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Glossary of Steel

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Steels used to forge Kult of Athena blades

Select a steel type below to learn more about it:

Standard Carbon Steels

Standard carbon steel is industry rated in numbers such as 1045, 1060, 1095, etc. What this essentially means is that the 10 is an industry indication for plain carbon steel. The last two digits indicate the level of carbon content in the steel. Thus 1045 contains 0.45% carbon whilst 1060 contains 0.60% carbon.

Increasing the amount of carbon in steel improves its hardness, edge retention, overall strength and increases its threshold for hardenability when tempered. This can come at some cost to durability however, as harder steels are more brittle than softer steels. Higher carbon in steel also tends to increase the cost of the finished product as harder steels are more laborious to shape, grind and polish and this increases production costs accordingly.

1045 High Carbon Steel

Suitable for light and medium cutting and use, this resilient steel has the base requisite characteristics for a functional sword.

1045 steel has a carbon content of 0.45% and is generally regarded as the minimal carbon content needed to make a functional sword blade which is suitable for light to moderate cutting. It is softer and easier for a craftsman to work with and thus is often used to create swords intended for lower price points. This inherent softness also means it will not retain an edge as adeptly as harder carbon steels, but when used against proper targets its edge retention will be acceptable when tempered properly.

This type of steel lends itself well to tempering and with a good temper it can be surprisingly resilient in regards to durability despite its lower price point. Though often marketed as an entry level steel type, well-tempered 1045 creates a quality blade and being crafted from a modern and pure steel billet it is of a quality that would have been envied in centuries past.

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1050 / 1055 High Carbon Steel

A tough and impact-resistant steel used for dependable blades.

1050 and 1055 high carbon steels are often a choice for a bladed weapon when impact resistance and general durability at an affordable price point is the paramount quality desired. Its carbon content is not so high as to have the detrimental brittleness associated with higher carbon steels and like many carbon steels it also has some additional manganese content which increases hardenability.

With quality tempering 1050 – 1055 steel achieves a relatively uniform hardened form that it is quite resistant to shock and impact damage. Thus it is often used for tools which need toughness, such as hatchets and axes and this overall toughness can make for a resilient and dependable sword blade.

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1060 / 1065 High Carbon Steel

A solid all-rounder for durability and edge retention which is well suited for practical cutting swords.

At 0.60% – 0.65% carbon content this type of steel is a commonly utilized sword steel. It is regarded well for balancing excellent durability and hardness with good edge retention. Many sword manufacturers will use 1060 and 1065 steel for practical cutting swords with an emphasis on durability and a long life. It is a tough and dependable all-rounder without the high cost associated with more exotic steels.

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1070 / 1075 High Carbon Steel

A resilient compromise of durability and edge retention with a slight favorability to durability over higher carbon content steel.

A quality blade steel used to create tough blades which sharpen easily and hold an edge well. This is a steel used for blades where greater edge retention is desired over lower carbon steels whilst keeping more resilience and durability than higher carbon steels.

Where 1060 and 1065 are all rounders which slightly favor durability, the 1070 and 1075 high carbon steels are a type of well-rounded steel which slightly favors a keen edge with improved retention.

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1080 / 1085 High Carbon Steel

A compromise of durability and edge retention with a slight favorability to edge retention over lower carbon content steel.

A compromise between 1075 and 1090, this steel has excellent edge retention and will maintain an edge over lower carbon steels, though this comes at the usual cost of slightly increased brittleness associated with higher carbon content – a good choice for an experienced cutting practitioner.

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1090 / 1095 High Carbon Steel

A steel focused on its ability to hold a keen and sharp edge, though it is slightly more prone to taking edge damage when struck against hard and dense objects.

When tempered this hard steel is capable of holding a very sharp and keen edge. At the high end of edge retention this type of steel is tough, yet slightly more brittle than lower carbon content steels and can be more unforgiving of mistakes when dealing with the stresses imparted on longer sword length blades when in use – though this much less of an issue for shorter swords and knives.

This is steel that works well with experienced cutting practitioners who have the technique to avoid poorly executed cuts and who desire a hard and sharp edge which will hold up to regular and sustained use.

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1566 High Carbon Steel

A high carbon steel with substantial manganese to create a deep-hardening, strong steel when tempered.

Primarily used by Hanwei this high carbon steel has around 0.60 – 0.70 carbon content with a substantial amount of additional manganese (0.85 – 1.15) – this combination creates a deep-hardening steel due to its high degree of hardenability. When tempered it will have a largely uniform hardened microstructure which creates a blade both hard, tough and well-suited to holding a sharp edge in extended use.

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5160 High Carbon Steel

A favorite of many custom swordsmiths, this high carbon spring-steel is flexible, resilient and will hold a edge and is well-suited for performance-cutting swords.

Tried and true, this alloy steel has earned an excellent reputation for creating resilient and flexible blades with shock absorbing properties and impressive edge-retention. These properties come from the addition of low amounts of steel-hardening chromium and silicon coupled with a notable amount of manganese – altogether, these create a deep-hardened and resistant steel structure when tempered. This is a favored steel of many well-regarded swordsmiths such as Angus Trim and Tinker Pearce and it is also utilized by Balaur Arms.

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6150 High Carbon Steel

A favorite of premium USA-based manufacturers, this high carbon steel has optimal properties for durability, flexibility and edge-retention when tempered well. An excellent steel well suited for premium swords.

A steel with high shock resistance, toughness and edge resistance – in industrial applications it is used to create components requiring high tensile strength. The carbon content is on the low end for sword steels (0.48 – 0.53), but it is alloyed with a substantial amount of manganese, a notable amount of silicon, and a small amount of vanadium – these additions give it substantial hardenability, strength and flexibility when well tempered. This steel is a favorite of some high-end manufacturers such as Arms & Armor and Albion Armorers who use it to create blades with excellent performance characteristics.

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65Mn Chinese Steel Alloy

A Chinese steel alloy formulated with a focus on durability and wear resistance.

A readily-available Chinese steel, this formulation has a substantial amount of resilience, inherent toughness and wear resistance due to its 0.62 – 0.70 carbon content coupled with substantial manganese (0.9 – 1.2 Mn) and some silicon. This level of manganese aids in adding hardness and toughness to the steel as well as ensuring it is easy to shape when being worked into form at a hot forge.

9260 High Carbon Steel

Quality 9260 high carbon steel is well-regarded for its spring-like flexibility and shock-resistance.

The elevated level of silicon (2%) in 9260 high carbon steel gives it impressive flexibility when well-tempered, giving the blade an admirable amount of resilience and shock resistance. Blades of 9260 have the capability of flexing substantially and returning true when proper blade geometry and tempering is utilized.

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Chrome-Vanadium

Typically utilized by Del Tin of Italy, this high carbon steel is not only flexible and tough, but will also hold its edge well.

A flexible and tough steel – its additions of small amounts of chrome and vanadium add to its hardenability and strength. A good steel for flexible and dependable blades. At Kult of Athena this steel is typically used by Del Tin and rarely in other brands. The exacting formulation used for Del Tin steel is a trade secret of Del Tin. (It might be 50CRV4 – unverified)

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CSN 14260 / 54 SiCr6 Spring Steel

Durable and shock absorbent, this Czech spring steel is well-utilized for hard-hitting sport and stage combat.

A Czech spring steel with elevated levels of silicon which allows it to both flex substantially and to absorb shock for enhanced durability. Often used by Central and Eastern European weaponsmiths to create durable swords and weapons for heavy duty sport and stage combat. This steel is known for high strength, hardness and wear resistance.

Damascus Steel

Visually distinctive blades created by melding two or more different steels into a single blade.

Damascus steel is two or more steels which are combined into a single steel billet before being forged into a blade. The vibrant patterning on many Damascus steel swords is achieved when it is treated with acid, causing the varied steels to shift the color of their outer layers differently.

In terms of performance, Damascus steel is not superior to pure, modern steel as each time a billet or blade is folded it increases the chance for a poorly executed fold to contain an air pocket or inclusion within the blade, thus potentially weakening it. Skillfully crafted Damascus can minimize this issue greatly, though it will still technically be a weaker blade over homogenous and pure steel billets made with modern metallurgical processes.

Though some misguided retailers may hype Damascus as a higher quality performance steel, this is incorrect. This error comes from modern Damascus being mistaken for the famous wootz Damascus steel which ceased being produced in mid 18th century. This original Damascus was a folded steel and when compared to other steels of the time it was superior and lauded for its quality. Its exact production process is lost to time, though some researchers have made promising reproductions.

Though not optimal for use, modern Damascus steel is still quite eye-catching and is an ideal choice for collectors who want a unique item with a visibly handcrafted touch or one that showcases traditional forms of blademaking which utilized various melding and folding of steels to make blades that were superior in their time.

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EN9 High Carbon Steel

Similar to 1050 / 1055 high carbon steel, it is resilient and durable when well tempered.

This steel typically has a carbon content of 0.50 – 0.60 and a Manganese content of 0.50 – 0.80. In effect, this gives EN9 similar properties to 1050 or 1055 carbon steel and can likewise be tempered and hardened to give it substantial durability and wear resistance.

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EN45 High Carbon Steel

Similar to 9260 spring steel, well-tempered EN45 is flexible and shock resistant.

With a composition similar to 9260 this spring steel exhibits similarly impressive flexing characteristics due to its substantial addition of silicon. Often used for the manufacture of automobile leaf springs, this steel can be used to make excellent sword blades with proper heat treatment.

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HWS-1S and HWS-2S Steel Alloys

A proprietary blend exclusive to Hanwei, this steel is regarded as a high performance steel by Hanwei for its resilience, edge retention and ability to take a visually impressive hamon.

These steel alloys are made by Hanwei for their exclusive use. According to Hanwei, these steel alloys exhibit the best resilience and edge-retention capability of any blade steel utilized by Hanwei as well as the ability to take a vibrant hamon when differentially tempered. Its toughness and resistance to abrasion derive from specific alloy elements, as well as a process allowing Hanwei to vary the degree of carbon content locationally within a single blade. The actual composition of this steel is a trade secret, but it is well-regarded in general.

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K120C Swedish Powder Steel

Powder steel is highly homogenous and excels at evenly distributing the carbon content of the billet to create an exceptionally pure steel which will temper evenly throughout the blade.

ASSAB K120C is a powder steel which is made in Japan under license from SSAB of Sweden. Powder steels have the benefit of having a highly homogenous microstructure which serves to evenly distribute the carbon content throughout the blade to an exceptionally high degree – this ensures uniformly optimal results when the blade is tempered. In regards to edge retention and durability it performs in similar fashion to 1095 high carbon steel.

Laminated Steel

Lamination is a traditional Japanese blade construction method that forge-welds panels of differing steels into a single blade.

Laminated steel is not a specific type of steel, but instead is a reference to a traditional method of constructing a Japanese sword blade by utilizing different steels in a compartmentalized manner to locationally optimize the blade. Laminated steel katana typically have an edge and a core of hard and softer steels melded together and these can be supplemented with various other panels of other steels. As many as half a dozen or more separate steel partitions with various properties can be merged together to create a single blade using lamination methods.

L6 Bainite

Demanding and fickle to work with, L6 rewards the skilled swordsmith with one of the toughest blade structures that can be produced.

Regarded as one of the more durable and resilient sword steels available when heat treated. L6 is a nickel-rich steel with great impact resistance that was originally developed for saw blades – when carefully heat treated into its Bainite phase this steel becomes exceptionally tough and resistant to damage. Properly heat treating L6 is difficult and it requires a skilled and diligent swordsmith – thus L6 sword blades are typically the reserve of high-end performance swords.

Stainless Steel

Resistant to rust, this low maintenance steel is perfect for long term display. It is not suitable for functional use in swords due to inherent brittleness.

Stainless steel has high levels of chromium to give it impressive resistance to rust and blemishing. This steel requires very little maintenance and is ideal for display swords. While often eminently suitable for knives, the high levels of chromium make a sword blade brittle and prone to damage or breakage when dealing with the high impact resistances that swords are subjected to. Thus stainless steel is unfit for a functional sword blade.

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T10 Chinese Alloy Steel

A Chinese alloy tool steel with properties similar to 1095 – it is also capable of producing a particularly vibrant hamon when differentially-tempered.

A Chinese alloy steel that is roughly equivalent to 1095 with additional silicon to improve edge retention and strength. With quality tempering a T10 blade can be hardened to a very high degree. When differentially-tempered a T10 blade can also display a visually vibrant hamon line.

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Tamahagane Steel

Steel for blades which is produced in the traditional Japanese manner is referred to as Tamahagane.

This is the traditional Japanese method for creating the steel to be used to forge a katana. Iron sands would be fired for several days in a clay kiln with charcoal to create steel blooms of varying carbon content. These blooms would typically be divided according to carbon content and then formed into steel billets of varying carbon content and hardness which the smith would then used to create sword blade. These billets would then be folded to further refine the steel from impurities.

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