Japanese Swords are medieval nanotechnology

During Japanese sword making the steel is folded repeatedly. Each time the steel is folded the structure is refined.

The folding is a key process in sword making. Folding and striking the metal forges the surfaces back together. This process of folding, then forge welding, can be repeated as many as 16 times. The process removes impurities and helps even out the carbon content, and controls the scale of chemical segregation, and it is this which results in alternating layers of hard and ductile material.

So how can folding the steel result in a nanoscale structure?

When the steel is folded the number of layers obviously increases geometrically. 1 fold result in 2 layers, 2 folds results in 22 = 4 layers, 3 folds results in 23 = 8 layers. By the time we get to 15 or 16 layers we have 32768 layers or 65536 layers. After that the sword is forged out to have a width of around half a centimetre.

5 mm divided by 65536 = 76 nm.
(5e-3/65536=7.629e-8)

So each layer is 76 nm. So we can legitimately argue that Japanese Swords are bulk nano materials, with structure controlled on the ‘nano’ level, for metallurgists this is just routine stuff.

Edo period Forge Scene

Edo period Forge Scene

Of course Japanese swords are not true examples of nanotechnology, despite the validity of the maths the folding doesn’t really result in a controlled structure on the nanoscale due to the changes that occur during the welding process… I plan to talk more about that in a later post.

As you can see below, the laminations are typically visible on the millimetre scale.

Lamination on Japanese Sword

Lamination on Japanese Sword

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One Response

  1. […] which phases can form. By heating and cooling different areas of a sword in different ways, ancient Japanese swordsmiths could produce a steel blade that was soft and tough in the interior, with an incredibly hard […]

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