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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Historical blade hardness/tempering? Reply to topic
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G. Scott H.




Location: Arizona, USA
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PostPosted: Fri 08 Apr, 2005 3:54 pm    Post subject: Historical blade hardness/tempering?         Reply with quote

Today we see sword replicas that are uniformly hardened and then tempered to a particular hardness factor on the Rockwell Scale. With modern equipment, where we can keep track of the exact temperatures being applied, it seems like keeping things consistent should be pretty easy.
On the other hand, in earlier times, without the benefit of thermostatically-controlled forges or a way to measure the heat of the forge, how did they do it? Was it just a matter of trial and error, until they found what worked? It seems that there would have been a greater range of hardnesses too, depending on the qualities a perticular smithy or factory was looking for (flexibility vs. cutting power, edge holding, etc.).
Finally, today we have swords that generally run between 40 and 60 Rockwell. Have we been able to determine the relative hardness of actual historic swords (say, Medieval and Renaissance), and do their age and amount of wear affect our ability to measure them? Happy
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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Fri 08 Apr, 2005 4:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Johnson, paging Craig Johnson........................................................

You're needed at the myArmoury courtesy phone.

"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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Alexi Goranov
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PostPosted: Fri 08 Apr, 2005 4:37 pm    Post subject: Re: Historical blade hardness/tempering?         Reply with quote

G. Scott H. wrote:

On the other hand, in earlier times, without the benefit of thermostatically-controlled forges or a way to measure the heat of the forge, how did they do it? Was it just a matter of trial and error, until they found what worked? It seems that there would have been a greater range of hardnesses too, depending on the qualities a perticular smithy or factory was looking for (flexibility vs. cutting power, edge holding, etc.).


There are several rather knowledgable people here that can elaborate, but the color of the steel can tell you pretty well what its temperature is. Through trial and error you can figure out to what temperature (color) to take the blade when you harden it and when you temper it. Not an exact science I'd imagine, but not guess work either.

Quote:
Finally, today we have swords that generally run between 40 and 60 Rockwell. Have we been able to determine the relative hardness of actual historic swords (say, Medieval and Renaissance), and do their age and amount of wear affect our ability to measure them? Happy


Much has been said on the subject in this thread

The short answer seems to be that period swords were in the 40-50 Rockwell as well.

Alexi
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G. Scott H.




Location: Arizona, USA
Joined: 22 Feb 2005

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PostPosted: Fri 08 Apr, 2005 4:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Alexi, great link! Aaahhhhh.......so many questions answered...... Happy In that thread, it was surmised that swords lose their temper (no, I don't mean they get angry Laughing Out Loud ) over the centuries. Interesting. That's why I wondered how accurately their hardness could be determined today. I guess we can assume, based upon current knowledge, that they must have fallen within a specific hardness range (about the range we find on modern swords), or they wouldn't have worked. Technology has changed in the last 1,000 years, but physics has not.

Thanks again,

Scott Happy
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Greyson Brown




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PostPosted: Sun 10 Apr, 2005 3:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am only a hobby blacksmith, so I can't really claim to have enough experience to answer your question completely, but...

The short answer is, even if you don't know or understand the science involved in things, you can get consistant, functional results without too much effort. When I make strikers (for flint and steel fire making), I use spring steel from dump rake teeth. Most of the material that I have used comes form the same source, so that does help the consistency, but I do not know what kind of steel those teeth are. I understand, through experience, how to work with them (what temperature is needed to move metal easily, how hot is too hot, etc.), but I can't give you a scientific run-down of the characteristics of the material. When I quench these so that they will actually make sparks, I always heat them to the same color. That is actually easier to judge than you would think, so the proccess remains relatively consistant. I also hold the quench for relatively fixed time (about 2 seconds, but that does vary based on the volume and the temperature of my quench medium), and I get a functional striker on the first try about 90% of the time. Usually the ones that don't work are about 4th or 5th in the group, and that is basically a result of me failing to adapt to the fact that the oil has been heated by the previous quenches.

I have also had good results using the same proccess on other mystery metals.

So, you are right that there is a little bit of guess-work involved in hardening and other metalworking activities, but, by using a consistent routine, you can actually reduce the margin of error considerably. A lot of the blacksmiths that I know have taught me to do things a certain way. They do this because that is how they were taught, and how the guy who taught them was taught (and so on). It works, so there is no need to change it, and you know what the end result will be.

Hope that helps a little, but I'm not sure I was really clear enough. If it didn't make sense, ask.

-Grey

"So long as I can keep the path of honor I am well content."
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company
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