OT: Samurai sword making

Watched this show this week, probably will repeat. Catch it. Explains how the swords are made, who makes them and the craft of the people invovled. Amazing. It's important to woodworkers, because if you own or used Japanese chisels, it's possible it was made by someone who's family for generations made swords. The same practices continues with how the metals are forged together. One of low carbon, the other of high.
Here's a link:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/samurai /
Again, interesting and enlightening.
MJ Wallace
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Wed, Oct 17, 2007, 6:25am (EDT+4) snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com doth say: Watched this show this week, probably will repeat. Catch it. Explains how the swords are made, who makes them and the craft of the people invovled. <snip>
Dunno why, but that reminded me of the Indiana Jones movie, where the big guy comes out swinging a huge sword. Then Indie draws and shoots him. LMAO
JOAT "I'm an Igor, thur. We don't athk quethtionth." "Really? Why not?" "I don't know, thur. I didn't athk."
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Yes, that was a funny bit of movie fiction. However, IMHO, the sword used in that movie looked like an impractical version of the Ottoman Empire's Kilij type sword. which I doubt that style was ever used in real combat. A 'Damascus Steel' scimitar (from the Crusades era) would have been more practical, (long, thin, curved, and sharp point) but not as cinematic for the joke.
Sure wish PBS would do a comparison between the steel of a samurai sword and a Damascus Steel sword. I have never heard of a Western woodworker gloat about a plane iron made in the Damascus Steel tradition; has anyone else?
I mean, the Ottoman Empire and Damascus steel tradition reached well into the Caspian Sea region and over to Austria. Thus I am sure the woodworkers in the Ukraine and as far away as Vienna would know about the value of Damascus steel for their tools.
Phil
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I bought a small drawknife made of Damascus steel at the wildlife show in Easton, MD some years ago. I claim it as the World's Prettiest Drawknife (WPD). It also has curly maple handles.
I probably paid too much for it, but my criterion was "How would I feel if someone else took this home?" Also, WPD is a Hell of a good tool.
Joel
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mistaken.
The show showed how they forged the high carbon steel shell to a low carbon core, explaining that the low carbon gives the blade flexibility so it doesn't break and the high carbon gives it hardness for cutting. The clear implication was that you have the best attributes of each, getting a flexible hard sword.
That didn't make any sense; the shell would see more stress when it tried to bend than the core, and being brittle would break long before the material in the core mattered. You wouldn't lose anything by making it all high carbon.
I went to the website and read that the shell was expected to break in combat and the sword relied on the core to keep it together so it could still be used. Now THAT makes sense, but that is NOT what they said in the show.
Am I mistaken about the explanation on the show?
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Toller,

Probably not. I was a bit confused myself about the differences in properties between the "inner and outter" blade material. I enjoyed seeing how these swords are made - guess there's no OSHA in Japan! Some of the work they were doing with the making of steel looked downright medieval.
The cutting actions of the swords show that they came in different slashing abilities. (The "5" body sword must be one mean piece of steel).
I made a DVD of the show and I'll review it again.
I found this site to be quite interesting:
http://www.geocities.com/alchemyst/nihonto.htm
Probably more around.
MJ Wallace
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As with most TV shows they focused on exciting visuals and spent way too much time on the smelting process and far to little time on accuracy.
I found this book at my library. It is far more informative. Title : The craft of the Japanese sword Author : Kapp, Leon, 1943- Publisher, Date : Tokyo ; New York : Kodansha International ; New York, N.Y. : Distributed through Harper & Row, 1987. - Edition : 1st ed. ISBN : 087011798X (U.S.)
Art

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Toller wrote:

As others have said, the show was very interesting and visually oriented, but the technical details were, as is usually the case, sadly lacking.
The high carbon outer shell of these swords was not used at full hardness, which would have rendered it too hard to sharpen and too brittle, especially on the cutting edge. It was tempered by a second heating to a lower temperature, leaving it still very hard, but not at it's maximum hardness. Additionally, it was "backed up" by the softer, but tougher, core, and this precluded breakage in any but the most extreme cases.
One thing I'd like to note, for the record. The Japanese swordsmiths were absolute masters, because they were able to develop processes that could transform their raw, "as supplied" steel into a superior product. That raw material WAS NOT a superior steel! The smelting process was crude, and produced a nearly hopeless mess that was then beaten apart with sledge hammers so as to get little pieces of usable metals in various states of carbonization for further processing.
The Nova piece focused far to much on the smelting, and gave the incorrect impression that the raw steel was somehow responsible for the quality of the finished piece, when this is just plain incorrect. But the fires from the smelters sure were pretty!
Luke
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Start here:
<http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2007/10/what-youre-up-1.html
He links to a site of a gent who built a forge, starts with charcoal and iron ore, and makes swords...
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Good read! Steel making can indeed be an art.
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wrote:

My understanding of Japanese sword-making was that they folded the steel back on itself time after time after time.
So what you would have had was a series of laminations of hardened steel and softer steel, which must have reinforced each other somehow.
These guys were true masters at the art.
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eric h wrote:

That's correct. They would take lots of small pieces of steel from the smelters, sort them into groups having high and low-medium carbon, using a lifetime of experience, and then begin the process of forge welding them into larger bars. Because they could never get homogeneous pieces of sufficient size, they had to fold and weld repeatedly to get bars large enough to produce the components of the swords. This process, which is long, tedious, and never far from disaster, through overheating and ruining the steel, produced bars having just the desired characteristics.
The Nova piece detailed one method of construction, but in fact there were several "blueprints" used, all of which combined two or more bars into the final composite piece that they forged out into a blade. The common characteristic was that the edge was formed from a very high carbon bar that was the hardest part of the blade.
Luke
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A popular misconception.
Traditional tamahagane steel begins by smelting the ore to iron by the bladesmith themself, or by a small local group working together. A significant difference from Western or Middle Eastern practice where raw smelted iron bars have long been trade goods between refiners and smiths, often in different countries.
The steel billet was split and forge-welded a large number of times, just as for wrought iron. They used a blister steel process (soft iron with carbon soaked into the surface to make a steel) and this re- welding redistributed the carbon throughout the billet. Traditionally the same billet is split in two partway through this and one goes on for a few more cycles to make the high-carbon edge steel. These days (and for woodoworking tools) the softer steel is usually a recycled wrought iron, whilst the hard edge steel is freshly smelted. Nor was the billet strictly "folded" - it's split in two and re-stacked. Folding it over instead would be a great route to making yourself a "cold shut" (a weak void) in the apex of the fold.
Once the workpiece has gone from being "a billet" to being "a crude sword", then the steel is _not_ folded. It might be wrapped once to weld the two steels, but that's your lot. Some patterns set a hard edge into a soft wrapper, some wrap a hard sheath around a soft core. What doesn't happen in the Japanese tradition though, is any notion of pattern welding such as European practice and particularly the Norse or Saxon swords. For those patterns, the actual sword structure reflects large scale twisting or welding. This is clearly visible afterwards.
If you can see laminations in a "Japanese" blade without looking very closely, it's a modern Chinese fake (likewise painted dragons!)
As to the crack-resistant behaviour, then this is a complex subject that changed over history. The primary goal is to avoid a sword snapping in combat, with a secondary goal being to allow small cracks but stopping them propagating. "Samurai swords" aren't unbreakable and never were, and their makers recognised this. Much of the effort to stop crack propagation was done by differential tempering, rather than controlling the laminations. Although the edge is one solid piece of high-carbon steel, it was zoned into hard and soft areas within this by the heat treatment. The lower-carbon and thus always soft core was some distance behind the crack-trappinng zone.
There's overlap between swordsmiths and cutlers (kitchen knives), but negligible overlap between swordsmiths and woodworking tool smiths. Their techniques and raw materials are quite distinct. As chisels are stuck with hammers, they use a larger-scale macro-laminated structure where the "soft" steel is much closer to being an elastic soft iron. Different tempering wasn't used either - where a chisel is hard or soft, this is controlled by the alloy, not the tempering.
Read Leon Kapp. Still the best introductory book around on the sword processes. There's even some woodworking in it - he describes 4 craftsmen, one of whom is a saya (scabbard) maker. Yumoto's old book is worth looking out for too - probably the first post-WW2 book to popularise Japanese swords in the USA. If you want to see beautiful modern pattern-welded work, read Jim Hrisoulas' third book.
And don't ever believe anything you see on a telescreen. Those things only exist to sell you beer and burgers, not to educate.
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wrote:

metalurgy class was 35 years ago. Watching the show I thought it would be better to wrap a hard cutting edge in soft steel. I guess someone agrees with me!
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Wed, Oct 17, 2007, 2:29pm (EDT+4) snipped-for-privacy@Yahoo.com (Toller) doth sayeth: <snip> I went to the website and read that the shell was expected tobreak in combat and the sword relied on the core to keep it together so it could still be used. Now THAT makes sense, but that is NOT what they said in the show. <snip>
"Expected" to break in combat? That goes against anything I've ever read, or seen. Sounds more like some idiot writer's BS, they usually manage to some up with some really stoopid stuff whenever they try to write technical stuff.
JOAT "I'm an Igor, thur. We don't athk quethtionth." "Really? Why not?" "I don't know, thur. I didn't athk."
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(Toller) doth sayeth:

Hmmmm. You quench the hot steel lengthways, rather than point down, so that *if* it does break (never desirable, and never *expected*), it breaks still with a pointy end to stick in the other guy.
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