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About Steel and Swords - What you need to know when buying a sword

If you are thinking about buying a sword, or have been looking at swords you may be wondering about the steel. Is it all the same? What are the different types? And what's this stuff about the High carbon Steel or 1060 steel?

I will explain it all for you right here so you can make the sword purchase that is right for you.

 

 

Let's start with "tempered"

Sometimes you will see the term tempered when it comes to a sword. This term is almost unnecessary. But, it is good to see that a sword is actually tempered. And it means that the sword has been softened up. This is a blacksmithing, forging and metal heating thing. During the process of making steel for a sword, or for making a sword the steel is heated up to a hardened state. This is so it can maintain a very sharp edge. But... in this hardened state the sword is actually very fragile. It can break, snap, or even shatter. If hardened enough it can break as if it were glass. To counteract this property of being fragile the sword is then softened up a bit. And this softening is very important. It will have some flexibility and give to it. It can be grasped and bowed a little bit.

Picture the sword being a twig. What happens if you find a twig that has been dried for a year. If you try to bend it the twig simply snaps. That is hardened. But what if you cut a twig off a tree and it was still green with sap in it? When you try to bend it the twig actually bends. It has give in it. That is like a tempered sword.

So, tempered is good. And you have to trust that the blacksmith or company who made the sword has hardened it correcty and tempered it correctly. That way it is strong and can hold a sharp edge, yet it has been softened so it has some give and flexibility. (I have a video on tempering a sword here)

 

Ok, What about the term "Full Tang"

If you are unfamiliar with the construction of swords the tang is the metal part inside the handle. And it is important. It is a strength, durability and a safety issue.

Full tang means that the blade of the sword and the tang part that goes through the handle are made from a single piece of steel. And the tang goes all the way through the hande and right through the pommel also. So, if you intend to swing a sword around you absolutely have to be sure it is full tang. If this is still a bit unclear I have a more in-depth article about it including pictures right here: What does full tang mean?

 

Let's look at the steel of a sword

The steel makes a tremendous difference in a sword. You can have a sword that is made of steel and the first time you hit it against another sword it bends, or breaks without the impact even being that strong. Yet, the sword is still made of steel.

The thing is that steel comes in an unlimited number of variations. And all these variations have distinct characteristics.

Let's take a look at those numbers like 1060, 1065 etc and what that means.

Steel is generally composed of two things, iron and carbon It can have other things like vanadium or molybdenum. And these can be important but we don't need to consider that for now. What we are concerned with when it comes to the composition of a sword is two things the iron and the carbon.

A sword is made up of almost 100% iron. Yup, almost 100 percent. But not quite. A very small amount of carbon is added to it. And this is what transforms an iron sword into a steel sword, that small amount of carbon.

The amount of carbon is less than 1%. And this is defined for us in those numbers we see. It is denoted in the last two digits.

And those last two digits are the amount of carbon up to 1%. Let me explain.

1060 steel: Those last two digits are six and zero right? That means the steel has .60 percent of carbon. That is not sixty percent carbon. That is sixty percent of one percent. So the scale goes up to one percent.

What amount of carbon does a sword have if it is 1065 steel?

Thats right. It is has .65 percent carbon.

One more. If it is 1095 steel how much carbon does it have?

That's right it has .95 percent or almost 1% steel.

 

What does all that mean and what makes a good steel sword?

Here is the point of all that stuff with the iron and the carbon content.

Iron is very soft and malleable. And if you make a sword with it you end up with a sword that doesn't hold any kind of a sharp edge. If you sharpen the edge and then run it along something the edge will be dulled. Just like that. The sword will also most likely bend too.

Adding carbon to it adds hardness to the sword. So, as you add more carbon to the sword it gets harder and harder. The more carbon you add the harder the sword gets. All the way up to 1% of carbon.

But.... the more carbon you add the more brittle the sword gets. A sword with a lot of carbon will hold an edge really nice but it won't have any flexibility and it will most likely crack or shatter - like glass.

So what do we do?

Well, there is a sweet spot. A spot where the sword will keep a nice edge yet still be flexible strong and tough. And for a sword that is about the 1060 to 1070 range. So, .6 to .7 percent of carbon in the steel. At this range it can be well hardened and tempered so it is tough and durable yet still holds a good edge.

1060 to 1070 steel is the sweet spot for swords.

There are swords that go as high as 1095 steel and I can give you some guidance on that. 1095 steel is very hard. And it is often used for high quality kitchen cutlery. It will hold a sharp edge extremely well which is great. But it can be a bit tricky for a sword. It of course holds a fantastic edge on a sword but it can lean toward not being tough enough to take damage and be flexible. This can be overcome with a really good hardening and tempering by the blacksmithing process though. So, be aware of this if you are considering buying a sword that is over 1070 steel.

Watch My video on Steel and Sword making



 

Sword Making

Swordmaking: It's all about the steel

You have probably heard the term "high carbon steel". Are interested in knowing exactly what it means? And seeing as there is high carbon steel there is of course a low carbon steel. There is even one right between the two. In this tutorial I explain to you what that all means and how it affects sword making. And of course I have a video too. Swordmaking: It's all about the steel

 

How to make a sword

How to Make a Real Sword

I take you through the whole process of making a sword. And this one is a good sized sword! Really beefy and feels good in the hands.This tutorial is straight forward and shows you the process. It also includes youtube videos so you can see how to do it.How to Make a sword

Sting from the hobbit

Make Sting from the Hobbit - Fun tutorial and I show you step-by-step how to make this famous sword from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

 


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