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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Mon 14 Aug, 2017 4:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Swords were rarely the primary weapon. Usually they only came into play after the main weapons, such as spears, could no longer be used. No sword can cut through armour so it only has to contend with flesh, and it doesn't have to be particularly sharp to do that. Edge retention and durability aren't much of an issue either. A sword only has to last for a single battle. Afterwards it can be resharpened and straightened. Whether a person uses a bronze sword or a differentially-hardened spring steel sword will make little difference to the outcome of a battle. The desire for these weapons was more likely driven by fashion and the conspicuous consumption that Matt mentioned. How many people here want to own a wootz or pattern-welded sword even after learning that modern steels are functionally superior?
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Pedro Paulo Gaião




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PostPosted: Mon 14 Aug, 2017 7:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I might add to this discussion something that I recently learn at college during lessons about predial installations, perhaps we might draw a parallel with ancient times given the proper differences.

Copper, although it has a lower point of melting, costs nowadays at least two times the same price of iron; sometimes, even three times depending on what you want with it. Keeping costs and offer in mind, today engineers usually choose iron over copper, and the explanation of such prices is basically because iron is a way more abundant material than copper is. It's a well known fact since the Industrial Revolution, but it's not likely it was older than that.

Most of medieval and modern machinery employed iron instead of any other material, probably because it was so more easier to find (and perhaps way more stronger than copper alloys) that it became the obvious choice for smiths and warrior to choose one over the other. When you see copper at these times, it's mostly decorative instead of funcional stuff (with the exception of music instruments and so).

Bronze being worn as armor during Iron Age it's a known fact (if we take Old Testament's descriptions of the Israelite King's armor and the one of Goliath as examples, but they aren't the only ones). I belive the reason why they used bronze is basically because it was softer and easier to shape in the way a smith likes, something not so easily done with iron (all the roman musculatas I know were made of bronze too).

-----

Dan Howard wrote:
Swords were rarely the primary weapon. Usually they only came into play after the main weapons, such as spears, could no longer be used. No sword can cut through armour so it only has to contend with flesh, and it doesn't have to be particularly sharp to do that. Edge retention and durability aren't much of an issue either. A sword only has to last for a single battle. Afterwards it can be resharpened and straightened. Whether a person uses a bronze sword or a differentially-hardened spring steel sword will make little difference to the outcome of a battle. The desire for these weapons was more likely driven by fashion and the conspicuous consumption that Matt mentioned. How many people here want to own a wootz or pattern-welded sword even after learning that modern steels are functionally superior?


Can you reforge or repair a proper iron weapon without rendering it useless? By the way, can a strong sword cut into bronze or iron scale armor? I know that's impossible with mail, at least.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Tue 15 Aug, 2017 6:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pedro Paulo Gaião wrote:
...Most of medieval and modern machinery employed iron instead of any other material, probably because it was so more easier to find (and perhaps way more stronger than copper alloys) that it became the obvious choice for smiths and warrior to choose one over the other. When you see copper at these times, it's mostly decorative instead of funcional stuff (with the exception of music instruments and so).


Basically agreed. I wouldn't quite say that copper was "hard to find", since the sources of ore were well known from very ancient times, and obviously still producing quite well. BUT they were only in a couple places! Most of the world had to import copper and tin, which added to the cost right off the bat. Iron was available all over the place. And that certainly starts to matter once you get into heavier production or mass production. But it wasn't as relevant at the end of the Bronze Age.

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Bronze being worn as armor during Iron Age it's a known fact (if we take Old Testament's descriptions of the Israelite King's armor and the one of Goliath as examples, but they aren't the only ones). I belive the reason why they used bronze is basically because it was softer and easier to shape in the way a smith likes, something not so easily done with iron (all the roman musculatas I know were made of bronze too).


Well, all those Classical Greek hoplites are wearing bronze armor in the Iron Age, for starters! Just why it took so long for iron *armor* to become common after iron *weapons* had taken over, is a tougher question. It does seem to be something about workability, but bronze was *not* softer, nor easy to work into sheet items. From the latest I've been hearing from various smiths and armorers, working wrought iron out thin enough for armor is problematic in several ways. The thinner the metal gets, the quicker it cools, so you potentially spend a lot more time heating than hammering. And every heat oxidizes the metal so you lose metal to scaling. Solutions can include folding or layering sheets to hold the heat better as you hammer them out, and things like power hammers to speed up the process. It may be easier to hammer out higher-carbon alloys cold (with annealing as necessary), but at first those weren't available. So it took a couple centuries into the Iron Age to conquer iron armor production and make it a viable option. The earliest bits I know of are actually Thracian, c. 500 BC. There are 3 surviving iron cuirasses (2 at least are Macedonian) from the 4th century BC.

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Can you reforge or repair a proper iron weapon without rendering it useless?


I suppose it depends on the damage! "Reforging" would basically be making a new weapon from the old one, no idea how often that might have been attempted. Simple bends should not have been hard to correct, and damage to the cutting edge might have been hammered or filed out.

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By the way, can a strong sword cut into bronze or iron scale armor? I know that's impossible with mail, at least.


I doubt anyone tried very often. Any armor can be penetrated if it is hit hard enough in the right way, but the chances of doing that with an ancient sword are almost nil.

Matthew
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Tue 15 Aug, 2017 8:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:

I suppose it depends on the damage! "Reforging" would basically be making a new weapon from the old one, no idea how often that might have been attempted. Simple bends should not have been hard to correct, and damage to the cutting edge might have been hammered or filed out.


Filing away minor nicks in a blade and resharpening works most of the time, rolled edges sometimes hammered back true to the edges.

Major damage would be more of a problem, maybe removing all of the hilt furniture and forging in a piece of steel to fix a major and deep notch in a blade might be possible, but this would mean first annealing the entire blade and then re-heat treating the blade I think.

Often best to just junk the steel and reuse it as raw material for a new sword ?

With copper and bronze a bent blade can often be straitened and a seriously damaged bronze sword could be melted down and used with other scrap or freshly made bronze recast into a new sword ....bronze is very recyclable.

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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Tue 15 Aug, 2017 3:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Every time you melt bronze you lose some of the tin. Some of the extant weapons we have with unusually low levels of tin may have been a result of recycling.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Tue 15 Aug, 2017 4:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Every time you melt bronze you lose some of the tin. Some of the extant weapons we have with unusually low levels of tin may have been a result of recycling.


Good to know, I would assume that scrap bronze remelted for casting would have to be sorted out as to the remaining percentage of tin, or any other desirable percentages of other alloying elements chosen for the intended purpose of the new object being cast.

Would they in period be able to tell how much tin would have to be added to the melt to compensate for the lost tin ?

If not possible to tell in period maybe multiple cycles of melting to remove almost all of the tin and return to near pure copper, and then adding in a known quantity of tin for the final pour ?

I assume that the percentage of added tin needed would have a wide enough margin of error that being in error about the percentage of tin remaining in the scrap bronze wouldn't be too critical ?

http://www.bronze-age-swords.com/intro.htm

From the above link it seems that the percentage of tin might be between 8% to 12%, so an error in estimating how much fresh tin to add to recycled bronze of 1% or less might not be significant ?

Dan, by the way the above is intended more as questions and not as a statement of facts, and I realize that this is in your area of expertise. Cool

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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Tue 15 Aug, 2017 6:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Well, all those Classical Greek hoplites are wearing bronze armor in the Iron Age, for starters! Just why it took so long for iron *armor* to become common after iron *weapons* had taken over, is a tougher question. It does seem to be something about workability, but bronze was *not* softer, nor easy to work into sheet items. From the latest I've been hearing from various smiths and armorers, working wrought iron out thin enough for armor is problematic in several ways. The thinner the metal gets, the quicker it cools, so you potentially spend a lot more time heating than hammering.


... which means that a big advantage of bronze is that it's cold-forged. This could make large thin pieces (like a cuirass) easier to work. Of course, room-temperature bronze is much harder than hot iron, so the actual forging is harder. But handling the armour while working it is much easier, and you don't have to worry about it cooling down.

AFAIK, the annealing temperature (for when you heat and quench when it has work-hardened) is lower than the forging temperature for iron, so fuel costs might be lower, too.

"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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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Tue 15 Aug, 2017 11:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One thing I was postulating about today regarding why large plate iron defenses were so late coming is anvil and forge sizes. To work something like a breastplate, you're likely going to need anvils larger than would have been otherwise ordinary for the time. That means expensive. You don't have this issue with anything cast, or anything made out of small bits (scales). Hammer capabilities may also not have been up to par.

Similarly, a large forge capable of working sizable areas of a plate is going to be fuel hungry I'd presume. This is probably less of an issue (if one at all) than a good hammering surface.

Dan Howard wrote:
Every time you melt bronze you lose some of the tin. Some of the extant weapons we have with unusually low levels of tin may have been a result of recycling.


What happens to it?

M.

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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Aug, 2017 5:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It vaporises.

It is possible to estimate the tin content by looking at the colour of the metal, but you can't do this till after it has solidified. I'm not aware of any way the ancients could tell the tin content while the alloy is molten.

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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Aug, 2017 6:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

M. Eversberg II wrote:
One thing I was postulating about today regarding why large plate iron defenses were so late coming is anvil and forge sizes. To work something like a breastplate, you're likely going to need anvils larger than would have been otherwise ordinary for the time. That means expensive. You don't have this issue with anything cast, or anything made out of small bits (scales). Hammer capabilities may also not have been up to par.


But they could make anything they wanted out of bronze long before any attempt in iron, so they clearly had all the tools they needed. There are Bronze Age shields 3 feet in diameter, much larger than any breastplate.

Timo, good points. Fuel use is an intriguing question, in part because the whole rhythym of forging bronze would be different from iron. With iron, speed is necessary to get as much work done as possibly while the metal is hot. For bronze, once you pull it out of the fire and quench it, there's no rush. Obviously the craftsman wouldn't just be puttering around at that point, he'd be working efficiently, but I would think that annealing a whole large piece (breastplate, e.g.) would give him quite a bit of hammering time before it all needed to be annealed again. Though the fire wouldn't need to be idly burning while he worked, since other pieces could be heating, and get quenched in turn by his assistants. Of course that happens with iron work, too, at least to a certain extent (hence, "Too many irons in the fire"!).

Curious!

Matthew
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Pedro Paulo Gaião




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PostPosted: Tue 22 Aug, 2017 8:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Every time you melt bronze you lose some of the tin. Some of the extant weapons we have with unusually low levels of tin may have been a result of recycling.


That's why the Portuguese had problems when re-melting bronze cannons at their african garrisons. Due to the lack of equipment support from Portugal, they were fighting with outdated cannons and weaponry, so they thought it would be simplier if they melt the older cannons to make the newest models instead of waiting the Crown to provide them. The remelted cannons were not as good as proper cannon using "fresh" material. Perhaps the reason was the tin's quantity after the process.
However, the Ottomans often melted hungarian churches' belts as materials for their cannons, so perhaps they might have been doing something different from the portuguese to achieve a better result, like actually employing professionals; or perhaps their cannons weren't as good as the ones imported from Hungary or Italy.


Last edited by Pedro Paulo Gaião on Thu 24 Aug, 2017 7:44 am; edited 1 time in total
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Tue 22 Aug, 2017 8:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pedro Paulo Gaião wrote:
Dan Howard wrote:
Every time you melt bronze you lose some of the tin. Some of the extant weapons we have with unusually low levels of tin may have been a result of recycling.


That's why the Portuguese had problems when re-melting bronze cannons at their african garrisons. Due to the lack of equipment support from Portugal, they were fighting with outdated cannons and weaponry, so they thought it would be simplier if they simply melted the older cannons to make the newest models instead of waiting the Crown to provide it. The remelted cannons were not as good as proper cannon using "fresh" material. Perhaps the reason was the tin's quantity after the process.
However, the Ottomans often melted hungarian churches' belts as materials for their cannons, so perhaps they might have been doing something different from the portuguese to achieve a better result, like actually employing professionals; or perhaps their cannons weren't as good as the ones imported from Hungary or Italy.


As I recall, "bell bronze" has a LOT of tin, probably more than you really want for cannons, and definitely too much for blades and armor. So losing some by recycling is not a problem.

Matthew
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M. Nordlund




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PostPosted: Wed 23 Aug, 2017 7:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are numerous sources of iron swords being bent back into shape, can this be done with weapons grade bronze as easily or is there a greater chance of breaking than with iron?
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Thu 24 Aug, 2017 5:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

M. Nordlund wrote:
There are numerous sources of iron swords being bent back into shape, can this be done with weapons grade bronze as easily or is there a greater chance of breaking than with iron?


It's a good question! And probably too many variables to be sure. Bronze swords can definitely be straightened out to a certain extent, but how often and how severely will depend on the alloy and other factors. Neil Burridge put one of his blades in a vise, bent it (with some difficulty) to a sharp right angle, then bent it back to vertical before it cracked.

My guess is that one would always *try* to straighten a bent sword. It's no good unless it's straight, and if it breaks, well, it needed replacing anyway!

Matthew
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Alan E




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PostPosted: Thu 24 Aug, 2017 7:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

M. Nordlund wrote:
There are numerous sources of iron swords being bent back into shape, can this be done with weapons grade bronze as easily or is there a greater chance of breaking than with iron?

See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngjMtzJ6xgQ. At 2:47 Ewart Park describes having bent the blade deliberately as part of the hardening process.
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4:40 he straightens a sleight bend. Later bends are shown to straighten themselves by reversing the edge in use.
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PostPosted: Thu 07 Sep, 2017 2:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pedro Paulo Gaião wrote:
Even when we talk about actual Middle Ages, iron was used as material when bronze or simply lead was actually the best choice: cannons were firstly made of iron, then started being made of bronze in 15th century, who was far more superior. For firearms, I actually saw examples of bronze-made ones, but for some reason they felt of favour.


Bronze wasn't always mechanically superior to iron for artillery tubes and firearm barrels. The main difference was that bronze was safer in the sense that bronze barrels tended to split open when they failed while iron barrels disintegrated explosively. The difference didn't seem to have mattered that much in individual firearms since the pressures involved were limited, but for larger artillery it would have been a fairly major concern. Even then iron started to become seriously competitive with bronze around the late 17th century as cheaper cast-iron tubes came onto the scene.
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PostPosted: Thu 07 Sep, 2017 3:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There's also the practical issue that bronze barrels were cast, and iron barrels were forged. Which might make one prefer one to the other (or cast iron, if cast iron and the techniques to cast barrels are available), depending on when and where one is making it, and the size of the gun. Ease of manufacture and cost can dictate choice of materials. If you choose inferior materials for such reasons, you might end up with a heavier gun (with thicker barrel walls).
"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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Pedro Paulo Gaião




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PostPosted: Wed 13 Sep, 2017 3:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
Pedro Paulo Gaião wrote:
Even when we talk about actual Middle Ages, iron was used as material when bronze or simply lead was actually the best choice: cannons were firstly made of iron, then started being made of bronze in 15th century, who was far more superior. For firearms, I actually saw examples of bronze-made ones, but for some reason they felt of favour.


Bronze wasn't always mechanically superior to iron for artillery tubes and firearm barrels. The main difference was that bronze was safer in the sense that bronze barrels tended to split open when they failed while iron barrels disintegrated explosively. The difference didn't seem to have mattered that much in individual firearms since the pressures involved were limited, but for larger artillery it would have been a fairly major concern. Even then iron started to become seriously competitive with bronze around the late 17th century as cheaper cast-iron tubes came onto the scene.


Well, the fist recorded mention of a handgun in Bohemia (1383) tell us about one of the "archers" who was fatally wounded when his handgun exploded in his hands. I also usually come across descriptions of early firearms being quite dangerous to the aimer and the one who lite the powder. Perhaps they fixed this much of this problem when they managed to get better iron tubes from casting processes. But in the 1500's manuscript describing Kaiser Maximilian I's arsenals, there are pictures of landsknecht using harquebuses with bronzes tubes (döppelhakkens also being made of bronze), so even by this time the material of the tube would be somehow important at least; and the few descriptions of Maximilian using an harquebus had bronze instead of iron ones.


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