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Thread: Question on what appears to be a Damascus type metallurgy in 1796 HCTS

  1. #1
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    Question on what appears to be a Damascus type metallurgy in 1796 HCTS

    After using a mild solvent to remove the Renaissance Wax on my 1796 HCTS to clean off some finger prints on the blade I noticed what appears to be a Damascus like pattern in the blade (below) - somewhat similar to what you might see from a very basic ball bearing crucible Damascus pattern.

    Which has me wondering again about how these and other European blades were produced - the “archeometallurgy” of them, how this changed across the centuries and also how the different HCTS blade manufacturers at the time had such varying success in the testing of them.

    I’ve also been watching the series “Forged in Fire” and have been very interested to see the widely varying successes and failures of sword tests in that series and my interest in blacksmithing has lead to some interesting reading on metallurgy, including how Japanese blacksmithing and blade making evolved.

    But not European blade making.

    Does anyone here have any thoughts on what the pattern in this blade represents?

    And does anyone have any insight into the metallurgic composition of historic blades and how they have changed over the centuries or has anyone ever seen or read anything about the subject that they could point me to?



    The pattern on my sword is across the full width of the blade but it was difficult to capture with my iPhone in the light so this is the best that I can show it:

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  2. #2
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    Can you post a photo of the complete sword?
    Does not appear to be anything going on here but some light corrosion and streaking due to the solvent used. Try using brake cleaner or similar and a soft cloth to strip any residues so you get an honest appearance of the surface. Corrosion comes in several forms on steel depending on storage conditions. I'd have to pull out my reference to list them.
    Last edited by Will Mathieson; 04-30-2019 at 07:15 AM.

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    You may be right, though to be honest I don’t believe it is streaking due to the solvent used Will. It didn’t go away after washing the sword down with soapy water and drying it before reapplying the Renaissance Wax nor after the application of the wax.

    I’m away from home now so can’t grab a full photo at the moment but the pattern went across the full width of the blade and appears more to me like what I see after acid etching of Damascus pattern forging - in this case it reminded me of a ballbearing canister Damascus as I said, though obviously not as strong or apparent a pattern as that. The product that I used at the time was what I had on hand, being a gun blue/rust remover made up of mostly phosphoric acid and mild sulphuric and oxalic acids, so although not intentional my cleaning was probably not overly dissimilar to the Damascus etching process.

    Anyway, regardless of the cause, I’m still interested to learn more about the archeometallurgy of these swords and why, for example (in regards to the 1796 HCTS):
    "Of the 2,700 English-made blades 1,084 failed the test; of 1,400 German blades only 28 failed, and of Gill’s 2,650 only 4 failed”. How much of that is as a result of the manufacturers differing tempering and quenching processes and how much might be attributed to the materials used IF those materials varied across the different countries and manufacturers?

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    You may be right, though to be honest I don’t believe it is streaking due to the solvent used Will. It didn’t go away after washing the sword down with soapy water and drying it before reapplying the Renaissance Wax nor after the application of the wax.

    I’m away from home now so can’t grab a full photo at the moment but the pattern went across the full width of the blade and appears more to me like what I see after acid etching of Damascus pattern forging - in this case it reminded me of a ballbearing canister Damascus as I said, though obviously not as strong or apparent a pattern as that. The product that I used at the time was what I had on hand, being a gun blue/rust remover made up of mostly phosphoric acid and mild sulphuric and oxalic acids, so although not intentional my cleaning was probably not overly dissimilar to the Damascus etching process.

    Anyway, regardless of the cause, I’m still interested to learn more about the archeometallurgy of these swords and why, for example (in regards to the 1796 HCTS):
    "Of the 2,700 English-made blades 1,084 failed the test; of 1,400 German blades only 28 failed, and of Gill’s 2,650 only 4 failed”. How much of that is as a result of the manufacturers differing tempering and quenching processes and how much might be attributed to the materials used IF those materials varied across the different countries and manufacturers?

  5. #5
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    You've ruled out some possibilities of contamination giving the appearance it has. I have seen odd appearance with German made swords that have had some of their case hardening taken off. Of course better photos help but in this case having it in hand probably the most accurate way to decide what's going on here.

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    I’m interested that you mention case hardening on German swords Will as I’ve not heard of case hardening being used on swords or other types of edged weapons or edged tools before. I’ve seen quite a few references to different tempering and quenching techniques and quenching media used, from water and brine through to varying mixes of urine and other liquids and types of oil, as well as varying types of differential quenching techniques, but nothing on case hardening of swords.

    I can imagine it may have application with a differential quench where the bulk of the sword is a cheaper lower carbon steel but with a high carbon content in the blade edge only, with the high carbon edged properly quenched and the rest of the low carbon material just case hardened in a type of differential quench. I’d be very interested in reading or hearing more on it.

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    I should have mentioned I do not know when Germans began case hardening. I've done this decades ago using a case hardening powder, heat your steel, add the powder to the surface and heat again. That's oversimplified. An interesting book is England's Workshops by Gustav Louis Maurice Strauss and contains some interesting methods used for swords.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Will Mathieson View Post
    I should have mentioned I do not know when Germans began case hardening. I've done this decades ago using a case hardening powder, heat your steel, add the powder to the surface and heat again. That's oversimplified. An interesting book is England's Workshops by Gustav Louis Maurice Strauss and contains some interesting methods used for swords.
    Thanks Will, I really appreciate the lead on that book and will chase it down - I’ve also been trying to get a hold of a copy of “The metallography of early ferrous edge tools and edged weapons” by Tylecote and Gilmour, although it seems to be more related to older weapons.

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