The Long History of Damascus Knives

Posted by Ramon Elzinga on

Japanese Knives are slightly different from the common kitchen knives. In fact, the Japanese knife-making masters still use the same process to forge them that they did for their badass older siblings-the katanas, the legendary samurais' blade.

Damascus knives are the best example of the zealous dedication behind the Japanese tradition of knife-making. With their unmistakable look, these knives embody the many centuries of practice perfectly. A legacy that ends in a single sharp blade where art meets technology.

Passed Down From Father to Son

For over two thousand years in Japan, metal processing has been passed down from father to son. After the Japanese learned metalworking from China in the 3rd century BC, their skills improved consistently. Their immortal fame began in the eighth century AD when the masters opted for iron casting to further develop their artistry.

Japan also went through several civil wars. At those times, ironworkers found new ways to forge enhanced swords and chiselled armours. The training was so intense that one apprentice would spend at least three years just focusing on how to hammer the metal. And it would take a lifetime to master how to sharpen the blade.

Japanese knives are created with the same methods used for making swords ever since. Plus, it takes one full day to sharpen the blade and another 24 hours to secure the handle. As a result, the balance, thickness, and design vary for every single knife.

Making Kitchens The New Battlefields

Thanks to their unique design and durability, Damascus knives offer an incredible cooking experience. But such coveted knives hide other secrets within their features. Of course, I am not referring to the traditional view of Japanese artisans who believe that the soul of the person who made it resides in the blade. At their core, up to 500 metal layers make up knives that are easy to maintain as much as reliable.

Each knife undergoes 100 production stages. Plus, modern companies only employ professionals with over ten years of practice to craft these Japanese knives. The result is a lighter and sharper blade that allows for more precise cuts. Because of its handmade V-shape, sharpening stones are recommended. Standard knife sharpeners, in fact, are not suitable as they would turn the slanted edge into a flatter, thicker shape.

In any case, these Japanese chef's knives would not be nearly as popular without their supremely sharp edge. Here is why the artisan's skills matters. Each piece is unique because the knife maker sharpens it by the sense of force exerted on the hand, sounds, and sensations.

About The Price Of These Artisanal Knives

While the price point of these artisanal knives is higher than the rest, they become an extension of the chef's hands. Just like a sword must securely fit in a warrior's hands, the balance of a Damascus knife is excellent. Its grip feels natural, and the edge feels as tactile as your own fingers.

Modern Damascus Knives

Current Japanese knives benefits from the use of better technology. But knife-makers still keep the tradition alive by creating different types of knives, such as the:

  • Gyuto, the Japanese version of the all-purpose knife. This knife has a broad bolster that helps you peel vegetables and gash meat slices. As a thin knife, it makes it easier to slice vegetables at a fast pace without losing control.
  • Santoku, a knife for maximum precision, With this, julienning and brunoising are easier because of the taller bolster. Plus, it is a wiser alternative to the Gyuto for people who have a small, compact kitchen and no space for extra cutlery. The Santoku knife slices through meat and vegetables with minimal resistance. As a result, it allows for even cuts without the need to put power behind each motion.
  • Bunka, which is ideal for delicate ingredients. Thanks to its slanted tip, it allows for beautiful designs while helping food cook faster. Most Japanese use it for cutting mushrooms and mushy fruits and vegetables. In brief, it ensures quick slices without damaging the ingredient exterior because of excessive pressure.

Every Damascus knife reflects a particular usage. In fact, sharpness is not the only feature that makes Damascus knives so valuable. Their ergonomics and finish play a big role too.

Lastly, their lightness is also a crucial aspect. Of course, the quality of the materials they are made of determines how long they will last and how frequent they need to be sharpened. But the lightest Japanese knives bear on their shoulders all the expertise of the masters as the whole process starts by sifting iron sand. Only when the right mix of sand and iron sand is ready, the steel becomes successfully light.

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