Sword that’s a cut above
QUESTION Are Samurai Katana swords made of steel folded 1,000 times?
Japanese sword makers ( Katana kaji) didn’t fold steel 1,000 times. However, each fold increased the number of steel layers exponentially. Thus, by folding the steel ten times they would get 1,024 layers (ie 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 508, 1,024). The hardened edge of the best Katana were folded 15 times (32,768 layers).
The sword has been the symbol of Japanese martial strength and beauty for 1,700 years, with the curved Katana at the pinnacle. swordsmiths required an apprenticeship of 25 years to master their art. The finest blades were made from Tamahagane, which means precious steel, in a process that was complex and time-consuming.
The iron was extracted from black-iron sand called Satetsu and smelted in a large clay mould called a Tatara. The smith would repeatedly heat, hammer and chill the sword to remove impurities. each reheating made the bonding more stable.
While hot and pliable, the steel was drawn into an elongated shape in preparation for the folding process ( Orikawashi). The finest blades used a composite of three types of steel.
The first layer required five folds (32 layers) to create a soft steel ( Shigane) with shock-absorbing qualities to form the spine of the blade. The second layer was folded ten times (1,024 layers) to produce a medium steel ( Kawagane) to form a flexible, protective layer. The third layer was folded 15 times (32,768 layers) to make a hard steel ( Hagane) for the cutting edge.
The final step was forging ( Kitae) the three layers together, which was the true measure of the swordmaker’s skill. There were a variety of structural combinations, the most famous being Soshu Kitae, mastered by the 14th-century Japanese smith Masamune. The key was to consistently position the cutting edge.
To give the sword its legendary cutting ability, a special clay slurry was coated on the surface of the blade, a process called Tsuchioki, then it was repeatedly heated and chilled.
A. T. Cowan, Salisbury, Wilts.
QUESTION Does swatting a bee cause the rest of the hive to attack you?
Honey bee society is controlled by pheromones — chemicals released by an individual that affect the behaviour of fellow bees.
Bees sting to defend themselves and their hives if they feel threatened. This releases an alarm pheromone that can encourage other bees to attack, but only if you are near the swarm or hive.
Two main alarm pheromones have been identified in honey bee workers. The one that causes aggression is released by the Koschevnikov gland, near the sting shaft, and consists of more than 40 volatile chemical compounds. The other alarm pheromone is released by the mandibular glands and consists of 2-heptanone, which has repellent effect. Wasps and ants release similar compounds.
Don’t panic if you are stung. Move cautiously if you are in the vicinity of a hive. When stung, beekeepers will smoke the area to mask the alarm pheromones.
Sally Rodgers, Martlesham, Suffolk.
QUESTION Can we feel it when someone is watching us?
THERE is evidence that our brains are wired to detect staring — provided we see it. evidence for telepathically detecting a gaze, known as the psychic staring effect or scopaesthesia, is unproven.
edward Titchener, a professor of psychology at Cornell University in new york, famously tested the ability to detect unseen staring.
He published his results in science in 1898, categorically concluding that people can’t telepathically detect when they are being stared at, although many believe they can. a 1913 study by John e. Coover asked ten subjects to state whether or not they could sense a hidden experimenter looking at them. The subjects’ answers were correct 50.2 per cent of the time, suggesting it was pure chance.
parapsychologist rupert sheldrake carried out infamous experiments in the 2000s. He reported that a number of people could telepathically detect a gaze and attributed this to a so- called morphogenetic field. His methodology has since been brought into question.
spotting a starer does have a powerful effect. It’s thought there is a neural network in the brain dedicated to the processing of gaze. The ability to precisely detect the target of a starer’s gaze may confer an evolutionary advantage by improving threat detection capabilities and non-verbal communication.
Brian Ricks, Cambridge.
QUESTION Where were the first shots of World War II fired?
FURTHER to the earlier answer, historians will tell you that at dawn on september 1, 1939, the German battleship schleswig-Holstein opened fire on the polish fort at Westerplatte, which guarded Danzig (Gdansk) harbour. But my uncle sid reckoned he got there first!
German soldiers had been coming across the border in dribs and drabs for a week or two, bent on disruption and starting trouble, he told me many years later at his bungalow near preston.
Sid — whose polish name was Zygmunt Morawski — was in a makeshift bar on august 31, 1939, when a couple of ‘visitors’ started roughing up a polish lass. Uncle sid said he ‘politely’ told them to stop. one of them pulled a gun. Big mistake. Uncle sid pulled out his gun, which was rather bigger, and got his shot in first. all hell broke out — as did World War II a few hours later.
‘I didn’t hang around,’ he smiled. off he went through Hungary and yugoslavia, eventually ending up flying out of Blackpool with the polish air Force with his brother Bob. They married two of my dad’s sisters and stayed on after the war. sid was godfather to my son.
He was a great character and I’m proud to have known him.
Harold Heys, Darwen, Lancs.
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