Monday, May 18, 2009

'Quenched in the body of a Slave...'

Modified from a recent posting to Norsefolk. The original conversation had started with a 'traditional' reference to using blood as a hardening medium for Bronze. I had pointed out that all the non ferrous alloys are in fact annealed (softened) through quenching. The topic had drifted, as such so often do...

Effectiveness of Blood (human or otherwise) as a quenching medium:

Last time this came up, I did some actual research, then wrote a long article on my own blog repeating the results. I refer anyone who really is interested in the details to that piece:
Applied Knowledge - Quenching
What is key here is the table near the bottom of that post, showing the effect of salt added to water changing hardening rate. Even small percentages of salt have a noticeable effect.
Blood tends to have quite consistent salt content
Hence the possibility that a bowl of blood might prove an effective quench medium.

Quench a blade in a BODY ? - Foolish!
Now, I want you to think about this:

A body (human or otherwise) is completely inconsistent in nature. It has muscle, fat, liquid pockets, air pockets, various organs with differing densities and fluid contents - even bones.
If you took a hot metal object and plunged it into a body, there would absolutely no evenness to the cooling, thus inconsistent hardness generated down the length. NOT what you want for any cutting edge!
If you took a *long* hot object (sword) and plunged it into a body, and the tip struck a bone (pretty good chance) the part of the object still hot would simply bend due to the force. Now you have a warped inconsistently hardened blade.

If you were to use a LIVE body, that body is certainly going to wriggle as the hot blade is inserted. What do you think happens to the hot (ie soft) end of the sword when you attempt this? Completely warped beyond any usefulness - plus inconsistent hardness!

If a historic smith ever was to resort to such pure theatrics, you can be sure that the 'soul stealing' blade was destined for the scrap heap.
"Here, let me clean that off in the back room" the smith tells the richly paying customer. And down from the wall comes an identical blade quenched *properly* in urine or sea water the day before...


(one of my LEAST favourite pieces of 'fakelore' - "A little learning is a dangerous thing")

******** FAST FORWARD **********

Addition - August 2015

I had a personal e-mail sent to me by Professor Helmut Föll, recently retired from the University of Keil (Germany) :

You don't know how right you were in your analysis that quenching a sword in the body of a slave is pure BS!
I found the source of that nonsense, here it is:

Let me emphasize that there are no early Arabic texts. The whole thing was a kind of April 1st joke in that Berlin Newspaper in 1894. 

In his blog post, Prof. Föl discusses a number of historic receipts for quenching solutions. He provides the original texts, translations, plus interpretations of the (often hidden) meanings for the individual components.
Not too curiously, carefully manipulated urine figures prominently in many of the historic 'secrets'.

In my own return communication to him, I had mentioned my belief that the original source for the 'quenched in a living slave' concept was from an Early Medieval Arabic text. His research into historic sources has pointed to this itself being nothing more than another piece of the 'fake-lore'!


Unknown said...

They weren't plunged in red hot. :) They're cooled a bit first.

'' It then should be cooled to the color of royal purple and plunged into the body of a muscular slave''

Unknown said...

It wasn't done red hot. It was cooled some first. :)

'' It then should be cooled to the color of royal purple and plunged into the body of a muscular slave''


February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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