SWORDS OF IRON, SWORDS OF STEEL (PART I) First Presented at the Miniver Cheevy Society for Early Medieval Studies

, March, 1991 Updated and Revised in A.D. 2001, On-line illustrations and bibliography added 2003 BRUCE EDWARD BLACKISTONE (Atli) OAKLEY FARM, AVENUE, MD 20609 "A little Learning is a Dang'rous Thing; drink Deep or taste not the Pierian Spring." Alexander Pope: Essay on Criticism, 1711 The Mystique and Magic of the Sword The sword has always been a valued and honored weapon. The spear, axe and knife can all stab, hack and slice (sometimes with more efficiency, and certainly at less trouble and expense) but the sword has been seen throughout history as a weapon of nobility and magic. It is suitable for swearing oaths on or by. It has been a valued heirloom and a symbol of power to many people in many times and places. The Roman legionnaire probably regarded his sword more as a useful tool than as a mystical symbol. Beyond the care and respect that almost any soldier feels for a reliable and efficient piece of equipment upon which his life depended (and one that stayed at hand, unlike the pilum), the Roman would hew barbarians or brushwood with equal facility. His sword was issued to him. It was usually not an heirloom passed down through the family, nor an award for heroic service, nor was it purchased at great price and embellished with gold. It was just, well... a sword. At the other extreme, the Javanese kris has far more power as a magical talisman, cultural badge and work of art than it has as a weapon. Kris are reputed to leap into the hand when the owner is attacked; to rattle in the scabbard when danger approaches; to sigh in disappointment when sheathed. Many are said to be able to direct flames and help put out house fires, while some are so potent that merely stabbing an enemies foot print will ensure his demise. Meteoric iron is used in some kris not so much for its superior quality or contrasting beauty (although these are valid virtues) but because of its magical associations. For the Japanese the sword was venerated for its symbolic and mystical qualities and some of the finer ones were enshrined in Shinto temples. Today the Japanese sword is seen as a triumph of art and craftsmanship, but during turbulent times the sword smiths could also hammer them out in quantity. One smithy increased its rate of production from one every two weeks to ten a day! In Islam the sword was also highly honored and justly famed for its keenness of edge and strength, the result of the superior steel employed in its forging. (The earliest Islamic swords were very similar to the European broad sword, the familiar scimitar being adapted from Turkic and other steppe tribes.) Damascus became the most famed center

flexible yet sturdy. The mace and. The knowledge is available in the library. A spear could stab and if the point bent a bit on a bone you could work around it. Everybody knew stories about wondrous blades forged by god/smiths or giants or dwarves. The northern European broad sword of pattern welded or homogenous construction inhabited the middle ground between the mystic and the utilitarian. An axe might be a bit heavy. They would be given names like "Limb Biter" or "Wolf Tooth" or "Pierce" but this was probably more a case of affection for an animistic companion than for any noumenous power that might be invoked. The reason for this is that knowledge of smelting. no sword 'til tested. no ale 'til drunk.of the craft. The physical requirements of the sword were special. its variations. crushing force. Others may stumble upon superior methods and products through empirical experimentation. The market for a superior product could only be controlled if the resources and techniques were closely held. As Odin says in the Hovamal: "Praise no day 'til evening. From Pliny the Elder (+AD79) until the 17th century the sources are remarkably tight lipped. no maid 'til bedded. SECRETS As I started to research this paper I came across a literary gap in the sources (at least as far as European swords are concerned). Old swords were valued not the least because only good swords got to be old swords. hard and sharp yet tough. THE PROPERTIES OF THE SWORD The sword was a high technology weapon in its day. Think of it as a cold chisel with a cutting edge 30 . but that was no reason to give it away. guild or town. so that to this day any steel showing a pattern similar to the eutectic steel employed in Islamic swords is called "damascus". and the competition for a somewhat limited market is fierce. no ice 'til crossed. but very few seemed to know anyone who had them. relied on brute. It had to be long yet strong." I can personally attest that there is nothing so embarrassing as standing on the battlefield holding an empty hilt while the blade lies flopped on the grass behind you. good steel litters the landscape as scrap. but it was sturdy and powerful and one well directed blow could put an end to the most intractable dispute. None of these weapons required the amount and quality of valuable metal that the sword did. no wife 'til on her pyre. For a modern parallel observe the despairing reaction of any Marklandic blacksmith upon learning that another has taken up the hammer. forging and tempering techniques were important trade secrets to be kept within the confines of the family.

04% (4 pts. Interesting enough. Characteristics: soft. withstands compression. against unarmored opponents. for beauty and for respect. tends towards springiness. leather and cloth armor. It won't hold an edge. makes dandy door hinges but lousy swords. resists rust. brittle. creating various alloys for different purposes. won't work very well either.) To stay sharp a sword had to be hard.25% (225 pts. malleable. . STEEL: . it's actually worse than bronze. difficult to weld. Further. S. welds easily. So here is the basic problem: wrought iron. WROUGHT IRON: . they will affect the performance of the steel. a sword could be too sharp.inches long. and if you were to use a sword as an impact weapon a mace would do better. As opposed to the swords used in recreation and thespian battles today. the better to cleave metal. available in Asia because of the design of their smelting furnaces and the use of coal. In the period we are dealing with these trace metals were accidental. Cast iron is produced (in useable quantities) by high heat blast furnaces. During the Indian Wars the U.04% (4 pts. In the modern period they are intentional. One of the Norse sagas recounts a king who had several mysterious. It is much too brittle. but the harder it is the more brittle it tends to be. Let's step back here and deal with the materials at this point. and ores containing different elements were used for different tools or weapons. At the crux of the battle. Only steel achieves the required balance of qualities.5% to 4. CAST IRON: Up to 8% impurities including 3. when he observed his men wearying and the swords not biting-in.) carbon. Trial and error works even when you don't know why something works. available in classical and early medieval Europe. heat resistant. In the next sections I will go in depth into how separate societies with similar levels of technology solved this problem to create swords for defense. Cast iron. Cavalry troops were ordered not to sharpen their sabers since the sharp ones tended to cleave into and get stuck in the bone. it bends and deforms. heavy chests hauled aboard before sailing off to a sea battle. but there is no easy and sure way to smelt it in quantity. rusts. he opened the chests to reveal newly sharpened swords. doesn't weld at all. Characteristics: harder. 3% silica.) carbon. Most modern steel runs from 20 point "mild steel" to 150 point "tool steel". easy to burn in the forge. non-malleable.all in proportion to its carbon content. the edges were well sharpened. Intentional or accidental. Steel has a low silica content and usually various trace metals.) to 2. cracks when worked at wrong temperature . rusts. when bent tends to stay bent. (Cutting steel with a dull chisel is no fun. resists burning in the forge. less malleable. it requires special techniques to create a reliable weapon in the high-stress environment that a sword must operate in. plus phosphorus.25% carbon. casts in liquid form. Characteristics: hard. which were rapidly issued to the seamen.00% to . shatters when over-hardened. silica etc.

They are: natural alloy iron. pattern welding. weapons or hardware according to their various virtues. all that a quenching medium does is to control the rate of cooling and therefore the hardness and temper of a blade. "Magic" waters. In truth. and even (legendarily) living slaves were used to quench swords in the pursuit of both physical and magical virtue. blood. simple laminated welding. work-hardened iron was hardly the ideal material for weapons. gusts of cold air. and frequently inferior to. secret formulas. wax. brine will cool slightly faster (a point still in contention in several modern books which insist that brine cools more slowly). bronze. know little of the talent involved in the making of their swords. The occurrence of manganese. with a low boiling point.honor or veneration. homogeneous tempered steel. Iron ore was not only more plentiful than those metals. Still. crucible wootz steel. and complex laminated welding. This is either a classic case of disinformation to obscure the processes used from the competition or reflects the tenacious belief that the constitution of the quenching medium is of the utmost importance to the quality of the finished object. but suffice it to say that you can get pretty much the same quenching performance from a barrel of tepid brine as opposed to plunging a red hot blade into a living slave. milk. just as bronze was. Roman Swords Early blades of almost pure iron could be work-hardened to some extent. It has also been noticed that the poor slave would tend to writhe a bit. We. unfortunately. which might . Water. but the other needed ingredient to smelt it -charcoal. nickel and tungsten in these ores benefited the hardness and toughness of the finished metal with manganese especially adding to the ability to work harden the edge. so I will take this opportunity to list them and then explain them at length while describing their manufacture and the characteristics of the processes. These swords were no better than. butter. which were both more rare and widely dispersed. but overdoing this could lead to brittleness. but the end result indicates that it was more than competent. cools quickly. Interestingly enough Pliny the Elder attributes these superior properties not to the quality of the ore or the skill of the regional craftsmen but to the qualities of the water that they were quenched in. infused wootz steel. But iron ores were relatively plentiful as opposed to copper and tin. and at far less pain. These natural alloys were employed in tools. But the advantage of having an empire is that you have a wide range of both human talent and material resources. The constant and skillful pounding of the smith's hammer tended to compact the mass. expense and spiritual peril. PART II Methods of Construction There are seven methods of construction that we will deal with in the next several parts of this paper. The results of the cooling rate will be discussed further on. Interruption of trade for any reason would prevent the accumulation of either or both copper and tin and immediately halt further manufacture of bronze.stood in rich supply in the forests that blanketed Europe. and oil cools slower. In terms of resources the main secret of the Roman sword was the quality of the ore from which the metal was smelted.

phosphorus. a technique apparently devised by the Celts at about.put a bit of twist in the blade. Now when the bloom was removed from the furnace. those portions that hadn't absorbed the carbon would work like wrought iron. in keeping with the normal level of subterfuge. Those portions that had absorbed too much carbon would turn into cast iron. Beyond regional ores the Romans would also import wootz steel from India via the Levant. However. The ore could consist of some high quality natural alloy with a nice proportion of manganese to strengthen it and remove impurities such as sulfur.) Limonite also occurs in "fossil" form. good for door hinges but not so great for swords. or shortly before. It was filled from the top with semi-mixed layers of ore and charcoal (and eventually limestone or some other appropriate flux to carry off or absorb impurities). weighing from 5 to 50 pounds. shears or other cutting implements and were considered both high class and high priced. Eventually you would get a large. Some impurities would burn away and others would melt as slag (taking a lot of iron with it). the Romans were led to believe that these small (2 to 5 lbs. and you pumped the bellows too hard or the wind came up unexpectedly. From at least the first century the Romans also employed laminated and complex pattern welding in some of their swords. but if it tasted of sulfur.) ingots originated in China along with the silk they so eagerly sought. At about 2400 degrees F the iron would start to absorb the carbon. the carbon in the charcoal would cause the iron to start to aggregate as the oxygen of the iron oxide was consumed in the reducing conditions of the fire and changed to carbon monoxide. You would then take this "bloom". that might not be a good sign. if you carefully controlled your proportions and air flow and heat. and arsenic. Now. red hot. These ingots were apparently devoted exclusively to swords. In its early form it was a wide. if you got careless or curious or distracted and put in too much charcoal. either to melt away in the slag or to shatter as the cooling mass was hammered . or it could be plain old (and ever popular) bog iron (limonite). Bog iron is formed by bacterial action precipitating it from solution in the water. then the ore was probably pretty good. daggers. this time. low chimney with an opening at the bottom for feeding in air and manipulating the bloom. but not so much as to oxidize or melt the mass. lay it on a large flat rock or anvil and have three large friends with sledge hammers beat the ever-living aspirations and most of the silica and remaining impurities out of it until you were left with a large bar shaped piece of wrought iron. lumpish mass consisting mostly of iron with some silica. If the bog remains undisturbed the limonite will replenish itself in about twenty years. where a bog may once have existed. and you kept feeding it and let it run longer than usual a funny thing would start to happen. THE NORTHERN EUROPEANS In the north as in Rome the primary source of iron and steel was the bloomery furnace: a fairly simple device that relied on natural draft. depending upon the design. You would either drag this out of the front of the furnace or dismantle the furnace to get at it. Of course. prevailing winds or minimal bellows to supply the air to raise the temperature of the fire enough to reduce the oar to a mass of metal and slag. (If the local well water tasted heavily of iron.

steel. at 30 pts. and at 40 pts. A groove was frequently fullered down the midsection of the blade to both strengthen and lighten the blade in relation to its width. When all is ready except the final sharpening the blade is hardened and tempered. cutting edge laid into it.into a billet. In terms of an axe with a 40 pt. discovered in England and X-rayed by the British Museum. it's about 58. Assuming that the thermal shock is . Steel could be hardened and tempered. the hardness is about 50. and it didn't take that much carbon to give a good cutting edge. homogenous billet out of which to forge the blade. You might not even have to temper it at this range. at 20 pts. This is low by modern standards but if you were to graph out the maximum quenched hardness of steel against the carbon content. It's basically the same principle that tin roofs and corrugated cardboard rely upon for stiffness. and was back down to 45% in the 9th through 10th centuries. There are now two courses that you could take to make the sword.) The sword is then brought to a smoother finish and the hammer marks removed by filing and/or the use of a grindstone. (from: Swords of the Anglo Saxon and Viking Periods in the British Museum: A Radiographic Study) HOMOGENEOUS STEEL SWORDS We will deal with the homogenous steel sword first. 77% in the 6th century. but it would still have the hardness of the steel and the durability and toughness of the wrought iron. Starting with an appropriate size steel billet of suitable carbon content (Probably about 60 pts. The metal between these two extremes was steel (or "hard iron" in the classical period). but that's probably a bit of Victorian Romanticism. Both types of swords were used throughout the early medieval period. let's say brine. A partial breakdown showed that pattern welded blades made up 44% of the finds in the 5th through 6th centuries. Too little carbon would lack the springiness as well as the hardness required. you would notice a peculiar phenomenon: 10 pt. One is to accumulate enough of the right grade of steel to create a uniform. the steel only gains about 7 more Rockwell "C" scale points in maximum hardness as the curve levels out. Several cutting implements such as axes and chisels from the Mastermyr find were analyzed and the cutting edges were found to be only 40 pt. There are two methods of doing this: In the first the blade is heated to a cherry red and then plunged into a cooling medium. From 40 pts. to 100 pts. Of some 142 swords from the 5th through the 10th centuries.) the metal is heated and the blade and tang are drawn out by hammering to sword-like proportions. this would mean that you may have to sharpen it more often. 100% in the 7th century. steel has a hardness on the Rockwell "C" scale of about 38. The other is to try to take several grades of steel and wrought iron and forge them into a sword so as to take advantage of their diverse properties. (This fuller is sometimes called a "blood gutter" today. some 64% were patterned welded. It looked different and worked different since the higher the carbon content the more "stiffly" it worked. too much would be too brittle. the maximum hardness is about 61.

Once the carbon in the steel started to burn it was all over and the piece could well be ruined. The result of drawing to a bronze in 100 pt. Starting with pale yellow at 420 degrees it goes to straw (470). steel would be quite different than in 40 pt. Tempering. Whether medieval European swordsmiths ever used this technique will remain speculative until comprehensive examination of the blades take place. This leaves a very narrow range in which to weld one to the other. then hammered square again. Because of the uniformity of the metal repeated blows in use could (in theory) work harden portions of it. then heated and twisted with an S twist [////////////]. The other method is to vary the speed of the quenching.500 degrees and starts to burn at about 2. Wrought iron enters the semi-liquid welding stage at about 2. Depending upon how much carbon is in the metal and the use to which it is to be put. twisted and welded into a unified whole.: a good blue will probably do the job. bronze (500). Finally. steel are welded together in alternating layers into a bar. There are several potential problems with making and using a homogenous blade of uncertain steel: It may be hard to come by enough of the proper steel. leading to breakage.750 degrees while the range for 100 pt. you chose the appropriate color to heat to. The bar is drawn out to length. When the blade is quenched the clay slows down the coolin4 of the center portion leaving the sword with hard edges but a softer. Any oversized silica or slag inclusion would weaken the blade. Skill and experience are the key factors. There is no reason why it wouldn't work. of itself. is proof of a benevolent Deity: for as the metal is heated the surface is oxidized and reflects different colors at different temperatures. The problem with pattern welding is that welding is a very touchy operation. and the permutations are endless. In the case of the sword of 60 pts. so I will describe the making of one of the simpler types. When you get to gray the temper is completely drawn and you have undone your hardening. and steel gray (650). Two strips of wrought iron and two strips of 40 to 60 pt. but also at maximum brittleness.not too violent (which would either shatter the blade or leave stress cracks) the blade is now at maximum hardness. steel is between about 2. tougher center. A second identical bar is welded. This is where tempering comes in. dark blue (590). There were at least a good dozen patterns used. and over a forge fire only the critical eye of the smith could judge the right time to strike. it's not as "fancy" looking as a pattern welded blade. purple (540).600 degrees. steel. The sword is carefully re-heated to reduce the internal stress and brittleness while retaining a sufficient degree of hardness. leading to brittleness or breakage from metal fatigue. . (as it still does for the Japanese and several modern swordsmiths) and it may well have been one of those "trade secret" techniques. PATTERN WELDED SWORDS The pattern welded blade is formed of strips and bars of varying carbon content.200 and 2. This may have been done by coating the center portion of the blade with clay or some other insulating material.

Starting in the 9th century. It was made that way because that was the best way to make it. the proportion starts to fall and by the 11th century. It also enabled the smith to utilize a wider range of materials produced during smelting. The pattern welded blade was difficult to make but its composite construction gave it great strength and keenness. Tempering after quenching would possibly have been optional (depending on the carbon content of the steels) since the composite construction provides a hard edge and tough center. The cross elements strengthened the whole. steel is welded down the sides and across the tip for the cutting edge. then heated and given an equal Z twist [\\\\\\\\\\\\] and hammered square. the classic . In the next part we will look at why this changed and also examine sword construction and materials in Islam. The sword is then forged as above. The two bars are welded to each other and a third strip of about 80 pt. Although the pattern welded sword was beautiful. however. The analogy is between breaking a 1" pine board at a karate demonstration and trying to break a 1" plywood plank.drawn. PART III EXPANDED PRODUCTION of STEEL When we last left the subject some 64 percent of the swords in the British Museum collection from the 5th through the 10th centuries were pattern welded. decoration was never the primary reason for its construction. except for the decorative technique of pattern welding symbols or letters into the blade. The blade is then polished and etched with a mild acid such as vinegar to bring out the V pattern of the welding down the center of the blade.

This conjunction of superior technique and expanded production would have made good homogeneous steel available in economic quantities. The second factor may have been the introduction and spread of the Catalan forge from Spain. Case hardening produced a very thin layer of steel on wrought iron ("encasing it in steel. With skill. However. its start) pointed out the problem with this process for swords. The first is the cumulative experience in the making of natural steel by succeeding generations of smiths with their careful attention to the quality of the ore." a possible derivation of the term) seldom more than 1/8" thick. the intensity of the temperature and the length of the burn. and quality raw materials. The design is efficient and simple enough to have persisted into the late 19th century in Spain and France as well as North Carolina and Tennessee. case hardening and cementation. the 19th century "sword scandals" (which gave Wilkinson Sword. Carbonized bone (later. steel could be smelted on a consistent basis. Where earlier forges could produce only 50 pounds per charge the Catalan forge could produce 350 pounds. Two similar carburizing processes.pattern welded blade is losing out to the homogeneous steel blade. and frequently only several one hundredths of an inch. the quantity of the charcoal. The . The assembly was then cooked at a red heat for several hours according to the amount of penetration desired. What happened? I suspect that there were two factors involved. are also used to produce steel. in the 19th and 20th centuries. I don't have a firm date for the origin of this process. potassium cyanide!) was packed around the iron object and sealed in an airtight case (an alternate derivation of the term). possibly as a result of pressure from the Muslim invasions of this period. The carbon content would vary with the depth of penetration.

In fact. and cementite crystals are at the saturation point for carbon. Today it refers to any sword. or perhaps "co-fusion. I have found no analytical evidence that this works. where did the pattern come from? At room temperature iron and steel exist in several varying forms which are given such delightsome names as ferrite.British military purchased case hardened blades from Solingen. Bad show! Carburization on a grander scale (known as cementation) produces blister steel. . Ferrite crystals are essentially pure iron. the only date I have seen. from the Canarese "(w)ukku" meaning. you have to be careful about decarburizing good steel while forging it. Now. a great stand-by in the 18th and 19th centuries. Wrought iron was broken into small lumps and placed in a series of small ceramic crucibles along with pieces of wood and leaves. letter opener or shotgun barrel with a pattern in the steel. The iron is packed in an airtight coffer and cooked at high temperature for days. When it was further refined it was known as "shear" steel and employed for the cutting edges of scissors. pearlyte contains enough carbon to be effected by heat treatment. for its sabers. pearlyte. each with its own appearance and properties. akin to cast iron in hardness and brittleness. so far. and when a trooper applied said sword to a mail-clad dervish in Egypt he would be surprised by the spectacle of his worthy blade folding up instead of cutting in. When removed it presents the blistered appearance that gives it its popular name. It is also sometimes called "watered" steel because the pattern resembled that of watered silk. martensite and cementite. "steel") of which there may have been two varieties: crucible and (highly speculative) infusion. "DAMASCUS" STEEL The term "Damascus" is so misused that I will avoid it in the balance of the article. Germany. of course. (Another example of Loom-to-Boom technology!) To avoid further confusion we will use the term wootz steel (from a misprint of "wook". You can heat and pound wrought iron all you want and it's still wrought iron. Each crucible was sealed airtight and a number of them were packed into a furnace and heated for nearly a week in a blast of flame. In a third proposed method of carburization. this is just scholarly speculation rather than a practical method of steel production. knives and axes. When the English craftsmen would fit them for their regimental hilt some of the case hardening was ground away. I suspect that. after which it becomes martensite. for its origin is 1600 but it may well have had a much earlier origin. the iron is supposed to pick up enough carbon to become steel by being "soaked" in the charcoal fire between being repeatedly worked on the anvil. Upon cooling the crucibles were broken open to reveal the re-solidified cakes of steel with the carbon absorbed from the plant material." It is now more certain that the crucible variety of wootz steel was manufactured in India since Roman times. What you get in crucible wootz steel is a mixed aggregation of these crystals. given the context that this was connected with. Unfortunately.

) The end result of the process was a sword of legendary sharpness and flexibility. they were each using the top end "monarch grade" examples of two different schools of sword making. Working outside the range was reputed to cause the steel to crumble along the crystal interfaces into its constituent parts. (Not more than once!) In terms of decorative qualities. Whatever the cause. the result was cast iron. and into the wrought iron. shattered much too easily for use as an edged weapon (although-it made dandy maces) but the Chinese also used bloomeries to produce wrought iron. and if King Richard could slice iron bars and Saladin could slice scarves or pillows. Using the technology developed for bronze casting. and we all know the legends. In theory.C.. As with any other handcrafted article some were more flexible or sharper than others. centuries before the Vikings were riveting hand hammered wrought iron sheets together. Cast iron. with its high carbon content. the Chinese were turning out wonderful cast iron pots in 500 B. Neither of them would be able to both slice a pillow and sever an iron bar with the same sword. the swords were heated and then reportedly quenched in a blast of cold air blowing through a gap in the wall. (Remember the high tower smelters of Mao's "Great Leap Forward." leaving plenty of air spaces and raising the heat far above that obtained in a European bloomery. the patterns of crucible wootz steel could be modified and enhanced by filing through the striations and hammered flat producing such variations as "Mohammed's Ladder". When finally formed. an infusion form of wootz steel was made possible by the conditions existing in China. lowering its carbon content. In the infusion process as practiced in China and possibly the Middle East. On the whole the details were much subtler than in pattern welding.Because of its unique consistency the cake of steel reportedly had to be first split radially and drawn out as if spreading a tire to force its tread into a straight line. (How one orders up these cold winds to blow through the gap in a wall in Damascus. The carbon would migrate out of the cast iron. has never been explained to me. Acccording to what I would regard as speculative accounts. since anthracite was much harder to crush than charcoal. Syria. The Chinese had an abundance of anthracite coal and built high tower smelters." about 12 to 20 feet tall?) I suspect that. the charge wouldn't "squash down. I have enough trouble just keeping my sails full. because of the silica inclusions in the wrought iron. bars or plates of wrought iron were placed in a container with cast iron and heated to the cast iron's melting point. and I doubt that anyone ever will. and the different depths of carbon depletion and penetration. raising its carbon level. the steel would have a variegated pattern that would appear . Normal working and the innate pattern of the steel produced "Ant Tracks". The billet then had to be worked in a fairly narrow heat range with a minimum of hammering.

following a straight. Illiterate. study the books. Folks who write or talk about Oriental weaponry take an odd delight In terminology. local custom. Only the most important terms need their proper names. These waves. This is to distinguish those of us "in the know" from the rest of the uncultured. They are widely divergent in details and widely dispersed over a large area of the southeast Pacific islands. linguistically incompetent rabble.when the blade was polished and etched. from about nine inches to two feet. Another century or so would pass before the full nature of wootz steel was understood. THE KRIS Kris range in size from large daggers to short swords. Besides. At its base the blade flares out asymmetrically in the "ganja" which serves in the office of a cross guard. predominantly in a wavy pattern. if you want to know all the neat names." In the early 19th century Michael Faraday's investigation into the qualities of wootz steel led to his studies and development of steel alloys. and personal desire. Blades can have no lok at all. the Malay and the Japanese. or have 17 or more lok depending on style. Ironically. This is valued by . Once again the quality of the materials. (i. still a superior product for cutting edges in the 18th century. and we'll define the terms as we come to them. It is my firm intention not to drown anyone in jargon. the state of metallurgy has advanced to such a level that this pursuit. by which time the trail had grown cold and confused. and the Malay may call it a "peksi" but a tang is still a tang. The untangling goes on and some excellent work has been done recently. created swords that balanced the requirements of toughness and sharpness. Of greatest Interest to us is the "pamor" or texture of the blade. after stimulating some 200 years of development. materials and methods. In this method blister steel was cut up and re-melted in small airtight crucibles placed in an extremely hot coke fire. thin profile. Part IV LOOKING EASTWARD In our last section we will look at how two divergent cultures. one should know a swage from a fuller. Interestingly enough it was the pursuit of an equivalent to crucible wootz steel. This produced a quality steel of homogeneous consistency and the method was used for fine steels until the invention of the electric furnace method in the 20th century. They usually have double-edged thrusting blades." are always made in an odd number. but failed to list any entry under bowie knife or shillelagh. the heat of the fire and the skill of the smith would be critical factors in the superiority of the blade. which he used to make fine quality clock springs. One purportedly encyclopedic work of "all the worlds weapons" detailed the name and customary usage of the net bags in which samurai carried the head of a fallen opponent. that led Benjamin Huntsman to develop a European form of crucible steel in 1740. which is frequently of a pistol grip design. called "lok. physical and cultural requirements and perceptions.e. You can still find fine tools made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries marked "crucible steel. The tang is relatively thin and is encased by the handle. is now done mostly for reasons of historical and intellectual curiosity.

wrought iron.) The end result is one pile of steel suitable for the jacket or the edge. Back at the forge. durable. using the various qualities of the steel and iron incorporated therein. A smith may work on it just one day a year. A friend's wife. or only by the full moon (or new moon). The resulting two-ton bloom is knocked into fist-sized pieces with sledgehammers and sorted by eye according to carbon content. The technique varied from province to province and from age to age based upon the quality of the raw materials available and the skills and traditions of the smiths. Other techniques were developed to compensate for the poorer qualities of certain ore or the new-smelted steel. anxiety-induced moisture may explain the mechanism of these acts. but it is more one of technical perfection and skillful use as much as of symbols and ritual." referring to the point. The result is a strong blade with markings or textures running from subtle hues of steel on a highly polished blade to a distinctly and purposely rough outer side layers. It is sharp. But the symbolic significance holds the center stage: this smith was willing to give it everything. Low carbon steel can be carburized by being stacked above the tuyere and enclosed by a deep pile of charcoal at the top of the forge. steel with too high a carbon content can be decarburized by laying it in front of the tuyere in an oxidizing blast. The lower grades tend toward grayish black with a coarse grain. She was later informed that it held the soul of the family! A high honor indeed.) The smith or "empu" may use various techniques to enhance the spiritual value and potency of the weapon. then slowly and deliberately cooked in a reducing fire. The best is dense and heavy with a bright. The smelter consumes about 13 tons of charcoal and 8 tons of fine ore in a closely supervised 72-hour run. (Please note that this is different than "just working the carbon in" as proposed by some writers. and another pile . further enhanced its spiritual power. As the blade is forged. It too has its own mystique.) Such a creation. truck spring. while working in Indonesia. About half the bloom is 60.committed with it. These may include meteoric nickel-iron. or stainless steel. JAPAN The Japanese sword may be considered a complex laminated blade. file. 2 cutting edges and 2 abrasive sides. then plunging it in the slack tub. and reflects the pride.to 150-point steel. (These blades are known as "5 sharps. silvery color and a finer crystalline structure. various steels are laminated together. Many smiths of the past (and probably some today) wasted a lot of time trying to reproduce effects that were accidents of the local ore and the smelting process. a female smith went him one better by first drawing her kris through the lips of her nether regions! (In light of recent literature about fire walking. and wealth of its makers and bearers. was allowed to examine the kris of the family she staved with. and the acts. and deadly.the owners and creators for its beauty and originality.heroic or evil. The steels for the sword are selected from the mixed bloom of the Japanese smelter. skill. In actual structure the kris is a relatively straightforward (despite the lok) laminated blade. One smith quenched a kris by drawing It through his armpit and.

the hamon is more truly a hardening line. This process proceeds for 14 or so folds. Now considered part of the artistic aesthetics of the blade. The blades themselves can consist of as many as five sections (edge. Too hot (a bright yellow). For the sake of clarity and relative simplicity. Second. then this process may be closer to mixing concrete. This is critical for the clay coating. tougher pearlite of the slower cooling part of the blade. The blade is left rough and clean. folded over (endwise or lengthwise. the smith is creating a billet of consistent. This is then carefully drawn out and shaped into a sword blank. the billet is losing both mass and carbon content. and is not touched by bare hands to prevent any contact with oils. back and core) or as few as two (edge/jacket and core). Sometimes miscalled. one half pound. which will create the "hamon" during the hardening process. cut partway through. The sword is worked into shape in six-inch sections. to spread the various elements uniformly throughout the whole. so that the sword could be resharpened without too much metal lost. we will deal with 2. which is then further refined Into a blade through skillful hammer work. To make the core steel. perhaps. covered in clay and ashes and faggot welded again. . four to seven pounds of square wafers of 100. The crystalline pattern forms a definite boundary. the blade is smoothed with a hardened steel drawknife and a series of files.suitable for the core. the smith starts with two pounds of 50-point steel and draws. The jacket/edge steel is wrapped around the core steel and welded into a single billet. homogeneous steel. If pattern welding may be likened to plywood. at a heat between a bright yellow and (no cooler than) a bright red. Two very important things are happening here: First.to 150-point steel are stacked on a spatula-shaped piece. Too cool.to 30-point steel weighing. a "temper line". so that eventually the smith ends up with a billet weighing two to three and a half pounds with a carbon content of around 70 points. The metal is drawn out and folded much as bread dough is kneaded. originally it was a visible indicator of a proper hardening. working from a yellow heat to a cherry red each time. dipped in a clay slurry. sides. folds and welds it into a bar of 20. For the jacket/edge steel.tenth of an inch thick to prevent stress-cracking during the hardening process. and the sword blank would be too plastic to control. and reflects the transition from the hard martensite structure in the fast cooling part of the blade to the softer. Those swords with a wavy hamon also had the virtue of limiting the damage to those edges that had been chipped in battle. and the steel could crack under the hammer. (all this to prevent oxidation) and faggot welded into a single solid billet. depending on the step). wrapped in rice paper. and most importantly. The billet is drawn out. thoroughly coated in rice straw ashes. and the cutting edge is left about one. After forging is completed.

followed by powdered iron oxide scale. The most amazing thing about the Eastern swordsmiths is the results achieved with the simplicity of the equipment. This process can take from 10 days to two weeks for a single blade. charcoal. At this point the blade may be warped. the blade is heated to its critical temperature. With each level of fineness. using a red-hot copper block as an anvil. In the West the old techniques were lost. As mentioned above. the smith may grind the sword initially. since the incandescent color. glued to paper backings. three. the blade is done in 6-inch sections. For the final polishing the sword-polisher switches from stationary water stones to a series of wafer-thin natural stones. After drying. reject one half to one third of all their blades as failures. block . superseded by advances in technology. two. and the polishers and smiths were kept busy grinding out nicks and replacing shattered blades. a simple forge. and red to bright red on the back. A good blade will survive three to five such attempts. and swords were sometimes tested by dispatching one. defining the planes and shape of the blade. and possibly engravings. and sides of the blade are then burnished to a mirror finish with a series of heavy steel needles and burnishers.) The blade is then reheated to 160 degrees C. with a variety of drawknives and chisels. After rough polishing. a thin one over the cutting edge. The swords were meant for use. The blade is passed back and forth through the charcoal fire until it is well over 700 degrees C.). or. and quenched again. with their emphasis on perfection. and pulverized sandstone. Several coats. drawing the temper to a reasonable balance of toughness and hardness. (320 degrees F. in an exceptional case. This operation usually takes place at night.. As in forging. (As a memory and teaching device the colors can be described poetically: "autumn sunset" is one phrase I recall. Diluted acid is applied to reveal the hamon and confirm the success of the operation. This incredible polishing sequence brings out every crystalline feature of the steel in the blade. The true secret of the beauty of the Japanese sword is revealed by polishing. in the pale to bright yellow oxidized color-tempering range).000 grit or finer. Modern Japanese swordsmiths. fullers. Foundation polishing defines the planes of the blade and goes through six steps from about 180 grit to 3. In the East these techniques are still living traditions and livelihoods. triple filtered through rice paper. with only the forge fire for illumination. It will also reveal any flaw! In the current period perfection is paramount. five condemned prisoners at a single stroke. (1. materials and fashion. The back. down to the 400-600 grit level. are applied to the blade. Hand powered bellows. In the feudal period the emphasis was on performance. If this is not successful. equipment. between a bright red and an orange on the edge. the direction of the stroke is changed to reveal the removal of the striations from the previous grit.292 degrees F. the smith will cut fullers. and thicker ones over the back and to define the hamon. and hence the temperature. then the swordsmith can reheat the sword and start the hardening process all over again. suspended in vegetable oil. is so important. Straightening is performed by localized reheating and hammering.The hardening process ("yaki-ire") begins with mixing a coating of clay. through the first three steps.

As Jan Derry told me in a different context. line 15. so we end: 'A little learning is a dang'rous thing. chunks of good steel litter the highways. hammers. The ingredients and equipment are simple. rice ashes. When you realize this. All of these would have been familiar or comprehensible to the Western swordsmith. assorted chunks of steel. There shallow droughts intoxicate the brain. you have learned a simple equation: no steel = no sword. and the resources available through the interlibrary loan system and the internet. The patience and skill are complex. and arcane methods were devised to create it and control it. Today. Part II.anvil. This article may be referred to by webpage linkage. Essay on Criticism.) Through much of history steel was as much a luxury as a necessity. 1711 © 2001 Bruce Edward Blackistone. and some are third-world craftsmen eking out a living while feeding commercial Molochs plying the fantasy markets of America with misinformation. polishing stones. A. charcoal. but not displayed on any other website. Oh well. clay. are astonishing. or taste not the Pierian spring. good books abound (even if they contradict each other on certain points). Who knows what you may discover through research and observation. no better than bronze. (At least. Some of these craftsmen and artists charge thousands of dollars for their skills. tongs. If nothing else. Please contact the author regarding printed reproduction by non-profit and/or educational organizations. and modern craftsmen have succeeded in reproducing all the "lost arts' and processes that have been discussed in the four papers consolidated and presented here.. you can't buy skill. you have to develop it yourself. you can better appreciate the creations of the swordsmiths.. As I stated before. As we started. over time. I have learned a lot since then. both ancient and modern. Drink deep. A visit to your local library. After Words. And drinking largely sobers us again. read the works for yourself." Alexander Pope. knowledge. and effort.D. A trade secret is money in the holder's pocket. (some of which I have incorporated in this version) and I intend to learn more. Bibliography . we'll handle that another day. 2001 I started this researching this series over 10 years ago and it took me about 4 years of somewhat dilatory effort to put the original papers together in comprehensive form.

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