Commments about forging swords

Subject: Re: European vs Japanese blades
Date: Tue, 6 Feb 2001 23:05:19 -0800
From: homeoffice2@EMAIL.MSN.COM

1.The simple carbon steels will not get brittle  in the temperatures
experienced in the Nothern climates.

2. The comments about the Viking blades being made the way Japanese blades
were are false. The viking blades are among the finest the world has ever
produced. The notion of the Japanese blade being THE best is simply
ludicrous, repeated and re-written ignorance. There are many fine steels and
the europeans are no where near the top. Many indigenous peoples undertook
the task of  the tempering steel  in different ways. The problem has always
been that of arriving at a decent cutting  edge with a soft enough body to
absorb impact. The Vikings,  Indian wootz,  Japanese Katana, Javanese Kris
are all top contenders....the europeans were poor runners up.

The Vikings arrived at medium and low carbon cores, forge folded . The
double twisted and folded back chevron twist bears evidance to the fact that
they did this for function but were aware of the inherent beauty in the
finished product , as well as the use of acids to bring out the beauty in
the grains. A high carbon outer wrap made a hard cutting edge possible. If
you want to compare I would say this forging method is miles above the
Japanese one in shear difficulty. That outer wrap weld makes the Kobuse
method look like kindergarten. Add to this that the the entire blade could
be quenched and heat treated and the result would be a differentialy
hardened blade.

As another aside. Compare this etching to the layering manipulation in the
Javanese blades and the Japanese blades (Gassan as an example) Anytime you
see this type of pattern manipulation it is a sure sign that the smith knew
of the "look" of his finished product. This means you need to further
examine his methods of finishing. Either polish or etched they were after a
"look" as well as a function

3. The comment about the scimitars are too simplistic as well. For
clarification many blades were made from wootz steel. But they were all made
in india or the mid east. The europeans NEVER solved the forging problems.
They would heat up the wootz cake and it would shatter like glass. The
dendritic crystaline structure would not forge at temperature (anyone who
has forged meteorite knows what this is like) There was a "trick" to forging
it that they would not give up. Today there are very few men who know how to
work it, much less make it.
    Moreover the statements about it becoming brittle are rather comical and
express again the borrowed knowledge of historians who are unaware fo the
product and ts properties . Wootz is not heat treated like carbon steels,
The final structure is very, very, (did I say very) flexible and the
structures that lend it its hardness are not martensite!!!
Incidently Wootz is THE ONLY steel that you can drop a silk scarf on and
have it part. The rest is myth. It is the retained dendrites that do that
type of cutting.
    I find it funny to think of a posseser of a fine wootz blade traveling
thousands of miles to risk his life breaking into a mound
to steal a possibly equal or inferior blade.

There is more to read on this in the sword forum at E-budo under the stainless steel thread.

Sword forum at E-Budo


Subject: European blades etc

Date: Wed, 7 Feb 2001 23:55:54 +0000
From: "G. S. Murray Threipland"

Some of the best knowledge we have of the Vikings comes down to us from the
writings of Arab scholars, the best known of whom is Ibn Fadlan, (fl. AD
920)who journeyed with a group of Vikings (he referred to them as 'Rus", as
did other Arab scholars) who described the armaments thus:-

    "Every Northman carries an axe, a dagger, and a sword, and without these
weapons they are never seen.      Their swords are broad, with wavy lines,
and of Frankish make."

The wavy lines refer to the pattern welding, and echoes references to swords
in Beowulf, such as "serpent patterned blade".  Also in Beowulf swords are
referred to as "Battle Ray", and "Helmet Splitter".

Al-Biruni (973-1051 AD) goes into great depth about sword manufacture, both
European and Middle Eastern.  He praises the "wonderful blades of the Indian
smiths, with their rich patterns...." and then goes on to note that "the Rus
have found another way of producing patterns, since they find that Oriental
steel cannot withstand the cold of their winters...."  He goes on to state
that the patterns on these swords are deliberately made.

Al-Kindi (c 9th Century AD) and the anonymous author of the 11th century
Persian geography 'Hudad al-Alem' , both describe pattern welding in great
detail, in quite poetic terms which I won't go into here.

Comments on the quality:-

Ibn Miskawaih (died c 1043 AD) records that after the waning of Scandinavian
power in one district :-

"....the Moslems disturbed their graves and brought out a number of swords,
which are in great demand to this day for their sharpness and excellence".

Finally Nasireddin al-Tusi (can't remember dates offhand) describes the
smuggling of Frankish swords to the East, the import of which was illegal at
the time.  He said the going rate was 1000 Egyptian dinars.   He describes
the swords as made of soft iron, but so sharp that iron cannot resist their
stroke, and so pliable that they can be bent like paper.

It is quite clear that the European swords of the time were of good quality,
although the various Nordic sagas also describe swords that fall short of
expectations.  This happened in Japan also.  There were swords made that
were good bad and indifferent.


G. S. Murray Threipland.
Treasurer, British Kendo Association

structure of a Viking sword Structure of a Viking's sword