If you're familiar with traditional Japanese swordmaking, you've probably heard of tamahagane steel. Developed in feudal Japan, it's characterized by a high carbon content, typically between 3% to 4.5%. Japanese swordsmiths found that tamahagane was an exceptional metal for use in swords like the katana and tachi. With that said, there have been other high-quality steels developed throughout history, including Damascus steel, wootz steel and bulat steel, the latter of which we're going to discuss in this blog post.
Overview of Bulat Steel
Bulat steel is a type of high-carbon steel developed in medieval Russia. Historians believe it was used by nomads many centuries ago. Additionally, it was the primary steel used to make bladed weapons for the Mongolian infantry and soldiers of Genghis Khan. So, what made bulat steel the preferred metal for Khan's armies?
Like tamahagane steel and Damascus steel, bulat steel has a high carbon content. Traditional steel weapons were often susceptible to damage upon impact. They would chip, break and crack, after which the bladed weapon would either be repaired or replaced. Swords and other bladed weapons made of bulat steel, however, were stronger, more durable, and less likely to experience such damage. Therefore, Russian swordsmiths began to make their weapons out of bulat steel for this very reason.
Bulat steel wasn't used strictly for swords and bladed weapons. It was also used to make canons. Its high carbon content made is ideal for use in canons. Previously, canons made of other metals would crack and sustain damage. Bulat steel was a stronger and more effective metal for use in the construction of cannons -- until the Bessemer process came along, at least.
Production of Bulat Steel
What's really interesting, however, is that the exact process for making bulat steel has essentially been lost in time. Around the turn of the 19th century, the steps for creating bulat steel began to fade. And today, there are only a few things we know for certain about its production.
For starters, we know that making bulat steel requires dipping the sword or bladed weapon into a container filled with a plant-based liquid, after which the blade is carried on horseback so it dries in the wind.
Of course, all high-carbon steels are characterized by a few basic things. They generally contain pure iron and cementite, for instance. Cementite is a hard but brittle substance, whereas iron is somewhat soft. The combination of these elements results in the creation of a new, stronger metal with a high carbon content.
Because the process has been lost, there's no "genuine" bulat steel produced today. Some of bulat steel weapons are still around, though new ones can't be produced.