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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Modern enhancements to medieval weaponry. Reply to topic
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Nicholas Kincurd





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PostPosted: Mon 01 Dec, 2008 9:56 am    Post subject: Modern enhancements to medieval weaponry.         Reply with quote

It's all too common, to introduce the same old designs, but with stronger steel (on average). That can be hard to tell, but I'd venture to guess that modern reproductions tend to be sturdier on average, especially when it comes to 'functional' Japanese blades, or anything that imitates the pattern-welded steel, but is actually made by stock-removal.

The quality of the steel is always the first to be enhanced. Why is that? It seems like when one is collecting replicas as opposed to antiques, they will always have function in the back of their mind, in some cases for people, function comes before authenticity (which seems kind of silly, since generally no one will ever have to use the thing.) Antiques are considered fragile, so why do replicas have to be so sturdy? I'm not pointing fingers, or anything, because I suffer from that starting budget collector's syndrome that cannot afford even century-old antique swords, and instead looks to functional (but unused) reproductions (in my case, I haven't even graduated from the ranks of Hanwei and Windlass; but my next purchase is planned to be from A&A armor.com - which I feel is a big step up from the former two).

There is of course, re-enactment, which can demand functional practice weapons, but even then, the re-enactment generally bans truly effective technique in one on one sparring. Practitioners of the flail and shield-bashing maneuvers are best left to bashing dummies or other non-living objects. I'm hard-pressed to find people who would teach the use of the flail and mace. It seems like the way to learn is perhaps through hard manual labor like threshing corn and mining.

It got me thinking of what kind of enhancements to Maces and Flails that could be made. The warhammer is quite similar to our modern workaday hammers, so with that in mind, we have a good start there. The flail however, is another story. Barring the giant mine flails of WWII, I can't think of any modern enhancements and uses of the flail. Even the farming flail is mostly in disuse these days.

I feel, that there's a little bit of post-apocalyptic (or civil unrest) preparation in all of us. The first measure is guns of course, if your government allows it, and secondly, weapons that don't need ammo, like knives, swords, and blunt objects.

With that in mind (and forgive me if this is too off-topic), I think there might be a revitalization of the flail.

If I were to make a flail, taking advantage of modern materials, I think I would use a motorcycle chain (preferably one with the highest tensile strength available. Something in the neighborhood of 10,000 lbs). This would allow more concise striking, without as much wild flailing after it hits something. The advantages of the chain would still be there, but it could only swing back and forth, which I feel would enable it to do more good than harm. Also, I'm not entirely convinced a chain similar to this didn't exist when flails were used in war. I do know enhancements to the chain-link were made. Whatever the case is, it is much more common to see regular old links on flails (only exception I can think of immediately, is a type of german flail with a twisting figure-eight link).

The business end could remain the same, or be changed to something more matching, like sort of a gear disc, with sharp teeth, which would be even friendlier to the user, since the sides wouldn't scrape you as much.

The strictly back-and-forth motion of the chain might seem limiting, but generally, different types of swings would warrant different wrist-positioning anyway.

Of course, the length of the chain would be dependent on preference and style, as well as the shaft. I tend to favor the chains that are just long enough to not allow the ball to hit your hand on the shaft when it swings down; at least in from a theoretical perspective. Also, I would probably want to have the option for two-handed use, but maybe not a 6-foot staff.

Anyway, just some thoughts I've been having about the flail, and modern, 'tactical' application. Which again, I'm not sure a similar style of flail is entirely non-existent in historical application; but uncertain enough
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Dec, 2008 1:22 pm    Post subject: Re: Modern enhancements to medieval weaponry.         Reply with quote

Nicholas Kincurd wrote:
It's all too common, to introduce the same old designs, but with stronger steel (on average). That can be hard to tell, but I'd venture to guess that modern reproductions tend to be sturdier on average, especially when it comes to 'functional' Japanese blades, or anything that imitates the pattern-welded steel, but is actually made by stock-removal.

The quality of the steel is always the first to be enhanced. Why is that? It seems like when one is collecting replicas as opposed to antiques, they will always have function in the back of their mind, in some cases for people, function comes before authenticity (which seems kind of silly, since generally no one will ever have to use the thing.)
Perhaps you could name someone who could supply authentic bloomery iron to the sword market? It can be obtained but it is rare and expensive and few people have the skill to work it. It does not handle the same as modern steel.
Quote:
Antiques are considered fragile
Perhaps because they are hundreds of years old and worth thousands of dollars.

Quote:
so why do replicas have to be so sturdy? I'm not pointing fingers, or anything, because I suffer from that starting budget collector's syndrome that cannot afford even century-old antique swords, and instead looks to functional (but unused) reproductions (in my case, I haven't even graduated from the ranks of Hanwei and Windlass; but my next purchase is planned to be from A&A armor.com - which I feel is a big step up from the former two).


I don't know which swordmakers you use but the best replicas are exact copies of surviving examples except made from modern steels. There are a number of swordsmiths who are capable of this. The only reason you'd need to make a sword from bloomery iron is if you are conducting an experimental archaeology project. Modern steel is perfectly acceptable if you are attempting to recreate the weight and feel of museum examples.
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I Sam





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PostPosted: Mon 01 Dec, 2008 2:05 pm    Post subject: Re: Modern enhancements to medieval weaponry.         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Perhaps you could name someone who could supply authentic bloomery iron to the sword market?


For the metallurgically uninitiated/ignorant among us (e.g., me) could someone explain what "bloomery iron" and is and its pertency to sword making? I did a quick google search, but don't have the gumption to sift through dozens of pages of what is likely either mis-informed garbage, or too metallurgically technical for our (read: "my") easy understanding, or simply does not pertain to sword-making.

Also, as Nicholas alluded to in the OP (at least, I think he alluded to it; hard to tell in his rambling post about motorcycle chains and post-apocalyptic home-made weaponry Wink ) is it indeed the case, as it seems it must be, that modern steel and methods can potentially create a sturdier, hardier, lighter, more agile sword than way back in the day?

Finally, and here's where I might be getting just plain silly: What about titanium - or any other more modern metal for that matter -for a sword blade? I mean, my bike, even down to the spokes, is made of titanium, I have retained hardware holding my leg together that is titanium, i even have a whisky flask made of titanium. I would think that titanium would make a pretty kick[butt] blade. But then, as I admitted above, my metallurgical knowledge is pathetically, woefully, lacking.

(Oh, the ignorance!)
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Pierre T.




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Dec, 2008 4:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Titanium is not a good sword making material. There are two reasons for this: One, it's not hard enough. Second, while titanium is stronger than steel per weight, it's weaker than steel per volume. To put this in simplistic term, to be equally as strong as a steel sword, a titanium sword would be very "fat"
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Dec, 2008 8:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's also not very dense. It's actually harder than steel, but it's also more brittle. It has less mass per unit of volume, which means two exactly the same swords in the different materials will weigh considerably different. Keep in mind that Force is the product of a bodies mass and its acceleration. You can only move something so fast, so given that the acceleration is the same, the one with the higher mass (steel) will yield more force.

End product of any weapon is to bring more force per square unit than flesh can resist, therefor compromising the bodies structural integrity.

M.

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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Dec, 2008 8:47 pm    Post subject: Re: Modern enhancements to medieval weaponry.         Reply with quote

I Sam wrote:
Dan Howard wrote:
Perhaps you could name someone who could supply authentic bloomery iron to the sword market?


For the metallurgically uninitiated/ignorant among us (e.g., me) could someone explain what "bloomery iron" and is and its pertency to sword making? I did a quick google search, but don't have the gumption to sift through dozens of pages of what is likely either mis-informed garbage, or too metallurgically technical for our (read: "my") easy understanding, or simply does not pertain to sword-making.

Iron smelted in small furnaces called "bloomeries", about 1-2 m tall and with a hearth up to 50 cm across. They are too small to melt the iron, unlike modern furnaces, so the product has to be repeatedly heated and hammered to reduce the slag content. Bloomery iron has more slag in it than modern steels (which supposedly makes it somewhat rust-resistant and easier to hammer-weld) and the carbon content is often unevenly distributed.
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F. Carl Holz




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PostPosted: Tue 02 Dec, 2008 5:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

perosnally I would object to being asked to use a flail as described in the first post. I have no formal training, but have spared several times with a flail before and the part about it that I really enjoyed was that I could make it go any where. using a motorcycle chain as described would limit that.
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I Sam





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PostPosted: Tue 02 Dec, 2008 6:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks, Sean. Clear and concise explanation that even I can understand.
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Nicholas Kincurd





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PostPosted: Tue 02 Dec, 2008 2:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I found some good information relating to that under the 'manufacture' section at Wikipedia, under their Gladius article. Quite informative.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gladius

I didn't mean to say that using superior methods of sword manufacture is unacceptable or anything like that. One would be very hard pressed to buy a gladius from 200 B.C., and also to duplicate it's manufacture precisely. I don't think anyone goes through the pains to reproduce a gladius like that, when we can more conveniently make something affordable, and even more durable.

Having it made traditionally, would be a lot like having a Japanese licensed swordsmith forge a blade for you as detailed in The Craft of the Japanese Sword; where cost and unnecessary work prior to even the forge is involved.

There would certainly be a market for that, but the reason that sort of thing can thrive there is that it's strictly regulated to be done that way. Of course, you are all aware of that. But anyhow, the difference would be hundreds of dollars spent on an Albion Gladius and thousands (10s of perhaps) spent on that purely traditional blade.

Anyway, I'm not criticizing the use of modern techniques and enhancements in a negative way. I was merely leading up to my motorcycle-chain flail, as sort of a less subtle enhancement (which may fit into that 'tactical' category).

Yes it wouldn't exactly be the same weapon. Consider the fact it would even be preferably to a farmer to use such a chain on their flail though, for the purely back and forth motion used for threshing. No doubt, the flail must have started as a peasant weapon, and they wouldn't want it any other way, having life-long practice with the flail. I don't think the different style of chain would restrict the useability. Wrist action is what determines the way you swing. To each his own though.

I use the term 'motorcycle' chain hesitantly, because I know their are least fixed-motion chains from that day, for use with other things (maybe not weapons though). Using that kind of chain would be convenient for me, as someone who might try and make something for himself at home, with junk-yard parts, rather than commissioning a fully custom piece from a willing maker (plenty of sword makers, but it might be hard to find someone to make such a unique flail from scratch).

I did not mean to say at any point that modern-day sword manufacture is in anyway wrong, or unjust to tradition.
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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Tue 02 Dec, 2008 2:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nicholas Kincurd wrote:
Anyway, I'm not criticizing the use of modern techniques and enhancements in a negative way. I was merely leading up to my motorcycle-chain flail, as sort of a less subtle enhancement (which may fit into that 'tactical' category).

Yes it wouldn't exactly be the same weapon. Consider the fact it would even be preferably to a farmer to use such a chain on their flail though, for the purely back and forth motion used for threshing. No doubt, the flail must have started as a peasant weapon, and they wouldn't want it any other way, having life-long practice with the flail. I don't think the different style of chain would restrict the useability. Wrist action is what determines the way you swing. To each his own though.


I somewhat doubt the chain or the attachment would hold all that well when impacts are involved. Any impact will make the chain twist somewhat, and I'm not sure motorcycle chains are meant to be subjected to this kind of stress. And even if the chain holds its own, it will transmit all the torque to the attachment, which might be shattered by the shock.

With a classical flail you don't have either of these problems. The impact will not break the chain nor the attachment. In fact that's the interest of a flail, very little effort is transmitted back to the shaft during impacts.

You see exactly that on peasant's flails, by the way. The chain is very short but can still bend in all directions. They could have gone for a simple hinge restricting to back and forth motion, but as far as I know they did not... There must be a reason.

More generally, I think any design improvement on these old designs will be difficult as we are far from being proficient with them. Design changes might have implications that we cannot see because we do not use the weapons...

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Nicholas Kincurd





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PostPosted: Tue 02 Dec, 2008 3:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yes it would definitely be experimental. As far as I know, the peasant's tool was usually just wood, and leather or rope used to link the two pieces of wood, affording no expense to the use of a chain.

Whatever the case is, it's purported usefulness and hindrance is all arm-chair philosophy until I can make something like this, and compare it to a traditional flail (preferably, with many variations).

The chain will definitely be strong though. How good it would be with side-impacts is yet to be seen. Even at the lower end of the tensile strength spectrum, at 7000lbs and less, we're looking at some extremely tough links though, as compared to conventional all-purpose chains.

In any case, I guess I'm just a bit enthusiastic at the concept, and eager to see if it's viable.
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Bryce Felperin




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PostPosted: Tue 02 Dec, 2008 5:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

For me a good example of modern enhancements to replica swords made today is the screw pommel nut.

I know a lot of you don't like them. Yes they're non-historical. Yes they do take away from a good peen look. However I think they do have a useful and functional purpose.

First of all they allow you to tighten down the hilt if pieces start coming loose. On a well made sword this shouldn't happen, but you do have wood grips, leather binding and cord wrap on sword hilts. This does tend to shrink over time. So the ability to tighten it down if it does shrink is most useful. I have seen many antiques and older replicas where this has occurred. On peened weapons it is an annoyance if you're guard rattles or your pommel rotates. At least it for me!

The second use for this innovation is that it allows you take the hilt apart for cleaning and polishing of the individual parts. Not a small consideration if you're trying to get that errant rust spot between the guard and grip or those dirt specks around the grip.

The third and last bit of use for this modern enhancement is that you can, if you choose to in the future, change out hilt components if they are damaged or you want to replace them with new ones. Many historical swords had new hilts and guards added to them after the blades were cast, and I suspect many an old sword had new modern hilt components put on to replace older style guards or pommels to newer style components. Makes sense they would recycle rather than make a new sword if they could.

So yes, it may be non-historical, but pommel screw nuts are damn useful for us. The alternative is to un-peen your prized sword if you need to replace hilt furniture, and you need a skilled smith/armorer for that. I'd rather be able to do it myself.

Bryce
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Tue 02 Dec, 2008 7:52 pm    Post subject: Re: Modern enhancements to medieval weaponry.         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:

Perhaps you could name someone who could supply authentic bloomery iron to the sword market? It can be obtained but it is rare and expensive and few people have the skill to work it. It does not handle the same as modern steel.


There are several hobbyists and artisans that smelt iron. It is soft, i.e. low in carbon from the process of being "wrought" to drive out the slag, and requires carburization for applications requiring a temper. If the Smith is qualified to do heat treating the tasks required should be within their skill level. Patrick Barta performs the a lot of the process himself, and provides photographs of the smelting part on his web site. http://www.templ.net/english/making-welded_steel.php

The modern improvement in actual pattern welded blades seems to be the use of power hammers for welded and piled construction. It cuts down on the time, loss of carbon through diffusion, and today usually uses good modern alloys for the various layers, and borax fluxes. Power hammers (water wheel powered Catalan forges) were also used near the end of the medieval era, but they chose to make more economical and homogeneous alloy steel with lower risk of weld failures and the best available alloy performance. Not really that different than the route most of us choose today.

Medieval era peoples created legends about and sought out and the German pattern welded blades, more consistent quality of their later homogeneous steels, and the Damascus and Spanish steels depending upon time, and who's technology was believed to be highest in quality at that time. Some percentage of them probably did not care that much, but I doubt it was a majority.

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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Wed 03 Dec, 2008 1:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nicholas Kincurd wrote:
The chain will definitely be strong though. How good it would be with side-impacts is yet to be seen. Even at the lower end of the tensile strength spectrum, at 7000lbs and less, we're looking at some extremely tough links though, as compared to conventional all-purpose chains.


Well it's only tensile strength though, as far as I understand it just represents how much you can pull on the chain before it breaks, but it doesn't say much about how it behaves in torsion. These chains are not designed to endure torsion at all... Actually I remember playing with such a chain in Lego Technic, and breaking it with torsion was easy, much more than in traction.

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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Wed 03 Dec, 2008 4:43 am    Post subject: Re: Modern enhancements to medieval weaponry.         Reply with quote

Sean Manning wrote:
Iron smelted in small furnaces called "bloomeries", about 1-2 m tall and with a hearth up to 50 cm across. They are too small to melt the iron, unlike modern furnaces,
Oh they can melt it quite easily. In fact, you have to be really careful not to overheat these furnaces, or you only end up with cast iron. They may not reach the temperature to melt pure iron, but the carbon rich environment lowers the surface melting temperature of the iron, so that it melts at much lower temperatures and resulting into cast iron. There's evidence that they experienced that in the past, as some furnaces are found with cast iron cakes in them (abandoned as they knew it had gone wrong).
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Wed 03 Dec, 2008 5:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

M. Eversberg II wrote:
It's also not very dense. It's actually harder than steel, but it's also more brittle. It has less mass per unit of volume, which means two exactly the same swords in the different materials will weigh considerably different.

You're probably thinking of titanium oxide or something. Titanium is not brittle at all, and actually quite soft and weak. Titanium alloys (which is what's used in high strength structures) can be a lot stronger and harder, but still no match for steel.
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Wed 03 Dec, 2008 8:41 am    Post subject: Re: Modern enhancements to medieval weaponry.         Reply with quote

Jeroen Zuiderwijk wrote:
Sean Manning wrote:
Iron smelted in small furnaces called "bloomeries", about 1-2 m tall and with a hearth up to 50 cm across. They are too small to melt the iron, unlike modern furnaces,
Oh they can melt it quite easily. In fact, you have to be really careful not to overheat these furnaces, or you only end up with cast iron. They may not reach the temperature to melt pure iron, but the carbon rich environment lowers the surface melting temperature of the iron, so that it melts at much lower temperatures and resulting into cast iron. There's evidence that they experienced that in the past, as some furnaces are found with cast iron cakes in them (abandoned as they knew it had gone wrong).

Could I have some references for that? All the academic sources I have read claim that Europeans couldn't consistently melt iron before the invention of the blast furnace and the finery (which removes carbon from cast iron to turn it into steel). This wouldn't be the first time that experiments proved historians wrong, but I'd at least like something to cite!
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Nicholas Kincurd





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PostPosted: Wed 03 Dec, 2008 9:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I still believe that type of chain would hold up just fine in plausible situations. Now, if it were caught on a flat surface, and someone chopped it with their poleaxe, I have my doubts it would hold up, but at that point, you're lucky they don't chop off your arm instead.

The biggest question would be if it could last through a battle. If the chain is struck from the side, your arm or grip is more likely to give way, before it's cut through. 10,000lbs of Tensile Strength isn't directly representative of torsional strength, but in the case of a motorcycle chain, we're looking at very thick roller chain, with very high quality heat treated steel; since tensile strength is a standard representative of the overall quality, it would only be natural to at least look for the chain with the highest rating in that department, and follow-up with your own tests.

I think it would hold up quite well. Even a regular small-bike motorcycle chain.

In discussing it though, I can see why this type of flail was non-existent during the flails hayday. Producing roller chain of enough strength to survive warfare, was probably impossible back then. Of course it wouldn't have to be a roller-chain, like Da Vinci drew out for use with sprockets, but just any fixed-motion chain.
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Wed 03 Dec, 2008 11:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Vincent Le Chevalier wrote:

You see exactly that on peasant's flails, by the way. The chain is very short but can still bend in all directions. They could have gone for a simple hinge restricting to back and forth motion, but as far as I know they did not... There must be a reason.

More generally, I think any design improvement on these old designs will be difficult as we are far from being proficient with them. Design changes might have implications that we cannot see because we do not use the weapons...


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Rhof-flegeldreschen.ogg

Pretty much why it can bend all around. You get more velocity into the swing this way.

Jeroen Zuiderwijk wrote:
M. Eversberg II wrote:
It's also not very dense. It's actually harder than steel, but it's also more brittle. It has less mass per unit of volume, which means two exactly the same swords in the different materials will weigh considerably different.

You're probably thinking of titanium oxide or something. Titanium is not brittle at all, and actually quite soft and weak. Titanium alloys (which is what's used in high strength structures) can be a lot stronger and harder, but still no match for steel.


You're probably right, since you've got the experience with metallurgy. I've been told that the type of titanium we use in a variety of different applications is relatively brittle because of its hardness. I own a ring of titanium, and it's pretty hard, but I'm not exactly willing to destroy it to find out.

M.

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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 03 Dec, 2008 2:52 pm    Post subject: Re: Modern enhancements to medieval weaponry.         Reply with quote

Sean Manning wrote:
Jeroen Zuiderwijk wrote:
Sean Manning wrote:
Iron smelted in small furnaces called "bloomeries", about 1-2 m tall and with a hearth up to 50 cm across. They are too small to melt the iron, unlike modern furnaces,
Oh they can melt it quite easily. In fact, you have to be really careful not to overheat these furnaces, or you only end up with cast iron. They may not reach the temperature to melt pure iron, but the carbon rich environment lowers the surface melting temperature of the iron, so that it melts at much lower temperatures and resulting into cast iron. There's evidence that they experienced that in the past, as some furnaces are found with cast iron cakes in them (abandoned as they knew it had gone wrong).

Could I have some references for that? All the academic sources I have read claim that Europeans couldn't consistently melt iron before the invention of the blast furnace and the finery (which removes carbon from cast iron to turn it into steel). This wouldn't be the first time that experiments proved historians wrong, but I'd at least like something to cite!


Some possible points of confusion. Bloom/ blommery was the ferrous material that came out of the furnace. The "blast style" furnace started reaching "common place" popularity near the end of the medieval era. Some earlier furnaces (German) had unique updraft geometry that made them perform very well, although, they probably did not know that it was the geometry of their furnaces that resulted in superior grade steel that they produced in those earlier centuries. Neighboring forges existing at the same time were not the same geometrically, and did not match the quality of the better ones. http://www.uni-muenster.de/UrFruehGeschichte/kier1.htm Trial and error duplication of the designs that worked eventually resulted in a fairly consistent design approach. Through simple internet search, you should be able to find several academic articles on the high quality steels that seemed to be achieved consistently from a few of the early German furnaces, as well as diagrams and descriptions of the furnace designs.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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