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Mike West

Location: North Carolina
Joined: 06 Dec 2003
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PostPosted: Sat 22 Jul, 2006 8:49 am    Post subject: Can any steel be used for sword making?         Reply with quote

I've been reading about the different steels used by various smiths to make their swords and, the apparent rise in cost due to world competition for steel. The different steels have different properties that supposedly make them better than other types.

Why can't a smith simply go to the scrap yard, find some suitable pieces of steel, melt them down, then use the result to forge a sword? It seems it would be more cost effective, providing the smith new what he was doing with forging, tempering, etc.
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Glen A Cleeton

Location: Nipmuc USA
Joined: 21 Aug 2003

Posts: 1,876

PostPosted: Sat 22 Jul, 2006 9:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Mike,

Those that do recycle steel for blades are most often not melting it down, they are taking their best guess at what the properties are, shaping it to their purpose and heat treating it. Through trial and error, they may become familiar enough with a steady source of used steel that the work will result in a good blade.

While quite a few are capable of obtaining good results, a greater majority would probably rather work with known stock that has published data available. A given smith may know for certain what junk yard steel he is working with and this gives him some advantage in obtaining his goal.

From motorcycle chains and kick stands, to old saw blades and cables, some do choose to, others don't. A popular choice for beginners seems to be old railroad spikes.


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Arne Focke
Industry Professional

Location: near Munich, Germany
Joined: 13 Mar 2006
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PostPosted: Sat 22 Jul, 2006 10:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Like Glen pointed out, you have to know the properties of your steel, since you do not want you blade to become too soft (bends and gets nicks very easily) or too hard and brittle.

In our workshop we do in fact visit our local scrap yards to gather some materials. But we always look for parts we worked with before. Whenever we collect something we do not know, we test it, like a traditional smith would have done. Testing means, that we forge a blade and during the process observe how it "feels" under the hammer. When the blade is finished it is "tortured" with methods no normal blade will have to endure (at least not in the hand of a rational human beeing Wink ).

So schön und inhaltsreich der Beruf eines Archäologen ist, so hart ist auch seine Arbeit, die keinen Achtstundentag kennt! (Wolfgang Kimmig in: Die Heuneburg an der oberen Donau, Stuttgart 1983)
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George Torma

Joined: 16 May 2006

Posts: 7

PostPosted: Sat 22 Jul, 2006 1:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, it would be wounderful, if things were so easy to do.
Steel is not only iron and carbon, it consists several other materials, like chrome, vanadium, manganese, etc. (at some times, even titanium Eek! ). In the past, these were natural inpurities, nowadays they are precisely added along the forging process. Of course, each of them influence the properties of the steel in a certain way, and certain steels have their added, mainly non-ferrous metals to make them the best for their purpose.
Sadly, there are no steel forged directly for swords nowadays, and anyway, a sword is among the most heavily used steel objects in the world. There are materials, however, that are suitable for making a sword, even at the scrapyard (car springs and axles for example), but every smith would keep in mind, that they are far from the best materials. Not to mention pattern-welded blades...
Anyway, as I heard, the best steel for a sword (forged in industrial quantities) is some kind of japanese steel.
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Cole Sibley

Location: Montana, USA
Joined: 19 Apr 2005

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PostPosted: Sat 22 Jul, 2006 1:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another thing to take into account; the relative cost of even very expensive steel is still very 'cheap' when compared to the investment in time and expertise. There is nothing wrong with using scrap or recycled steels, but one can order very fine steels from the internet with a relatively small investment and perhaps be ahead in the long run. After spending many hours of hammering and grinding after you've spent many more hours learning what you intend to do, you might be very glad to know exactly what you are working with, as opposed to hoping for the best.
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