Traditional Sword forging - where would I look?

Discussion in 'Chinese Swords and Sword Arts' started by BlazeLeeDragon, Jan 25, 2013.

  1. BlazeLeeDragon

    BlazeLeeDragon Blue Belt

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    I am curious, you see a great deal of stuff about how the Katana was forged. There are even videos and documentaries on it. What about Chinese blades though?

    What was there method of heating and quenching? What ovens did they use? what did they quench in? What did they add to iron ore to make steal (carbon source)?

    I'd really like to do a bit of research here, if anyone can suggest, articles, books, or videos I can check out I'd appreciate it.

    I have an idea on what should go into making a good sword, different things on hardness and flexibility. where the suggested strength should be on the hrc scale etc. However I am curious as to how the traditional swords where made in China, how they improved and what properties where best for there respective CMA style.
     
  2. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    I don't know specifically about steel metallurgy nor Chinese bladesmithing. I don't have any specific resources to recommend either.

    However, there is an author who has written several books on bladesmithing, from a primarily European point of view. To my limited knowledge about his work, I don't believe he makes things like Katana nor Chinese style blades. His name is Jim Hrousolas (or something like that, I can't ever quite remember it). I've got three books he's written on forging blades, how to set up a smithy, etc. Very good works, he also discusses the different types of steel and how they forge and whatnot. I would recommend his books as a place to start in general, I am sure you can find them on Amazon. I think the titles are, The Complete Bladesmith, The Master Bladesmith, and The Pattern-Welded Blade (might be The Pattern-Forged Blade).

    I do know that Chinese smiths used folding technology in their smithing, that was not unique to the Japanese and Middle East.

    For a number of years I have pursued the hobby of rebuilding swords. I rebuild hilts and scabbards, but not blades. I just acquire blades from various sources and work with those. My work was a response to the mostly junk swords that are commonly available for Chinese martial arts. I wanted something that was better, a more "real" weapon that wasn't a pathetic stage-prop or toy like we see in Modern Wushu and most Chinese martial arts practice in the US today.

    My technique is bronze casting, tho I've done a couple in silver. I make a solid guard and pommel cast in bronze, with a hardwood grip that I carve out to fit. I also carve out a scabbard out of hardwood, and cast the metal fittings in bronze. These solid pieces give the weapon structural integrity and a better balance than the hollow and cheap guards and pommels that typically come with the weapons. My work is not intended to be historical. It is just my ideas about what works and what gives the piece integrity and strength, and my designs are simple and functional, but not necessarily historical.

    I've not had much time to pursue this in the last few years. I promised a friend that I would rebuild a Dao for him, over two years ago. I'm still far from finished, I just haven't had the time to get to it. Feeling kinda guilty now.
     
  3. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    Well, it is thought that the roots of Japanese swordsmithing come from China (just as 'Japanese' porcelain is actually Korean in origin) but the centuries have blurred away the moment of transition, such that it can only be said that sometime around 700 AD the Japanese smiths started to devise their own styles of forging.

    That said, the basic skills of sword making are the same but the devil (and the quality) is in the detail. I am tempted to be quite dismissive of the Chinese weaponsmiths but that is my JSA 'propagandised' bias coming through I fear ... that and the fact that the Japanese seemed to invade Korea and China at will over the centuries.

    A quick dabble with my Web-Fu does indeed reveal that finding any decent historical information on this subject is not going to be an easy matter starting from scratch. I'd recommend joining up to history focussed sites like Historum and putting some questions out there in threads.
     
  4. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    I think what we see typically today in Chinese martial arts is extremely poor quality weaponry. But historically, I think there was some very good stuff being manufactured.
     
  5. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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  6. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng Sr. Grandmaster

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    Sword Forum
    http://www.swordforum.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?146-Chinese-South-East-Asia-(CSEA)
     
  7. cdunn

    cdunn 2nd Black Belt

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    You may want to start with the search term 'sanmei sword' for some fun. Remember, too, that with 3500 years of well documented history, at least 5000 years of civilization, and significantly better ore deposits than Japan, chinese smithing has a vast pool of variety contained in the word traditional, running from works in bronze like the Sword of Gou Jian through the steel dao issued to the common soldier in the later years of the Qing Dynasty.
     
  8. BlazeLeeDragon

    BlazeLeeDragon Blue Belt

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    Thank you all :) greatly appreciated.
     
  9. BlazeLeeDragon

    BlazeLeeDragon Blue Belt

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    Yes I've found this to be the case as well, especially all the "wushu" weapons. No offense intended to wushu but the weapons being made for forms are junk IMO. I would assume though with all the wars and swords forged in China they had to have had great swords at one time. I just wanted to understand what was great about them, how they where forged and why.


    Paul Chen seems to make some fair swords. I have a Jian I use for my schools Taiji sword, and though it's not a traditional Taiji sword it serves nicely for forms. For reference I say not a traditional taiji sword, because as I understand it the swords used in taiji are shorter then my 32" jian, and the tip is not as narrow. Regardless, I'm happy with my Paul Chen.
    http://www.japaneseswords4samurai.com/files/image/products/main/tai2(3).jpg


    I also found a company that Scott Rodell mentioned called Huanuo. They are suppose to be high quality Chinese blades. I have my eye on the Liuye Dao

    I also hear promising reviews about Zheng wu. However I also have read some complain that there swords are over priced, and that they don't need to fold the steal so many times.
    http://www.zhengwusword.com/zw/dao.htm
     
  10. cdunn

    cdunn 2nd Black Belt

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    The value of tradition aside, modern steel production techniques obviate the need for steel folding. Much of the Asian forging tradition, especially in Japan, less so in China, was built around the fact that the ironsands found throughout East Asia and Oceania are terrible ores. You fold enough to satisfy the purity requirements of your steel, and then you stop.
     
  11. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng Sr. Grandmaster

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  12. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    The wushu stuff is junk. It's fact, not just your opinion. :)

    These things are blocked here at work, I'll need to look at them later.

    Regarding traditional swords and Paul Chen and whether or not a sword is proper or traditional for Taiji or anything else, here are my thoughts.

    Weaponry is a personal thing, and once you have been well trained, you will decide for yourself what works best with regard to size, dimensions, balance, etc. There are definitely general guidelines about what works, based on knowledge gained over many generations. But the specifics can vary a surprising amount. I did some reading about European swords, and was struck by how much variance there was from one piece to another, based on measurements and comparisons of surviving Midieval era weapons. What that tells me is, there is no such thing as a "typical" or "standard" weapon. Well, I won't say that as an absolute, but I believe there was a lot of room for variation on the theme, depending on the preferences of the individual and the skills of the smith. So I don't get too hung up over what is a "proper" sword for this or that. I think what is a better way of looking at it is, what is a proper sword for you. In terms of size, weight, balance, specific shape, it needs to be something you are comfortable with. And the item that you select may not be the same item that I would select.

    Also keep in mind that weapon designs often were a reflection of the technology of the day. The intended result was to make a highly functional and durable weapon. That is really all that matters, in the end. Anything else is of second importance. So smiths used the best technology of their era to make such a piece. As technology changes, it makes sense to update the process with those improvements and advancements, and that may change the end product. It's no longer consistent with "traditional", or rather, what would have been the best technology of a past era. But it could actually be better, based on advancements in technology.

    As an example: folding a blade was done to improve the quality of the steel. Where high quality steel was not available, people took steel pieces of various quality and folded them together, resulting in something that was better than the individual pieces. There was a functional reason for doing the folding.

    But today, modern foundries can produce specific types of steels with a very high level of quality control, that can produce some very fine blades. The process of folding the steel is no longer necessary if you have access to a high quality steel that gives you the properties needed in a good blade. In that case, folding is done purely for asthetics, and not to actually improve the steel.

    So, I understand the interest in how traditional weaponry was made. It's something I have an interest in as well. but keep in mind, when the desired result is the best quality item possible, some modern technology may get you there better than some of the traditional methods.
     
  13. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    beat me to it.
     
  14. Uncle

    Uncle Blue Belt

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    And actually with some of the shorter blades you're pretty much just as well off getting it cut from a piece of stock of your choice like is done with many knives. On another note has anyone seen any dura coated swords? I should think it would cut down on the need for oiling them.
     
  15. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    that's not something I'm familiar with. Please describe?
     
  16. Uncle

    Uncle Blue Belt

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    It's a type of airbrushed coating used on firearms and knives for prevention of rust, scratching, and sometimes just to make things look plain cool.
     
  17. Dirty Dog

    Dirty Dog MT Senior Moderator Staff Member

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    I don't know enough about metals to argue whether or not modern steels are as good as pattern welded blades. But there's no modern steel that can compare with the beauty of a well made pattern welded blade. And I have strong doubts that modern (boring) steels are any better.
     
  18. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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  19. BlazeLeeDragon

    BlazeLeeDragon Blue Belt

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    **edit*** "didn't see page two :S"
    dura coat is a type of paint/spray deal that is used to protect the metal. there are a few systems of protecting the metal essentially it's rust resistant without the chromium that is add to steal which though makes it "stainless" also makes it more brittle which is not something you want in a blade over 12" IMO.

    CASHanwei has a plasma coating they put on there blade. they designed this sword to be essentially a "SHTF" type sword.

    http://www.cashanwei.com/product/tactical-katana/sh2462
    http://www.cashanwei.com/product/tactical-wakizashi/sh2432
    http://www.cashanwei.com/product/tactical-tanto/sh2483
     
  20. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    One thing to consider is that whilst FC is quite right about the hugely superior average quality of steel we have now with both better refined ore and treatment processes, blades like the katana were not one mono-steel construct - they are made in interforged {made up word :D} pieces of steels with different properties.

    View attachment $Katana_core_diagram.png

    I am betting (just a WAG but plausible) that the differential tempering processes available now could possibly achieve the same result (or better) but there is something very special about holding in your hand a sword that is the product of another man's inspiration and skill.
     

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