16 Nov 2006

Damascus Steel: Medieval Nanotechnology?

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17th century shamshir by Assad Ullah

Nature reports that scientists studying the technology of Damascus steel believe the material used in Arabic Medieval weapons may deserve to be regarded as an early form of nanotechnology.

Unfortunately, they seem to be unaware of the similar technology used in the Indonesian keris, or of the far more complex metallurgy of Japanese swords. And they are evidently unfortunately also unaware of the revival of Damascus steel-making by the late American knifemaker William F. Moran.

Think carbon nanotubes are new-fangled? Think again. The Crusaders felt the might of the tube when they fought against the Muslims and their distinctive, patterned Damascus blades.

Sabres from Damascus, now in Syria, date back as far as 900 AD. Strong and sharp, they are made from a type of steel called wootz.

Their blades bear a banded pattern thought to have been created as the sword was annealed and forged. But the secret of the swords’ manufacture was lost in the eighteenth century.

Materials researcher Peter Paufler and his colleagues at Dresden University, Germany, have taken electron-microscope pictures of the swords and found that wootz has a microstructure of nano-metre-sized tubes, just like carbon nanotubes used in modern technologies for their lightweight strength.

Read the whole thing.

Chemistry World

The Australian.

6 Feedbacks on "Damascus Steel: Medieval Nanotechnology?"


From my understanding, Japanese sword steel is inferior to Damascus steel, not to mention the new American so-called Damascus steel is only a cosmetic treatment during the forging process. Neither can compare to the nano-tube found in real Damascus steel.


I’m afraid that Japanese swords use the same principle as Damascus, but in a much more sophisticated and complex way to produce a far, far more effective result.


They’re not talking about folded steel. They’re saying that the forging process is causing nano tubes with nano wires to spontaneously generate. This is significant because nanotubes are stronger than steel and as flexible as plastic:

Maybe it has to do with the exotic ingredients (plants and minerals native to the area and since exhausted), some type of folding, or a combination of these and other factors which caused these tubes to form.

I’d like to know if this type of stuff has been studied on Japanese or Indonesian blades… or in modern steel for that matter. This is all very interesting to me, so if you have more links, please post them.


You’ll have to cite something that shows Japanese steel to be of higher quality than Damascus steel. Of course, you need to separate between process, and the steel itself. Japanese iron ore was notoriously poor, which is why they had to develop such intricate and time consuming processes.

On the other hand, Damascus steel and Toledo steel are very high quality alloys themselves. You can’t just create nanotubes from nothing, you have to have the right mixture of ingredients in your ore when you smelt.


Have you made your own studies on Japanese, Indonesian, and Damascus steels’ metallurgy and forging? From all the research on Damascus steel that I’ve studied, they showed that its nanotube structure is superior to any known steel forged using other methods, especially the ones you mentioned. And since when the technique to forge Damascus steel was ‘revived’ by the aforementioned William F. Moran who I’ve never heard of nor read about in any Damascus steel articles? Rather than writing baseless information, you should have just included the Nature article.

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