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Kevin Coleman M.




PostPosted: Sun 30 Sep, 2012 5:56 pm    Post subject: Historical pommel and hilt material         Reply with quote

Hello all,
As I write this, it seems a silly or even obvious question, but one I need to ask all the same. I'm wondering if anyone has any information on the prevalence of iron being used for pommels and hilts on medieval swords as opposed to, say, steel. I was nosing through Albion's Next Gen line and saw that their Count is offered in either steel or bronze. It seemed odd to me, as unless I am very much mistaken, bronze is a much softer metal than steel. It further occurs to me that iron would be a less expensive option than steel, though wouldn't be as durable and would likely be heavier. I'm aware that bronze was in use, and likely iron as well, especially in the case of a Viking blade, but for a later example, I'm just not so sure.
Anyway, if anyone can tell me which tended to be used in historical examples, i'd be grateful.
Thanks much,
Kevin
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Sun 30 Sep, 2012 6:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Iron (not steel) tends to dominate historical hilts from roughly 1000-1500. If steel was used, I think it was of less quality than modern mild steels. Today's mild steels would tend to be harder than yesteryear's iron.

Some copper alloys approach the hardness levels of mild steel, if I'm not mistaken, and may best softer iron. While there are examples of guards made of copper alloys (brass or bronze), more use of those alloys seems to have been made in pommels, where hardness is less of a concern.

So iron would be very common, copper alloy pommel and iron guard (much?) less so, and copper alloy guard/pommel even more rare.

Most companies use mild steel because it is more durable than iron and is easier to cast to shape. Modern cast irons can be brittle, which isn't desirable of course.

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Kevin Coleman M.




PostPosted: Sun 30 Sep, 2012 6:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad,
That is very helpful; thank you. Do you happen to know why modern cast iron is so much more brittle than its medieval counterpart?
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Sun 30 Sep, 2012 6:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kevin Coleman M. wrote:
Chad,
That is very helpful; thank you. Do you happen to know why modern cast iron is so much more brittle than its medieval counterpart?


Others know more than me and probably could explain it better. I'll leave it to them. Happy

Happy

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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 30 Sep, 2012 6:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kevin Coleman M. wrote:
Chad,
That is very helpful; thank you. Do you happen to know why modern cast iron is so much more brittle than its medieval counterpart?

Cast iron and Iron are two different things.

Iron is the element Fe, with relatively few alloying impurities. Common forms are Wrought Iron (which has silica inclusions) and Bloomery iron

Steel is Iron with just the right about of Carbon. ~0.2% to about ~2% C (or a few other alloying elements not important for this discussion). When you hear about 1050 steel that is Iron with 0.50% Carbon, 1060 iron is 0.6% Carbon, 1075 is iron with 0.75% carbon, etc...

Cast Iron is Iron with A LOT of carbon. Like 2.1% or more.

Essentially carbon makes iron harder but more brittle. Add just enough and you get "Steel". Add too much and you get Cast Iron.

So in short, "Iron" is not "Cast Iron".

A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine
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Matthew P. Adams




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PostPosted: Sun 30 Sep, 2012 10:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wait what? I thought cast iron was iron that had been cast in a mold. It's iron with lots of carbon? So if I understand you correctly, take pure iron, add carbon get steel, add more carbon, get cast iron? This doesn't sound right, but then I've never looked into it before.
"We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training" Archilochus, Greek Soldier, Poet, c. 650 BC
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Sun 30 Sep, 2012 10:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Strange though it might sound, that's basically right.

However, you don't "add" carbon to make cast iron; it just happens when you smelt iron and melt it in the process. The liquid iron dissolves as much carbon in it as possible. This is the natural end-product if you melt the iron when smelting (i.e., when converting iron ore to metallic iron). Some of the carbon tends to form sheets of graphite when it cools, and the cast iron breaks very easily along those sheets. Drop-it-on-the-floor easily. (Well, you could add carbon to iron to make cast iron if you wanted to, but it isn't done that way.)

In a Medieval bloomery furnace, you have carbon (in the form of charcoal) and iron ore. You don't want to melt the iron. If making iron, just hot enough to convert the ore to metallic iron is enough. It's a spongy mass, with lots of slag trapped in. Hammer it, fold it, etc., to get rid of the slag. That's wrought iron.

If making steel, you need to get it hotter, so some of the carbon will diffuse into the iron quickly enough. Getting too hot so that it melts meant a serious failure - cast iron was a waste product.

The properties of cast iron are very different from that of steel (and wrought iron), so it's not called steel, despite being an iron-carbon alloy. It's properties are very different from wrought iron (and other low-carbon iron) as well. The name does confuse people, and it's pretty common to see "iron", "cast iron", and "wrought iron" being used interchangeably, even though they mean very different things.

These days, steel-making starts with cast iron, then uses oxygen to remove the excess carbon. When the carbon content is what you want, stop and pour. Unlike Medieval steel-making, this is done with molten iron/steel. Doing it this way, once you have a low carbon steel (i.e., mild steel), there isn't much point in lowering the carbon content even more, so mild steel is about as low carbon as commonly done.

If you want to cast steel, first make you steel, then melt it and cast it. If you melt it while smelting it, you get cast iron, since the smelter is full of carbon.

Cast iron could be and was used for steel-making in Medieval and earlier times, but not AFAIK in Europe. Mix 50/50 with iron pieces, heat in an enclosed crucible, and you get crucible steel with somewhere between 1 and 2% carbon. Done from early in the 1st millenium in Central Asia and China. The Chinese also developed methods for decarburising cast iron, also (early?) in the 1st millenium.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Oct, 2012 5:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Timo is correct. Its a result of the process. It was not done intentionally, atleast in Medieval Europe.

I was simplifying the concept and didn't want to get into the intricacies of the bloomery process, crucible steel, the Aristotle furnace, or the methods the Chinese used to decarburise cast iron to yield steel.

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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Oct, 2012 9:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And to the practical end. . . wrought iron is quite hard enough for hilt components. The same is true with bronze.

Today, wrought iron is more expensive than the mild steels as it is a specialty product. Some smiths make use of wrought iron from some source they have found- like antique leftovers from various sources. Some smiths don't source their wrought iron but make their own bloomery iron.

Quality iron makes for a more authentic recreation and IMO gives an attractive sheen which has more character than modern steels.


Last edited by Jeremy V. Krause on Mon 01 Oct, 2012 2:23 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Oct, 2012 10:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I love bronze/brass for fittings where it's historically accurate. It's easy to maintain, makes a nice contrast with the steel of the blade and I didn't have any problems with durability...
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Oct, 2012 1:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Does anybody have any Medieval prices for bronze and iron (and steel and copper) that can be compared with each other?

How much of a fraction of the total cost of a Medieval sword would be the materials for the pommel and cross?

Today, the cost is the labour and overheads, not the materials. But the material affects the labour and overheads costs. Casting versus cutting/grinding away unwanted material from a block of metal can be cheaper. Bronze is easy enough to cast (and brass, and zinc-aluminium alloy "pot metal" even easier), but casting steel is rather more challenging because the melting point is so much higher.

The early industrial transition from iron to brass for complex hilts was because casting can be much faster.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Matthew P. Adams




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Oct, 2012 8:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

So if it's a waste product, is cast iron refer to cast off, or castaway iron?

I'm really glad to have been in on this conversation! I had no idea that cast and wrought didn't refer to the process of shaping the end product. So is cast iron cookware and... I don't know, Christmas tree stands actually made from cast iron? Like I said I just figured those products were cast in a mold, hence made from cast iron.

"We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training" Archilochus, Greek Soldier, Poet, c. 650 BC
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Oct, 2012 9:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew P. Adams wrote:
So if it's a waste product, is cast iron refer to cast off, or castaway iron?

I'm really glad to have been in on this conversation! I had no idea that cast and wrought didn't refer to the process of shaping the end product. So is cast iron cookware and... I don't know, Christmas tree stands actually made from cast iron? Like I said I just figured those products were cast in a mold, hence made from cast iron.

Its called "cast iron" because it can be melted and poured into a mold. As Timo mentioned, with wrought iron you do not let it get hot enough to completely liquify, thus it cannot be poured into a mold.

A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine
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