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The Secrets of Wootz Damascus Steel (2017) - Amazing new documentary


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Hello fellows.

This documentary is made by Mike Loades. It follows the work of the late Al Pendray (rest in peace), Dr John Verhoeven and two bladesmiths from Jordan. They recreate faithfully wootz using ancient ore from a mine in Jordan, south of Damascus. This particular mine has a historic significance.

They make bloomery from the ancient ore and then create crucible steel from old recipie with no modern additions. Just the unrefined bloomery, charcoal, fresh green leaves and crushed glas as flux.

As far as I know this is they most authentic recreation of ancient wootz, using the very same ore Saladin would have used in the time of the first crusade.

Documentary is free and on Youtube. Enjoy!

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Edited by Viktor Johansson
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53 minutes ago, Gary Mulkey said:

Thanks for the link.  I  only had a chance to  visit with Pendray one time but am a huge fan of his  work

Welcome!

I think the most interesting part of the documentary is that it shows us a new location for wootz production.

The mine in question was in use by Saladin among others, and he built a caste to protect it, showing its significance. The ore contains vanadium "in the sweet spot" of around 0.08%. These two facts I think proves that not all wootz came from India or central asia but also the arab levant.

Exiting stuff!

 

Edited by Viktor Johansson
Original quote changed, so I changed my post to match.
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I was fortunate in obtaining one of Al's wootz blades  before he passed away.  It will  continue to be one of my most prized knives.  Al was very cordial  and  willing to pass  along his discoveries.  I wish that I had been able  to  spend more time with  him.

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Viktor, Thank you for posting this video, I have seen Al give a presentation at an ABANA conference many years ago. He was very enthusiastic but I must admit at the time I had no idea what he was saying. 

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6 hours ago, Viktor Johansson said:

Welcome!

I think the most interesting part of the documentary is that it shows us a new location for wootz production.

The mine in question was in use by Saladin among others, and he built a caste to protect it, showing its significance. The ore contains vanadium "in the sweet spot" of around 0.08%. These two facts I think proves that not all wootz came from India or central asia but also the arab levant.

Exiting stuff!

 

This offers a new line of thought as to what brought about the end of wootz.  I  had been under the impression that it died away as the ore from the Indian mines played  out.  Now it  seems likely that the industrial revolution and new smelting processes was probably more the cause.  However the lack of the Indian iron ore had to have been a factor as well.

Edited by Gary Mulkey
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Yes I also think a lack of ore played a role.

Compare it to the American gold rush. You can still find gold from California to Alaska, but it's harder and harder to get. At some point the amount of time and resources that needs to be spent will outweigh the gains.

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The rise of the firearm on the battlefield and decline of the sword may also have been a factor.

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 11/28/2017 at 4:46 AM, Viktor Johansson said:

I think the most interesting part of the documentary is that it shows us a new location for wootz production.

The mine in question was in use by Saladin among others, and he built a caste to protect it, showing its significance. The ore contains vanadium "in the sweet spot" of around 0.08%. These two facts I think proves that not all wootz came from India or central asia but also the arab levant.

 

While I enjoy the enthusiasm, the documentary didn't actually state anything like that.  There is no evidence, unfortunately, that this source of iron ore ever was used in ancient times to produce crucible steel.  The documentary showed that it "was possible" to have made crucible steel from this location, however the high sulphur content in the ore would have required the addition of manganese or repeated roasting of ore and ingots to get the levels low enough to forge well.  They may have used this deposit for crucible steel, but there is no evidence that they ever did.  I know one of the guys who was a part of making steel from the ore at that site and they are getting good results and good patterns from the steel, but have to give it extra treatment to help lower the sulphur.

The presence of vanadium means little in this context.  Vanadium has been lauded as the needed element for creating patterning in crucible steel, however this is not correct, at least for most crucible steel patterns. There may be one or two specific patterns that require some, but most of the crucible steel patterns are easily obtained with other Carbide Forming Elements.

The history of the loss of the crucible steel industry in India is relatively clear although not widely reported.  It had nothing to do with the changing of ore supplies which was simply a theory.  It was multifaceted with the British wanting to control the production of weapons in the country in order to remain in power, and as a result controlled mining and steel production.  They also wanted to be the main source of steel consumed in India and in the near east. By shutting down the export of crucible steel in India they guaranteed a market for their excellent quality British steel products. Deforestation was the main reason that they used for shutting down the main production center in the Deccan, the British also were reported to have killed entire Deccan steel making families causing the loss of hundreds of years of knowledge. 

Crucible steel was made in several locations in India, and there are accounts of people visiting them during this time period of decline.  It was clear from the reports that it was both the deforestation issue and the British ban which caused the manufacture to die out.

This is a great video and I am glad that Mike Loades was given permission to release the unfinished doco.  I had heard about this from a friend who was at the funeral, there were also interviews which were not included, Al telling stories etc.  I really wish that those had been released as well. 

Thanks for sharing the link here too. :)

 

 

 

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This video of Al was really good and showed quite a bit of one of his processes that he had kept quiet about for some time.  The roasting of the ingot at 1100°C for 30 hours enabled the secondary dendrites to diffuse which increases the banding spacing in the watered pattern.  Also forging down from the 1050 - 1100°C range allowed the Carbide Forming Elements (CFEs) to move and line up into straighter lines forming the "Cluster Sheets".  This higher temperature is needed to get the pattern to become less dendritic for this percent of carbon.  The thermo-cycling helps to refine the grain structure after the long roasting time, as does going below critical temp (non-magnetic). 

This video didn't show the latter forging stage, but I would predict that once the bar got down to say 1/2 inch thickness he would have lowered his forging temperature to around 900°C ish and then forged down close to critical. This sperodizes the carbides and helps to strengthen the pattern.

This process is slightly different in a few ways than the process that Al taught me back when I got started, and it shows elements of what he had learned over time about making the good watered Persian patterns.

I have included a forging diagram for this video so you can see the temperature changes and the forging ranges that he used in this documentary.  I have a full set of blank forging diagrams which I have made up for 1%C to 2%C if anyone wants copies to record their own wootz work, just let me know :)

AL PENDRAY DOCO FORGING DIAGRAM 1.6%C APPROX.jpg

Edited by Tim Mitchell
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15 hours ago, Tim Mitchell said:

While I enjoy the enthusiasm, the documentary didn't actually state anything like that.  There is no evidence, unfortunately, that this source of iron ore ever was used in ancient times to produce crucible steel.  The documentary showed that it "was possible" to have made crucible steel from this location, however the high sulphur content in the ore would have required the addition of manganese or repeated roasting of ore and ingots to get the levels low enough to forge well.  They may have used this deposit for crucible steel, but there is no evidence that they ever did.  I know one of the guys who was a part of making steel from the ore at that site and they are getting good results and good patterns from the steel, but have to give it extra treatment to help lower the sulphur.

The presence of vanadium means little in this context.  Vanadium has been lauded as the needed element for creating patterning in crucible steel, however this is not correct, at least for most crucible steel patterns. There may be one or two specific patterns that require some, but most of the crucible steel patterns are easily obtained with other Carbide Forming Elements.

 

Maybe, maybe not. There is however quite a lot of evidence. Although evidence does not equal proof. It's almost impossible to scientifically determine the ore source of a historic steel. I think isotope analysis might yield some answers? 

-The first evidence is that it's possible to make from this ore and it contains vanadium. Vanadium carbides are like you said not necessary but they are very well suited to seed the formation of cemetite bands because the vanadium carbides are very hard to dissolve.

-The second evidence is that there is a castle guarding the mine. Saladin used it to arm his forces and needed to have the mine protected. The mine was apparently an important resource.

-The third is that, according to the documentary, they have found the remains of furnaces and crucibles in or near the castle.  

 

If these evidence are compelling enough or not is up to you.

Edited by Viktor Johansson
Rewatched the doc to get a better idea of things
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9 hours ago, Viktor Johansson said:

 

There is however quite a lot of evidence. Although evidence does not equal proof. It's almost impossible to scientifically determine the ore source of a historic steel. I think isotope analysis might yield some answers?

I agree that we could benefit from isotope analysis, X ray diffraction etc.  However the chances of getting precise enough results from the blades in private and museum collections is very remote.  X rays are just not good enough when we are talking about the trace amounts which would be the markers of the blades in question and museum pieces are not released for spark erosion analysis etc. 

I would suggest that there is no direct evidence of crucible steel production in Jordan, there are only possibilities.  Evidence is finding a site of crucible steel production with broken crucibles, or a historical account of crucible steel being made there.  We have none of that. 

The castle is not guarding the mine, it is a little distance away and it could have several reasons for being there. It may have been there to protect the source of iron ore, but the iron ore could simply have been used for wrought iron production.  We know the site was an important source of iron ore, we know that there is a castle nearby, we know that the mine was used for a long time, that is all we know. 

Iron ore was mined and smelted all throughout areas where iron ore was located, however very few of those ore bodies were used for crucible steel production. 

We have to be careful to not to declare possibilities as evidence without direct physical evidence of production or accounts.

Edited by Tim Mitchell
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  • 2 weeks later...

Tim,  Thanks for disecting the video as you did..there are some questions I have .I did not think the ore smelting practice was as efficient as it could be....I did like the clay coating on the graphite crucibles ..do not know if that was done to assist the crucible mechanically or if it was to create a longer cool down period. When Al examined the final product and saw the segregation ( or banding) was incomplete..he did not state why that might be..with all that knowledge in that room I assume that is known .

 

I am sitting here looking at a bunch of ingots and am finding I have "Fear of Forging" due to too many losses of what must have been cast iron cakes. I will start forging on Tuesday and try to melt a few more "standard ingots" before that time.

Edited by Jan Ysselstein
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Jan, i qas also concerned over Al's smelter, method of smelting, innefficiency of smelter, and the likelihood he was making chunks of high carbon with any sort of homogenity that would even out with very high carbon. That part to me was a little sketchy.

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4 hours ago, Jan Ysselstein said:

When Al examined the final product and saw the segregation ( or banding) was incomplete..he did not state why that might be..with all that knowledge in that room I assume that is known .

Hi Jan, the clay coating was to stop erosion of the side of the crucible by the flux, I use a similar product over here called Furnascote.  It helps the crucibles to last longer and it reduces the uptake of carbon into the ingot from the graphite in the crucible. 

The reason that the banding spacing was not as wide was to do with the roasting time, it needed a longer period of roasting to widen the spacing between the bands of carbides.  It meant that the secondary dendrite arms where not fully dissolved, that is what increases the spacing of the cluster sheets.  He also mentioned that it needed more thermo-cycling which would increase the strength of the pattern as it causes the carbides to grow in place and if you do it over the right temperature range, the carbides will become spherodized.

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4 hours ago, Daniel Cauble said:

Jan, i qas also concerned over Al's smelter, method of smelting, innefficiency of smelter, and the likelihood he was making chunks of high carbon with any sort of homogenity that would even out with very high carbon. That part to me was a little sketchy.

I had the same thought Daniel, I am not sure why he did it that way, without any flux tapping etc.  It seemed a bit strange, but then again I do wootz not bloom iron :)

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4 hours ago, Jan Ysselstein said:

I am sitting here looking at a bunch of ingots and am finding I have "Fear of Forging" due to too many losses of what must have been cast iron cakes. I will start forging on Tuesday and try to melt a few more "standard ingots" before that time.

I understand the nervousness, do you have a K- Type thermocouple and a way of plotting the output of a multi-meter?  If you do, you should be able to find out the actual carbon content of your ingots by sitting an ingot on a thermocouple (KO wool insulated thermocouple) and then put the thermocouple and ingot on a piece of KO wool to insulate it from the floor of the floor. As you raise it up to 1100 degrees you will get plateauing of the plot line as you cross phase transformation lines.  You can use the upper marks to work out what the carbon content is in your ingot... That will tell you if it is worth even trying to forge it. 

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Thanks Tim,   I know I am way lower than I used to be because I am changing the amount of cabon I am adding and am being plagued by too much slag. The slag issue will always be there for me because both my cast iron and my consolidated bloom have slag on them (some).

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