Wootz steel

Wootz is a steel characterized by a pattern of bands or sheets of micro carbides within a tempered martensite or pearlite matrix. It was developed in India around 300 BC [ [http://materials.iisc.ernet.in/~wootz/heritage/WOOTZ.htm IISC] ] . The word "wootz" [p.108 -- Michael Faraday, as quoted by Peter Day, "The Philosopher's Tree" ISBN 0-7503-0571-1] may have been a mistranscription of "wook", an anglicised version of "urukku" the word for steel in Tamil or "ukku", the word for steel in Kannada, Telugu and many other southern Indian languages.


Wootz originated in India before the beginning of the common era. [Srinivasan & Ranganathan] Wootz steel was widely exported and traded throughout ancient Europe, China, the Arab world, and became particularly famous in the Middle East, where it became known as Damascus steel. Archaeological evidence suggests that this manufacturing process was already in existence in South India even before the Christian era. [Srinivasan 1994] [Srinivasan & Griffiths]

Wootz steel and development of modern metallurgy

Legends of Wootz steel and Damascus sword aroused the curiosity of the European scientific community from the 17th to the 19th Century. The use of high carbon alloys were not known in Europe previously and thus the research into Wootz steel played an important role in the development of modern English, French and Russian metallurgy. [C. S. Smith, A History of Metallography, University Press, Chicago (1960)]

Western research

The British Occupation in the 1750s gave a fresh impetus into this research. By 1790, samples of wootz steel were received by Sir. Joseph Banks, President of the British Royal society. These samples were subjected to scientic examination and analysis by several experts. [Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Vol.85 (1795), ‘Experiments and Observations to investigate the Nature of a Kind of Steel, manu-factured at Bombay, and there called Wootz: with Remarks on the Properties and Composition of the different States of Iron’, by. George Pearson, M.D., F.R.S., pp.322-346] [D. Mushet: Experiments on Wootz or Indian Steel (British Museum 727. k.3), pp.650-62]

Manufacturing techniques

Critical characteristic of wootz steel is the abundant ultrahard metallic carbides in the steel matrix precipitating out in bands, making wootz steel display a characteristic banding on its surface. Wootz swords, especially damascus blades, were renowned for their sharpness and toughness.

While other methods may be used today, it is known that wootz was classically made in crucibles, e.g., crucible steel by combining a mixture of wrought iron or iron ore and charcoal with glass, which is then sealed and heated in a furnace. The result is a mixture of impurities mixed with glass as slags, and "buttons" of steel. The buttons (with a typical carbon content of 1.5%) were separated from the slag and forged into ingots. The ingots could be further forged out into blades/tools or welded to other ingots to increase the mass of the steel for larger items.

The techniques for its making died out around 1700 after the principal sources of special ores needed for its production were depleted. Those sources contained trace amounts of tungsten and/or vanadium which other sources did not. Oral tradition in India maintains that a small piece of either white or black hematite (or old wootz) had to be included in each melt, and that a minimum of these elements must be present in the steel for the proper segregation of the micro carbides to take place.

Wootz was possibly rediscovered in the mid 19th century by the Russian metallurgist Pavel Petrovich Anosov (see Bulat steel), who refused to reveal the secret of its manufacture other than to write five one-sentence descriptions of different ways in which it could be made.

Master bladesmith Alfred Pendray re-discovered what may be the classic techniques in the early 1980s, as later verified by [http://www.mse.iastate.edu/who-we-are/people/emeritus-professors/john-verhoeven.html Dr. John Verhoeven] . [cite journal|author=J.D. Verhoeven, A.H. Pendray, and W.E. Dauksch|year=1998 |url=http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/9809/Verhoeven-9809.html |title=The Key Role of Impurities in Ancient Damascus Steel Blades|journal =Journal of Metals|volume=50| issue=9|pages=58–64] [cite journal|title=Damascus Steel. I. Indian Wootz Steel|author=Verhoeven, J. D.|journal= Metallography|volume= 20|issue= 2| papges= 145-151|year=1987|pages=145|doi=10.1016/0026-0800(87)90026-7]

Another method of wootz production, using modern technology, was developed around 1980 by Dr. Oleg Sherby and Dr. Jeff Wadsworth at Stanford University and Livermore National Laboratories. Even though this steel had the charactertistic bands of microcarbides, whether or not this could be considered wootz was disputed by Verhoeven since it was not made in a classical manner.

Recently, researcher Peter Paufler from Dresden University in Germany has discovered evidence of carbon nanotubes in Wootz steel [cite journal
last = Reibold
first = M
authorlink =
coauthors = Paufler P, Levin AA, Kochmann W, Pätzke N, Meyer DC
title = Materials: Carbon nanotubes in an ancient Damascus sabre
journal = Nature
volume = 444
issue = 7117
pages = 286
publisher = Nature Publishing Group
date = November 16, 2006
url = http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v444/n7117/abs/444286a.html
doi = 10.1038/444286a
id =
accessdate = 2006-11-17
] , although this is disputed Fact|date=March 2008.

Cultural references

* An elaborate fictionalized description of Wootz steel manufacture is presented in Neal Stephenson's historical science fiction novel "The Confusion", part of Stephenson's three-volume work "The Baroque Cycle".
* The manufacturing of Wootz steel is also detailed in Leo Frankowski's Conrad Stargard series.
* Don Krieg, a fictional character in Oda Eiichiro' manga One Piece claims to use armour made of Wootz steel.

See also

* Damascus steel
** Bulat steel, a Russian crucible steel
** Pattern welding
* Iron pillar of Delhi



* [http://materials.iisc.ernet.in/~wootz/heritage/WOOTZ.htm Srinivasan, S. & Ranganathan, S. "Wootz Steel: An Advanced Material of the Ancient World". Bangalore: Indian Institute of Science.]
* Srinivasan,S. "Wootz crucible steel: a newly discovered production site in South India". Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 5 (1994), pp. 49-61.
* Srinivasan, S. and Griffiths, D. "South Indian wootz: evidence for high-carbon steel from crucibles from a newly identified site and preliminary comparisons with related finds". Material Issues in Art and Archaeology-V, Materials Research Society Symposium Proceedings Series Vol. 462.
* [http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.1:1:3912.tamillex urukku - from the Tamil Lexicon, University of Madras]

External links

* [http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/9809/Verhoeven-9809.html The key role of impurities in ancient damascus steel blades]
* [http://materials.iisc.ernet.in/~wootz/heritage/WOOTZ.htm Wootz steel: an advanced material of the ancient world]
* [http://materials.iisc.ernet.in/~wootz/heritage/Ind-heritage.html Indian heritage in metallurgy]
* [http://www.nature.com/news/2006/061113/full/061113-11.html Nanotubes present in Damascus Blades]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • wootz (steel) — Steel produced by a method known in ancient India. The process involved preparation of porous iron, hammering it while hot to release slag, breaking it up and sealing it with wood chips in a clay container, and heating it until the pieces of iron …   Universalium

  • wootz steel — noun see wootz …   Useful english dictionary

  • Steel — For other uses, see Steel (disambiguation). The steel cable of a colliery winding tower …   Wikipedia

  • Wootz — Le Wootz ou Wootzer ou Wûtzer est un type d acier indien autrefois principalement utilisé pour la fabrication de lames de sabre. Le mot Wootz est peut être une mauvaise transcription de wook utilisé par le métallurgiste anglais Heyne probablement …   Wikipédia en Français

  • wootz — ˈwüts noun or wootz steel ( es) Etymology: probably alteration of wook, from Kanarese ukku steel : a steel made anciently in India by crude methods in small crucibles according to the oldest known process for making fused steel …   Useful english dictionary

  • steel — steellike, adj. /steel/, n. 1. any of various modified forms of iron, artificially produced, having a carbon content less than that of pig iron and more than that of wrought iron, and having qualities of hardness, elasticity, and strength varying …   Universalium

  • Wootz — (w[=oo]ts), n. [Perhaps a corruption of Canarese ukku steel.] A species of steel imported from the East Indies, valued for making edge tools; Indian steel. It has in combination a minute portion of alumina and silica. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • wootz — noun A famous type of steel from India, much admired for making sword blades …   Wiktionary

  • Crucible steel — Iron alloy phases Ferrite (α iron, δ iron) Austenite (γ iron) Pearlite (88% ferrite, 12% cementite) …   Wikipedia

  • Damascus steel — For Damascus Twist barrels, see Skelp. For the album of the same name, see Damascus Steel (album). Close up of a 16th century Iranian crucible forged Damascus steel sword Damascus steel was a term used by several Western cultures from the… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”