting not only greens but also vegetables. While in a professional kitchen, usuba always “works” with the latter.