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The Steelmaking Process

The steelmaking process

The steelmaking process toes a fine line between the percent of carbon to total iron mass and temperature control. It wasn’t uncommon that during battle a blade could become bent under pressure or a hilt would come flying off. To properly get iron to its melting point (1.535 degrees Celsius) was a difficult task for early metallurgists as most furnaces were only able to reach 900 to 1000 degrees Celsius. Although 1% or less carbon is needed per total mass of iron, swordsmiths soon discovered that a little over 4% carbon could lower iron’s melting point by 400 degrees, which was an attainable temperature. Hammering had the effect of releasing impurities and reducing carbon content which made the alloy soft. Heated again, an oxidised film would form which the smith folded over into layers and continued to reheat and hammer a maximum of 15 times otherwise it became too brittle. Quenching the blade in a cool liquid (water or oil) directly after had the effect of hardening the blade once again though it needed to finally be tempered and reheated to 200 - 450° C to reach the desired toughness. Given limited scientific knowledge at the time, the steelmaking process was a trial of extremes to get the metal to its ideal balance of strength and hardness.

Goro Nyudo Masamune
Masamune was one the great swordsmiths of the golden age or the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333) as it was called in Japan. He developed a sword making technique that involved folding the steel 15 times – that is 215 or more than 30.000 layers which were actually thinner than tissue paper. Often times a rose would be kept nearby so that the folding process could only begin when the colour of the steel was neither too red nor too orange but matched that of the rose. After folding came the tempering process, until each blade “glowed to the color of the morning sun,” that is the colour of Japan (itself meaning “the source of the sun”).

Wednesday, 30.11.2011
22:45 (Cet)

 
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