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Types Of Vintage Steel

Would somebody summarise for me the different types of steel from Sheffield and Solingen, or point me to a guide that does this.
As I'm accruing various vintage straights, I'm noticing a few varieties.
There's a couple from Sheffield which are very hard, dense and bright metal, and another couple where the metal is duller and softer and feels much lighter and which takes an excellent edge.
The Solingen blades I have which are post-WW1 seem somewhere between the two in density and hardness, but I also have one with extremely hard, more brittle steel which is dull and corrodes very quickly.
I'm guessing there's only a few types of steel for razors coming out of Solingen and Sheffield in the 19th and early-20th centuries, and I'm really interested to find a proper description of them.
 
mjclark,

It's probably more profitable for you to start off by studying an introductory book on the history of metal manufacturer which would give you an intellectual base from which to understand the commercial developments. I used to have a good one, but I sold it off years ago and can no longer remember the name. I'm sure you can find one online. It's important to understand basic concepts such as high carbon, alloyed, heat treat, ductility, tempering, casting, rolling etc. and the process associated with those.

To give you some idea of the complexity, while two cutlers in Sheffield might both be using simple "High Carbon Steel" with no alloying elements, tiny, tiny differences in the percentage of carbon in the steel can yield a hardness difference of several Rockwell points. The manner of heat treating/tempering the steel could then dramatically alter its properties. Whether the cutler was hungover after a night at the pub could impact quality that day since the processes for making steel and heat treating were not carefully process controlled.

With the introduction of alloyed steels the picture gets even more complicated. Then the Swedes developed an improved steel making process which was rapidly adopted and Swedish steel exports to industrial centers in Europe skyrocketed. In the middle of this, it looks like some of the Sheffield houses resisted using Swedish steel or techniques, but they kept their actual processes secret. This was not, in other words, a culture of sharing and the best one can do is reconstruct from ancillary evidence.

My additional suspicion is that one could learn a great deal more about the practices and history of Solingen than of any of the other great knife making cities. The Germans kept better records on these matters than the Brits and there was greater state involvement in the regulation of the trades. It certainly benefited them in the matter of beer and wine where their purity laws maintained a very high standard of production for a very long time.

If you find such a guide, please share with the rest of us. I'd read it.
 
Thanks - it really makes sense to start with the basic foundations of metallurgy and work upwards from there, so I'll do a bit of reading!
You've prompted another question though - did the different cutlers in Solingen and Sheffield all produce their own different steels from iron ore, or did the different razor manufacturers all obtain their steel from a common source?
 
Thanks - it really makes sense to start with the basic foundations of metallurgy and work upwards from there, so I'll do a bit of reading!
You've prompted another question though - did the different cutlers in Solingen and Sheffield all produce their own different steels from iron ore, or did the different razor manufacturers all obtain their steel from a common source?

It would seem that having a foundry to refine your own steel might be more than a cutlery manufacturer could do. Knife makers would likely source their raw materials from an outside supplier. I doubt that that all Solingen or Sheffield makers used the same raw materials source. At the turn of the 20th century, the average shaver knew nothing of alloys or metallurgy and just had to learn what worked well and keep on using it. The makers surely had suppliers that would produce exactly what they were looking for. JMHO
 
While on the subject on steel for razors. My brother was working for a specialty steel producer as a metallurgist in the 70s. He said periodically they would run a heat for Gillet for their "blue blade" (I'm not sure that that is the correct name).

A heat of steel is 110 tons. He said he always took a minute to imagine how many razor blades that must be.
 
Rusty vintage steel.

Shiny vintage steel.

Discolored (patina) vintage steel.

Broken vintage steel.

NOS vintage steel.....

Sorry, it's an interesting topic but as you can see from above I have nothing useful to add :)
 
Reading the wikipedia article on steel tempering has answered a lot of my questions.
The softer steels are generally tempered at a higher temperature after the initial quenching...
 
I don't know about the numbers, but the large number of drop forges producing steel/blanks in pretty much any steel producing area in their high days makes generalisations about steel types, hardness and other metallurgical properties impossible.

What can be said is that at least now, all modern production Solingen razors are made out of the same blanks, as there is only one active drop forge that produces blanks for the straight razor industry (Herkenrath forge).
 
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