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Assuming we have the tools and materials of the late medieval period in Europe (~ 15th century) but are allowed to use modern knowledge of metallurgy, what method/process of steel production would allow the highest quality steel to be produced if the measure of quality was its use in medieval weapons and armour?

It doesn't have to produce industrial quantities of steel, but there should be enough of it to feed a few smithies. Any source of iron available in medieval Europe can be used, so both mined iron ore and bog iron are available, as are any others I may not know of.

Does this change if we add some kind of magic fire to the mix that can achieve temperatures in excess of 2000°C and if so, what process is now the optimal choice?

EDIT: To clarify: I'm not asking about the methods that were actually used and available in the 15th century. I can easily look those up. I am asking which superior methods could still be implemented with 15th century tools and materials assuming the neccessary knowledge of said methods.

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  • $\begingroup$ By the late 16th century they were already producing small quantities of steel using the cementation process -- that is, first refining iron into wrought iron in a finery forge, then adding some carbon. We have a book from 1594 describing how to do it. In the 15th century they didn't have anything better than crucible steel (aka Wootz steel, Damascus steel). If we allow time travellers then anything is possible -- the time traveller can build a Bessemer converter or a Martin furnace. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 8 '18 at 11:49
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Question is whether 15th century materials and tools are sufficient to actually build a Bessemer converter or a Martin furnace. Also, your comment seems like it would rather be an answer. $\endgroup$ – Pahlavan Mar 8 '18 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ Might be a duplicate of this question. $\endgroup$ – JBH Mar 8 '18 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ Just a note on crucible steel, aka wootz - Sri Lankans were able to get high enough temperatures to smelt wootz because they were powering their furnaces with monsoon winds. Since the winds were/are seasonal, production may not have been year-round. You may be more interested in the Haya of Tanzania. They also produced a carbon steel that was similar to wootz, but without the reliance on the monsoons. books.google.com/books/about/… $\endgroup$ – Jaycie Beveri Mar 13 '18 at 11:40
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Well, the answer is as others have already repeatedly said crucible steel.

However what I have not seen others mention is the correct type of crucible steel for your question so I'll answer anyway.

The highest quality method of producing crucible steel was developed by Benjamin Huntsman. It produces the "Sheffield steel" you might have heard of although the term isn't really in use anymore.

Historically this happened in the 18th century but none of the technical requirements is really beyond your timeframe. Actually a cursory Wikipedia browse suggest that your desired period just happens to be earliest when this might have been possible. Both the production of coke and production of blister steel by cementation happened just around that timeframe.

The steel produced was actually better than early industrial processes could produce and had more uniform quality than with earlier forms of crucible steel. It was first steel that allowed practical mass production at high quality. However the process was harder to scale than the later industrial processes so the steel produced was significantly more expensive.

The details are explained in the linked Wikipedia article about crucible steel which makes it pretty puzzling that this was not mentioned despite crucible steel being mentioned and offered by pretty much everyone.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, this seems useful to me. If I correctly understand the production chain there's a lot of steps involved though - melting ore into pig iron (probably in a blast furnace?), then converting that into wrought iron (in a finery forge or through puddling), then into blister steel through cementation which is then finally suited for the Huntsman process. Would there be a way to skip a few of these steps according to the question's parameters? $\endgroup$ – Pahlavan Mar 12 '18 at 9:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Pahlavan I lack the expertise to answer that properly but I think you can skip the blister steel and just use pig iron and wrought iron and get crucible steel if the mix is correct. But yes, this method (and most other methods) of making crucible steel is work and time consuming. Not to mention requiring of expertise well beyond what I (or most other modern people, really) possess to do reliably. But when you want high quality steel with medieval technology that is what you are stuck with. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Mar 12 '18 at 9:30
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The most effective method at that time would have been crucible steel.

It's made by melting cast iron along with sand, glass, ashes, or other fluxes, in a large crucible.

This technique produced a mix of very high-carbon and very low-carbon steel that, when sanded and polished, would produce the swirly Damascus steel effect that's very popular these days.

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I'd personally go with Damascus steel, especially if there's access to magic to bump up the heat. The main issue with straight-up crucible steel is the inconsistencies created from mixing materials with different melting points together and trying to engender proper homogeneity. If you can make that sucker hot enough, you can smooth out the 'bumps' enough to fold the steel and get something very Damascus-like.

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Crucible steel. Anything past that is overkill for the medieval era. In late medieval period it was already available and with modern knowledge you could improve the quality significantly.

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