Join Date: Sep 2017
Location: Tyneside. North-East England
This is the opening chapter of my intended local-history book, starting by describing a little bit of the mystery and science behind a perfect sword-blade. I introduce this here because I know there will be many folk reading this thread who know a great deal more about the subject than I do, and will hopefully correct any/the mistakes I may have made.
It started in India around the 6th century BCE and it was fundamentally the 'crucible steel' developed by Huntsman at Sheffield in 1742; although, even to this day, and despite our scientific techniques, there remains much that is not understood or replicable about Wootz steel, which is both superplastic and very hard: precisely what you require for sword-blades. However, when you consider that India's iron-age began almost a thousand years earlier than ours, then their superiority all begins to look a little unsurprising.
To make Wootz, they sealed cubes of malleable (or pasty) iron-ore into melon shaped clay containers, along with specific chopped-up dried wood and leaves – not charcoal though which is no substitute, as it does not contain the carbon nanotubes which are vital – then put them in an oven and blasted them with high temperatures for four hours; removed the result and cooked it in a charcoal fire for several hours until the excess carbon was extracted. Hey Presto: Wootz!
It wasn't until the 1600s that high carbon alloys even became apparent over here in Western Europe; although once the Crusaders got under-way, they became painfully aware of the incredible characteristics of swords used in Persia made from Indian Wootz, and referred to as Damascus blades.
This Damascening of blades made of Wootz steel was not an entirely mechanical process – based on folding and/or twisting the steel during forging (known as 'billet' welding), and occasionally acid etching – it was also crucially dependant on the unique molecular properties of the Wootz.
Very simply put (if that's possible) it is now understood to be a eutectoid steel: analyses tell of the presence of carbon nanotubes enclosing nanowires of cementite, with the trace elements/impurities of vanadium, molybdenum, chromium, etc. contributing to their creation during cycles of heating/cooling/forging. This resulted in a hard, high carbon steel that remained malleable.
Of course, there does require the forging process, with its complex rules regarding the quenching of the hot steel in order to temper it, and therein exists a whole alternative science-fiction with 3,000 years of secrecy and fairy-tales surrounding it; and among those myths, some may well have contained an element (pun intended) of truth, for example:
According to Dr. Helmut Nickel, curator of the Arms and Armour Division of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, legend had it that the best blades were quenched in ''dragon blood.'' However, a little closer to reality – but only just: in a recent letter to the museum, a Pakistani gentleman told of a sword held in his family for many generations, quenched by its Afghan makers in donkey urine. This concurs with some medieval blade-smiths over here, who recommended the urine of redheaded boys or, more realistically, from a ''three-year-old goat fed only ferns for three days.'' Were someone to analyze these bodily fluids, they may well discover the presence of elements pertinent to metallurgy; then again, modern scientists may not have the time or inclination to start breeding goats... or red headed boys.