Ethnographic Arms & Armour
 

Go Back   Ethnographic Arms & Armour > Discussion Forums > Ethnographic Weapons
User Name
Password
FAQ Members List Calendar Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read


Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Old 17th October 2006, 11:26 PM   #1
S.Al-Anizi
Member
 
S.Al-Anizi's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: Arabia
Posts: 279
Default True Combat Value of Wootz

Hi everyone,

As of late, ive been wondering into the characteristics of wootz steel. Is it purely eye candy? Or is it truely a superior steel, worth the fame and value it has gained over the years.

After I had completely read and understood prof.Verhoeven's, A.H.Pendray's, and W.E.Dauksch's article, "The Key Role of Impurities in Ancient Damascus Steel Blades", and based on my short knowledge of metallurgy, I saw that no blade exceeded 37RC in hardness. That would be a very soft blade for use.

Was this due to bad heat treatment techniques, and that wootz blades can be heat treated properly today to reach acceptable hardness, i.e. 50RC? Or is it due to the steel itself it cannot be made any harder, and thus, all wootz blades are simply fancy looking pieces of soft metal, easily nicked, easily bent? Yet still, these blades' reputation as excellent performers over the years (most passing on from generation to generation in the past), seems to be well implemented in the minds of those who used them, according to historical accounts from the 19th century.

Regards,

Al-Anizi.
S.Al-Anizi is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 18th October 2006, 12:26 AM   #2
Rivkin
Member
 
Join Date: Dec 2004
Posts: 655
Default

I can give my personal "take" on this - long time ago I have spoke with a iaito practicioner, who was known for his tameshigiri work. He told me that the best blade he had was some really old Kamakura tachi of a good maker (which is what usually considered sort of height of traditional japanese swordmaking). The second best was a mass-made gunto .

When I look at the tests that were done in XIXth century to compare Solingen and wootz blades, like russian cavalry test, ending up with the one done with Moser swords... All of them have shown that there is a tiny percentage of wootz blades that is capable to exceed Solingen (by memory they compared hardness and some bending-related properties ?).

I would think that by the end of XVII-XVIIIth century wootz becomes probably overrated, what can be indicated by the growing popularity of western blades. At the same time there is really little one can objectively say on the issue - for example I have encountered that experienced soldiers who spent more than 5 years with a certain weapon tend to like it, while inexperienced soldiers tend to complain about its lack or precision, or maintance problems... Plus I would guess that wootz makers were to some kind elite among persian and indian swordsmiths.
Rivkin is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 18th October 2006, 01:22 AM   #3
joshualayne
Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: Half Moon Bay, CA
Posts: 14
Default

Is it possible that the tests did not fully capture the field value of a wootz blade? I see pattern welded blades as being very similar to wootz (at least the highly folded examples, like nihonto) in the matrixed nature of the metal - I guess that question is whether that coarse physical matrix has any properties that are not embodied by a highly precise modern alloy (which is a molecular matrix, but would seem to have very different properties).

my meandering thoughts on wootz, other than the sheer beauty of the weapons made with it.

josh
joshualayne is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 18th October 2006, 01:49 AM   #4
ariel
Member
 
ariel's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Posts: 3,938
Default

My understanding is that the differential tempering of Japanese blades made them resistant to acute stress, such as blow by another sword. This was not the case with Persian/Indian wootz. Their system of swordplay emphasized a single drawcut (cavalry use) and minimal contact with other blades or hard objects. They were not designed to be "elastic" but hard and keen-edged. The European swordplay required multiple parrying and, thus, very resilient blades.
Modern steels were, of course, far better mechanically than wootz, but it would be unfair to compare them just like one cannot compare HK submachine guns with handmade Turkish guns. But.... which one was more beautiful and surrounded by legends?
Just for comparison, here are some of the official requirements for the Polish mass-produced cavalry saber pattern 1934:
1. When released from the height of 2 meters, the blade had to penetrate a 2 mm thick sheet of steel.
2. Cut steel bar 5 mm in diameter 5 consecutive times without being nicked.
3. No damage to the handle when the sword was hit flat against hard object
4. No deformation of the blade after repeat bending it 15 cm off the axis in both directions
5. No deformation of the scabbard supported at both ends after applying a 120 kg load in the middle.
As we can see, all of them are very practical and imitating real battlefield conditions.
Could it cut a silk handkerchief like famous Persian swords? Who knows and who cares? Few hussars were ever attacked by handkerchiefs.....
ariel is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 18th October 2006, 02:27 AM   #5
Jeff Pringle
Member
 
Jeff Pringle's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 187
Default

Another 2 cents -
Wootz is made & heat treated to take advantage of the superior hardness & potential sharpness of the iron carbide particles, which are distributed in regular, plain old steel. Rockwell testers cannot measure the carbides (too small), only the matrix, which was left soft, as it is only there to carry the carbides to the target and didn't need to be hard in and of itself. That's why those swords measured so low.
Wootz was better than most the steels of that era, if not all, but was supplanted by steels that may have been almost as good, but were definitely much cheaper to produce.
Jeff Pringle is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 18th October 2006, 02:54 AM   #6
Andrew
Vikingsword Staff
 
Andrew's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: USA
Posts: 1,724
Default

I'd like to hear Ann's take on this fascinating topic...
Andrew is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 18th October 2006, 04:00 AM   #7
ALEX
Member
 
ALEX's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 837
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by ariel
Just for comparison, here are some of the official requirements for the Polish mass-produced cavalry saber pattern 1934:
1. When released from the height of 2 meters, the blade had to penetrate a 2 mm thick sheet of steel.
..... Could it cut a silk handkerchief like famous Persian swords? Who knows and who cares? Few hussars were ever attacked by handkerchiefs.....


Al-Anizi,

The same thought was on my mind for long time...until I actually dropped one (and then another) wootz blade, both by accident, and not even close to 2 meters height, at most a mere half a meter. The first Indian wootz 19 C talwar blade snapped at the tip, the second - Persian 17 C blade broke right in the middle. I've been dropping many other, non-wootz blades, by accident, of course:-), and none were damaged. It tells the tale.
As Ariel cleverly mentioned, "who cares if it can cut a handkerchief". Well said, Ariel. My opinion - wootz is just a steel, it's magic is its beauty.

Please, do not drop wootz blades:-)
ALEX is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 27th November 2006, 02:52 AM   #8
Andrew
Vikingsword Staff
 
Andrew's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: USA
Posts: 1,724
Thumbs up Let's stick this one up top...

Great discussion, folks. Many thanks.
Andrew is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 27th November 2006, 05:48 AM   #9
Jeff Pringle
Member
 
Jeff Pringle's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 187
Default

Quote:
...they could not analyze for carbon, nor knew about its critical role;

I think we have to be careful here: yes, they did not have a scientific understanding of carbon and it's specific role in how steel behaved in the quench. However, they had generations of empirical knowledege that said things like 'steel that looks like this, behaves like so;' to such a degree that when metallurgy and metallography became the way to understand steel they were checking the new theories against the eyeballing of fracture surfaces by the old foundry guys. They could give you the carbon content down to tenths of a percent or better just by looking at a quenched and broken surface. All that knowledge dissappeared in the last hundred years, but I think it's safe to assume it went back a thousand or more, and they had a good idea of how to treat the hypo- and hyper-eutectoid steels as they came from the furnace, if not precisely why.
Jeff Pringle is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 27th November 2006, 07:02 AM   #10
Chris Evans
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Australia
Posts: 565
Default

Hi Jeff,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeff Pringle
I think we have to be careful here: yes, they did not have a scientific understanding of carbon and it's specific role in how steel behaved in the quench. However, they had generations of empirical knowledege that said things like 'steel that looks like this, behaves like so;' to such a degree that when metallurgy and metallography became the way to understand steel they were checking the new theories against the eyeballing of fracture surfaces by the old foundry guys. They could give you the carbon content down to tenths of a percent or better just by looking at a quenched and broken surface. All that knowledge dissappeared in the last hundred years, but I think it's safe to assume it went back a thousand or more, and they had a good idea of how to treat the hypo- and hyper-eutectoid steels as they came from the furnace, if not precisely why.


I absolutely agree with you that they had lots of empirical knowledge, but perhaps not quite as much as we may think. I am open to be persuaded to the contrary, but would like to know more of their methods.

All the same, they were very good. For one, I never cease to be astonished as to how Japanese swordsmiths managed to identify the high carbon steel for the edges - It was done as you say, by breaking bits of steel and examining their surface. However, we must remember that good steel or swords were the exception and not the rule, which strongly argues for a lottery factor in their methodology.

Carbon was identified as an element at the end of the 18th century and from that point on the metallurgy of steel advanced in leaps and bounds. Once an accurate analysis could be made, all sorts of indirect qualitative tests could be standardized against laboratory results and this is how those very savvy tradesmen did their seemingly unbelievable assessments. For example, if one has a good collection of steel samples of known composition then with a simple grinder spark test one can identify an unknown sample with astonishing accuracy. But without those reference samples it becomes much more difficult.

With bloomery steel made by solid state reduction, the resultant was nearly pure iron which had to be carburized. This was done by heating in a carbon rich environment and the iron absorbed the carbon. My suspicion is that although they did not know what exactly they were doing, they could correlate the end result with carburization time. But in the absence of accurate temperature and furnace atmosphere control, it must have been an uncertain process.

Here is an interesting link onto 18th century steel making:

http://www.staff.hum.ku.dk/dbwagner...D.html#Heading1

Cheers
Chris
Chris Evans is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 27th November 2006, 12:35 PM   #11
Ann Feuerbach
Member
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 133
Default

And of course their were good smiths and less good smiths. Plus add in those who have been working along with their father since they were very young, or at least around 12 years old, they would/could have a great amount of hands-on knowledge passed down for generations. Whereas others, may not have had as good training, didn't care, or simply weren't that talented.
Ann Feuerbach is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 28th November 2006, 04:47 AM   #12
Chris Evans
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Australia
Posts: 565
Default

Hi Ann,

You make very valid points. The quality of smithing must have varied enormously.

As well, we must remember that in the absence of patent rights, the empirically hard won advances were jealously guarded and not shared as we might expect. There is the story of the Japanese swordsmith's apprentice who put his hand in the quenching water and had it cut off by his master. Perhaps apocryphal and with different interpretations as to why the youth was treated so savage; But a Japanese friend, also a metallurgist and very knowledgeable on their sword making opined that probably the young man was trying to find out the temperature of the quench water, something that his master wanted to keep a secret.

Cheers
Chris
Chris Evans is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply


Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

vB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump



All times are GMT. The time now is 12:11 AM.


Powered by: vBulletin Version 3.0.3
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Posts are regarded as being copyrighted by their authors and the act of posting material is deemed to be a granting of an irrevocable nonexclusive license for display here.