By blood I am an engineer. I can design, make and fix just about anything that has recognisable components in it.
That also means I know a thing or two about materials, and as with all engineers I have my favourites. Like most men I like wood, and iron.
Iron is not an easy material to work with ~ to work iron one needs fire, and not just any old kitchen fire of the kind that’s good for roasting meat. To work iron one needs a temperature of around 1,800F, (about 1,000C). The hottest one can get a wood fire is about 1,500F.
To work iron you really need a forge and charcoal, (which makes a better fire than sulfurous coal).
Wood, iron, fire, forge ~ these are all manly words, and working iron is a manly task, because one also needs an anvil and a hammer.
Back in the day, the first thing a man made from iron was an engine of destruction: knife, hammer, axe, sword, armour ~ and the most difficult of these is a good sword. A bad sword will break, will not take an edge, will not keep its edge. A truly great sword sings and has myths woven around it; Excalibur, Caledfwich, Claiomh Solaris, Blodgang, Hrunting, Arondight, Durendel….
I am King. And this is Excalibur, sword of kings from the dawn of time.
Heating iron makes it change its colour, (wavelength of light theory), and heating iron in charcoal or coke makes carbon ‘stick’ to the hot iron when you strike it.
Do not wait to strike ’till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.
Iron and carbon make steel, and swords are made of wrought iron / steel which is tough, malleable, corrosion resistant, and will easily ‘weld’ to itself. All good swords are made of layers of wrought iron / steel welded together like the pages of a book.
English long swords, like Excalibur, would be up to six feet in length, (a yard is a more manageable length for a sword), and forged from three pieces of iron. These are heated, and then twisted together ~ sort of like a hot iron rope. This is then heated, struck, reheated and struck again until the final shape is made. The sword, (part steel / part iron), is then ground, with progressively finer materials, until a mirror finish is achieved. The ‘grain’ of the three original pieces of iron can be seen in the metal in a really fine sword. A great sword is a beautiful thing.
Beauty is power; a smile is its sword.
The Japanese Katana is forged by folding, (shita-kitae), one piece of iron / steel called tamahagane up to 16 times.
There is more to it than all of that, there is also annealing, hardening and tempering ~ which may be done differentially across and down the blade. All of this is done by the colour of the hot iron.
In myth and folklore, iron is a very magical thing ~ cold iron will bind a witch, repel a ghost, ward off evil spirits, hold the souls of the dead, and bring good luck. Iron is used in chains, compass needles, nails, axes and crosses, all of which are elements of sorcery, magic, myth and religion..
Gold is for the mistress ~ silver for the maid ~ Copper for the craftsman… But Iron ~ Cold Iron ~ is master of them all.
Of these; I have made an axe, a short sword, and a knife, and a good knife is a very short sword. Working iron takes time, patience, strength, skill ~ and a willingness to believe in legend.