Unicorns come and go

Discussion in 'The Kitchen Knife' started by danemonji, Nov 30, 2019.

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  1. Dec 3, 2019 #121

    labor of love

    labor of love

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    I’ll keep my comments in the realm of Japanese Honyaki...I don’t know the science or much about making knives but privately vendors of Japanese Honyakis have explained to me that often time Honyakis are heavier as is their nature. Can’t explain it, maybe harder steel just feels denser.
     
  2. Dec 3, 2019 #122

    Michi

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    Yes, figures. I'm afraid that my enthusiasm for high-performance knives doesn't quite go that far. Still, each to his own. And they do look awesome. If someone manages to make a stainless steel Honyaki, I'll be the first one to buy it :)
     
  3. Dec 4, 2019 #123

    lemeneid

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    Every piece of tamahagane that comes out from the furnace is different. So it is up to the blacksmith to pick out the best pieces for what he is creating. Just chosing the pieces with high or low carbon, lots of jeweling or less jeweling, its a skill they learn over many years.
    And also like I mentioned, the best smiths get to chose their pieces first. So if you aren't the best smith, you get the lower quality ones, and no matter the skill, there is only so much you can do with B or C grade tamahagane.
     
  4. Dec 4, 2019 #124

    panda

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    i think the best steel is iwasaki and that is said to be modern version of tamahagane which is the only reason i want to try the original stuff out of curiosity, none of this artisenal mumbo jumbo crap reasoning..
     
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  5. Dec 4, 2019 #125

    Luftmensch

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    Can unicorns/hype/mystique last since for a long time? Sure! How about since the end of the iron age?

    Perhaps we are speaking cross purposes a little? I am 100% down with what you are saying. I recognise the skill/craft/art that goes into all the steps (smelting the steel, forging the sword, polishing the sword - there are probably more). And these are not the same artisans: "many hands make light work"! I think this craft is valuable and is worthy of respect!


    The subtlety I am trying to introduce is that the aesthetic beauty of a sword is a function of the artesans and not necessarily the material (tamahagane).

    Tamahagane is decent steel that comes with baggage... The bloomeries didnt get hot enough to liquefy the iron. If you can melt the iron/steel, you can make it homogeneous and scoop the slag off the top of the liquid. Not so with blooms... Folding was used to compensate for the heterogeneous nature of the blooms and the large presence of 'impurities'. By folding many times the steel becomes more homogeneous and some of the 'impurities' are removed. Why do I use the scare quotes? Well.... what are impurities?

    @inferno is probably right. Im not sure - I don't know enough about blacksmithing... Those furnaces were a mess of iron, sand, steel and charcoal. As I understand it... 'impurities' in this context are the more macroscopic things (a.k.a slag, sand, charcoal). I don't know if you can reduce the phosphorus content (using these methods) if it is present in the ore?

    Anyway... the material informed the process... the process informed the art (and no doubt there was a feedback loop). We have better materials now... But we can choose to retain the process. I don't see why an artesan couldn't start with a better quality steel, fold it several times (adding impurities if they wished) to produce a nice hada.

    Maybe I am wrong. But I bet it is theoretically possible to make a sword that is visibly/practically indistinguishable from tamahagane swords using modern materials. Sure... It wouldnt be traditional. But it would look pretty. If so, surely that would rob tamahagane of any special status. If it has any, it is that it is a cantankerous, contaminated steel - like any other bloom steel - that is difficult to work with and does not offer any intrinsic benefits (functionally or otherwise) other than being labour intensive and lower quality than the modern alternatives. That in no way takes away from the artistry or is a slight on Japanese blacksmithing. It is an elegant solution given the technological constraints civilisation faced at the time... But it isnt the iron age anymore. ~1200 years have past! We can do better. And THAT is why it is romantic to me... Not everything has to be perfect or made by a machine.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2019
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  6. Dec 6, 2019 #126

    inferno

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    1 i think its possible. otherwise all steel today would be filled with these impurities. i think they simply burn them off. either way forging and folding definitely purified the steel. because it was unusable without it.
    P and S is the worst things you can have in steel pretty much.

    2 tamahagane is not any kind of standardized formula. its just the method. it can be from like 0,6C or 1,5%C. its all tamahagane. also the more times you fold it the more carbon it gonna lose in the process. it gets cooked off as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

    I think almost all steels today are "better" than tamahagane. what you are paying for is that they make it from sand, it takes a long time and its scarce. and its all manual labor.

    from what i have read, in japan they can only make a smallish amount of tamahagane each year. they are forbidden to do more by law.
    the swords made out of tamahagane using all traditional methods are not classified as weapons, instead they are art or historical objects or something. if the same smiths were to make these swords out of 1095 they would be weapons = illegal. and they can only make a few per each smith per year. by law.

    yeah time has passed since the 12hundreds. and now we have steels like cpm3v. which is tougher, and keep and edge a lot longer than anything from even 30 years ago. a lot. all in one package that you can mass produce if you want with machines.

    one could probably chop down a whole forest with a 3v sword.

    sweden is also a country where the steel making tradition is strong. but here we were just lucky to find good places that have very low % of non metallic contaminant ore. and this is still a very profitable export. the less refining/purifying you need to do to get top quality the more money you make.
     
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  7. Dec 6, 2019 #127

    inferno

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    also on a sidenote in crucible steel like wootz for example. they have glass/sand in the crucible. when the sand/glass melts and the steel melts it goes through the molten glass several times up and down and then the silicon in the glass reacts and binds with certain contaminants and the steel is purified. also the glass is lighter so it stays on top protection the steel from oxygen.

    i would guess this method produce steel that is 10-100 times more pure than the japanese method. since this is quite similar to modern industrial methods.
     
  8. Dec 6, 2019 #128

    inferno

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    i find this interesting regarding manganese for instance. most steel contain manganese. manganese is a purifier in steel. its almost never ever found in powder steel, since they are pure from the start. so no need for it. I remember reading kevin cashen saying its not wanted in high performance steel at all.
    from wikipedia.

    Manganese is essential to iron and steel production by virtue of its sulfur-fixing, deoxidizing, and alloying properties, as first recognized by the British metallurgist Robert Forester Mushet (1811–1891) who, in 1856, introduced the element, in the form of Spiegeleisen, into steel for the specific purpose of removing excess dissolved oxygen, sulfur, and phosphorus in order to improve its malleability. Steelmaking,[37] including its ironmaking component, has accounted for most manganese demand, presently in the range of 85% to 90% of the total demand.[34] Manganese is a key component of low-cost stainless steel.[32][38] Often ferromanganese (usually about 80% manganese) is the intermediate in modern processes.

    Small amounts of manganese improve the workability of steel at high temperatures by forming a high-melting sulfide and preventing the formation of a liquid iron sulfide at the grain boundaries. If the manganese content reaches 4%, the embrittlement of the steel becomes a dominant feature. The embrittlement decreases at higher manganese concentrations and reaches an acceptable level at 8%. Steel containing 8 to 15% of manganese has a high tensile strength of up to 863 MPa.[39][40] Steel with 12% manganese was discovered in 1882 by Robert Hadfield and is still known as Hadfield steel (mangalloy). It was used for British military steel helmets and later by the U.S. military.[41]
     
  9. Dec 6, 2019 #129

    Codered

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    Does anyone know anything about the UHC (ultra high carbon) steel produced by the finish knifemaker Heilmo Rosselli. His knives are chunky and i don't like them but the steel is a type of wootz with 2.5 % carbon with no aloys, hardened at about 64hrc. it sharpens like white steel and holds an edge for a long long time (famous in rope cutting vids) it also doesn't chip easily. I wonder if this steel were to be forged by a more skilled knifemake what that knife would be like.
     
  10. Dec 6, 2019 #130

    inferno

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    i think its wootz. fairly sure of that. his version of wootz that is. might be produced by the old inidan crucible method no one really knows.

    to get alloy banding in wootz you need some carbide former. i think the most common one in old wootz was vanadium in like 0,05-0,1% or so. and it came from the ore they used. look it up on youtube there are hours and hours on this there.

    wootz was classically a softish matrix like 40-50 hrc or so with hard carbide (mostly Vanadium-Carbide iirc) banding in there (and maybe some Cr-C too). showing up as dendrites.

    to maintain the dendritic structure of the carbide banding it needed to be forged in a special way back then (slow). not sure how its is now with modern stuff.

    i have read that the rosselli blades dont cut too well because the profile. so you would need to take these to the stones. supposedly. i have not even seen one of his blades myself.

    but if you ask me. putting 2,5% C in any steel without it turning into cast iron is quite an accomplishment. because thats usually what happens. the alloying elements segregates and then you have a frying pan.
    this is no problem with powder steel but with ingot its impressive. very impressive.

    this is probably the very exact type of steel/method that has been used in russia as bulat since the indan wootz period though.
     
  11. Dec 7, 2019 #131

    Badgertooth

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    Oh honey, no.
     
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  12. Dec 7, 2019 #132

    Badgertooth

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    Oh honey, please stop.
     
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  13. Dec 7, 2019 #133

    ma_sha1

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    I’d highly recommend not to “honey” me as I am a pretty rough looking old dude with beer belly.

    That being said, I am new to the forum, would be very interested to hear your enlightenment regarding to Kato grinds...
     
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  14. Dec 7, 2019 #134

    Luftmensch

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    You ever seen @Badgertooth though? He literally has badgers for teeth - you don't want to mess with that neither :p
     
  15. Dec 7, 2019 #135

    Luftmensch

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    Oh definitely! I meant with iron age technology. In modern blast furnaces it is possible to add process to desulphurise, dephosphorise and desiliconise the metal. Increasing the basicity of slag increases desulphurisation (helps distribute sulphur into the slag). This is often done using lime as a flux. Dephosphorisation is an oxidation process and can be done using iron oxides and oxygen.

    Perhaps?

    I am not particularly knowledgable about chemistry and metallurgy. Nor about how those processes were utilised and limited by old smelting techniques. Certainly; not being able to liquify the metal (as in a blast furnace) was a technological limitation and introduces challenges in decontaminating the steel.

    This all said... The japanese iron sands are actually reasonably low in P/S content [see]. Perhaps what makes people think the iron sands are 'impure' is that for any given amount of iron sand, the content of iron can be low... really low. But this is not the same as being relatively high in P/S content!

    Exactly.... Imagine starting with ore that has a marginal amount of the metal you are interested in. Processing it to yield 13 tonnes of slightly refined iron sand. Then gathering another 13 tonnes of charcoal. Now you smelt that for 70 hours to produce only 2.8 tonnes of bloom steel. But only the best quality parts of the bloom steel is used for tamahagane - so the yield is reduced even further to one tonne or less [see]. The yield is extremely poor. That is a heck of a lot of labour to make a decent (but not magical!) steel.

    Again, I am no master in this subject matter. So this interpretation could well be 'impure'. Read it with a pinch of NaCl ;)



    Ha! Better? I suppose it depends how you measure 'better'. On yield and cost of production per tonne, I would say every commercial steel made today is better than tamahagane :cool:.

    True... But tsukumogami cant exist in machine made tools :p


    .... And so it goes.... full circle....

    Kousuke Iwasaki was a respected metallurgist in the early-mid twentieth century. Much of the information about him on the (english) internet looks quite concentrated - only a few sources that probably copy/reference each other. While I take this information at face value, it would be nice to read some material that gave the sense of being more authoritative.

    I read he was the one who developed the coloured paper classification system for japanese steels (yellow/white/blue). He married historical blacksmithing with scientific principles and modern knowledge. Like today, tamahagane in the mid twentieth century was scarce - so he searched for a substitute. After studying various options Swedish steel was selected as an alternative that had similar properties.

    As much as we build a mythology around tamahagane, I rather imagine a mythology around the 'purity/quality' of Swedish steel has grown in Japan. Today Japanese knife manufactures use Swedish steel as a selling point.... It is not that I doubt the quality of ore or steel from Sweden. But as we have already discussed, modern furnaces can control the quality of their output fairly well. Because of this, the output quality (steel) isn't as strongly linked to the input quality (ore) as it was in the past.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2019
  16. Dec 7, 2019 #136

    Barclid

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    Oh, honey.
     
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  17. Dec 8, 2019 #137

    lemeneid

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    thats not fully true. Raw tamahagane ore and sand is just banned from export, they can use however much they want domestically though, but the number of mines is dwindling which indirectly implies the quality of the tamahagane being produced now is also getting lower in quality. Which makes it even more important that only the best smiths get to use tamahagane now.
     

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