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Tags inventeddiscovered , steel

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Old 22nd September 2004, 01:56 PM   #1
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When was steel invented/discovered?

The International Iron and Steel institute claims that Henry Bessemer invented steel in 1856. However, Samuel Fox is claimed to have invented the steel-ribbed umbrella and have founded the English Steels Company in 1852. And John Deere came up with a design for a steel plough blade in 1837. The prototype was made from an existing steel saw blade. He was buying rolled steel from England in 1843 and having it made in America by 1848. Other sources claim that by the 14th century, techniques for making wrought iron occasionally produced a true steel. A source for school science in the UK claims that steel was known in India by the first century AD but could only be made in small quantities. The Damascene and the Japanese processes may also occasionally have produced true steel, but most of the time, it was technically not true steel.

Of course, Bessemer invented the Bessemer Converter, which made steel cheap. However, some time during the previous 500 years, it must have become possible to make steel in high enough quantities that it was suitiable for such relatively mundane consumer items as umbrellas by the mid-1800s and might have been a guild secret before then. Does anybody know what that was or when it was done?
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Old 22nd September 2004, 02:12 PM   #2
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Well, I found this:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3705205.stm

4th century, and is called ultra-high carbon steel. Seems to put paid to the 1856 claim.

It may be the first steel produced using modern processes, or something similar. From their site, although they aren't very clear, it seems he was the first to patent a process for reliable production.

On Fox, some info here: http://www.espinet.freeserve.co.uk/stocks/fox.htm

Seems he bought steel elsewhere, and from Bessemer in 1962. Lends support to the idea of Bessemer being first to perfect the process and/or industrialize it.

It may simply be that the definition of modern steel is used by the IIS in a stricter sense than others would use it. Many may refer to any smelted iron as steel, or the term may have been used differently in the past.

I'd imagine the first steps towards steel are lost in time. The question of who invented steel is a hard one, sort of like who invented bread. Do you mean any baked good, or whole grain breads, or modern bleached white bread? Rolls? Unleavened breads? Likewise, steel I think is too broad a term, there have been improvements and discoveries all along the way, I don't really think it could be narrowed down to one person or one discovery.
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Old 22nd September 2004, 02:38 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally posted by Huntsman
Well, I found this:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3705205.stm

4th century, and is called ultra-high carbon steel. Seems to put paid to the 1856 claim.
Very cool, thanks! At 2% carbon it's marginal, though. It wasn't clear to me from the article whether they had done a microscopic analysis. Steel isn't just low-carbon iron; you can actually make wrought iron that has lower carbon than most steels. Steel is also a matter of the lattice. Early Japanese swords, for example, used a core of low-carbon tiny-crystal iron sheathed in one or two layers of high-carbon huge-crystal iron.

Quote:
I'd imagine the first steps towards steel are lost in time. The question of who invented steel is a hard one, sort of like who invented bread. Do you mean any baked good, or whole grain breads, or modern bleached white bread? Rolls? Unleavened breads? Likewise, steel I think is too broad a term, there have been improvements and discoveries all along the way, I don't really think it could be narrowed down to one person or one discovery.
You're probably right. However, I'm trying to understand the process, not really look for one date. The Bessemer converter makes getting rid of the carbon cheap. (It's a simple idea: blow oxygen or air through molten iron, and the carbon burns off.) The rolling process, which does nice things to the lattice, seems to have been invented earlier. It's much harder to get the same results with a hammer.

I'm wondering if there were small groups of people that managed to produce good steel in reasonable quantities but kept it a secret for a long time. I'm wondering this because there are legends of magic swords, and a true steel sword would probably have seemed magical more than a few hundred years ago.
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Old 22nd September 2004, 03:04 PM   #4
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According to the Book of Mormon, steel existed as early as 600 BCE.

This is a somewhat questionable scientific authoritah, however. Joseph Smith (dum dum dum dum dum) "translated" the Book of Mormon in the 1830s, I believe.
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Old 22nd September 2004, 04:40 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by Brown
According to the Book of Mormon, steel existed as early as 600 BCE.

This is a somewhat questionable scientific authoritah, however. Joseph Smith (dum dum dum dum dum) "translated" the Book of Mormon in the 1830s, I believe.
I read that once. Wasn't it about Uma Thurmin thrumming a Theremin, um? Or something like that?
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Old 22nd September 2004, 05:10 PM   #6
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When was steel invented/discovered?

Tuesday.
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Old 23rd September 2004, 06:29 AM   #7
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I am no expert on the history of steel. However, I do work in a steel mill. I also spent several years working on heat treat furnaces.

There is always carbon in iron after you remove it from whatever sort of furnace you have used. I would regard steel as something that was discovered more than invented.

Those who first made steel did not know what they had. They could not distinguish it from iron. They only knew if they did “x” they got metal that had different properties than if they did not do “x”.

Today the metallurgists spend a great deal of effort making sure they have the right trace elements to produce different grades of steel. Carbon is still the second largest component of steel. “Mild” classes of steel typically have about 0.40% carbon. Nitrogen, which is hard to remove from steel, is a big concern. It can make the steel harder but can also make it brittle.

Metallurgy still tends to be a bit of a black art. That is to say that they can not always get equipment like heat-treat furnaces to produce the same results under identical conditions. Most of the equipment that I worked on were carburizing furnaces. Engine and transmission parts are placed into 1500+ degree F. furnaces for a few hours in a protective atmosphere. The atmosphere contains extra carbon that is used to increase the carbon content from 0.40% or so up to about 0.85% in the outer casing of the part. In addition, the structure of the iron crystals are altered by the heating process. The catch here is that the amount of time and atmosphere content needed to produce the desired results varied from one furnace to another even when they were of the same design.

The thing that always came across as being a bit goofy was the need to get as much carbon out of the iron as you could to initially produce steel. They we turned around at the end of the manufacturing process and started putting more carbon back in again.
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Old 23rd September 2004, 07:33 AM   #8
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I thought Samurai swords were meant to be steel? though 'hand-forged' as it were. They go back to the 13th Century, but I can't find a decent source defining scientifically the blade material.
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Old 23rd September 2004, 07:39 AM   #9
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Uhh, define steel. The Iron Age started in the last centures BC in some areas. Tempered iron could well be termed steel.

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Old 23rd September 2004, 07:50 AM   #10
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Yes ... we are sort of settling on defining it in terms of what comes out of a process that can be reliably reproduced, I think.

The Bessemer will consistently create 'steel', where people in the iron age might have produced it by chance a few times.

The japanese claim the consistency of the samurai blades was good, and materially I think it is close to what we call steel today.

Maybe one of us should ask the International Iron and Steel what their definition is in terms of the original question. I go along with Doubt's point that it was discovered rather than invented.
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Old 23rd September 2004, 07:59 AM   #11
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Hmmm…….

Practical definition? I can cook one up here and now.

Iron is what you get after you try to burn out most of the impurities from the molten product that comes out of the blast furnace. (The stuff that came out of the blast furnace is called pig iron.) The end results of the Bessemer process and old open-hearth furnaces are less than perfect, but they do make a huge difference in purity.

Steel is the alloy you make from the iron by adding things to it.

Tempering is just another metallurgical process. It does not change the composition of the alloy. Well, if you raise the temperature up to much in a temper furnace, you will produce scale, (iron oxide), but then you are not really tempering any more.

If we want to define when steel was first produced, then we need to figure out when people started adding things to iron to achieve different results. I would limit it to things that worked, rather than things that did not work.
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Old 23rd September 2004, 01:38 PM   #12
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Just to briefly echo some of the fine comments already made, ...

The Bessmer Process allowed steel to be mass produced, however steel was around for at least a thousand years before then.

However, in those preceeding centuries, it took much, much more work to get the carbon content in the iron just right so steel was almost a semi-precious metal.
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Old 23rd September 2004, 02:26 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by Benguin
I thought Samurai swords were meant to be steel? though 'hand-forged' as it were. They go back to the 13th Century, but I can't find a decent source defining scientifically the blade material.
They're steel now. I base the other assertion on an article I read about 15 years ago that went into excruciating detail about Japanese sword production, but I no longer have a copy.
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Old 23rd September 2004, 02:28 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally posted by Benguin
Maybe one of us should ask the International Iron and Steel what their definition is in terms of the original question. I go along with Doubt's point that it was discovered rather than invented.
That's why I put invented/discovered with a slash. To me, it isn't really an important distinction.
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Old 23rd September 2004, 04:27 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by epepke
I read that once. Wasn't it about Uma Thurmin thrumming a Theremin, um? Or something like that?
freaking. brilliant. you are going in my sig. even though it's "Thurman".
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Old 23rd September 2004, 04:33 PM   #16
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back on topic, it is my understanding that steel was first discovered a couple thousand years ago by people that were just a little over zealous about pounding their iron around charcoal. if Conan is right, they also used advanced casting techniques.

[edited to add link]
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Old 23rd September 2004, 06:30 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally posted by EdipisReks
freaking. brilliant. you are going in my sig. even though it's "Thurman".
You can fix it if you want. I always get it wrong on a Google search. Here's a revised version so that it can be legit:

I read the Book Of Mormon once. Wasn't it about Uma Thurman, um, thrumming a Theremin? Or something like that?
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Old 23rd September 2004, 06:49 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally posted by epepke
You can fix it if you want. I always get it wrong on a Google search. Here's a revised version so that it can be legit:

I read the Book Of Mormon once. Wasn't it about Uma Thurman, um, thrumming a Theremin? Or something like that?
thanks!
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Old 24th September 2004, 06:47 AM   #19
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Very generally/roughly speaking, steel is the result of removing impurities from and carbonizing, iron. That can be done with heat, or pressure, or a combination.

There are multiple ways of performing that task.

One is to find a chunk of metal where most of the work has already been done...and there are steel artifacts going back centuries that are likely the result of finding meteor fragments where the iron had already been subjected to incredibly high temperatures and pressures.

Another is to manually remove the impurities and add carbon molecules...as in the case of Chinese swords. which are made by folding the metal in a forge and repeatedly hammering.

(For those who want to be thoroughly disabused of their romantic notions concerning Japanese swords, how many times you can fold a piece of metal, the 'secret' Damascus treatment, and so forth, I recommend Sword Forum International...they will tear you to shreds, but you will learn something).

Then we have the method of forcing air through flames to increase temperature, which allows for molten metal to give the same carbonizing and impurity melting results, in a very inconsistent manner.

And finally, we have Mr. Bessemer, who invented the mass produced, and very consistent steel manufacturing process which bears his name.

I'm told that the latest advances in metallurgy have refined the steel process to a point where it is in the same league with the metal found in meteor fragements...so we are at least full circle.
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Old 25th September 2004, 12:45 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally posted by crimresearch
...And finally, we have Mr. Bessemer, who invented the mass produced, and very consistent steel manufacturing process which bears his name.
That's quite interesting, but there's still a gap, which I was hoping that someone knew about. Perhaps I will be dissapointed.

Before Bessemer, specifically in the early part of the 19th century, there's evidence that steel was produced in reasonable commercial quantities.

What processes were used to do this, and when did they come about?
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Old 25th September 2004, 02:20 AM   #21
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If you mean simply a carbon / iron alloy, it certainly existed in India by 1000BC. There are bits of smelted (as opposed to meteoric) iron embedded in the pyramids, predating 2500BC.
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Old 26th September 2004, 09:03 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally posted by epepke
That's quite interesting, but there's still a gap, which I was hoping that someone knew about. Perhaps I will be dissapointed.

Before Bessemer, specifically in the early part of the 19th century, there's evidence that steel was produced in reasonable commercial quantities.

What processes were used to do this, and when did they come about?
What are you referring to by commercial quantities?

Enough for a fleet of battleships? Enough for a skyscraper?

Or are you talking about artisans making plow blades?

With a bellows, a hammer, and the right ore, steel can be made, and one metalsmith could make a lot, multiplied by a family or a guild of metalsmiths...
but you seem to imply early 19th century steel mills or factories...which should be easy enough to look up.
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Old 26th September 2004, 10:48 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally posted by epepke
Before Bessemer, specifically in the early part of the 19th century, there's evidence that steel was produced in reasonable commercial quantities.
Steel could be produced by a process called puddling, which required a lot of manual (but skilled) labor and a considerable amount of fuel. So steel was used for certain critical applications, like tools. Steel was far too expensive to use as a structural material or other high-volume applications.

Bessemer's innovation permitted mass-producing steel tons at a time using no extra fuel (assuming the iron was already molton) and relatively unskilled labor. Basically, by pumping a huge amount of air through molton iron, the carbon already in the iron combusts, providing all the energy you need to get the iron up to high enough temperatures to remove a lot of impurities.

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Old 27th September 2004, 01:17 AM   #24
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Quote:
Originally posted by crimresearch
What are you referring to by commercial quantities?

Enough for a fleet of battleships? Enough for a skyscraper?

Or are you talking about artisans making plow blades?
Enough that steel ribs were considered material for such a relatively inexpensive consumer product such as an umbrella.

Enough that John Deere could have ordered rolls of the stuff from a factory in England to make plough blades out of in a factory.

Neither strikes me as a real "artisan" kind of thing.

Quote:
but you seem to imply early 19th century steel mills or factories...which should be easy enough to look up.
Our friend gave a link for Fox here http://www.espinet.freeserve.co.uk/stocks/fox.htm but it seems he didn't start making steel until 1860. This link http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/VAma...griculture.htm suggests that Radford and Lynchburg, VA were centers of steel production dating back to the 1700s. Magnetization of steel needles from current was demonstrated by 1803. Cyrlil S. Smith describes that "weld steel" was available in large quantities by 1786. Germany produced cast steel prior to 1740. Spring steel also dates from this era. There's an 18th century hand saw marked "Browne German Steel." Sketchley and Adams' trade directory of 1770 lists 116 steel buckle makers and 30 steel toy makers.

So, yes, there seems to have been large-scale production of steel well before Bessemer. Not enough, maybe, for a fleet of battleships, but certainly enough to find a place in a wide range of fairly ordinary consumer products. However, I have not been able to find anything on how it was done.

Thanks to Zombified for pudding. Do you know when it came about?
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Old 27th September 2004, 05:26 AM   #25
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...that's pudd(L)ing...


Pudding is something else.
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Old 27th September 2004, 08:36 AM   #26
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Found something good!

http://www.history.rochester.edu/ehp-book/shb/

Quote:
Sir Henry Bessemer, F.R.S
AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Bessemer Described how steel had been produced. But I did not notice anything on when this started.

From Chapter 11:

http://www.history.rochester.edu/ehp-book/shb/hb11.htm

Quote:
It will, perhaps, assist the non-technical reader to understand what follows if I explain, in a few words, the forms in which iron and steel existed at the time when I commenced the experiments which resulted in the creation of the Bessemer process. At that date there was no steel suitable for structural purposes. Ships, bridges, railway rails, tyres and axles were constructed of wrought iron, while the use of steel was confined to cutlery, tools, springs, and the smaller parts of machinery. This steel was manufactured by heating bars of Swedish wrought iron for a period of some six weeks in contact with charcoal, during which period a part of the carbon was transferred to the iron. The bars were then broken into small pieces, and melted in crucibles holding not more than 60 lb. each. The process was long and costly, and the maximum size of ingot which could be produced was determined by the number of crucibles a given works could deal with simultaneously. Such steel when rolled into bars was sold at £50 to £60 a ton. The wrought iron bars from which the steel was made were manufactured from pig-iron, as was all wrought iron, by the process known as "puddling." Naturally, such a process was costly; puddling demands great strength and endurance on the part of the workmen, combined with much skill.
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Old 27th September 2004, 10:33 AM   #27
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That's a nice chunk of information Doubt, thanks.
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Old 27th September 2004, 11:52 AM   #28
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Can I be the first to bring this page to your collective attentions?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steel

Anyone reading Neal Stephenson's "The Confusion" can read about the process of creating 'watered steel' back in the 1600's.
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Old 27th September 2004, 12:17 PM   #29
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It has the usual Wikipedia comic book b*llsh*t about Japanese swords in it, so I don't know how to rely on anything else it says.
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Old 27th September 2004, 12:56 PM   #30
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You've obviously got a bee in your bonnet about Samurai swords. Go on, give us the low down.
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Old 27th September 2004, 04:48 PM   #31
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Quote:
Originally posted by crimresearch
It has the usual Wikipedia comic book b*llsh*t about Japanese swords in it, so I don't know how to rely on anything else it says.
It also calls wrought and cast iron kinds of steel. I suppose that wrought iron might come close to qualifying, but cast iron, no.

Wikipedia is a great place to start looking for information but not reliable as a destination.
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Old 28th September 2004, 08:13 AM   #32
bignickel
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I still want to hear about the Japanese sword bsh!T.
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Old 28th September 2004, 10:38 AM   #33
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Quote:
Originally posted by crimresearch
It has the usual Wikipedia comic book b*llsh*t about Japanese swords in it, so I don't know how to rely on anything else it says.
Quote:
Comparisons with European swords

It is a commonly-encountered article of faith that katanas are intrinsically superior to European swords. This belief is frequently bolstered by roleplaying games that assign superior statistics to katanas, and also by many movies. However, these claims are largely based on misunderstandings about the manufacture and role of European swords, and comparing the schools on their worst examples instead of their best.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katana

I thought comic book stuff is about encouraging myths. Not the opposite.
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Old 28th September 2004, 10:45 AM   #34
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Sorry, I spaced that one out...

Wikipedia still has the same old stuff about the SooperSeekritSamuraiSwordmaking process being invented by the Japanese, etc.

In fact the Chinese had been making equally high quality swords for a long time, straight, and curved (much like a tachi) using the same process...nothing mystical, or new about it.

Where the myth flourished was when Mao cracked down on traditional Chinese martial arts, leaving the West to speculate on the basis of some flimsy Hong Kong acrobatic props that were meant to quiver when waved around in choreographed routines...and Chinese martial arts instructors were only too happy to supplement their meager store of knowledge with the myth that real Chinese war swords were thin and whippy ( 'to show your Cheeee, Grasshopper'), when in fact they had the same characteristics as Japanese swords...

Which was confirmed recently when original Chinese swords hit the collector's market, and were seen to be of the same fold and hammer construction as the Japanese (and some European) blades.

While Wikipedia had correctly revised the myth about Samurai swords cutting through machine gun barrels, and 'lesser' European swords, they didn't get rid of all the myths.
One of the weaknesses of Wiki is that if enough people believe something, that becomes the accepted version.

And I believe they glossed over the source of iron for the Japanese swords, which is one of the more interesting facts of the process...they have very little in the way of what most people would think of as iron ore, and instead, work with sort of a 'rusty sand', which is doled out by the government based on the swordmaker's status.
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Old 29th September 2004, 12:11 PM   #35
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Quote:
Originally posted by Brown
According to the Book of Mormon, steel existed as early as 600 BCE.

This is a somewhat questionable scientific authoritah, however. Joseph Smith (dum dum dum dum dum) "translated" the Book of Mormon in the 1830s, I believe.

I loved that episode of SP.

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Old 2nd October 2004, 03:45 PM   #36
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Talked to my metalsmith friend and he confirmed Doubt's reference to puddling...blast furnaces had been around for a while, and teams of men with sledgehammers could work the molten material, introducing carbon, and the crystalline structure of steel in larger quantities...the steel ingots thus produced were used for everything from anvil faces, to tool steel, to Sheffield knives...
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