When steel is heated to an austenizing temperature, the carbon begins to diffuse through the iron. The higher the temperature; the greater the rate of diffusion. At such high temperatures, carbon readily combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide, so the carbon can easily diffuse out of the steel and into the surrounding air. By the end of a blacksmithing job, the steel will be of a lower carbon content than it was prior to heating. Therefore, most blacksmithing operations are done as quickly as possible to reduce decarburization, preventing the steel from becoming too soft.
To produce the right amount of hardness in the finished product, the smith generally begins with steel that has a carbon content that is higher than desired. In ancient times, forging often began with steel that had a carbon content much too high for normal use. Most ancient forge-welding began with hypereutectoid steel, containing a carbon content sometimes well above 1.0%. Hypereutectoid steels are typically too brittle to be useful in a finished product, but by the end of forging the steel typically had a high carbon-content ranging from 0.8% (eutectoid tool-steel) to 0.5% (hypoeutectoid spring-steel).