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Inspired by Where did the great houses get their Valyrian steel blades from?, what is so special about Valyrian steel?

I have not read the books; I am planning on getting them before month's end, but in the meantime I was just curious as to what its significance is.

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Also, if you are interested, take a look at How many Valyrian steel swords are there at the beginning of GoT – Shevliaskovic Apr 8 '14 at 19:41
I already saw that question, definitely interesting stuff, thanks! – Mkalafut Apr 8 '14 at 19:42
I always felt that GRRM was inspired by the description of magic swords in Tad William's trilogy Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. – TLP Apr 8 '14 at 22:07
They are said to be very durable and remain sharp (probably magically) The blade was Valyrian steel, spell-forged and dark as smoke. Nothing held an edge like Valyrian steel. -Catelyn I, A Game of Thrones. – Mooz Feb 17 '15 at 2:54
Also related: Valyrian Roads – Mooz Feb 17 '15 at 2:56
up vote 25 down vote accepted

The main features are that they are stronger and lighter than normal steel blades. Also, the Valyrian steel has been lost along with Valyria, meaning that there only a few Valyrian Steel blades left in the world. There are only a few people in the world that can actually create a new blade from an existing Valyrian steel blade; thus making them extremely expensive.

Valyrian steel blades are lighter, stronger, and sharper than even the best castle-forged steel, and feature distinctive rippled patterns similar to Damascus steel.

Only the greatest weaponsmiths can reforge swords from existing Valyrian steel, but the secret of creating such an alloy was apparently lost with Valyria, making those remaining weapons highly treasured and extremely rare. The blacksmiths of Qohor claim to know how to reforge Valyrian steel, and Tobho Mott did reforge Ice at the request of the Lannisters, in King's Landing.

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Thanks for the information and the source! – Mkalafut Apr 8 '14 at 19:34

Valyrian Steel has many features that distinguish it from even the best castle-forged steel. Weapons made from Valyrian steel tend to be lighter, stronger, and sharper. It also keeps it's edge better than normal steel. Which is why it's such a desirable material for making weapons, and why the few remaining Valyrian steel weapons are highly regarded and passed down as precious family heirlooms.

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Sorry System, he beat you by literally seconds and had a bit more info so I have to go with his answer for now! Thanks for replying nonetheless! – Mkalafut Apr 8 '14 at 19:39
@Mkalafut - To the victor go the spoils lol – System Down Apr 8 '14 at 19:40

Valyrian Steel seems to have similar properties as Damascus Steel:

Damascus steel was a type of steel used in Middle Eastern swordmaking. [...] These swords are characterized by distinctive patterns of banding and mottling reminiscent of flowing water. Such blades were reputed to be tough, resistant to shattering and capable of being honed to a sharp, resilient edge.
The reputation and history of Damascus steel has given rise to many legends, such as the ability to cut through a rifle barrel or to cut a hair falling across the blade. [...] Production of these patterned swords gradually declined, ceasing by around 1750, and the process was lost to metalsmiths.

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Note that there are still people today questing to rediscover how to make Damascus Steel. You can find several claimants on youtube. Lots of people are trying to reverse-engineer it with the aid of things like electron microscopes too. This certainly seems like GRRM's attempt to invoke the mystique of Damascus Steel in his own universe. So it stands to reason that any details he hasn't supplied can be filled in by our knowledge of Damascus. In particular, its probably some special technique that manages to precipitate carbon nanotubes and/or cementite nanowires into the steel. – T.E.D. Jun 24 at 18:58
I'd highly recommend the Nova special on "the Secrets of the Viking Sword" where they talk about the famed "Ulfbert" swords made of higher quality steel that gave Vikings a decided edge in battle. They tested them and found the purity of the steel to be much superior to standard weapons of that era, and speculated that they were forged from Damascus steel. They had someone in Wisconsin attempt to forge high quality steel ingots using only technology available at that time. They succeeded. – Andrew Mattson Jul 6 at 21:05

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