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I'm trying to devise a plot point where a great sorcerer (who's also a bit of a renaissance man, alchemist, inventor, politician, etc.) who slays a dragon and use its corpse to carburize iron ore inside a volcanic mountain into steel (or tungsten into tungsten carbide) that locals might call it "dragon steel". Does this make sense? If not, what needs to be changed to make sense, or is there a way to create a similar effect?

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    $\begingroup$ Could having a burned out dragon carcass mixed with iron ore, when smelted, provide enough carbon content to make steel in normal ironworking in a dark age setting before people fully understood the process? $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2022 at 9:51
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    $\begingroup$ That is not how steel is made or how it was ever made. There are two main ways to make steel. You can start with almost pure iron and add a tiny little bit or carbon; this is how Wootz steel and then medieval crucible steel was made. Or you can start with cast iron and remove most of the carbon; this is how post-medieval crucible steel and modern plain ordinary converter steel is made. To get almost pure iron, you smelt the ore in a bloomery; this gives you iron mixed with slag. You then remove the slag, for example by beating it out of the hot iron. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 3, 2022 at 9:56
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Tamahagane the Japanese "jewel steel" is produced in a one step process from ore to steel without cast or bloom iron as an intermediary step, it is an exception in ancient metallurgy but it proves the process is possible. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Jan 4, 2022 at 2:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash: Isn't tamahagane just plain ordinary bloomery iron to which some carbon is added during the forging process? That is, first they make bad iron in a primitive bloomery furnace like they used in the antiquity and early middle ages in Europe, and then heat it red and hammer it and hammer it and hammer it endlessly on a bed of charcoal to remove the slag and hopefully add an uncontrolled amount of carbon? (The point being that it's a two step process. What they get directly from the smelting furnace is just iron mixed with slag, yes with some small amount of carbon.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 4, 2022 at 2:43
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Tataras aren't like western bloomeries, they're big, 4 cubic metre, rectangular tubs, instead of a 0.50 cubic metre cylinder, that process tonnes of material. The larger size and shape mean that the perfect conditions for forming steel exist in a large enough volume, and in a predictable area, that it can be separated from the lower quality metal, rather than being in small random pockets, out of a 2.5 metric ton bloom the high quality, immediately usable, tamahagane is only in the tens to low hundreds of kg range. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Jan 4, 2022 at 3:22

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You need to pyrolyse your dragon to remove impurities, particularly the phosphorus and sulfur as they have the most detrimental effects, that would damage the quality of the result. You could conceivably then use it as fuel in a Tatara style furnace to produce Tamahagane the high quality "jewel steel" of ancient, and modern, Japan. Tamahagane is an outlier in the world of ancient metallurgy in that it is produced in a one step process that goes from pure, high quality, ore and fuel directly to steel without carburising bloomery or decarburising cast iron.

If you want to use a volcano though I would suggest that blister and shear is the process for you. Low carbon reasonably pure bloomery iron is beaten into fairly thin bars that are packed in a carbon donor, usually charcoal or coke but in this case cooked dragon, in a stone box. The box is then brought to high temperatures, usually 600-800°C, and held there for days, or even weeks, on end while the metal absorbs carbon. This process used to be ruinously expensive because of the fuel consumption required to maintain the oven at working heat for such long periods, the volcano will be much cheaper. The name blister steel comes from the blistered appearance the bars take on where the absorbed carbon distorts their structure. Shear steel is the result of forge welding the bars together to more evenly distribute the carbon they had absorbed.

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  • $\begingroup$ Tamahagane is far from a 1 step process, and it does include carburizing in the refinement process (normally done using pyrolyzed rice grass). ksky.ne.jp/~sumie99/forging.html $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jan 4, 2022 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Only for the parts of the bloom, sometimes all of it, that are lower quality. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Jan 5, 2022 at 2:45
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It's Magic

Assuming your "great sorcerer" is in fact a sorcerer and your "dragon" is in fact a dragon, then it makes perfect since. Dragons are considered in many mythoses to be the most magical of all creatures or even demigods. And a sorcerer is of course a person who specializes in the manipulation of magic, not science.

There is not a scientific reason to do this, but there is precedent

In many magic systems there is the concept of the reagent: an ingredient used in casting spells for the magical properties that it contributes, and in these systems reagents that are derived from dragons are often considered among the most potent.

In fact, some cultures historically did add un-pyrolyzed biological components to their steel specifically because they believed it imparted some mystical properties into their blades. Some Viking cultures for example would add a raven feather to their steel to impart the favor of Oden on it.

So sure, it could be argued that mixing dragon parts into your steel would weaken it because of the sulfur impurities... but so what? A sword made from sub-standard steel, but is also held together by primordial magic powers beyond our human comprehension is still going to be a large step above any steel made by non-magical means.

But maybe it's not real magic...

What if your great sorcerer is NOT in fact a great sorcerer, and your slain dragon is just some dinosaur fossil he found? Maybe your sorcerer is just an exceptional blacksmith with a flare for the dramatic.

Before modern science no body really understood WHY one steel was better than another, they only understood if you do the right steps you get a better result which sometimes creates superstitious extra steps. Going back to the Vikings, the metallurgy techniques invented in Northern Europe during the early medieval period were so much better than other European techniques at the time that Viking swords were often considered magical. So while that raven feather may have been an unnecessary step, the care they took in preparing their ores and the multi-alloyed pattern welding techniques they used did make their swords much better than those made by other smiths... so as far as anyone at the time was concerned, the raven feather worked.

Likewise, if your smith throws a little bit of fossilized dinosaur into his furnace, it will just melt out with all the other silicates, no harm, no foul. But as long as he does enough other things right with the carbon levels and the purification, and the tempering, etc. then his Dragon Steel blades could still be the best blades in the region.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is the "it's magic don't worry about the science" answer, I like and loath this answer but it's always an important point to make +1. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Jan 4, 2022 at 5:14
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Biomass is not made of carbon only: it contains also, among others, nitrogen, hydrogen, sulfur, phosphorus.

Most of them are normally undesired elements into steel (one of the theories on the sinking of the Titanic claims its steel was very brittle due to the sulfur content), therefore using biomass to dope steel will work, but not in a way that makes the steel particularly attractive property-wise.

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    $\begingroup$ Most usually you first convert the biomass into charcoal... After all, charcoal made from biomass actually was the source of carbon used in steelmaking for about 2,000 years. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 3, 2022 at 10:14
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    $\begingroup$ Charcoal is not mined coal. Making charcoal involves partial combustion of biomass; I would think that any sulfur will be lost as sulfur dioxide gas. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 3, 2022 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP The technical name for the "charcoalification process" is "pyrolytic carburisation" by the way, usually it's just "charcoal making", and yes the sulfur does burn off as a gas, (due to the low oxygen conditions more often disulfur monoxide than the dioxide though), along with the nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and phosphorus. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Jan 4, 2022 at 2:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash: Charcoalification was intended to be humorous. I can see it failed. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 4, 2022 at 2:25
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    $\begingroup$ Nor is there any reason to prefer dragon charcoal over far easier to acquire tree charcoal. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 4, 2022 at 3:19

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