Damascus Knife Maintenance Tips
Made from Damascus steel, a Damascus knife uses a particular type of metal developed for sword making in about 300 BC. A Damascus blade knife has a distinctive banding and mottling pattern that appears wavy, like flowing water or wood grain. Swords made of Damascus steel had a reputation for being shatter-resistant, strong and capable of maintaining a sharp edge for a long time.
While people no longer use swords as a primary means of defense, a hunting knife made with Damascus steel has the same desirable traits. Even though a Damascus knife is tough, however, you still need to exercise proper care and maintenance.
We recommend washing all knives by hand. I believe hand washing is gentler to the wood handles. (All wood handles are made from stabilized wood and been treated with Tung Oil for a durable and lasting finish.) The blades can be washed and dried immediately, and then the knife should be stored properly. High carbon (and Damascus) should be lightly coated with camellia or olive oil and kept in a dry place. High carbon knives should never be stored in a leather scabbard.
Sharpening a Damascus Knife
Damascus knives have a reputation for maintaining a sharp edge, but they do need sharpening on occasion, as the mild outer steel will wear away faster than the carbon components. High carbon knives (regular and Damascus) are not stainless. However, it requires only a little care to keep them from getting rusty. Just dry them after use! Only before a long period of non-use does the blade need to receive a smear of oil. If the knife gets rusty, it is not a disaster. The rust will disappear as soon as you sharpen it. Additionally you can use a rust eraser.
Keep the knife regularly sharpened.
The best way to sharpen a high carbon (Damascus) is on a whet or water stone. Dry grinding wheels are not a good idea. Domestic knife sharpeners should also be avoided. Any dry grinding wheel will cause the high carbon steel to soften, and the performance of the knife will be affected. Most steels and domestic knife sharpeners are too hard and coarse (they may cause tiny individual cutting particles to break off).
The choice of stone should be between grain size 800 and 1200, and it should be laid in water first for about 5 minutes. Position the stone so that it is unlikely to slip, and draw the blade over it at an angle of 10 - 15° with lengthways or circular movements under gentle pressure so that the whole length of the blade is treated. Do be careful to maintain the same angle throughout the process. The more acute the angle, the sharper will be the cutting edge - but, of course, also the more delicate!
Section three; choosing the right sharpening stone.
Man-Made or Industrial Diamond bench stones are typically only available at hunting stores. You can find diamond stones running the gamut from very coarse to SUPER fine, depending on your need. Don't get the wrong idea; you won't actually be holding a carat's worth of gem-grade diamond. Instead, diamond bench stones typically consist of a plastic holder with a metal matrix on top, with the metal matrix itself coated in multiple micro thin layers of crushed diamond particles. Diamond sharpeners are great because the abrasive grit itself does not wear out, and as such can be used on higher-carbon-steel knives that would be difficult to sharpen otherwise. The disadvantage is that the glue holding the diamonds to the matrix can weaken over time, and you will start to lose the grit itself, thereby decreasing the efficiency of the sharpener itself.
Tungsten Carbide is actually the second hardest man-made material next to Industrial Diamond; however, you won't see it advertised as such or by its proper name. Tungsten Carbide is the metal that is used as a coarse abrasive in most of the pre-angled "pull through" style knife sharpeners. The downside is that this abrasive is typically only available in the pull-through styled sharpeners. Tungsten Carbide in this form is VERY difficult to wear out.
Ceramic stones are another manmade abrasive, and are usually the other component in pull-through style sharpeners. Ceramics are typically found in rod form, although flat bench-stone style pieces do exist. This particular abrasive is very fine and used to as a final step in most sharpening kits, and is very difficult to wear out.
"Arkansas" Stones are a natural stone from the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas, and are formed from a geographically unique mineral called Novaculite. Arkansas stones are not graded the same way that other abrasives are, because they are actual pieces of rock out of the ground and not a granulated form of abrasive that can be easily classified. However, they are graded from coarse to fine as follows; Soft, Hard, Surgical Black, and Opalescent. Arkansas Stones are a specialized product, and while the Soft stone is easily available at most hunting stores, the latter three are a bit more difficult to come by and a LOT more expensive than the Soft Stone. The advantage of an Arkansas stone is that it polishes the edge to a smooth finish as you sharpen, thus resulting in a finer edge, AND the abrasive is consistent through and through.
Japanese Water Stones are mentioned here for inclusivity when discussing natural sharpening stones. Much like the Arkansas stones, Japanese water stones are capable of putting a keen polished edge on a knife. Unlike Arkansas stones, however, they are graded using actual grit numbers which are fairly consistent from one stone to the next. The reason for this is because where an Arkansas stone is cut from the ground whole; a Japanese Water Stone is actually made, utilizing different grades of crushed stone grit particles suspended in a clay matrix. This type of stone has the significant advantage over all others in that they are available in far more grades than other sharpening stones (the Japanese woodworker catalog carries them from a very coarse 80 grit on up to a mirror smooth 12000 grit), the only drawback being that the clay causes the stone to be softer than others, which can lead to valleys being ground into it. Unlike other stones, a Japanese water stone CAN be flattened and refinished.
Maintaining a Damascus Knife
A Damascus knife generally costs more than other types of hunting knives. This type of hunting knife is an investment, and as such, its proper care will ensure it has a long life and remains rust-free. Only store a Damascus hunting knife in a leather sheath for short lengths of time, like when you go hunting. Otherwise, since leather easily absorbs moisture, it can cause the Damascus knife blade to rust.
Store your Damascus knife in a box made of cured and sealed wood, which is less likely to emit gases. If you do not have a wooden box made for knife storage, you can store your hunting knife in a china cabinet drawer or a powder-coated metal cabinet. If you do not have a plastic sheath for the Damascus blade, knife protection options include wrapping it in white cotton socks or t-shirts. Alternatively, you can wrap the knife in newsprint as long as the paper is acid-free. One of the most important considerations when storing a hunting knife is to keep it in an environment that has little to no moisture and humidity.
Whenever you clean a Damascus knife, dry it immediately to prevent rust. Use a microfiber cloth, a cotton flour-sack towel or a cotton t-shirt to dry the knife. Every time you use your hunting knife or it gets wet, polish the blade with a soft cloth. When drying your hunting knife, do not neglect the handle, as trapped water can cause oxidation.
After drying and polishing your knife, apply one coat of wax appropriate for knives over the Damascus blade to prevent rust. If you do not have wax, use a coat of petroleum jelly or vegetable oil. However, these substitutes may not be good for long-term care.
A Damascus knife can require a bigger monetary investment when compared to hunting knives made with other types of metal. However, the strength of a Damascus knife and its superior ability to stay sharp are a good tradeoff for the cost and effort of maintaining this elite hunting knife.