L6 Steel Kinetics

This steel is popular for use in knives and swords like the Samurai sword “Bainite Katana”.

Custom Howard Clark L6 Katana
The Bainite Katana is made of a special purpose low-alloy steel. It is very resistant to bending, to the point of near unbreakability. These blades can be made lighter and thinner and still remain stronger than conventional steel or 1086. The blades are also springy rather than soft, they will flex more than a normal blade, but the shape will not be altered. These blades are excellent for tameshigiri as well as general sword work.

Composition; I found the composition of L6 is something like: Fe-0.7C-0.5Si-1.75Ni-0.5Mo-0.25V-0.25Cu.

I calculated the time-temperature-transformation diagram, i’m not too sure about the accuracy bainite start temperature using this program, I would like to be able to find the experimental results for this alloy.

Depending on the bainite start temperature, the kinetics are fast enough to allow isothermal transformation to bainite on a reasonable timescale, at temperature of around 300 C which would give a high strength bainite. Howard Clarke sells the swords with as a martensite/bainite sword. If the bainite start temperature is higher it would be easy to get a mixed microstructure.

I should try to make a prediction of bainite start temperature – I made a neural network model for this.

AISI L6 TTT diagram calculated with MAP program MUCG83

Even without carbide precipitation transformation results in a large volume fraction of bainite.
AISI L6 Volume fraction calculated with MAP program MUCG83

Presumably if the bainite Katana is used in marteniste/bainite condition it is produced by continuous cooling or by quenching. Quenching would be good if it can be done in at a rate which gives martensite on the outside of the blade for sharpness and hardness, and bainite in the centre to give toughness. The other possibility is that the continuous cooling gives a mixture of bainite and martensite at every location. This can have a higher strength or hardness than martensite alone because austenite will get enriched in carbon as the bainite transforms, increasing it’s contribution to the strength.

I’d really like to have a look at the microstructure of these swords to see what structure the bainite has. Also it would be interesting to measure the mechanical properties of the alloy in the same condition – I need to look for some literature on L6 I guess. It looks like they should be strengthened by carbides and by copper precipitation.

Howard Clark who makes these swords has a webpage at mvforge.com.

–edit 6 October 2007–


Empirical Rant

In metallurgy we often term very simple models to be `empirical models’ in contrast to `physical models’. I really wish there was a better name for the `empirical models` – since physical models are more empirical, and `empirical models’ are actually less empirical. Use of such equations can be very useful because they do provide a summary of observations with-in some range of observed behaviour. Even when a physical model exists these simple models are often still preferred because of the ease with which they can be used.

The source of my confusion is the now contradictory uses of the word empirical…

Physical models incorporate more physical understanding, are based on a theoretical understanding. Any theory can only be based on, and validated against, observations. (Edit: i.e. empirical observations)

A better description for our `empirical models’ would be Ad-hoc, make-do, summary or arbitrary.

Comparison of empirical and physical models
This is best described by an example. The martensite start temperature (MS) is often described by an equation of the form; MS = A*XC + B*XMn + C*XCr…

MS(C) = 521 – 353.C – 225.Si – 24.3.Mn – 27.4.Ni 0 17.7.Cr – 25.8.Mo

Another example is the use of various ‘carbon equivilant’s.
Carbon Equivilant = CE = C + Mn/5 + Mo / 5 + Cr/10 + Ni/50

Thomas Sourmail and Carlos Garcia-Mateo have written a paper on prediciton of M_S by various methods,
(Critical assessment of models for predicting the Ms temperature of steels, T. Sourmail and C. Garcia-Mateo Comp. Mater. Sci., 2005:34, p323-334) it is available on Thomas’s webpage;Predicting the martensite start temperature (Ms) of steels.

Ms/ K, all compositions in wt%
[8] 772-316.7C-33.3Mn-11.1Si-27.8Cr-16.7Ni-11.1Mo-11.1W
[9] 811-361C-38.9Mn-38.9Cr-19.4Ni-27.8Mo
[10] 772-300C-33.3Mn-11.1Si-22.2Cr-16.7Ni-11.1Mo
[11] 834.2-473.9C-33Mn-16.7Cr-16.7Ni-21.2Mo
[12] 812-423C-30.4Mn-12.1Cr-17.7Ni-7.5Mo
[12] 785-453C-16.9Ni-15Cr-9.5Mo+217(C)2-71.5(C)(Mn)-67.6(C)(Cr)

Potency of Elements on MS temperature (Change per weight percent).

N C Ni Co Cu Mn W Si Mo Cr V Al
-450 -450 -20 +10 -35 -30 -36 -50 -45 -20 -46 -53 P-1976
  • P-1976 F.B. pickering, `Physical metallurgy of stainless steel developments’, Int. Met. Rev., 21, pp 227-268, 1976.
  • 8 P. Payson and C. H. Savage. Trans. ASM, 33:261-281, 1944.
  • 9 R. A. Grange and H. M. Stewart. Trans. AIME, 167:467-494, 1945.
  • 10 A. E. Nehrenberg. Trans. AIME, 167:494-501, 1945.
  • 11 W. Steven and A. G. Haynes. JISI, 183:349-359, 1956.
  • 12 K. W. Andrews. JISI, 203:721-727, 1965.
  • 13 C. Y. Kung and J. J. Rayment. Metall. Trans. A, 13:328-331, 1982.

Neural network models have been developed to predict both martensite start and bainite start temperatures. It is also possible to calculate these using ‘physically’ based models based on thermodynamics.

They’re all just maths! 🙂