Join Date: Mar 2005
Ann, many thanks for that very informative essay on wootz swords and Gt Obach your observations on the subject are most instructive.
Ariel: I also wondered about those chisel cuts. If any rubbish got into them, or the weld was incomplete, then am sure that they would have not helped.
Re swords breaking in cold weather: Steels exhibit, what is known in the trade as the "brittle transition temperature"; This is a temperature range below which it ceases being ductile. Apart from impurities such as Phosphorus, a number of other factors also determine this temperature. To make things more complicated, whether a sword, or implement, breaks or not is again determined by a number of other factors that are dealt with in the discipline of "fracture mechanics" - In short, the presence of micro cracks, however acquired, and their ability to propagate through the steel are of paramount significance. Brittle fracture is primarily determined by the interaction of the said cracks, ductility/brittleness of the steel and the geometry of the implement as well as other mitigating factors such as the presence of crack arrestors (say, slag in wrought iron). Structures of quite ductile steel can and do fail in a brittle manner if the right factors are present. So it is not just about embrittlement, though it is certainly one very important factor. This probably explains why some Japanese swordsmen are said to be able to break the swords of their opponents with a cut, a feat often mistakenly attributed to the superiority of their swords. Another observation in this respect is that based on anecdotal reports, a good many of those Japanese swords that broke during winter, in fact failed under extremely cold told temperatures, conditions under which other steel implements also failed.
Reading through this threads confirms, at least to me, that there is much more to swords than what mere metallurgical considerations would suggest; It also reinforces my long held belief that they were rather poor weapons of war, except in very select applications, such as cavalry cutting down fleeing infantry. This on account of their vulnerability to the inevitable abuses encountered on the battlefield, not to mention tactical disadvantages, when compared to other weapons.
I also would like to make the following observations:
a) The amount of blade to blade clashing that a sword is expected to undergo is indicated by the comprehensiveness of its handguard. Eastern swords, with the exception of the Indian gauntlet sword, offer minimalist hand protection and thus it is a safe bet that they were not used much for parrying, if at all (except as acts of desperation) - Japanese swords, for one, are incredibly fragile if clashed against another similar blade, and most swords are very quickly reduced to saw/junk status if abused in such a manner, even rapiers. I still obstinately hold to the view that parrying with a sword blade is a post small-sword development and whilst it can be done to some extent with heavier swords, in practice it was infrequently resorted to.
b) Cutting through iron rods with a sword may not be such a big deal as when fully annealed, the rod can be made incredibly soft.
c) Any edged sword can be bent or terminally damaged by a badly executed cut - Not just Japanese. Cutting requires considerable proficiency.
d) Japanese blades are quite thick at the shoulder, with little taper along their length and have a greater sweet spot around their COP, thus minimizing the tendency to bend under a badly executed cut. In fact this thickness has often been cited as a deficiency of Japanese blades, as it inhibits penetration - The Japanese highly polished their blades to mitigate this drawback and to enable them to slide through the medium being cut into. Also, it is reported that when European sabres were introduced into the Japanese cavalry, those officers skilled in traditional swordsmanship fund them much harder to cut with because of their springy blades and thinner foibles.