11.5.3 Forging a Wootz Sword
|Early Wootz Swords
|Let's engage in our stupid little game once more:
|Like always, it is a tricky question with no definite answer. First I will make
clear what I did not ask:
There is of course no definite answer to this question. We can be rather sure that "pattern forging" evolved over many years, from a process where blades with some pattern were created more or less accidentially, to a process where materials and forging techniques were optimized. That took many steps and the process of making blades with a nice pattern probably required a century or two for maturing.
|The first blades with (very) nice patterns shown in Khorasani's magnificient book are from the Timurid period 1370 AD - 1500 AD. Here is one:
|The patterns on the shamshirs shown are so perfect that they must have been based on an older tradition. While quite likely older blades with a nice pattern exist somewhere out there, I have yet to see one. So for answering our question we must turn to early writings.
|I have already done this in the special
module "Antique Texts Concerning Crucible Steel " There you can read that Al-Kindi
(ca. 800 AD - 873 AD) mentions that swords made from pulad (=wootz) exhibt a pattern (known
then as "firind" or "jawhar") and that might be the first description of the "water" pattern
obtainable with some crucible steel,
Then we have AI-Biruni (973 AD - 1048 AD) who also comments on the "water" pattern that could be produced with crucible steel. And so on.
|We also have Anna
Feuerbach's analysis of a few old blades from the 3rd4th century AD that were made from crucible steel that sported
aligned spheroidal cementite, the metallographic feature needed for a nice visible pattern. It is not clear, however, if
the smith was intentionally going for a pattern and what it would have looked like.
All things considered we might be justified in assuming that blades with a nice pattern have been around a least since 800 AD. Perhaps even somewhat longer but probably not much longer because in many much older documents from India, crucible steel and patterned swords are never mentioned.
That opens the interesting questions if one of the most famous swords in history, the Zulfiqar of the Prophet Mohammed, was a wootz blade?
|Making a Mohammed's Ladder
|From the preceding modules it should be rather clear how a "normal"
wootz blade was forged. The key points were:
|But now we want to make a step
pattern, better known as kirk nardeban" or Mohammed's
ladder with "roses"
The picture below (from am Indian wootz blade in my possession) shows a few weak "steps". The smith has made an attempt at a kirk nardeban pattern and succeeded for some ladder rungs in parts of the blade but not everywhere.
|How is it done? The principle is easy. Make a hump in the otherwise somewhat wobbly but planar stack of your cementite precipitate planes. Schematically (very schematically, I'm not an artist) you could produce something like this:
|What also works is to cut grooves as shown below, followed by the more tricky part of "filling " them again, This "evening out" the blade must be done in such a way that the cementite planes are arranged as shown.
|You might also make grooves by cutting with a chisel and
|I really don't know how you do all this in detail - ask
a smith! The only problem is that there aren't too many around right now who could tell you. And the few who could will
probably keep their mouths shut.
Anyway, the principle of manipulating wootz patterns is clear. The principle for making a major marble sculpture like this one is also quite clear: Take a big piece of marble and knock off whatever is not needed.
|The guy who makes a great marble sculpture we call an artist, and his work a piece of art. I do not hesitate to call a smith who makes a wootz sword like the ones shown here an artist too, and his work a piece of art. And now we are right back to the beginning of this hyperscript, far, far away.
|The Myth Around Wootz Swords
|Wootz swords with a nice "water" pattern were supposed to be unbelievably
good, far better than anything else. A whole mythology developed around this. Since the "Japanese sword" enjoyed
the same mystification process, I won't go into much details here but do that in the next module.
Wootz swords, for example, were believed to be unbelievably sharp. You even could cuts stones with a wootz blade without the slightest damage to the blade. And of course you could bend them around your waist without any problems.
|We have encountered some of these claims before:
|Of course, the mythology around wootz swords owns quite a bit
to all the early and later
writings concerning the "secret" of the Indian steel, and to the fact that crucible / wootz steel was indeed better
in some respects than other old steels throughout the millennia. No doubt about that.
However, even the best wootz is just a (ultra) high carbon steel, and even with spheroidized cementite this steel has its
How good wootz (or "true" damascene) blades really are is something one can find out. Prof. Zschokke (an early metallurgist from Switzerland) was lucky enough to get a few wootz blades for (destructive) investigations. This is quite unusual because these blades are valuable and museums and collectors do not easily agree to have some of them destroyed.
Manfred Sachse in his book reports some of Zschokke's results. Here are a few:
|Specimen 1 - 4 were wootz blades, 5 and 6 were modern early 20th century welded and cast steel blades from Solingen. They were the winners in every category.
|Nothing very special or very good about wootz blades. Well, we already know that from what I have written before. You can also read a short article from Stephan C. Alter from 2017, entitled: "On Slaves and Silk Hankies. Seeking Truth in Damascus Steel" that puts all these myths in perspective.
© H. Föll (Iron, Steel and Swords script)