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Sword Making: It's all about the Steel

When it comes to sword making there are a lot of important things to consider. And most important of them all is the steel.

This is because there are a thousand different steels. And while they are all "steel". Only some are actually good for a sword.

In this tutorial I explain to you some good guidelines and rules of thumb for steel and sword making.
And I make a sword using a low carbon steel much to disastrous results.

I also have a video at the bottom of the page.

Will has a youtube channel with over 700 videos on projects you can make. Check it out right here

 

 

So, what exactly is Steel?

There is a very simple answer. It is Iron that has carbon added to it during the smelting or forging process. The iron is heated and small amounts of carbon are added. These carbon atoms bind with the Iron atoms to form steel.

That is simple enough to understand but it can get a bit more complicated. This is because you can add more and more carbon, binding more atoms. And as you add more carbon the properties of the steel change. It gets harder and harder and tougher and tougher. This is of course what makes steel so amazing - it's toughness and its hardness.

But... the steel will get to the point where it no longer has flexibility - It can crack or shatter easily.

So, there is definitely a range of steel that is suitable for sword making. And this range is typically called High carbon steel.

Around .6 percent carbon in the steel is about right for swords. That can vary a bit , let's say from .5 percent to as much as 1 percent carbon in the steel. This percentage change can depend on whether the steel has other elements included such as vanadium, manganese, or chromium. The percentage difference can also be manipulated and made usable for swords by a blacksmith or swordsmith during the heat treatment phase of making the sword.

 

Carbon Steel

The type of steel we have been talking about is called Carbon steel because it has carbon added. And as a rule of thumb there are three categories of carbon steel: Low carbon steel, medium carbon steel and high carbon steel.

Low carbon steel - ( also called Mild Steel) is not suitable for swords (In the video below I make a sword using low carbon steel). It is too soft and malleable. It will not hold it's shape well and it will not hold an edge well. Low carbon steel typically contains between 0.04% to 0.30% carbon. And it generally isn't heat treated. It doesn't harden well under heat treatment.

Medium carbon steel -

It typically contains between 0.31% to 0.60% carbon. It also contains a small amount of manganese. Medium carbon steel is heat treatable but still too soft and malleable for sword making. Although when we get to abouit the .60% range we can have a very suitable sword.

High Carbon Steel - We are looking at the lower range of this for sword making. It ranges from .61% to 1.50 percent carbon and it is also known as tool steel. In th elower range it is excellent for sword blades and it can be heat treated very well. It retains good strength and can keep a good edge. But once we start going over 1% the steel is too hard and rigid for swords.

In the video below I make a low carbon steel sword. Learn about it and watch what happens to the sword when we apply pressure to it.

 

The video is here:



 

 

The steel of a sword katanaThe Steel of a sword

If you are looking to buy a sword you might be wondering about the steel. There are a lot of types of steel, 1060? 1065? What does all this mean and is it important? I explain it all, what the numbers mean and what a good steel is for a sword. About Steel and Swords

 

 

What kind of things did a blacksmith do in the Middle Ages?

We all have an image of a blacksmith making swords all day right? Well.. not really true. A blacksmith did a whole lot of different things. This display from Prudhoe Castle Shows you the wide variety of things a blacksmith made and repaired. Of course it did include weapons. Blacksmithed items from Prudhoe Castle