I saw a beautiful Damascus knife/straight razor on Etsy for $39.95, made in Pakistan. How can they make a high-quality knife so cheaply?

Short answer: They can’t.

Longer answer: There are a number of ways to drive down the cost of making a beautiful, hand-forged Damascus knife:

  • Get children to make them for almost no pay, in dangerous, abusive situations.
  • Use cheap materials, such as mild steel. The knife may look good, but it will probably be hard to sharpen properly (or at all).
  • Ignore good design practice. A knife needs the proper edge geometry to be able to cut or chop as required, strong spine, secure attachment of handle to blade, and above all, be safe. It’s much faster to turn out poorly designed and potentially unsafe knives.
  • Take shortcuts. The knife may not go through the thermocycling and heat treatments required to make a strong, hard, durable blade. Or the maker ignores good quality control practices and doesn’t check the knife for flaws before sending it out.
  • Commit fraud. Knives advertised as “Damascus steel,” are actually made of a single steel alloy, and the moire patterns of Damascus are stamped, laser-etched, or printed onto the blade. In some cases, the “damascus” actually wears off when you wash the knife.

If you see a knife on Etsy that “normally sells for $300, but today only: $39.95!!” well…you get what you pay for. Be especially aware of Damascus blades coming from Pakistan or China, lately the source of a lot of poor-quality steel.