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Thread: L6 steel just a gimmick?

  1. #1

    L6 steel just a gimmick?

    My interest in JSA and buying swords is a recent.
    I am yet to buy a swords over $500 and wont be for the foreseeable future.

    Am I being ignorant in saying that a there is little special about the high end production swords made of L6 steel?
    Am I correct thinking that mono tempered steel is equally capable in terms of durability?
    Am I correct in thinking that is just a gimmick and in reality not worth the £/$/€?
    Last edited by N. Handley; 03-13-2010 at 06:25 AM.

  2. #2
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    All steels are equally bad for using as a sword if you don't heat treat them properly. Howard Clark has mastered HT of L6-steel, and the swords have well deserved the reputation they have. As for others using L6.. well, that's case-by-case. My point being that selection of steel by itself doesn't make swords good or bad.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Timo Qvintus View Post
    All steels are equally bad for using as a sword if you don't heat treat them properly. .................................................. ..................................... My point being that selection of steel by itself doesn't make swords good or bad.
    Correct and proper heat treatment is probably the most important aspect of blademaking. Even if you use the "best" steel (for the intended purpose) you still run the risk of creating a really bad blade simply by messing up with the incorrect ht procedure. IMHO L6 should make a rather decent sword blade if treated correctly. I have never made a sword from L6 but I have made a few knives.

    On the other hand steels such as 1095 or other high carbon steels and stainless such as 440C and ATS 34 are not suitable for long blades simply because it's too brittle. Stainless steels for use in swordblades are of course a rather controversial subject.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by N. Handley View Post
    Am I being ignorant in saying that a there is little special about the high end production swords made of L6 steel?
    Am I correct thinking that mono tempered steel is equally capable in terms of durability?
    Am I correct in thinking that is just a gimmick and in reality not worth the £/$/€?
    L6 is all hype, and total crap.

    I bent one the other day... and it sprang right back and slapped me in the face!

    Don't bother wasting your money.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by A. Olivier View Post
    steels such as 1095 or other high carbon steels... are not suitable for long blades simply because it's too brittle.
    Why do 'they' use 1095 steel then?

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    Quote Originally Posted by N. Handley View Post
    Why do 'they' use 1095 steel then?
    Hmm...I would think 1095 steel to be too brittle for sword on sword contact.

    However, for tameshigiri of soft targets to hard targets (like bamboo), it is more than suitable, because of its inherent hardness, the edge keeps its sharpness so you won't need to sharpen the blade as often.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by X.K. Chen View Post
    Hmm...I would think 1095 steel to be too brittle for sword on sword contact.
    There's only one way to find out

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    Talking

    Quote Originally Posted by J MacDonald View Post
    There's only one way to find out
    XP I wouldn't want to put myself in danger of receiving a bad injury should the blade snap. Tameshigiri is as far as I'll go. Hahaha...

  9. #9
    It is not about the type of steel. That is why they laminate blades.
    Soft 1050 can become incredibly hard and 1095 can become really soft when quenched in a certain way.

    Only important thing you need with blade on blade contact is good 'Ashi'. The 'legs' of the hamon make sure only small parts are chipped of when a hard surface is hit. Your blade will be still usable and less chance of a big piece of your blade flying off.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeffrey Ching View Post
    It is not about the type of steel. That is why they laminate blades.
    Soft 1050 can become incredibly hard and 1095 can become really soft when quenched in a certain way.

    Only important thing you need with blade on blade contact is good 'Ashi'. The 'legs' of the hamon make sure only small parts are chipped of when a hard surface is hit. Your blade will be still usable and less chance of a big piece of your blade flying off.
    I understand where you're coming from with regards to lamination and heat treatment.

    However, my point is...given say, blades made in the same fashion but varying only in carbon content, I would think that a 1095 steel has a higher chance of snapping.

    Quote below taken from : http://kenjutsu-ryu.livejournal.com/29096.html

    Obata Kaiso:

    "I acted as sword tester for the late swordsmith Yasuhiro Kobayashi (who died in 1987). Back then he had a sword shop called Kanuchi near Sen-gakuji Temple in Tokyo. His forge was in Nirazaki in Yamanashi prefecture, near the ruins of Shimpu Castle of Katsuyori Takeda, son of Shingen Takeda. I used to test his swords on the trees in the woods behind the forge and on pieces of firewood stacked in the garden.
    I used to ask Yasuhiro about the carbon content and various other aspects of his swords’ constitution. I later related that information to Paul Champagne. I also gave him a set of whetstones and told him what I knew about sword balance from my experience. He took detailed measurements of my sword’s length, width, curvature, and layering and returned to New York. A while later he showed up in Los Angeles with four swords that he had made. Three of them had a carbon content similar to what I had told him. The fourth had a high carbon content of 0.9. I proceeded to test them on ax helves, thick-stemmed bamboo, wooden 2-by-2s and 2-by-4s, and so on. After we had finished, Paul said that he’d heard that swords with high carbon content would be likely to break, so we decided to do an experiment. We placed a steel helmet worn by Guy Power, a student of mine who is a captain in the army, on the end of a post and struck at it five times. It was very hard, of course, and the blade wouldn’t cut into it. All I could manage was a dent about two centimeters deep and fifteen centimeters long. On the sixth strike, however, the sword broke right in the middle and went sailing into the air, spinning around and making a sound as it went, and stuck itself in the roof of my house. Paul was rather surprised, of course, and I think he must also have realized what I meant when I had told him how dangerous a broken sword can be."

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by X.K. Chen View Post
    I understand where you're coming from with regards to lamination and heat treatment.

    However, my point is...given say, blades made in the same fashion but varying only in carbon content, I would think that a 1095 steel has a higher chance of snapping.

    Quote below taken from : http://kenjutsu-ryu.livejournal.com/29096.html

    Obata Kaiso:

    "I acted as sword tester for the late swordsmith Yasuhiro Kobayashi (who died in 1987). Back then he had a sword shop called Kanuchi near Sen-gakuji Temple in Tokyo. His forge was in Nirazaki in Yamanashi prefecture, near the ruins of Shimpu Castle of Katsuyori Takeda, son of Shingen Takeda. I used to test his swords on the trees in the woods behind the forge and on pieces of firewood stacked in the garden.
    I used to ask Yasuhiro about the carbon content and various other aspects of his swords’ constitution. I later related that information to Paul Champagne. I also gave him a set of whetstones and told him what I knew about sword balance from my experience. He took detailed measurements of my sword’s length, width, curvature, and layering and returned to New York. A while later he showed up in Los Angeles with four swords that he had made. Three of them had a carbon content similar to what I had told him. The fourth had a high carbon content of 0.9. I proceeded to test them on ax helves, thick-stemmed bamboo, wooden 2-by-2s and 2-by-4s, and so on. After we had finished, Paul said that he’d heard that swords with high carbon content would be likely to break, so we decided to do an experiment. We placed a steel helmet worn by Guy Power, a student of mine who is a captain in the army, on the end of a post and struck at it five times. It was very hard, of course, and the blade wouldn’t cut into it. All I could manage was a dent about two centimeters deep and fifteen centimeters long. On the sixth strike, however, the sword broke right in the middle and went sailing into the air, spinning around and making a sound as it went, and stuck itself in the roof of my house. Paul was rather surprised, of course, and I think he must also have realized what I meant when I had told him how dangerous a broken sword can be."
    1095 is used in some production swords, but usually as a component in a pattern welded tri-steel blend. So the layers of 1095 are thin and interspersed with layers of lower carbon material. Also, the 1095 is not 1095 anymore after it has gone through multiple forge folding heats and forging heats. It is losing carbon steadily in those processes. The more it is worked, the less carbon ends up int he final product.

    Quenching is only the middle stage of heat-treat (if the blade is normalized first). After quenching a blade is normally tempered to stress relieve it and to draw back the hardness a bit. This releives some of the brittleness as well. If you don't temper the blade it will be more prone to cracks and chipping.

    Lamination (kobuse or hon san mai construction) also changes things quite a bit. You can jacket a blade with high carbon steel and laminate it around essentially low carbon, mild steel an d the interaction of the two in use changes how the jacket steel reacts to the impacts of use.

    Impact: Swords aren't designed to slam into unmoving hardened objects like helmets set on posts. Helmet contact on a human head has some built in shock absorption capability as the person will be moving, and every joint in that person's body will take up some shock, protecting the blade. Also, swords aren't designed to cut armor, they are designed to cut around the armor. To pierce the flesh behind knees, under arms, beneath the rims of helmets and under neck and face protections, beneath armored skirts, etc. This is as true in Japan as it was in Europe. The sword was not intended or used as a primary battlefield weapon against armored opponents. It was a sidearm to be used when spears and halberds were broken or lost.

    L6 steel, in itself, is a good tool steel. What makes it exceptional in Howard Clark's swords, is the heat treat. He still treats the yakiba to hard martensite structure, but instead of the soft pearlite structure created in the unhardened back and core of the blade, he manages to freeze it in the bainite crystal state, which is harder than pearlite and tougher than martensite. It won't take a set easily, but provides enough shock absorption for the edge to reduce cracking and breakage. The trick is that locking in that bainite structure takes some tricky work. The Bainite part of L6/Bainite blades is far more important than the L6 bit. BTW, Hanwei has a new steel/heat treat combination that the folks over at Bugei claims is at least as good and probably superior to the L6 Bainite combo.
    Non nobis Domine, non nobis sed Nomini Tuo da Gloriam
    "Not to us Lord, Not to us, but to Thy Name be the Glory"

    Adsum, Domine: Totus ingenibus meis ad pedes tuos proponeo.
    Duce et regere servum tui, Domine, ab omnibus temptationem, ita ut honor purus et donum meum incontaminatus sit.
    "Here am I, Lord: All my talents at Thy feet I lay. Guide and guard Thy servant, Lord, from all temptation, that honor may be spotless and my gift unstained."
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew W. Priestley View Post
    1095 is used in some production swords, but usually as a component in a pattern welded tri-steel blend. So the layers of 1095 are thin and interspersed with layers of lower carbon material. Also, the 1095 is not 1095 anymore after it has gone through multiple forge folding heats and forging heats. It is losing carbon steadily in those processes. The more it is worked, the less carbon ends up int he final product.

    Quenching is only the middle stage of heat-treat (if the blade is normalized first). After quenching a blade is normally tempered to stress relieve it and to draw back the hardness a bit. This releives some of the brittleness as well. If you don't temper the blade it will be more prone to cracks and chipping.

    Lamination (kobuse or hon san mai construction) also changes things quite a bit. You can jacket a blade with high carbon steel and laminate it around essentially low carbon, mild steel an d the interaction of the two in use changes how the jacket steel reacts to the impacts of use.

    Impact: Swords aren't designed to slam into unmoving hardened objects like helmets set on posts. Helmet contact on a human head has some built in shock absorption capability as the person will be moving, and every joint in that person's body will take up some shock, protecting the blade. Also, swords aren't designed to cut armor, they are designed to cut around the armor. To pierce the flesh behind knees, under arms, beneath the rims of helmets and under neck and face protections, beneath armored skirts, etc. This is as true in Japan as it was in Europe. The sword was not intended or used as a primary battlefield weapon against armored opponents. It was a sidearm to be used when spears and halberds were broken or lost.

    L6 steel, in itself, is a good tool steel. What makes it exceptional in Howard Clark's swords, is the heat treat. He still treats the yakiba to hard martensite structure, but instead of the soft pearlite structure created in the unhardened back and core of the blade, he manages to freeze it in the bainite crystal state, which is harder than pearlite and tougher than martensite. It won't take a set easily, but provides enough shock absorption for the edge to reduce cracking and breakage. The trick is that locking in that bainite structure takes some tricky work. The Bainite part of L6/Bainite blades is far more important than the L6 bit. BTW, Hanwei has a new steel/heat treat combination that the folks over at Bugei claims is at least as good and probably superior to the L6 Bainite combo.
    Thanks for the info Andrew! Yea, kinda been covering those steel structures in my materials course at the moment. Hahaha, yea achieving a Bainite back region with a martensite edge sure is tough.

    With regards to that new steel of Hanwei's, I have a gut feeling they're adding some 'secret' composition of alloying elements to their steel. *Shrugs* Just a guess!

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    Thank you Andrew. There's no way I could have explained it in such detail. First of all English is not my mother tongue and secondly I'm looking at it from a knifemaker's perspective and my limited knowledge of steel. You're answer covers what I would have said and a lot more. I joined swordforums to learn about swordmaking and it's definitely paying off.

  14. #14
    From what I understand and heard it is not the L6 steel that is special, it is the heat treatment that Howard Clark utilize that make his sword so durable and the L6 is just a means to an end. If my knowledge is correct then he uses the same method that was rediscovered a while ago on how the arabs made their all so famous "damascus swords that could cut an European one in half without dulling". Same thing here it was not the steel that was special but the heat treatment.

    If my memmory serves me right the arabs would hammer the sword from glowing hot to cold and this way the carbon in the sword to form very strong connections called 'insert name here' that infact are the strongest material on earth(at least at the date I read the article) which makes the sword extreamely strong.

    I've also read that this state in the steel has been made of 5196(think I got this one wrong, but steel most ne production european swords are made of) steel by another smith.

    Here my memmory get's really vauge so this have to be taken by a pinch of salt.

    But if I remember correctly, in an article when making this "kind of stel" they heated the steel to very high temperatures making it liquid almost then proceeded with some techinque and in the end they had gotten an extreamely strong steel.

    Well that was that.

    Ask for a source or quote and I will hurt you.

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    Quote Originally Posted by David Ljungström View Post
    Ask for a source or quote and I will hurt you.
    Haha! Can I use that?

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by J MacDonald View Post
    Haha! Can I use that?
    Haha, well why not. I just don't like it when people just ask "source?", it's kinda annoying.

  17. #17
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    David are you referring to Wootz? If so it's not made that way.
    Thomas Powers
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Ljungström View Post
    "damascus swords that could cut an European one in half without dulling"
    Must be the same stuff that the WWII Gunto are made of. You know....the ones that you can use to cut the barrel of a .50 cal machine gun .

    Dave P

  19. #19
    These kinds of threads remind me of something I overheard one late night. A local burger joint used to have one evening a month where people would drive up their modified cars. So old cars, new ones, heavily rebuilt, etc. I came by to pick up some dinner after a seminar I was at and as I was walking out I saw two teenagers looking at the tires on this one rather plain, stock Honda Civic. They were so impressed that these were the newest, seriously most expensive, super-duper high performance tires on the market. On a stock, entry level Civic.

    One kid says to the other "This car kicks butt!!! After all, look at those tires!".

    A sword is vastly more than the steel used.

    If I were to go out and try to forge a blade out of L6 the results would be total garbage. Because I don't know what I'm doing. A reasonably competent smith *could* forge out a decent shaped blade in L6 but if they mung up the heat treat it is still garbage. And a poorly shaped blade with great heat treat is still a poorly shaped blade.

    I can't speak for areas outside of Japanese swords (my area) but there is a *lot* of subtle detail in what makes a sword really perform. Heat treatment and steel choice is but one of many things that make a good sword.

    Or we could just focus on the expensive tires and ignore that they're on a Yugo...
    Keith Larman
    Summerchild Polishing and Modertosho Modern Japanese Swords
    "They say I have ADD, but ... Hey, look, a chicken!"

  20. #20
    Since someone e-mailed me a little annoyed... Let me clarify...

    I'm not saying people here are doing what I described. What I meant is that "overfocusing" (is that a word?) on any single aspect of a complex thing is a mistake. But it is also one way makers can hype their wares if the public becomes fixated on some one thing.

    Howard Clark starting doing his L6 blades with his special heat treatment after having made literally hundreds of swords. He worked for years selling blades on his own but also selling swords through Bugei Trading. Howard worked directly with the guys doing the mounting and polishing of his swords and actively asked for feedback (which we gave). As a result the "bigger picture" of the quality of his work simply kept getting better and better. Once he introduced his L6 pieces he was already making some really nice performance swords. They were not intended to mimic a Japanese sword in terms of overall aesthetics. They were about Howard making the best blade he could given how he wanted to work and what he wanted to work with.

    His L6 swords found their way into a number of highly ranked traditionally trained swordsmen in the US. And as students saw their sensei using his swords and heard their sensei's opinions of those swords compared to others they had used it was only natural that they became quite popular.

    The bottom line is that L6 became popular in Howard Clark's work not just because of the steel and the heat treatment. It was everything coming together with everything else. Performance, handling, balance, feel, aesthetics, etc.

    Or... not just the tires on a car. The whole banana is what matters.

    So when other makers run to L6, well, that's fine. If they're doing good work they can make a good blade. But it still doesn't change the reality that a good sword is vastly more than the sum of its parts. And the steel/heat treatment choice is but one part of many. Critical - yes. The only factor? Absolutely not.

    Some vendors felt they *had* to offer L6 blades because so many out there wanted them. I'm sure there are smiths who were annoyed as hell getting requests for L6. Which is silly -- people should go to a smith for the work they do with the materials they choose to use. But if customers ask, well, we all have to pay our bills. Be it a mass producer or a lowly craftsman.

    Hope that clarifies...
    Keith Larman
    Summerchild Polishing and Modertosho Modern Japanese Swords
    "They say I have ADD, but ... Hey, look, a chicken!"

  21. #21
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    Thumbs up Thanks Keith

    I really missed your food analogies and metaphors while I was on hiatus for a while , but hey - tires and bananas got the point home just as well as the burger analogy always did,



    L6 had what Tinker refers to as the 'buzz' a couple of years back amongst the online sword community - kinda like tamahagane has at the moment , although I have not seen many reviews of Hanwei praying mantis' or paper crane swords on the usual forums - maybe the price tags have got people looking more towards custom pieces.

    I know a paper crane over here in the UK would be getting on for $2.5k USD - that would get you a nice starter nihonto or theres always a very good bargain to be had these days right here on the classifieds.
    " Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."



    Ephesians 6:11

  22. #22
    Yeah, I've never quite gotten the appeal of a blade made of tamahagane if the smith doing the work wasn't able to take advantage of the fact that it is tamahagane. They're not getting modern high performance out of the stuff and the ones I've seen from various sources have little of the aesthetics of well done tamahagane nihonto. So I've never quite understood the appeal of a tamahagane blade made by a factory. Same is true for me with the L6 and factory work.

    I'd rather get a blade made by a smith or company that had developed a methodology to get the most out of whatever it is that they're using. Let them do their best with what they want to work with. So I'm a lot more comfortable with Paul Chen and his people coming up with something on their own rather than solely trying to appeal to what customers request. To me that's the right idea.
    Keith Larman
    Summerchild Polishing and Modertosho Modern Japanese Swords
    "They say I have ADD, but ... Hey, look, a chicken!"

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by Keith Larman View Post
    Yeah, I've never quite gotten the appeal of a blade made of tamahagane if the smith doing the work wasn't able to take advantage of the fact that it is tamahagane. They're not getting modern high performance out of the stuff and the ones I've seen from various sources have little of the aesthetics of well done tamahagane nihonto. So I've never quite understood the appeal of a tamahagane blade made by a factory. Same is true for me with the L6 and factory work.

    I'd rather get a blade made by a smith or company that had developed a methodology to get the most out of whatever it is that they're using. Let them do their best with what they want to work with. So I'm a lot more comfortable with Paul Chen and his people coming up with something on their own rather than solely trying to appeal to what customers request. To me that's the right idea.
    Boy Keith thats so true Its more about the process then the steel, I got caught up in all the hype about L6 & Tamahagane being the ultimate steels practicaly indistructable also. Not long ago I was begging a local smith I know here in Ontario to make me a L6 katana for my tameshigiri practice, I know he didnt want to disappoint me and for awhile he didnt know quite what to say but he never works with L6 so I left his place that day feeling almost dissapointed until a good friend of mine told me to just go with the steel hes most comfortable using I wouldnt be dissapointed, And boy was that true best sword Ive ever owned.

    Its not about the steel but the TLC that goes into it
    Last edited by Chris Wolf; 03-16-2010 at 08:57 PM.

  24. #24
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    I am certainly guilty of over-focussing frm time to time. It's actually pretty hard to address all the things that need addressing when talking about what makes a quality sword. Actually you hit the nail on the head. It's not what that makes a qualty sword, it's who.

    Conventional wisdom says that stainless steels make crappy swords. But a few, or fewer, smiths have specialized in stainless steels and made excellent swords from it, because they know the material well and are able to get the best out of it. Likewise a tamahagane sword made by a master smith who knows the strengths and weaknesses of the material can make excellent, high performanc swords out of it. whereas I could take the abslute best tamahagane available, already frege folded properlyto homogenize the carbon cntent, etc, and what I would produce wouldn't be worth the slag cast off during forging.

    Its nothe tools or materals that make the sword, it's the craftsmen.
    Non nobis Domine, non nobis sed Nomini Tuo da Gloriam
    "Not to us Lord, Not to us, but to Thy Name be the Glory"

    Adsum, Domine: Totus ingenibus meis ad pedes tuos proponeo.
    Duce et regere servum tui, Domine, ab omnibus temptationem, ita ut honor purus et donum meum incontaminatus sit.
    "Here am I, Lord: All my talents at Thy feet I lay. Guide and guard Thy servant, Lord, from all temptation, that honor may be spotless and my gift unstained."
    - Katherine Kurtz "Healer's Song"

  25. #25
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    I love enlightenment.

    This is what I had to get over to make a true decision on where to spend my money on a nice blade. All the hype usually isn't worth it's weight. I tend to follow advice from people who know what they're talking about, namely a good number of people on these forums.
    "Forget about winning and losing; forget about pride and pain. Let your opponent graze your skin and you smash into his flesh; let him smash into your flesh and you fracture his bones; let him fracture your bones and you take his life. Do not be concerned with escaping safely - lay your life before him."

    ~Bruce Lee

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