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Thread: modern wootz and best, antique wootz ever

  1. #76
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Sankt Augustin, Germany
    Dear Forummembers and Wootz experts,

    this is a very good and interesting thread so far, checking everyday if there are new questions and answers with regards to foulad. As some of you know I recentley tried to make my own wootz and the ingots looked quiet nice so far. I am lightyears behind you guys but I wanted to show you a couple of pictures of my latest results.
    The pattern looks a bit fine but for folder blades it should do. What do you think ? I just forged them and did not cut or drill anything but I am planing to do this with the next blades.

    Regards, Cyrus
    Attached Images Attached Images     

  2. #77
    Very nice looking work! What are you using for an etchant?

  3. #78
    A great start indeed, Cyrus! Nice laddering, you need to make some more steel for sure!

    Peter, regarding your question about the fibrous quality of your steel - It could be you have not been making wootz at all, but rather a crucible steel with too much of element X or not enough of element Y to get the banding to move the way it does for wootz. Even if you had the chemistry of your initial ingredients, you can’t say for sure what ends up in the ingot without getting it analyzed. The slag will take something away, and extra carbon can show up uninvited, silicon will move from slag to steel or visa versa depending on peak temperature. If you were overshooting carbon content that could make it hard to move the pattern, I’ve noticed in 1.7+ C ingots it is hard to get the pattern to move.
    BUT the photos you have posted don’t look that high in carbon, and you have some banding going on, so you should be able to move it in some way. Does your hammer hit more like a Nazel or more like a Beche?
    Soft or Hard?

  4. #79

    I have never actually used either, so I'm stuck with saying "Huh?" I have watched a Chambersburg 350 in action, and my impression of that hammer was that it hit "solidly", but did not "smack" the steel. Our hammer seems a bit more like it "smacks" the steel, simply based on the sound of the blows. Like most of the modern, self-contained hammers, the anvil weight is really not sufficient for the hammer weight, and I think this is what makes the difference.

    It is possible that I am overshooting my carbon content since I am using gray cast iron as one of my base materials; I have a pretty good idea of the carbon content, but not an exact reading. I think it is more likely that I am overshooting my vanadium content than my carbon content, though I still suspect that the cooling rate is what is getting me into trouble. If we look at modern steels, most of which develop banding of some kind, they are made in much larger ingots and therefore cool much more slowly. The banding is also much more laminar than even the Persian wootz, which suggests to me that the very slow solidifcation (relatively speaking) followed by massive reduction in cross-section is behind this. I think that the best banding will result from mimicking the cooling rate of these large ingots on a smaller scale. I have some ideas in mind of how I can test this in my next batch of ingots, so I will let you know how it goes.

    My feeling on the alloy differences is that, if such subtle changes in alloys could affect things in such a large way, then why was the process apparently so repeatable in the time and period when wootz was so common? The smiths back then would have been working with materials that varied vastly from one region to the next, and even from one batch to the next in the same shop. This suggests to me that there was an equalizer somewhere in the physical or chemical process that allowed variations in the starting formula to still arrive at basically the same end point. My guess is currently that the cooling rate was the equalizer, but I could be wrong about this.

  5. #80
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Sankt Augustin, Germany
    I use strong Fe3Cl mixed with Ethanol, etch for some seconds, rub the oxids off, etch again and after I like the result I use soap in hot water to neutralize, dry it quickly, give it then a fast spray with WD 40 against rusting. Then I wipe everything off and oil it with mineraloil because it will stay on the blade. WD 40 won't stay on the blade.
    I tried nidal but I did not like it at all, the nitric acid will go into the boundaries of the steel if it is a bit too strong, so you really have to watch out. When the blade is in the acid, everything looks fine, if you do not really neutralize it a black crust of oxids develops which is really hard to get off and the surface underneath looks like the surface of the moon!

    Regards, Cyrus

  6. #81
    It occurred to me that maybe a hammer with a hard ‘slap’ type blow might break up the banding as compared to a softer hitting hammer, causing fiberousness, but it is a random hypothesis, I have not noticed the effect in the steel I’ve worked. Something to watch out for, perhaps.

    Regarding the sensitivity of banding to alloy variation, remember that you have no idea what your alloy is, how it compares to actual or theoretical wootz; and we have no idea how uniform the chemistry of old wootz is. There’s a sample of only 10-20 blades with published analyses standing in for thousands of blades across thousands of miles for a thousand years – we know less than nothing. The repeatability of the old smiths may have had something to do with the innate conservatism of traditional craft processes – there might not have been as much variation going in as you think (though we do have several old recipes which are not that close to each other, there certainly was variation ).
    More importantly, there is NO equalizer, and NO ‘basically the same’ endpoint, I don’t know who keeps putting these ideas into your head.
    For a good illustration of this point, go to Oriental Arms and type ‘wootz’ into that little search box in the lower left, you’ll find many, many good photos of three hundred years of wootz blades from across all wootzistan – such diversity of pattern, carbon content, cooling rate and contrast among blades which are (for the most part) legitimately called ‘wootz’ is hard to imagine if you are clinging to an imaginary wootz ideal, but there it is, including fibrous and dendritic examples:

    There’s an increased degree of uniformity if you limit your perusal to ‘Persian’ or ‘Indian’ wootz, still with a noticeable amount of variation – but remember that since the labels are now applied based on pattern instead of actual place of manufacture, it is an artificial uniformity.
    Wootz is like a brilliant cut diamond in direct sunlight, so many facets yet almost impossible to see them in all the dazzling diffraction.

  7. #82

    I guess I gave the wrong impression with my earlier post, since I don't think there is a universal "norm" for antique wootz. As you say, it was produced over a long period of time and across a wide swath of Asia and Eastern Europe. There are many variations on the theme, and I am quite aware of them.

    What I was getting at is that I believe there was a great deal of variation in process from one smith to the next, and even within the work of an individual smith. The reason I say this is because my experience with human nature, particularly among craftspeople, is that it is very hard to share EVERY aspect of a successful process with one's competitors. I find that this remains substantially true today, but I suspect it was much more true in the past. Most modern smiths are some variation on a hobbyist, regardless of whether we are full-time or part-time. We are smiths because we love the craft, not because we think we are going to get rich by doing it. The smiths of the past, I think, would have had far more reason to keep the secrets of a successful process from their competitors, since it had a much more direct bearing on their livelihood and standing in society. This line of reasoning, by the way, is also part of why I am skeptical of many historical accounts.

    If my line of reasoning is correct, and smiths used to be more close-mouthed about why their particular system worked, it is pretty likely that two successful wootz smiths working in the same city or region would have had some parts of their process in common (the parts they were willing to share) while other parts of the process were completely different (the parts they kept secret). But there are enough blades out there with similar enough patterns that I can't hep but think there is a unifying factor in the process, at least within a given region or time period.

    I guess what I am getting at is this: were all the blades that ended up with a laminar "persian" pattern produced through exactly (or nearly exactly) the same process? Were there schools of wootz-making similar to the schools of swordmaking in Japan? Nothing that I have read indicates that this is the case. Maybe others have information that I don't and can bring that forward. I am going here on what I have read and my understanding of human nature, which is basically that we all do that which we think will benefit us personally, especially in cases where our livelihood is concerned. Keeping secrets that bring us benefit is very hard to resist, especially if we don't know exactly why "it" works.

    As you say, I haven't gotten any of my ingots chemically analyzed, which does put me at a severe disadvantage when it comes to figuring out why I am not getting the result I am aiming for. It also makes it difficult to compare what I make with what others have made in the past or make presently. I think I mentioned at some point that I can be a touch lazy (thus the Say-Mak hammer) at times.

    What I am having trouble coming to grips with, however, is something more basic, I think. Most of the examples of wootz that I have seen fall essentially into the categories of dendritic or laminar to some degree or another. Most of the "fibrous" examples I have seen appear to my eye to be laminar patterns that are simply short on carbide, or poorly etched so we are only seeing a smaller portion of the banding. The reason I say this is because most of these blades seem to have a great deal of "black" space. This goes for the example you mentioned above as well. What I am finding in my own blades is not a lack of carbide...I have plenty of that...but instead that the carbides form neat arrays of square cross-sectioned "wires" through the steel rather than the bands that I have seen in every other example of wootz (barring the very dendritic ones, of course). I am including in this all of the modern wootz, thermal-cycled steels, etc.

    I am quite aware that the apparently solid "banding" is not solid at all, which is why I have asked several times about etching processes. It occurs to me that I am getting what everyone else has, but I am just etching it differently. This appears less likely now that Cyrus has revealed that he uses Ferric Chloride just like I do. It sounds like he dips, whereas I brush on, but I don't see that as being a large enough difference to explain the variation in appearance.

    I guess another item of interest in looking at Cyrus' pictures is that he appears to be getting a somewhat laminar pattern but on a very fine scale. There are a number of examples of antique wootz blades that have well-defined laminar patterns that are at the same time very "tight". I have always assumed that the gross scale of the pattern is a factor of the solidification rate, so this seems to indicate that even ingots that solidified pretty quickly can still produce a reasonably laminar pattern. Is this a factor of chemistry or the working of the material? Perhaps both?

    Returning to the example of modern steels, I am inclined to say it is a factor of working process instead of chemistry. Modern steels with substantially different chemistries still exhibit remarkably similar banding, and my thought is that this is because they are produced in very similar manners. One "unifying factor" between them is the physical treatment during manufacture. Another "unifying factor", of course, is that almost all modern steels are simply variations on a theme, with many of the chemicals kept to a relatively standard amount across the board... phosphorous and sulfur come immediately to mind. Which of the two is more important, I am not sure. This is essentially the point that I was trying to make in my last post: I believe that there was a great deal of variation in process from smith to smith, yet a great deal of the wootz that I have seen is remarkably similar...and this indicates to me that there were "unifying factors" in the various processes that allowed these similar outcomes in spite of different paths. Did they all arrive at the same point? No. Do an awful lot of them seem to arrive in pretty tight clusters? I think so.

    Dendritic vs laminar is to my mind kind of like comparing dough to a loaf of bread; the former could have become the latter but the process was interrupted. I have never had a finished blade exhibit what I would consider a truly dendritic pattern except near the end of a bar where the material has not been substantially worked. Looking at some old shamshirs, etc, there is often an area at one end or the other that exhibits a more dendritic pattern. Similarly, smaller blades that would probably be made from the left-overs of a larger bar seem to more commonly exhibit the dendritic patterns. What this pattern would have become with additional forging is impossible to know, but my gut feeling is that it would have been some variation on a laminar pattern.

    One pattern that I have seen, and I tend to associate it with Eastern European or Russian blades, is one in which there are long strands running diagonally across the blade rather than roughly parallel to the edge. I have experienced these in a couple of my ingots, but those ingots were made to a custom order and roughly approximated A-2 in chemistry. The change in chemistry certainly changed the appearance of the pattern in this case, since the rest of my process remained unchanged, but this was a major chemical change rather than a minor one.

    Well, I have rambled enough for tonight. I will try to remember to post some more pictures as illustrations once I am back at my "work" computer on Monday.

  8. #83
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Elliot Lake
    wow... i missed out on alot while i was moving... cool discussion

    i'll just add a we bit...

    i did want to save some info for a big article i was gonna write... but i can't wait... ( strike while the iron is hot

    the etch is another little factor.... it won't make a small pattern blade into a big pattern one ( like Jeff's cool blade ) but.... some acids may not do enough to show the little details..

    try this on....

    etches do and reveal various things... so sometimes one acid may not do the trick...

    so on occasion you could use more than one acid in a sequence..

    this combo i like ...and use often:

    use a dilute nitric ( very dilute so it shows the pattern in about 15 to 30 seconds.. ).. if the acid does drill holes...its too strong..

    as Cyrus mentioned.... it'll outline the structures
    .. ( sometimes so nice that you may want to stop here...)

    part 2.... mix a solution of sodium metabisulfite and water.... to do a secondary etch... if its made at a nice low solution should only go after and darken the martensite and such... and leave the carbide alone..
    - often i find new little things start to pop up...

    Nota bene --- one etch recipe will not work for all wootz's... so be flexible and observe what it does and change accordingly..

    - even iron sulphate/hot water... when rubbed on a stubborn blade can pull out detail ... just be patient when doing it..

    ps... i wish i had an airhammer... you are wise to use it
    - just recently i got an old mechanical hammer, so i hope to embrace this high technology and give my aching back a rest...

    pss... looking at Jeff's sample analysis on Don's forum... i can't see anything that jumps out at me, to say how the alloy became a big size pattern...
    .. its gotta be a subtle difference somewhere .... the devil is in the details...


  9. #84
    Were there schools of wootz-making similar to the schools of swordmaking in Japan?

    I think so, very roughly speaking, hence the Indian versus Persian versus Turkish/Syrian styles, in a very broad sense. Smaller-scale variation may have been squelched due to fear of the high cost of failure, if you don’t really understand why it has to be five leaves of the myrobalan and not four you might be inclined to stick with what you learned from the previous generation iron master.
    And I agree the smiths of old did not go spilling trade secrets, but I hope you can still trust historical accounts written by informed observers, as opposed to the repeated misunderstood accounts by uninformed writers – i.e. trust al Kindi some, but not so much al Biruni, and both with a grain of salt.

    I have always assumed that the gross scale of the pattern is a factor of the solidification rate, so this seems to indicate that even ingots that solidified pretty quickly can still produce a reasonably laminar pattern. Is this a factor of chemistry or the working of the material? Perhaps both?

    I think “Indian school” wootz was cooled more rapidly than “Persian school” wootz, but at this point it would be good to remember that they were making lumps of steel that got steered towards various end uses based on how they behaved during working; if the pattern was boring or lame they just directed that ingot to the flint striker department (or traded those bars to different industries) instead of the sword department. Nowadays if you are a knife maker of swordsmith you typically do not have a secondary production of more pedestrian objects to take up the surplus ingots that are not suited to high-end swords, so I think we perceive steelmaking as a lot more trouble than they did ‘back in the day’.

    Re: the influence of etching, here are two shots of the same blade, almost the same area, with different degrees of etch, it does seem to go from discontinuous in solo nitric or ferric to more ‘normal’ looking in alternating nitric & ferric…
    Attached Images Attached Images

  10. #85
    Just thought folks who were following this thread should check out the pics I just posted on this thread

    I tried out a different etching technique on a wootz saber I made about a year ago, and the visual results are mind-blowing. It is clear that the new etchant (oxalic acid) is not showing a different pattern than the original ferric chloride wash, but the contrast is so much better the blade is almost unrecognizable... in a very good way.

  11. #86
    Way to think outside the box! Oxalic acid is a reducing agent or wood bleach in many contexts, not what you'd guess would do a good etch.
    Looks like it does a good job bringing out the carbides
    Here's a knife blade of fresh metal (new year's day smelt), and an old blade for comparison...
    Attached Images Attached Images

  12. #87
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Elliot Lake
    very nice result.. ! you got the knack for making those pattern big... !

    oxalic is a tad poisonous though... maybe not that bad in rhubarb.. just watch the pet's don't take a drink in the etch tank...

    did you use the same ore mix as you did in the previous big pattern blade..?


  13. #88
    No, the ore for this ingot is all local magnetite, that other blade was the bi-coastal ore mix. I have not seen more of that eastern ore, maybe at this year's F&B we can put the two ores together again.

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