old steel

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Re: old steel

Postby dave budd » Wed Feb 09, 2011 9:08 pm

right, I just had a reply from my friend, who apart from being a knife enthusiast and engineer is a professional metallurgist :) So he should know what he's talking about
this is what he said so far:

Now that's an impressive can of worms you've opened. (Licks lips)

Modern steels are certainly different to old steels, and in general ought to be better. Most of the steels currently in widespread use were invented in the last 10 years and have replaced older grades. The batch to batch variation between modern steels has been virtually eliminated, and each individual batch is made to far tighter tolerances than ever before.

Consider something like simple 1085 steel. The 1 designates it as a plain carbon steel and the 0 indicates there are no other intentional alloying elements included. The 85 indicates the carbon content to be .85

If you had bought that steel 50 years ago, it might have contained between .7 and 1.0 per cent carbon, the tolerance band specified at the time being .15% That was all the technology of the time could reasonably be expected to produce. In addition, there might have been some other 'tramp' elements in there too, perhaps up to 1% in total, but it still qualified as a plain carbon steel as these were not intentionally included. Some got in there from the raw iron ore used, others from any recycled scrap steel used in the melt process. Hence you might have bought 1085 steel one day and received a 'poor' batch that contained 0.25% sulphur and 0.25 % phosphorus, and where the carbon content was on the bottom end of the specification at 0.7 %. However it still fell within the specification and was considered fit for purpose. For most purposes, it was: one wouldn't use 1085 for aircraft landing gear so it didn't need to be made to very tight tolerances. Such steel would still make a passable knife blade, but not the best. Equally, the next batch could contain 1.0% carbon, and the tramp elements might be 0.25% vanadium and .75% manganese. That would make very good knife blades ! When people think fondly of old steels, they tend to do so through rose tinted glasses, remembering the good batches and forgetting the rubbish.

Modern steels, even simple ones like 1085, tend to be far more consistent and made to much tighter tolerances. Of course, that does mean that although you shouldn't get the poor batches, you shouldn't get the unexpectedly good ones either. You should always get what you paid for: nothing less, nothing more. I say 'should' because of course some steelmakers make good certified steel and some make steel that comes with certificates saying it is good. I've been offered steel - cheaply - by a Chinese supplier who asked me what tolerance limits and makers' name I wanted on the certificate. The steel didn't change, just the paperwork.

If we move on to the subject of modern types of steel versus old steels, then in general modern steels are better. They are designed and made for specific purposes. If you want a knife steel that will hold a good edge, resist corrosion, harden well, withstand chipping, withstand fracturing, you'll probably go for something with a medium carbon content, a fair amount of chromium, a dash of manganese, a pinch of vanadium, a touch of nickel and perhaps a soupcon of niobium. The exact size of the 'pinch' , 'soupcon' et cetera will be calculated very precisely by expert metallurgists aware of the intended end use, then manufactured to exactly those specified tolerances. You might then specify that it be ausformed from the ingot to a roughing billet, then control rolled to strip. That strip will then make a superb knife blade: think of something like RWL or 12C27. Extremely good for the very specific purpose they were designed for, but maybe not all rounders for general use. You wouldn't use RWL for the exhaust vanes in a turbocharger, but neither would you use the steels designed for exhaust vanes to make knives.

That doesn't mean all old steels were bad. Far from it. If a steel made in 1700, or 1327, or even 236 BC had the right composition for the job, a modern one will struggle to beat it. The difference is, the modern steels are made intentionally good, and consistently good. A modern toolmaker can go to Corus/Tata, Krupps, Bohler, Sandvik et cetera and ask for a steel that will have a fracture toughness rating of X, a hardness of Y and corrosion resistance of Z and, if it isn't already on the shelf, they will design and deliver it. By the hundreds of tons. Month after month after month...

The smiths in India and Persia were producing extremely good (hard and tough, therefore superb for weapons of the period) steel from around 300 BC and continued this through to around 1400. This eventually became known as damascus steel. However, not all their output was good, in fact much of it was mediocre. There are historical records recounting how the smiths would sift through the blooms produced from the smelting furnaces, selecting the best by colour and sound when tapped et cetera, and then further processing these good lumps into very high quality crucible steel. This high quality steel was then supplied to the best smiths who used their skill to make truly superb weapons from it. Some of these smiths are known by name, and there are parallels in Europe (think of Ulfbert) and Japan too. We know of a few good smiths, a few legendary blades. We have forgotten - never even knew - the hundreds of thousands of journeyman makers and their average output. Most of which went to make nails, hoes, needles and a thousand other implements were extreme quality wasn't as vital as in a warrior's sword.

Thus perhaps we can summarise.

Modern steels can be designed for a specific application, at which they will excel, and we can buy that steel in vast quantities. Old steels were very variable in quality, and available only in small quantities. If, however, one of those small batches was of the right composition for the task in hand, it too would excel. It's just that the next batch, for which one might have to wait a long time, could be completely different...



On whether steel hardens with time, he says yes, theoretically. But you would be talking tectonic shift kind of time scales, and then only half a point on the rockwell scale beween big bang and apocalypse! So I think its old wives tales there. Although, the rust is very hard as a skin, so I guess the rusted edge will hold it's relative sharpness longer than a clean metal at the same edge thickness.
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Re: old steel

Postby Ian S » Wed Feb 09, 2011 9:30 pm

Hi Dave

Really interesting read there - many thanks for finding this out and posting it for us, and thanks alos to your friend for answering your queries.

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Re: old steel

Postby dave budd » Wed Feb 09, 2011 10:21 pm

No probs. It's all interesting stuff for me too, afterall good steel is how I make a living :wink:

I remembered reading something in the Historical Metallurgy journal a few years ago about the reasons for not being able to tell accurately if archaeological steel had been heat treated, and I couldn't remember the details. So I asked him that too :) I remembered thatit was due to the martensite degrading with time and since that is also what is happening when you temper it, I figured that gives false readings. Here is what he said in reply to the fading memory...



Martensite is a metastable phase and so will degrade over time. How long that time is is the moot point: the more dominant factor is temperature. Arhenius' equation shows that a reaction rate will double for every 10 C rise in temperature, conversely it will slow down by the same amount as temperature falls - that's largely how freezing food works: it is still decaying but at -18C it will last for months rather than a week at room (20 C) temperature.

A more significant factor will be corrosion. A 500 year old steel may only have lost a few per cent martensite and thus its hardness change will be hardly noticeable, but crevice, filliform and pitting corrosion, grain boundary cracking and sundry other such nasties may have weakened it to the extent that though each constituent grain of steel is still hard, the item as a whole simple falls apart when touched



there you go. Steel does NOT get harder with time. It will get softer and in fact become more unstable and frankly useless; but it does take a while!
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Re: old steel

Postby Graeme Fraser » Wed Feb 09, 2011 10:31 pm

Dave, sorry to ask more questions but I've heard of austenite and martensite but the other day I came across the term bainite. Could you explain, sir. Were any old steels bainite?

Graeme :oops:
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Re: old steel

Postby robin wood » Thu Feb 10, 2011 12:23 am

dave budd wrote:The smiths in India and Persia were producing extremely good (hard and tough, therefore superb for weapons of the period) steel from around 300 BC and continued this through to around 1400. This eventually became known as damascus steel. However, not all their output was good, in fact much of it was mediocre. There are historical records recounting how the smiths would sift through the blooms produced from the smelting furnaces, selecting the best by colour and sound when tapped et cetera, and then further processing these good lumps into very high quality crucible steel. This high quality steel was then supplied to the best smiths who used their skill to make truly superb weapons from it. Some of these smiths are known by name, and there are parallels in Europe (think of Ulfbert) and Japan too. We know of a few good smiths, a few legendary blades. We have forgotten - never even knew - the hundreds of thousands of journeyman makers and their average output. Most of which went to make nails, hoes, needles and a thousand other implements were extreme quality wasn't as vital as in a warrior's sword.

Thus perhaps we can summarise.

Modern steels can be designed for a specific application, at which they will excel, and we can buy that steel in vast quantities. Old steels were very variable in quality, and available only in small quantities. If, however, one of those small batches was of the right composition for the task in hand, it too would excel. It's just that the next batch, for which one might have to wait a long time, could be completely different...

On whether steel hardens with time, he says yes, theoretically. But you would be talking tectonic shift kind of time scales, and then only half a point on the rockwell scale beween big bang and apocalypse! So I think its old wives tales there. Although, the rust is very hard as a skin, so I guess the rusted edge will hold it's relative sharpness longer than a clean metal at the same edge thickness.


There are some useful points in there but it uses heavily biased language which is very unhelpful.

In the old days we had "few good smiths, a few legendary blades" and "hundreds of thousands of journeyman makers and their average output Most of which went to make nails, hoes, needles and a thousand other implements were extreme quality wasn't as vital "

whereas today we have.

"Modern steels can be designed for a specific application, at which they will excel"

I am not sure that there is such a difference other than we are using disparaging language about the old smiths using one steel for swords and another for nails.

I am well aware that modern steel production is more tightly controlled and we can get a more homogenous and predictable product but are the tools better as a result? I think often tools have been at their best when the tool user knew the tool maker and at their worse when however bad the tool turned out to be there was no realistic likelihood of taking it back to the maker.


The description of Persian smiths examining the bloom to ascertain it's qualities is exactly what occurs today in Japan and there are not one or two incredible smiths and lots of poor ones, no there are thousands of incredibly talented and knowledgeable smiths making incredible quality tools with no dodgy ones.

I was interested in the very clear talk of few good batches and lots of bad batches in old steels, is that well documented? what period are we talking about and how bad and how often were the bad batches? Are we talking about toolmakers steels in the first half of the 20th century or are the figures from elsewhere? Would we expect big variation in steel quality say in Elwell axes and billhooks made in the 1930s-50s? Would we expect to see a few "good batches" and also some "rubbish." I ask because I handle quite a lot of tools from the first half of the 20th century and I don't see rubbish whereas I do see a lot of rubbish made today, not that we don't have the technology to make it better.

I guess as Dave will testify a good tool is about so much more than knowing precisely the ingredients of your steel. You can easily take a precisely regulated steel and make a poor tool from it. It needs care in the design, production, heat treat and grinding, instead of lots of care in the marketing department.
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Re: old steel

Postby Ian S » Thu Feb 10, 2011 8:40 pm

Hi Robin

I have read your post above several times now, and I cannot understand the points that you are trying to make.

It seems that steel making historically (let's talk about 800 years ago, which is within the period that Dave's friend was talking about) was hit and miss - some steel would be excellent, some steel would be OK, some steel would be poor. The excellent steel was used for the high cost, high prestige work, and the OK and poor steel would be used for more everyday purposes. I think it's reasonable to assume that the excellent steel would be used by the masters, and the lower grades of steel would be used by journeymen. I don't think that this is disparaging at all, rather it's a statement of fact.

(As an aside, I'm very experienced and good at my job. I get the complex stuff routinely, because my boss knows that I will deal with it quickly and well. Same argument applies.)

My original post clearly stated that modern tools generally aren't as well made as older tools, and I stand by this assertion, together with the examples I posted. I also stated that modern steels are made to a tighter control, and it looks like Dave's friend's info backs this up (as indeed does your example from Sheffield Forgemasters being able to do on-the-spot analysis during smelting). Good tools are tools which are well made, using good materials.

I'm not sure I take your point about historical Persian/current Japanese smiths examining materials. I think it's fair to assume that the Japanese smiths benefit from 800 extra years of learning the subtleties of the material, 800 years extra of communicating with each other (and recently the rest of the world - the internet is a wonderful tool) and 800 years of developing the reputation for making the best tools available. They are probably very careful to rejest the poorer steel and only select the better steel. I also think that it's fair to assume that the odd lousy smelt has taken place (and indeed may still take place) in Japan.

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Re: old steel

Postby Brian Williamson » Thu Feb 10, 2011 11:10 pm

I'm afraid I'm failing to work out how to quote effectively from different posts, but there's a world of difference between what Dave B. said:

'We know of a few good smiths...' and what Robin W. quotes him as saying:

'In the old days we had "few good smiths....."'.

History, unfortunately, has a habit of preserving only the famous (or those good at self promotion) and the rest of the mere mortals are rapidly forgotten.

I guess that it is also true that if you were at the top of your trade you could demand, get (and be able to pay for) the best quality materials. Everyone else made do with what they had, and if that was variable quality steel then you got variable quality tools.

Also, I have no doubt that modern times has no monopoly on the greedy, the deceitful, the careless, the criminal and the incompetent, and that these would have existed in any trade. I am sure that Robin is right when he says that the best tools are made when the maker knows the user, but I am equally sure that knowing the maker wouldn't guarantee that the user got a good tool.

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Re: old steel

Postby robin wood » Fri Feb 11, 2011 12:22 am

Brian Williamson wrote: there's a world of difference between what Dave B. said:

'We know of a few good smiths...' and what Robin W. quotes him as saying:

'In the old days we had "few good smiths....."'.


Indeed Brian my error I meant to quote "a few good smiths" rather than "few good smiths". The point I was trying to make was about tone. In saying we only had a few good smiths and hundreds of thousands of journeyman makers and their average output. Most of which went to make nails, hoes, needles and a thousand other implements were extreme quality wasn't as vital as in a warrior's sword.

The tone of the language belittles what these folk are doing. They were using appropriate steel for appropriate jobs and achieving that with simple technology and high skill. I wonder how many metalurgists today could take a bloom from a furnace and with simple tools tell us whether it would make a good edge tool or not? Whereas the language applied to modern steel makers is all positive in tone.

There is also an implication that great smiths made swords and poor smiths made nails needles and hoes. In my experience this is not the case now and I suspect never was. An apprentice hoe maker would become a journeyman hoe maker and then if he was good a master hoe maker (I should say general village blacksmith really unless we are talking post industrial revolution) while an apprentice sword maker would progress in similar way.
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Re: old steel

Postby robin wood » Fri Feb 11, 2011 12:45 am

Ian S wrote:Hi Robin

I have read your post above several times now, and I cannot understand the points that you are trying to make.

It seems that steel making historically (let's talk about 800 years ago, which is within the period that Dave's friend was talking about) was hit and miss - some steel would be excellent, some steel would be OK, some steel would be poor. The excellent steel was used for the high cost, high prestige work, and the OK and poor steel would be used for more everyday purposes. I think it's reasonable to assume that the excellent steel would be used by the masters, and the lower grades of steel would be used by journeymen. I don't think that this is disparaging at all, rather it's a statement of fact.

(As an aside, I'm very experienced and good at my job. I get the complex stuff routinely, because my boss knows that I will deal with it quickly and well. Same argument applies.)

My original post clearly stated that modern tools generally aren't as well made as older tools, and I stand by this assertion, together with the examples I posted. I also stated that modern steels are made to a tighter control, and it looks like Dave's friend's info backs this up (as indeed does your example from Sheffield Forgemasters being able to do on-the-spot analysis during smelting). Good tools are tools which are well made, using good materials.

I'm not sure I take your point about historical Persian/current Japanese smiths examining materials. I think it's fair to assume that the Japanese smiths benefit from 800 extra years of learning the subtleties of the material, 800 years extra of communicating with each other (and recently the rest of the world - the internet is a wonderful tool) and 800 years of developing the reputation for making the best tools available. They are probably very careful to rejest the poorer steel and only select the better steel. I also think that it's fair to assume that the odd lousy smelt has taken place (and indeed may still take place) in Japan.

Cheers


The point I am trying to make is that old and simple technology is not necessarily worse technology. I am surprised to have to argue the case on a forum for folk who use "outdated" woodworking technology. Ian the point about Japanese Smiths benefiting from 800 years development suggests a belief that things gradually get better. Many woodworkers (myself included) believe that the standard of the average (mean) tools has deteriorated over the last 50 years. There are a few folk today that are working very hard to recreate Persian wootz steel knowledge of which was lost.

Let me show a specific example from a historic site. These are knives from Novgorod a medieval site in Russia I visited in 1998. The black is high carbon the white is low carbon. The interesting things is that level 28 is 10th c, wonderful laminated blades. Level 5 is 15th century, pretty poor I think you'll agree.
Image

and for those that want more chat about historical blades the thread I first posted this on at British Blades a couple of years ago has contributions from 2 senior archaeologists with interest in blades as well as some highly respected bladesmiths. http://www.britishblades.com/forums/sho ... t=novgorod
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Re: old steel

Postby jrccaim » Fri Feb 11, 2011 4:49 am

Robin Wood said
I did a tour of forgemasters last year. They make steel for all manner of things, mostly high end stuff like rollers for roller mills, bits for nuclear powerplants and drive shafts hydro electric turbines etc.


Very interesting! I would sure like a go at their rejects bin! But a place like that, making their own steel for special purposes, is not your average steel plant, where the precision of the ingredients is +/- 2-tonne clamshell. So, we average blokes, we make tools from scrap steel and we takes what we gets. In the end, I suspect that care in tempering, grinding, and honing makes up for a lot. That is my experience, anyway. One of my friends in grad school was a metallurgist, had a M.S. from Sheffield UK (which he said, by the way, was tops). We used to talk about steel. Although metallurgists know a lot, there is an enormous amount that they don't. I think this is great. Means it's a profession with a future! Most of us on this forum (in fact, I would venture to say all of us) do not have access to heat-treating ovens, spectrometers to determine carbon content, and measurement equipment to determine whether our Rc number is 65 +/- 15%. We can, of course buy say 1085 steel from a reputable stockist. Then we have an idea of what's in the batch. If I made my living by making tools, perhaps I would! But I do it for fun, and because I can't buy what I want. I think car springs (or for smaller stuff, chainsaw starter rewind springs) are just fine.

"Try it and see" is a good motto for the average toolmaker. I get a bigger kick from recycling a broken chainsaw spring than I would from knowing that its carbon content was 0.85%. On the other hand, It is good to know some basic metallurgy. That way you won't try to make your hook tool out of, say, rebar, or your chisels out of shelf brackets. But you could make a small hoe from a shelf bracket! Have to sharpen frequently, though. Even the humble hoe benefits from sharpening.
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Re: old steel

Postby Ian S » Fri Feb 11, 2011 8:54 am

Hi Robin

robin wood wrote:Ian the point about Japanese Smiths benefiting from 800 years development suggests a belief that things gradually get better. Many woodworkers (myself included) believe that the standard of the average (mean) tools has deteriorated over the last 50 years.


This might sound like a back-flip from me, but I actually think we're saying the same things.

1) I think that the top end of woodworking tool production - Japanese Smiths - have benefited from the improvement in knowledge and communication over the period.

I also think that modern mass production manufacturers are able to get steel which is made to a more consistent quality control than previously available - but not necessarily a higher carbon, harder wearing steel (please see my next point).

2) I think that modern mass production tools are generally poorer than was available previously. Manufacturers may be using cheaper steel and cheaper manufacturing techniques which result in poorer tools. A carbon steel with 0.4% carbon nominal may have a carbon content of between 0.395% and 0.405%, so high quality control, but it's still not a hugely high carbon steel.

Let me show a specific example from a historic site. These are knives from Novgorod a medieval site in Russia I visited in 1998. The black is high carbon the white is low carbon. The interesting things is that level 28 is 10th c, wonderful laminated blades. Level 5 is 15th century, pretty poor I think you'll agree.


Thanks for posting this - some great info there. I also note your post on the BB thread -

Also maybe many more people wanting knives and the move from a small scale bartering to a large money based economy.


Maybe a move from artisan production to mass production? Almost the same sort of move that I'm talking about regarding the production of modern tools.

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Re: old steel

Postby ulfhedinn » Fri Feb 11, 2011 5:09 pm

I don't think there's any question about a modern steel mill having the _potential_ to give more consistent quality. However, will they be _allowed_ to live up to that potential?

Is there an open-market (as opposed to in-house) steel producer anywhere on earth run by metallurgists? In every one I've ever dealt with or heard of, the metallurgists are subject to the orders of "suits"--accountants, managers and other business-school types. These people often know no more about the technicalities of metallurgy than a smith of a hundred, or perhaps even a thousand, years ago did! They have been raised and trained in a tradition where "return on investment" is the official standard for measuring success, and where success in climbing the table of organization is often the only personal standard.

When both the producers and a large percentage of the wholesale buyers of modern steel are bureaucrats far removed from the eventual product users--and especially when they have no experience whatever of hand tool use--then even the mills that do closely control quality are doing so to specs that are set by marketing managers and accountants. When a mill drops its quality control as a cost-cutting move, it can maintain its economic position in the market by catering to manufacturers that settle for "good enough". Or, quite often these days, market position is maintained by bribing purchasing officers. (I speak as someone who was once "laterally transferred" away from purchasing duties for asking the wrong questions about why we were making large-scale wholesale purchases at rates higher than local retail prices for the same goods!) The poster here who was asked what brand of bullshit he wanted on the "certification" of his Chinese steel shipment will understand what I'm saying here.

Handcraft workers don't even appear on the radar of decision-makers of the large-scale metal-producing corporations. Our needs and concerns are simply nowhere on the table when they decide on issues of quality or of which grades will be produced. Even producers with a reputation for quality come under great competitive pressure from others who care nothing for either quality or honesty, but only personal aggrandizement or, at best, their company's bottom line.

It's not a question of what the metallurgist knows how to do, but whether the actual metal produced for sale will live up to the potential of that knowledge. I know that I have experienced a drop in both predictability and average quality in the mild steel I've bought regularly over the last thirty years. There are unexpected brittle spots in the length of a bar now; the sort of thing smiths had to deal with in the pre-industrial era. From what the older craftsmen tell me, this wasn't true for most of the twentieth century. And when you can see the outline of a not-quite melted hex nut in the broken faces of the bar, you get the idea that the metallurgist's potential isn't making all the way to the end of the rolling mill.
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Re: old steel

Postby Mark Allery » Sat Feb 12, 2011 3:13 pm

robin wood wrote: I am surprised to have to argue the case on a forum for folk who use "outdated" woodworking technology.



Robin, 'Traditional' rather than outdated please :-) I'm not sure you are having to argue it, plenty of points being made in support of the process rather than just the component specification and quality. But these things are rarely black and white and there is merit in not making assumptions or blindly following accepted wisdom - though it will lead to reinventing the wheel on occasion, just to check it's still round, like. Definitely one of my faults. Indeed if we did blindly follow accepted wisdom I doubt many of us would be greenwood workers at all.

I am fascinated by the processes and skills that the likes of Gilpin, Nash and Elwell used to achieve the quality of edge tool their reputation depended upon (thought that is clearly debateable) and the same sort of discussion seems to be taking place with scythe blades. I know from my limited studies of the Moss forges (a firm local to me) that edge tool makers were sometimes considered quite separately as a skill from both blacksmiths and farriers, with only 4 of the 19 Moss forges listed as 'edge tool makers'. For myself, in my very limited tool making career I have used both Tool Steel 01 and various unknown spring steels. Frankly I am struggling to be able to say that the modern high tolerance steel makes any difference at all even in consistency, and the obvious answer is that the consistency of the material is less significant in my case than the inconsistency of the tool maker! Perhaps my observation will change with plenty more practice!

I have often wondered why with today's tolerance and specification a modern reasonably priced chisel does not significantly and obviously outperform an old car boot one to the perception of the average user, in the same way as a modern car or computer does? I am normally drawn to the conclusion that in modern (post industrial revolution) society that improvements in tolerance and specification are generally used for ease of manufacture (and hence profit margin) and not to improve ease of use (and hence performance margin). I even wonder if modern chisels are intentionally left slightly soft tempered (a) to reduce any chance of litigation in the event that a brittle edge breaks off (b) in the hope that lazy users will chuck them in a heap in the corner and buy a new one rather than sharpen them (c) perhaps its less wear on the presses to make them softer?

The quality of this discussion has been so good that I really don't think I have anything to add (whoops, fat chance, I should have posted this before I had time to go back and start making comments) - other than to say thanks and keep it up please! So although its tempting I shall stop now and get my coat before I lower the tone of the discussion any further,

cheers

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Re: old steel

Postby Billman » Sun Feb 13, 2011 7:16 pm

Most steels are made to pretty fine tolerances,

e.g. EN8 - a general purpose heat treatable medium carbon steel C.0.38% Si.0.75% Mn.0.50% Cr.13.50%
Silver steel - a precision ground high carbon steel C.1.00% Si. 0.30% Mn.0.35% Cr.0.40% - but also used for the manufacture of wood saw blades
BS4659 B01 Tool steel C.0.95% Mn. 1.25% Cr.0.50% W. 0.50% V. 0.20% Can be forged, hardened and tempered with good wear resistance - preground
guage plate is often B01 steel
EN43 - spring steel C.0.50% Si.0.30% Mn. 0.70% S. 0.015% P. 0..015%
EN47 - oil quenching spring steel C.0.50% Si. 0.35% Mn. 0.70% Cr. 1.00% V. 0.10%

One of the problems is actually getting hold of a suitable steel, especially in small quantities, which is why many blacksmiths have recycled old file or rasp blades to make edge tools and knives. Files are made of high carbon steel, approx 0.95% carbon - a close match is EN95 (c.f. 1095)

EN95 - C.0.95% Si.0.25% Mn. 0.70% S.0.015% P.0.015%

Generally sulphur (S) and phosphorous (P) are regarded as impurities that should be as low as possible - sulphur will cause steel to be hot short - i.e. brittle at elevated temperatures, so making it difficult to forge....

(Data from The West Yorkshire Steel Company, http://www.westyorkssteel.com/ other useful information at http://www.primitiveways.com/pt-knives-1.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_steel)

Modern steels are thus generally more consistent in quality than those pre 20th century, and they can now be made with predeterimined properties such as tensile strength, hardness or forgeablity... The manufacturing processes are also more consistent - so what is going wrong??? Often it is the acountants who rule - not the production engineers ... Why use steel A when steel B is 5% cheaper, why forge it when you can stamp it out of sheet steel, why make in the UK when the chinese yen is undervalued.... Above all, often the man making the tool, or running the machine has no idea what the final product is, what it is used for or how to use it....

There was little or no difference between the work of a journeyman and the master - at the end of the first three years of a seven year apprenticeship often all the basic skills were mastered - what the rest of the apprenticeship allowed was improving accuaracy and speed, and above all acquiring more knowledge... The journey man had learnt all he could from the master - what he now needed was more experience - and this he gained by working for other masters, and ultimately he hoped he could acquire the wherewithal to set up as a master himself... And do not underestimate the lesser trades - a nail smith or chain smith may not have such a varied output as an edge tool maker - but the level of skill and hand eye coordination, and knowledge of his (often her in chain or nail making) materials was equal....

Not all edge tool makers were listed as such - there are a wide range of trades involved in edge tool making, and often the master was the only one called an edge tool maker - he would have employed smiths, platers, hammer men, steelers, grinders etc - depending upon the size of the business. Often no one man made the tool, except in the small village smithies - however, a good village smith could shoe a horse, burn rims to a waggon wheel, re-steel a worn axe or make the nails for a coffin - and many did make edge tools before the industrial centres of Sheffield and Birmingham took their trade....

What we have lost, or have nearly lost, is the experience that was handed down from one generation to the next, from father to son, from master to apprentice or journeyman and the direct feedback from user (customer) to supplier (maker)- how many of us buy our tools from the man who made them?? How many would actually take a soft chisel or plane back to the supplier and tell him (her) to shove it where the sun doesn't shine - especially when we bought it because it was cheaper than those my another maker.... The discerning along us still tend to frequent car boot fairs, antique markets, eBay and specialist tool sellers where we can find a second hand tool that costs less than the equivalent new one - and is probably better quality....
Last edited by Billman on Sun May 22, 2011 9:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
Collector and restorer of old agricultural edge tools, especially billhooks
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Re: old steel

Postby witt » Sat May 21, 2011 10:11 am

Torsten Almen (sorry, is website is beeing rewritten), a Swedish venerable blacksmith has been working for many years in collaboration with teachers from university on a project of reproducing WootzDamas. This guy is about 70 and he has worked as a metallurgist for over 30 years in Eskilstuna steel industry (Swedish Sheffield). His talent and knowledge is well-known in Sweden.
When back in France I contributed to some blades and knives forums, I tried to suggest that what they were forging was not genuine Damas.
They insulted me,lapidated me, lynched me.
I discovered that there is a strong compulsiv psychological principle that drives you not to drop your ideas when critisized.

On old types of steel, origins and methods :

http://books.google.fr/books?id=WHMtXu4 ... er&f=false

http://acier.damas.free.fr/f_damas/f_qu ... luynes.htm

http://books.google.fr/books?id=cs2DN6q ... du&f=false

http://antracit.wordpress.com/page/9/
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Location: Indre, middle of France

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