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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Lost ways to recreate steel Reply to topic
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Luke Adams




Location: NYC
Joined: 10 May 2014

Posts: 57

PostPosted: Sun 08 Mar, 2015 11:26 pm    Post subject: Lost ways to recreate steel         Reply with quote

Hey everyone,

This might be a naive question, but I constantly hear that the techniques for making true Damascus or Wootz crucible steel have been lost to time; however, when I search for modern reproductions, I find companies like Hanwei offering swords forged from these steels after having conducted "dedicated research" (e.g. http://casiberia.com/product/wootz-shaolin-sword/sh2385 ).

Personally, I find this situation to be similar to the reconstructing of Stradivarius violins. People have scientifically analyzed every aspect of a Strad and reproduced "exact" replicas, yet have failed to reproduce the same timbre associated with the Stradivarius violin using said replicas.

My question is, have we been able to perfectly recreate the process of forging these exotic steels, or is what we have now just an imitation of the past?

"God gives the nuts, but he does not crack them."
- German proverb
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Mark Griffin




Location: The Welsh Marches, in the hills above Newtown, Powys.
Joined: 28 Dec 2006

Posts: 801

PostPosted: Mon 09 Mar, 2015 2:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As a keen, but non scientifically trained materials technology nerd I'd have to say 'No'. But we have come close. The issues are with the raw materials and the production methods and we either dont have them or don't use them. There are some very rare instances with the odd sword here and there done for research purposes or tv programmes but the second you go to a metal supplier and ask for a particular grade of steel you are doing precisely what pre-late 19th cent people didn't and couldn't do.

As for people selling stuff claiming to have done research, make up your own mind. Mine is pretty much set on 'what a load of old...'. Or, as i get in my line of work a lot 'we've done loads of reasearch and then ignored it for commercial/artistic or other reasons'. Usually the former.

Currently working on projects ranging from Elizabethan pageants to a WW1 Tank, Victorian fairgrounds 1066 events and more. Oh and we joust loads!.. We run over 250 events for English Heritage each year plus many others for Historic Royal Palaces, Historic Scotland, the National Trust and more. If you live in the UK and are interested in working for us just drop us a line with a cv.
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Timo Nieminen




Location: Brisbane, Australia
Joined: 08 May 2009
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Posts: 1,494

PostPosted: Mon 09 Mar, 2015 3:28 am    Post subject: Re: Lost ways to recreate steel         Reply with quote

Luke Adams wrote:
My question is, have we been able to perfectly recreate the process of forging these exotic steels, or is what we have now just an imitation of the past?


It's an imitation, depending on how strict you are with "perfectly". We can make crucible steel. We know how to forge it consistently, and perhaps better than in the past. We know how to heat treat it consistently, to desired effect.

The best modern ultra-high carbon steels, whether made in a crucible or otherwise, forged and heat treated well, will be better than the typical old wootz. The crucial step - extended hot working at (iirc) deep red temperatures to produce small spheroidal carbide grains - is a modern rediscovery (early 1980s, iirc), but once that's made, then it's all good to go. Some details might differ from old-time technique, but the basic principle is the same.

More generally, the best of modern metallurgy blows away most old-time metallurgy. Yes, we still make many relatively poor metal products. Sometimes it's more important to be be cheap than to be good. But when modern knowledge and technology is applied properly, the product can be very good.

Our modern advantages are microscopic metallography, mass spectrometry, thermometers, consistent testing of hardness, toughness, and tensile strength, and ending the wide gap between craftsmen and the literate educated and scientists. These advantages really work.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Luke Adams




Location: NYC
Joined: 10 May 2014

Posts: 57

PostPosted: Mon 09 Mar, 2015 10:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ah, thanks guys. That clears up some confusion. I know we have some great metals to work with nowadays, but it kind of makes me happy that some historical arts can not be reproduced through scientific means. In my opinion, it makes both history and science better to appreciate in their own ways.
"God gives the nuts, but he does not crack them."
- German proverb
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