Results 1 to 12 of 12

Thread: Tempering swords in blood

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2002
    Location
    Virginia Beach, VA
    Posts
    883

    Tempering swords in blood

    Every time I visit my grandparents, the subject of swords comes up between me and grandpa. I'm slowly learning about them, and he used to design and run steel mills, so we have some pretty interesting discussions. And every year he asks me if true damascus (wootz) blades were really tempered by plunging them red-hot through the belly of a slave. My initial thought is no, because if nothing else, it's an expensive way to temper anything. I'm curious how this wive's tale got started, though. Any thoughts?
    "We are not retreating — we are advancing in another direction."
    — General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964)

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2002
    Location
    Northern California
    Posts
    2,616

    Re: Tempering swords in blood

    dont know how it got started but I doubt its how they tempered their swords. There are many different things in a slave than just blood. This uneven material would probably give a rather bad temper, besides that I doubt one stab would be enough to completly cool down a red hot bar of steel.

    And your right, in the days of slaves, they were considered property and because of that, they were treated like an investment and a farm tool, so an owner would rarly randomly kill one for his pet sword project.

    Originally posted by D. Perdue
    Every time I visit my grandparents, the subject of swords comes up between me and grandpa. I'm slowly learning about them, and he used to design and run steel mills, so we have some pretty interesting discussions. And every year he asks me if true damascus (wootz) blades were really tempered by plunging them red-hot through the belly of a slave. My initial thought is no, because if nothing else, it's an expensive way to temper anything. I'm curious how this wive's tale got started, though. Any thoughts?
    Eric Litton

  3. #3

    Re: Tempering swords in blood

    I don't know for sure when or where this myth came from but it was probably propaganda from a very early age when there was more mysticism involved in sword making (most likely pre-wootz), or something that was a literary invention by the medieval writers romanticizing old folk tales and legends. In either case anyone who knew anything about the actual process would know that blood would not work as a quenching medium because it burns at that high of a temperature (due to the abundance of organic content in it) and skewering a slave with a red hot blade will not cool the blade along its whole length or evenly enough to effectively harden the blade as Eric pointed out. It may have been tried but if it was it was probably discarded as a plausible practice very quickly.

    Cheers,
    Erik
    Last edited by Erik Stevenson; 12-06-2002 at 03:58 PM.
    "Mature awareness is possible only when [we] have digested and compensated for the biases and prejudices that are the residue of [our] personal history." --Sam Keen

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2002
    Location
    It's under a big "W"!!
    Posts
    2,993
    One of the 'smiths posted a list once of various quenching media that have been tried through the ages. It included wine, honey, mead, urine, and just about any other organic liquid imaginable.
    Craig
    "The Edge: it's hard to define because the only ones who really know where it is, are the ones who've gone over"- HST -

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Maricopa "Maritukee", AZ
    Posts
    6,386
    I think it was probably propaganda as Erik suggests.

    However, slaves were considered very cheap to the Arabs at the time. Before modern sanitation it took about 10-12 dead slaves to make one live eunuch . . .

    Mike
    Well, I hope Arthur Frommer will remember
    An Arizona man don't need him around anyhow

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2002
    Location
    It's not the edge of the world, but I can see it from here...
    Posts
    3,953
    Tales describe to use of animal blood (most often cattle blood, but big surprise there, Mr Hamburger-eater) as an ingredient in quenching baths, but the idea of human blood (or the human body) for the quench is far more fanciful.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2002
    Location
    Newport News, Virginia
    Posts
    491
    Irish blood is considered only appropriate for steels that require a fast quench due to the high alcohol content.

  8. #8
    Actualy, I'd find quenching the blade in the slave more likely than using blood, just because using blood would be so STOOPID.

    Let's logic this out. To use blood, you'd first have too collect a LOT of blood. That in itself would be expensive -requiring that someone kill something. In the east, that would probably be a goat; in the west probably a pig. To do it any number of times, an arrangemnt would have to be reached with butchers to collect the blood of the slaughterd beasts for the smiths, which is something we don't see.
    Then once you've got it, you have to be able to use it. What's the average ambient temperture of an active smithy? Well above 70F, probably into the 80s. For every 10 degrees above 40F, the bacteria count in meat doubles every hour. I speculate it wouldn't take more than six hours in the smithy before your vat of blood was so rancid and foul that the building would be unsuitable for work.

    But let's assume the're able to work in the stink. Once you quench a blade in the blood, the blood's temperature will rise. Quench a coupple of blades and you won't have blood any more, you'll have gravy! or "human stock", if you prefer. And since the recipe calls for blood, you'll have to empty that barrel o' blood, and get a new one.

    No, if it were tried, I don't think any smith in his right mind would have tried more than once, and if he was insane enough to go ahead, his help would have deserted him because of the smell.

    (sounds like a great idea for a bad book -mad bladesmith forging unholy blades in human blood, working alone because of the smell, doubles as a grave digger outside of town... )

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Location
    Uppsala, Sweden
    Posts
    118

    Re: Tempering swords in blood

    A slave would be a very poor quenching bath, no doubt about it.

    There are accounts for blood, even human blood, being used in heat treating though. Or blood plasma in any case. I do not think this was a comon procedure.

    Here is a translation from a 16th C German treatise written by an alchemist. (If that makes it more or less believable, I would not dare guessing ;-) In this text the blood plasma is used for annealing of the steel, not the quenching. Reading through the text it seems the the author was confused sometimes about the procedures...

    ------
    Take vervain, stalk and all, crush it and squeeze the juice through a cloth. Put the juice into a glass and keep it. Then when you want to do any tempering, put as much man´s urine as there is juice. Put in also some juice of the little worm which is called the cockchafer´s grub (maybug or a scarab beetle). Then get your iron hot, not too much so, but up to a good heat. And then thrust it into this mixture as far up as it is to be tempered, and let the heat die down of itself until it takes on little flecks of gold color. Then cool it off completely in the said water, and if it comes out very blue, it is still too soft.

    You may also take human urine that has been distilled another time and quench in this.

    Or take red sugs and cook water from them, then quench in this water.

    How to draw the temper from the iron:
    Let some human blood stand untill water separates off; skim this water off and keep it. Afterwards hold the tempered weapons in the fire untill they become hot, and then with a little feather spread some of this water over the weapons untill the water disappears. In this way they will turn soft.
    ----

    There are quite a few interesting recepies in this text. The result would smell in an interesting way at least.
    As the common procedure seems to hav been to draw temper on remaining heat in the object I guess the additives to the bath could have helped keep the surface of the steel easier to read the tempering colors from.

    Or it was just magick...Magick is still a very good way to increase sales ;-)

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Location
    Connecticut
    Posts
    223
    I remember hearing stories of this in my history classes when talking about the Crusades. Saracean prisoners told their English captors that after a blade was forged they would plunge it through a prisoner/convict to temper it. All this served to do was infuriate the English and pique their curiosity. They then started to quench blades in their Arabian prisoners, just to discover that method was not why the Arab blades were so good.
    In the words of Socrates, "...I drank what...?!"

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Maricopa "Maritukee", AZ
    Posts
    6,386
    Originally posted by James Taylor
    Irish blood is considered only appropriate for steels that require a fast quench due to the high alcohol content.
    I haven't checked, but I think the heat capacity of alcohol is less that that of water.

    This may be why my irish friends are cold in the winter and burn so easilly in the summer

    Mike
    Well, I hope Arthur Frommer will remember
    An Arizona man don't need him around anyhow

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Location
    Thulcandra, the silent planet.
    Posts
    210
    How to draw the temper from the iron:
    Let some human blood stand untill water separates off; skim this water off and keep it. Afterwards hold the tempered weapons in the fire untill they become hot, and then with a little feather spread some of this water over the weapons untill the water disappears. In this way they will turn soft.
    Sounds more like annealing than heat-treating; but either way it's just a silly thing to even consider. I find it hard to believe that any intelligent smith would give this sort of thing a second thought. (Then again, I've heard a number of smiths say they only quench with the blade pointing north, so using blood might not be as unreasonable as it seems to someone outside the profession...)

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •