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Jeremy V. Krause




Location: Buffalo, NY.
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PostPosted: Sat 06 Apr, 2019 6:27 am    Post subject: Evolution in the construction of medieval sword blades         Reply with quote

Hello everyone,

I am interested in what folks know about how the construction of sword blades changed over time in the medieval period. Specifically, I am wondering when blades moved from an iron core/steel edge construction like we see in the 11th. and 12th. c to a homogenous steel-one piece blade construction construction.

So it is my understanding that most Viking swords were made of pattern-welded cores with steely edges. Then we see blades moving into an iron core with steely edges in the 11th. and 12th. c.

Did this iron core/steel edge continue into the 13th c. and even beyond? For instance do we see this two part construction in type XIV swords and into the XV and later swords laking fullers?

Did the iron core/steel edge continue through the medieval period or does construction change into a one piece homogenous blade make up? When does this happen?

I hope that's clear and thanks for any information you guys may have!
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Sean Manning




Location: Austria
Joined: 23 Mar 2008

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PostPosted: Sun 07 Apr, 2019 1:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chapter 11.4.2 of Helmut Föll's website Iron, Steel, and Swords has some data from Alan Williams. You will see that the average composition gets closer to what we think a good sword is like over time, but only average: piled constructions with hardened steel edges can be found from the 10th century to the 16th, and one-piece blades with a reasonable average carbon content can be found in the iron age

Remember that working low-tech iron and steel is a lot more like sculpting than machining! Workers started out with a pile of unique heterogeneous pieces, and they combined them in whatever way suited those materials, the product, and the price point.

www.bookandsword.com
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Sun 07 Apr, 2019 8:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Manning wrote:
Chapter 11.4.2 of Helmut Föll's website Iron, Steel, and Swords has some data from Alan Williams. You will see that the average composition gets closer to what we think a good sword is like over time, but only average: piled constructions with hardened steel edges can be found from the 10th century to the 16th, and one-piece blades with a reasonable average carbon content can be found in the iron age

Remember that working low-tech iron and steel is a lot more like sculpting than machining! Workers started out with a pile of unique heterogeneous pieces, and they combined them in whatever way suited those materials, the product, and the price point.


Are you saying that most medieval swords were constructed of an iron core and steely edges joined together? Could you explain what you mean by "piled construction"? I am no smith so want to gain a fuller understanding on how swords were put together in period.

I also want to inform my options when commissioning reproductions as I have gotten more interested in having swords constructed in a historical way (at least when I can afford it!)

Thanks for your help!
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Sean Manning




Location: Austria
Joined: 23 Mar 2008

Posts: 468

PostPosted: Sun 07 Apr, 2019 11:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeremy V. Krause wrote:
Sean Manning wrote:
Chapter 11.4.2 of Helmut Föll's website Iron, Steel, and Swords has some data from Alan Williams. You will see that the average composition gets closer to what we think a good sword is like over time, but only average: piled constructions with hardened steel edges can be found from the 10th century to the 16th, and one-piece blades with a reasonable average carbon content can be found in the iron age

Remember that working low-tech iron and steel is a lot more like sculpting than machining! Workers started out with a pile of unique heterogeneous pieces, and they combined them in whatever way suited those materials, the product, and the price point.


Are you saying that most medieval swords were constructed of an iron core and steely edges joined together? Could you explain what you mean by "piled construction"? I am no smith so want to gain a fuller understanding on how swords were put together in period.

I am saying that you should read the webpage I linked and the table of sword composition by century labelled "source: Alan Williams."

Dr. Föll's website has a definition of piled construction, but basically piled construction is when the smith looks at the pile-of-lumps, picks several with different composition and the right total weight, forge-welds them together side by side into a billet, and then hammers that billet into the edge tool or tools. Sometimes he (or she these days) cares about which piece of material goes where in the billet, sometimes he just cares that the weight and average composition are appropriate (and sometimes he guesses wrong about what properties one of the pieces has).

Lee Sauder and Darrell Markewitz also have lots of free material about traditional iron production on their websites.

www.bookandsword.com
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Jeremy V. Krause




Location: Buffalo, NY.
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PostPosted: Sun 07 Apr, 2019 2:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I find the article difficult to follow. It seems to be saying that all-steel swords were being manufactured throughout the Viking Age and into the Medical period.

I am interested in having a 12th c. sword reproduced and am wondering if an iron core-steel edge would be appropriate. On the chart we see this description being applied to blades of the 14th and 15th c.

I'm confused.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Mon 08 Apr, 2019 12:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If I've understood the table, there were 3 or 4 swords from the 12th century that served as part of the survey. One of these swords was Grade 6, meaning "Undetermined core; unhardened steel edges". The remainder were Grade 5, "Iron core and hardened steel edges".
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Sean Manning




Location: Austria
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PostPosted: Mon 08 Apr, 2019 12:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here is a key sentence: "after about 800, pattern welded blades slowly disappeared and were replaced by all-steel swords. After about 1000 AD only all-steel swords were made" (but in the Napoleonic Wars soldiers were bending their hangers into hooks to fish bodies out of rivers and loot them, I suspect that some cheap swords were still pretty low carbon in the late middle ages)

Here are some different constructions and the periods Alan Williams has found them in:
one piece of hardened steel: 10th century, 15th-17th century (7 out of 48 swords tested)
several pieces of hardened steel: 10th century, 13th-15th century (7 out of 48 swords tested)
iron core with hardened steel edges: 10th century to 17th century (28 out of 48 swords tested)
undetermined core with soft steel edges: 10th century to 13th century, 15th century (5 out of 48 swords tested)

None of the low-tech furnaces produces beautiful, homogeneous pieces of steel, all exactly the same, like we get when we visit a sheet metal shop. They produce messy lumps with different properties which need to be combined with each other, and inside a given piece there are often spots with different composition and properties. The art of the smith was looking at these unique pieces, getting a feel for what each of them was like, and either choosing an appropriate one or combining several to get the overall properties he or she wanted. They might have a favourite method, but sometimes that was not the right method for the materials available and they had to adapt. A swordsmith in rural Norway would have different materials than a swordsmith in Brescia, and a smith making cheap blades this week would use different materials than a smith making expensive blades this week. If you want to know more, you will need books and websites like the ones I suggested.

www.bookandsword.com
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