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Published Jan 13, 2022 9:30 AM

Looking for a new knife? There are tons of options out there, but some stand out more than others. No matter the intended use, there’s one kind that’ll always catch your eye: a Damascus knife.

Damascus knives are made with special techniques that result in wavy, rippling patterns running across the blade, with the original Damascene knives dating back to at least 200 A.D. in the Middle East. Modern Damascus is made a bit differently, either forge-welded from different types of steel manipulated into a stunning pattern or from high-end stainless steels melted together in a crucible. Both methods create a unique pattern that’s unlike any other knife blade. You can find Damascus knives in just about every blade shape and for any purpose. From hunting knives, to folders, to chef’s knives, Damascus steel can be used in many different applications.

Wondering which Damascus knives are right for you? Check out our picks for the best Damascus knives and find the perfect fit for your style and needs.

Best Overall

The Civivi Dogma looks fantastic in your hand, but the reason it’s our top choice goes beyond style. This folder comes in on the lower end of the mid-tier price range, making it affordable for most users, while still offering a lot of bang for your buck. This CNC-machined pocket knife is made to exacting standards and features Civivi’s proprietary stainless steel Damascus, which performs similarly to 440c with a good heat treat. The clip-point blade is hollow-ground to an extremely thin behind-the-edge (BTE) thickness; combine that with Civivi’s characteristically well-done edge, and you have a veritable scalpel in your pocket.

While the blade is too thin for prying, you shouldn’t be prying with it anyway — that’s what a pry-bar is for. Between the rust-resistant proprietary steel, perfectly-apexed edge, excellent heat treat, drop-shut bearing pivot, excellent ergonomics, and flawless quality control, this knife is sure to punch way above its weight class.

The Civivi Dogma is a snazzy,snappy EDC knife with some excellent features. First and foremost, it’s a Civivi, so it’s got a smooth and reliable action, perfect centering, and solid lockup. The G-10 handle is textured with carbon fiber for good grip, but is reminiscent of classic knives with bolsters. Lastly, the flipper tab and linerlock both feature comfortable, chamfered jimping to ensure that, whether opening or closing, you won’t lose your grip.

Product Specs
  • Blade length: 3.5 inches
  • Blade material: Stainless Damascus
  • Handle material: G10/carbon fiber
  • Blade style: Clip point
  • Blade grind: Hollow
PROS

Made from 10Cr15CoMoV and 9Cr18MoV stainless steels

Heat-treated to 59-61 HRC Backed by a limited lifetime warranty

Thin, hollow ground blade is very slicey and well-sharpened

Pivot runs on bearings for a silky smooth action

CONS

Thin, hollow ground blade is too thin for abusive tasks

You don’t have to spend a lot to get a decent Damascus knife, and the Boker Rangebuster is a perfect example of this. A classic design, this pocket knife is nice and compact so you can easily slip it into any pocket. This knife features a three-inch long blade that’s just right for EDC or carrying around the office.

With a drop-point pattern-welded Damascus blade that’s made with 73 layers of both high carbon and low carbon steel, this slip joint is part of Boker’s budget ‘Magnum’ line. As a result, it looks fantastic, and performs well for most common EDC tasks, but it could have better fit and finish in some areas. Ours had several rough edges on the liners and visible machining marks. While the pivot features upgraded phosphor bronze washers unlike most slip joints, it isn’t adjustable, resulting in noticeable, uncorrectable blade play. The edge is properly apexed for the most part, except for the area right next to the sharpening choil, which is visibly dull. You’ll also want to occasionally oil the blade to prevent rust, as it’s made from high carbon steel. Overall though, this knife is an instant classic that is sure to stand out with its ebony handles and beautiful brass hardware.

Product Specs
  • Blade length: 3 inches
  • Blade material: Pattern-welded Damascus
  • Handle material: Ebony/brass
  • Blade style: Drop point
  • Blade grind: Hollow
PROS

Blade is made from 73 layers of high carbon and low carbon steel

Traditional, timeless slip joint design is perfect for EDC on a budget

Pivot runs on phosphorous bronze washers for an improved, smoother action

CONS

Some blade play, due to the non-adjustable pivot

Factory edge isn't apexed near the choil

Some fit/finish issues

Requires oiling due to being less rust resistant

Editor’s Choice

If you’re searching for a premium knife that’s truly impressive to have in your hand, the Boker Kwaiken might be just the right choice. This knife is on the pricier side, but you’ll see that it’s a work of art upon closer inspection. It takes Boker’s extremely popular Kwaiken model designed by Lucas Burnley and upgrades it with solid, milled titanium handles scales and a high-end Damasteel blade. The 3.5-inch straight-back blade is hollow-ground to help make the strong, thick blade stock slice better. The Damasteel blade offers performance similar to that of 154cm, providing a great medley of edge retention, corrosion resistance, and ease of sharpening.

The quality control is exactly what you’d expect for a knife in the premium-tier price range, with the only issue being the edge: similar to the Boker Magnum Rangebuster, the edge properly apexed up to just before the sharpening notch, where it has a short, visibly dull area. However, the majority of the edge is razor sharp, with beautiful, symmetrical grinds. A pivot equipped with the IKBS bearing system ensures a consistently smooth action, which combined with the smooth titanium scales, really rounds out the unique style of this knife. This knife might be a little on the heavier side for some users, as the scales and steel liners aren’t skeletonized for any sort of weight reduction, but most will be impressed by the snappy flipping action.

Product Specs
  • Blade length: 3.5 inches
  • Blade material: Damasteel
  • Handle material: Titanium
  • Blade style: Straightback
  • Blade grind: Hollow
PROS

Features high-end Damasteel blade

Pivot runs on bearings for a silky smooth action

Attractive titanium handle is extremely durable

CONS

Handle is a little heavy for some users

Factory edge isn't apexed near the choil

Blade grind is on the thicker side, making it a poor contestant for slicing

Best Budget

Damasteel might be the best modern Damascus on the market, but it’s also typically the most expensive. However, the Rike Hummingbird brings you the least expensive damasteel blade currently on the market by offering you what also happens to be the smallest. This compact folder is petite, razor sharp, and intricately milled out of titanium. Great for a keychain knife, small EDC tasks, or even for its collectibility, this little blade weighs just 0.59 ounces. It offers a 1.57 inch long blade that’s mirror polished before being acid etched, leaving it with an incredibly beautiful finish. The flat-ground drop point shape gives you a blade thin yet strong enough to tackle a variety of tasks. A steel lockbar insert ensures durability and longevity of the framelock mechanism, and the detent and pivot both utilize ceramic bearings for a smooth, snappy action. A small Kydex sheath accompanies the knife, along with a small chain, in case you’d like to carry it as a neck knife.

The biggest attraction to this knife is also its biggest downside: its size. If you have medium sized hands, you’ll have a bit of a learning curve. Small hands will have a bit less difficulty, and those of you with big, meaty mitts might as well give up now. We did learn in testing that the knife deploys consistently as long as you keep your fingers on the pocket clip, and not on the lockbar. Some slight jimping on the flipper tab ensures that your finger doesn’t slip off when attempting to deploy the blade. Once open, the knife has surprisingly good ergonomics– for something you can only fit two fingers on, that is.

Product Specs
  • Blade length: 1.57 inches
  • Blade material: Damasteel
  • Handle material: Titanium
  • Blade style: Drop point
  • Blade grind: Flat
PROS

CNC’d from high-end titanium and Damasteel

Excellent machining and razor sharp edge

Beautiful design and anodizing

Bearing pivot ensures smooth flipping action

CONS

Built more for form than function

Difficult to actuate for medium to large hands

Why you should trust us

A self-described knife nerd, I’ve dabbled in blacksmithing, martial arts, and competitive shooting in the past. My past reviews for Task & Purpose include the Cold Steel American Lawman, WE Stonefish, Leatherman Curl, Cold Steel Storm Cloud, and Spyderco Slip Stone.

Common types of Damascus knives

Damascus steel knives come in many different forms and sizes. No matter what type of knife you’re looking for, it’s highly likely that you’ll be able to find a Damascus steel version of it. While Damascus knives are made in a more complex, specialized manner than mono-steel blades, that’s exactly why they’re popular– and that means you’ll find plenty of options.

All modern Damascus-style knives are made similarly. Whether a knife is hand-forged or not, the blade is crafted from multiple-layered steel alloys. At one point this was thought to strengthen the blade by allowing it to have both the high edge retention of harder steel alloys, while retaining the damping and toughness of softer, less brittle steel alloys; however, due to the innovation of modern steel alloys, the only real benefit to modern Damascus is the aesthetics. Regardless, if you absolutely need to have a knife that looks as good as it cuts, there are a few common types of Damascus knives for you to be aware of.

Fixed blades

A fixed blade is any knife with a blade that is ‘fixed’ in place, meaning that it doesn’t have a pivot, and is firmly, immovably attached to the handle. They’re essentially the opposite of pocket knives. The blade is always exposed, unless covered by a sheath. They’re simple, easier to manufacture than folding knives, and very user friendly due to the absence of a confusing locking mechanism. Fixed blade Damascus knives come in many varieties, including hunting/skinning, survival, and chef’s knives. The better-designed fixed blades are also full-tang, where the part of the blade that’s part of the handle is the same size and shape as the handle, as this provides the greatest overall strength. The majority of Damascus fixed blades, unfortunately, are not; these knives have a thin metal ‘tail’ that is either pinned or glued inside of the handle, and are more prone to breaking.

Folding knives

Also referred to as a pocket knife, a folder is a compact knife that features one or more blades that fold up into the handle, in lieu of using a bulky sheath. Meant to fit easily inside your pocket, these knives are legal to carry in most places, and are convenient to carry and use daily. They are frequently smaller than fixed blades, with blades typically between three to four inches long, although there are many exceptions that are both longer and shorter than this. However, they’re quite handy — they can do everything from peeling an apple, to cutting small rope or twine, to doubling as a last-ditch form of protection. Though these folding knives are typically smaller and not as strong as their fixed blade siblings, they’re highly versatile.

What to look for when buying Damascus knives

Blade length

A blade that’s too long — or too short — can seriously limit how you’re able to use your Damascus knife. You want to find the right length for your most frequent uses. For example, if you need an EDC knife, a three to four inch folder will likely do the trick for most daily situations. However, if you’re using it for hunting, camping, or meal prep, you’re going to need a longer fixed blade. Another large consideration is the knife laws in your area. Obviously, you’ll want to avoid purchasing a knife that is too long for you to legally carry.

Blade shape

One of the most important things when picking out the right blade for your task, the blade shape and overall geometry can greatly impact how effective your knife is, as well how long it will last. You wouldn’t want to baton through a log with a chef’s knife, or skin a deer with a kukri. Some jobs require a thicker, stronger blade, while others require a thinner slicer blade. A knife with a super thin tip might be great for delicate, detailed work, but might break if used for chopping.

Steel type

Damascus steel can be made with many different types of steel. There are also various methods of making it, with a wide range of quality. In general, it’s easiest to just avoid any Damascus knives that are cheap, made in the Middle East/India, and advertised as ‘handmade’

There are some decent, inexpensive, pattern-welded Damascus blades out there, but they can be hard to pick out from the poor quality ones if you don’t know what to look for. We’d advise only buying Damascus from reputable, well known companies, and to stick with either stainless Damascus or Damasteel if possible. However, depending on your intended use, you might have to go with pattern-welded steel, as high carbon steels tend to offer better toughness.

The most common types of Damascus knives

Pattern-welded Damascus steel

By far the most common way of making Damascus-style steel, this variant is made by forge-welding at least two dissimilar metals together. After they are forge-welded together, they are folded and welded again repeatedly to form an ingot, drawn out and formed into the basic shape of the blade, heat-treated, tempered, and ground; The blade is then dipped in acid to patina the blade and bring out the final pattern of the folded layers of steel. Ferric Chloride acid is frequently used, and 1095 and 15N20 are frequent high carbon steel choices for pattern-welded Damascus, due to the high-nickel content of 15N20 making it patina drastically lighter than 1095, which creates strikingly bold patterns.

The billet is heated, hammered, and folded repeatedly. The distinct patterns on the blade are created by twisting, folding and drawing out the billet. Overall, the process creates a very strong blade, but its durability is due to the steel alloys that are chosen to create the blade. The pattern in damascus steel is only visually revealed once the steel is cleaned, prepared and etched in acid. The two types of steel react differently in the acid oxidation process. One oxidized steel is lighter and the other is darker, only then is the pattern revealed on the surface that is hidden within the steel.

Stainless Damascus

Depending on the steels/metals used, Damascus steel can be stainless or not. To become a stainless Damascus both steels must have at least 14% chromium. While the most notable advantage to this is a drastic increase in corrosion resistance, there’s typically an increase in quality as well, as this is harder to make than pattern-welded Damascus.

Damasteel

Damasteel is a modern, innovative take on Damascus steel that utilizes particle metallurgy (PM) to produce extremely high quality stainless Damascus that performs very similarly to CPM154 steel, and has drastically less impurities and inclusions than pattern-welded Damascus. It also features improved toughness and edge retention, courtesy of the PM process. This is the most expensive option, but you get what you pay for.

Pricing considerations for Damascus knivesa

Budget

Plenty of Damascus knives are budget-friendly and priced at $60 or less. You’ll find quite a few pocket knives, survival knives, and hunting knives within this price range. Beware of Damascus knives in this price range that are made in the Middle East/India and advertised as ‘handmade’.

Mid-range

If you’re looking for a more specialized Damascus knife like a chef’s knife, a quality hand-forged blade, or one made from stainless steel Damascus, you’ll find those mid-tier options in the $60 to $150 range. 

Premium

Only accepting the best of the best? You’ll want to look in the $150 and up price range. Here’s where you’ll find your high end chef’s knives, damasteel, and custom blades.

How we chose our top picks

We chose our top picks by looking at Damascus knives at various price points, then assessing which had the best customer reviews and highest ratings. We then examined the durability and versatility, along with the materials and quality control that went into making each knife, and tested each knife individually.

FAQs on Damascus knives

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q. How good is Damascus steel for knives?

A: It varies greatly, but quality Damascus is perfectly fine, it’s worth noting that nothing currently on the market outperforms mono-steels like CPM S35VN or other common premium steels. And unfortunately, the cheaper, low quality Damascus that is frequently peddled can have serious issues, including poor edge retention, delamination, and rust.

Q. Do Damascus Knives rust?

A: Any steel will rust, given the right conditions and a high enough carbon content, but you’ll mainly see corrosion on pattern-welded Damascus that uses high-carbon steels like 1095. It’s imperative that you keep non-stainless Damascus properly maintained to prevent the slightest chance of rust.

Q. Do Damascus knives hold an edge better?

A: It depends on what you’re comparing them to, but in general, most premium blade steels like CPM S35VN will consistently hold a better edge for longer.

Q. How should I maintain my Damascus knife?

A: If it is made using carbon or high carbon steels, you’ll want to keep it clean, to prevent any dirt buildup from allowing moisture to collect and cause rust. By the same token, you’ll also want to dry off the blade as soon as possible after being exposed to water, and wipe it down every other week or so with a thin layer of oil– more frequently, if you live in a humid environment. It’s also best to not store it in its sheath, as moisture can collect in there, without much chance to evaporate. Stainless Damascus and Damasteel are vastly easier to maintain– just keep them clean and dry, and they’ll be happy.

Q. Should I buy a cheap pattern-welded Damascus knife?

A: Lol, no. I can’t stress how much of a waste of money these are.

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Josiah Johnston is an active-duty Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, originally from the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. He’s dabbled in blacksmithing, martial arts, competitive shooting, and is a self-described knife nerd.

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