Chinese Jian Blade Construction

Sword typology and Edge Weapons forms of the Chinese Empire and related cultures with an emphasis on their relationship to Swordsmanship.

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bond_fan
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Chinese Jian Blade Construction

Post by bond_fan » Sat Sep 27, 2008 12:49 am

I was wondering people's experience in handling antique Chinese swords does any one know on the san mai/insert steel constructed ones was the type of steel used for the center core most likely to be of or similar to modern 1050 steel construction and a higher carbon steel for the outer layers?

I'm wondering if it is wiser to make a jian blade with a harder core, like 1075 or 1095 steel that is harder, but as a result less flexible? I've read that the harder steel is more brittle and prone to breakage, but will hold the edge better, while the softer steel is more flexible and not prone to breakage, but will not hold an edge as well.

I was told by one company that makes swords that their mono steel blades were the strongest, especially for cutting as opposed to the usual san mai (Soft core harder outer plies), and their san mai blades were more for showing off their craftsmanship.

For daos, were those just made of folded steel or were they made like the jian with a softer core and harder outer pieces? It seems just folded tempered steel. If only folded steel what was likely to be the type of steel, similar to 1050 or higher?

For the dao construction, was flexibility, being able to bend without breaking more important like a jian or not? So when fighting with a dao as opposed to a jian, would one want to have a more flexible blade to avoid breakage or a stronger blade to cut through armor?

For jian fighting against a dao, jian or pole arms what would be the ideal characteristics of an excellent jian blade for attack and defense?

Is there some where on-line that explains Chinese jian and dao construction better that some one can refer me to?

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Re: Chinese Jian Blade Construction

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Tue Sep 30, 2008 8:10 am

bond_fan wrote:... For the dao construction, was flexibility, being able to bend without breaking more important like a jian or not? So when fighting with a dao as opposed to a jian, would one want to have a more flexible blade to avoid breakage or a stronger blade to cut through armor?...
I don't believe there was much difference between the steel used for dao or jian, regardless of where they were manufactured. Paul Champagne has explained this much better than I can (see thread- Chinese Blade Construction viewtopic.php?t=746), but esentially it all comes down to, no matter what, you never want your sword to break in battle. That means, that, within a relatively small margin, the steel used for any sword is going to be about the same.

The difference in flexibly between jian & dao or amongst jian or a group of dao has more to do with the overall design of the blade, its length, thickness, width & geometry of the cross section than the steel used to forge it. All sword, whether they are jian or dao, have to be resilient enough to take a very real beating, while have features that are tough enough to hold an edge.
bond_fan wrote:...For jian fighting against a dao, jian or pole arms what would be the ideal characteristics of an excellent jian blade for attack and defense?...
With any sword, one has to balance speed vs. power, ie what weight, lighter is faster, but too light means not enough cutting power;
Reach vs. control, one wants to have the advantage of reach, but too long means the additional torque will make it difficult to control;
And resiliency vs. strength, as discussed above.

So depending on the territory, one might choose a shorter, heavier sword, or a longer lighter one, there is no one sword type the is the best choice everywhere all the time...

bond_fan
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Re: Chinese Jian Blade Construction

Post by bond_fan » Tue Sep 30, 2008 1:37 pm

Thanks for the information Sifu Rodell!

Forum, Sifu asked me to post my question about actual antique & modern blade dimensions on the forum for your opinions, so please look for my new post regarding "Antique & Modern Jian Dimension Request" and help me if you can.

Thanks!

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Peter Dekker
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Re: Chinese Jian Blade Construction

Post by Peter Dekker » Tue Oct 07, 2008 3:12 am

bond_fan wrote:I was told by one company that makes swords that their mono steel blades were the strongest, especially for cutting as opposed to the usual san mai (Soft core harder outer plies), and their san mai blades were more for showing off their craftsmanship.
This is unfortunately a common thing in modern Chinese sword making, only very few smiths make functional sanmei. In order to make the layers contrast against each other, they use the wrong types of steel (or sometimes even iron) that give a nice visual effect but don't give the rigidity of genuine swords. This is quite opposite to the original intention of the construction, which is to create a strong and durable sword.

We can blame the cultural revolution and great leap forward for that, after which each Chinese forge had to reinvent the techniques for making swords with various grades of success. Forging techniques have been much better preserved in the West. Another factor is that modern smiths frequently use industrial grade steel that has very different properties from the steel processed in the old days. This is why the more serious Western swordmakers process their own ore to certain specifications or use antique iron as a base to work from, rather than buying off the shelve spring steels that is the more common way to go in China.

What is peculiar from your description is that they say they use a "soft core with harder outer plies". It should be the opposite, the core should form the cutting edges and thus should be of the hardest steel.

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Re: Chinese Jian Blade Construction

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Wed Oct 08, 2008 7:55 am

Peter Dekker wrote:... to make the layers contrast against each other, they use the wrong types of steel (or sometimes even iron) that give a nice visual effect but don't give the rigidity of genuine swords...
Peter is spot on. Using iron as they do makes a blade that looks very nice, but is dangerously soft for cutting or even vigorous training. They simply can not stand up to the stress, crack & break. Please don't buy a training sword based on the looks & be sure to give any practice sword a structural test before use.
Peter Dekker wrote:... each Chinese forge had to reinvent the techniques for making swords with various grades of success...
There has been no unbroken transmission of sword making in China from the early generations to this generation of Chinese swordsmiths. However, unlike the old days, smiting information is more freely shared & it appears to be making a solid, if slow, come back.

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CORRECTION IS IN ORDER

Post by Philip Tom » Thu Oct 09, 2008 8:37 pm

BondFan's post of 27 Sep, final paragraph, contains an error.

Sanmei (literally meaning threefold) is composed of a hard (high-carbon) steel INNER plate (forming the exposed edge(s) of the blade, flanked ON EACH SIDE by a plate of softer, more resilient material (usually a laminate of lower-carbon steels and iron). The post had it the other way around.

When the hard steel is on the OUTSIDE and envelops a softer core, the constrution is called "baogang" (literally "wrapped around steel".

Both techniques were widely used in Japan, where they are called "san mai" and "kobuse", respectively.

I have found that baogang is less often encountered on Chinese blades. When well-done, it can produce an admirable result but the disadvantage is that repeated sharpenings and polishes will wear the hard steel jacket down, thinner and thinner so that the central core is eventually exposed and the blade becomes practically worthless from a functional and aesthetic standpoint. This is the objection raised by many Japanese connoisseurs as well.

Not to confuse the discussion, but "qiangang" (inserted steel) is another hard-steel-in-center technique. Here, the softer lamellar
"gu" (bones, or body as we would say) is cleft and the high carbon "ren" or edge is inserted and forged tightly into a unitary bar which is drawn out to form the whole blade. Needless to say, this technique is only suitable for single-edged blades since the hard edge-plate protrudes from only one side.
Phil

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