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I Forge Iron

Discovery/ID of carbon

Steve Sells

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I am posting this in reguard to a topic in the chat room last nght where I was attempting to explain how many things in heat treating were not fully understood until more recient times, like carbon factoring into the hardening process.  In times past, we proceeded to turn iron into steel by route, mearly following what we were taught by our masters, not becasuse of any realy understanding about carbon/iron interactions or phase changes.


The following is taken from http://discovery.yukozimo.com


In 1722, a scientist named Réaumur, showed how to make steel by combining iron and carbon.  Later Antoine Lavoisier would be labled the official “discoverer” of carbon since he classified it as an element in a textbook he wrote in 1789


Carbon has been known to exist since early human history, mostly in the forms of soot and graphite, with diamonds being discovered about four thousand years ago. These forms of carbon are so different, that it that it took a while for scientists to realize that they were all the same element.


The discovery of carbon can’t be attributed to one individual.  Many people, over a long period of time discovered different forms of carbon. Lavoisier gets the credit, however, since he published information about carbon in his textbook.

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Benjamin Huntsman of 18th century England has an interesting story related to carbon in retrospect, although he was not a discoverer. He figured out a way to take blister steel which had an unhomogeneous carbon content and encase it in a crucible with carbonaceous material (charcoal?) and flux. This was heated until it reached a controlled molten state and then poured into ingot molds to be reheated and forged at a later date. He got a good steel resulting,* but I don't think he was aware that in a molten state, the carbon atoms distributed themselves in a homogeneous manner throughout the mass. He didn't patent the process, but nevertheless, tried to keep it a secret. The story goes that an early "industrial spy" was able to observe his method, and the secret was out.


*In England, this steel was commonly called 'cast steel.' In the U.S., 'crucible steel.'

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I strongly suggest you read "Sources for the History of the Science of Steel"  C.S.Smith  a collection of period works in translation following this "question" from the 1500's till a french guy in the late 1700's said "It's CARBON!"  (well plumbago == graphite == carbon)


You should be able to ILL it from your local public library.  Lots of cool renaissance misinformation---like a whole list of special quenchants like worm water and radish juice...

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