What is Wootz steel?

April 21, 2022

At the word “Wootz”, pictures of the distant past arise before our eyes, when brave warriors went into battle armed with bladed weapons made of Wootz steel. Wootz steel has been known since ancient times for its high strength and reliability. The first Wootz blades were produced in ancient Persia and India. Wootz steel produced in this region was called “taban” or “farand”.

In most cases, when it comes to historical Wootz steel, it is the Wootz that was produced in Central Asia that is remembered. And it is Asia that is considered the birthplace of Wootz steel. However, historical sources indicate that in Ancient Russia they were also familiar with the technology of making Wootz (Bulat), cooked it and forged swords and spearheads from it. A little confusion may be caused by the fact that Wootz in Ancient Russia was called “red” or “blue” iron.

wootz steel blade

The history of ancient Wootz

The term wootz (in relation to metallurgy) appears only at the end of the XVIII – early XIX centuries. And here we need to pay attention to one important point. We can say that there are two wootz. One wootz is part of the history of the ancient world, which gradually turned into a beautiful legend. Into a beautiful and alluring legend, similar to the story of how Prince Oleg nailed his shield to the gates of Tsargrad.

The essence of the legend boils down to the following: people say there was once a magical metal from which swords of extraordinary strength and elasticity were made. The secret of making such swords was kept in the strictest secret and was subsequently lost.

Another wootz is just a technology for the production of alloys of iron and carbon. Wootz alloys occupy an intermediate state between steels and cast iron. The main difference between wootz alloys (cast Wootz) is a greater amount of carbon (unlike steels) and the possibility of creating products by hand forging (unlike cast iron). The secret of creating such alloys was not lost anywhere and was not hidden by anyone, but rather, on the contrary, at a certain historical moment it served as a good reason for the development of metallurgy on an industrial scale.

Discovery of the Wootz secret

The blades from the historical wootz have reached our time and the main problem when trying to forge such a blade was that no one could repeat the pattern on the wootz blade. Masters obsessed with the idea of creating wootz steel conducted experiments with different composition of steels by changing the ratio of components. And only the Russian engineer Anosov managed to recreate the historical wootz steel. The answer, as usual, was where no one was looking for it. After long experiments, he came to a simple conclusion: cast steel differs from conventional steels in its physical structure, not in its chemical composition.

The same components with one method of processing will give a steel alloy at the output, and with another method of processing will give a cast wootz at the output. Simplifying a bit, we can say that wootz is primarily a manufacturing technology, not a chemical composition. Thus, we come to the conclusion that by putting iron and carbon together, passing this composition through a certain technology, we get cast steel. An important point of the wootz steel production technology is the moment of crystallization. It is he who creates a rigid dendritic lattice in the alloy structure, which creates the same chaotic wootz pattern on the blade.

Many craftsmen make custom knives from cast wootz, but everyone has their own alloy production technology. Someone gets steel, and someone has cast wootz.

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