Hi Jeff (D),
I have no first hand experience with Wootz, so I was hoping that Jeff Pringle or someone else would help us out. So what follows is really based on reading the works of others and reasoning back from firsts principles. If I am in error, others can correct me.
Originally Posted by Jeff D
Thank you Chris and Jeff.
Excellent explanation guys but, I think I may be missing something here. Is the central core wootz or crucible steel (on the real deals)? Just so that I am on the same page, my understanding is that wootz is crucible steel with a surface pattern, correct?
My understanding is that the term Wootz and crucible steel are synonymous because Wootz was made in crucibles, so it is a crucible steel.
Why would tempering crucible steel be any different then forged or case hardened steel? Tempering wootz would obviously be a much bigger problem if the surface pattern is to be maintained.
I am not sure that I understand your question, but if you mean why is the hardening of Wootz by a process of quenching problematic then this explanation may be of help:
The microstructure of forged Wootz, a very high carbon steel, in the unhardened condition consists of pearlite (0.8%C) plus the rest of the carbon in the form of iron carbides. In this state, Wootz can be hard enough to render a sword serviceable, but IMO barely so. To attain a really hard edge, hardening by quenching is required, but this is problematic.
Conventional hardened steel consist of converting the pearlite to austenite by heating and then this austenite is rapidly cooled (quenched) to transform it into martensite (hardened steel). If we only had pearlite to deal with, as in the case of conventional steels, there would be no great problem. However with Wootz, once the pearlite is heated and converts into austenite, the iron carbides tend to dissolve in it, raising its carbon content beyond 0.8% C. Upon quenching the austenite with the now elevated carbon content transforms into a very brittle form of martensite plus iron carbide that precipitates out of solid solution, all intermixed with some of the austenite that failed to transform (weak and soft), known as retained austenite. Whilst hard this is a bad microstructure from the point of view of strength and toughness. There is more to it, but this is a basic summary.
I have posted the picture of what I believe to be a temper line with an intact (but altered) surface pattern, to show that it could and was done.
One way around the above described problem would be to harden only the edge, so that the unhardened spine of the blade would provide the necessary strength and toughness that the blade requires. This would counter the negative traits of the hardened section.
In all my readings on Wootz, the question of heat treatment seems have received little attention, so we are left wondering. Yet to justify the legendary fame of many Wootz blades, they would have had to be hardened in some way or another.