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Old 12-19-2003, 05:45 PM
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Uses of Aluminum for medieval weapons and armor

OK, first of all I'm not a metallurgist or expert on medieval weapons, so feel free to correct any misunderstandings I might reveal. My understanding is that aluminum is a very common element, however it is almost always found in the form of aluminum oxide which is nearly impossible to smelt into metallic aluminum by conventional heat/chemical methods used for other ores. Instead it is smelted electrically.

Now, this means that until electric generators were in widespread use, there was no source of metallic aluminum. But suppose medieval or ancient smiths had access to large amounts of relatively cheap metallic aluminum? Time travellers, aliens, wizards, elves, let's not worry too much about the source, only that these smiths don't really know how to smelt aluminum ore themselves, they just get aluminum ingots and can do whatever they wish with them, so we don't have to postulate medieval electric power. So given that, what sorts of things would aluminum be most useful for, compared to steel? If you wish, you can expand back to the bronze age, or forward to the early age of gunpowder, but I'm primarily interested in aluminum as a replacement or supplement for steel, especially in warfare.

Aluminum is lighter than steel or bronze, but not as strong. I believe steel is harder, but steel is also more brittle. Therefore, aluminum wouldn't hold an edge as well as steel, but it wouldn't break as easily either. But could medieval techniques work with aluminum? You could pound aluminum into shape, but don't modern metalworkers need special torches to weld aluminum? If you couldn't weld the stuff, would it be worthwhile?

Given that, would aluminum make good armor? I believe aluminum is fairly ductile, could you make wire and then chain-mail armor from it? Would a full suit of aluminum high-medieval plate be any good? Would it be useful for simpler metal plates sewn over leather armor? How about for shields or helmets? Or would you have to increase the thickness of the armor to offset aluminum's weakness that you would get no net benefit?

How about for weapons? Aluminum arrowheads sound like a good idea. I don't know anyone who makes swords or knives out of aluminum today. Why is that? Is there any fundamental reason why aluminum edged weapons don't work well? Is aluminum just too soft? I suppose you could make things like very strong spear shafts out of aluminum tubes, but would making those tubes be too labor intensive for a medieval smith? If you HAD to make a weapon out of aluminum, what would be your best bet?

Also, how about simple gunpowder weapons? What would be the drawbacks of aluminum cannons or flintlocks? I know most early cannons where bronze or brass rather than steel, why was that, and would cheap aluminum have been an acceptable substitute for expensive bronze?

I guess I'm generally imaging two scenarios: a smith with a pile of iron ingots and a pile of aluminum ingots and what they would make in that case, and a smith with only a pile of aluminum ingots and what they would make then. If you had both aluminum and steel Would there ever be an occasion where it would make sense to reach for the aluminum rather than the steel?
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Old 12-19-2003, 06:03 PM
Roches Roches is offline
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Aluminum chainmail certainly does exist. It's quite malleable and very light -- more so than iron or steel, so it's more suited to hobby use. I've made a few square inches of chainmail out of both materials, and it's certainly far easier with aluminum wire. The result is also much lighter. Iron chainmail is very heavy, so aluminum is better for reenactment purposes. I have no idea, though, how it would hold up in real battle. Some drawbacks include the brighter, whiter color of aluminum and the very fact that it's lighter. Holding an aluminum hauberk is much less satisfying than an iron one.

I don't think aluminum plate would be very good, because aluminum is more flexible than iron and wouldn't deflect blows very well. It would have been excellent in the latter days of plate armor when suits of plate were mostly status symbols. It would have been much like owning a suit of gold plate.

As far as weapons, I think aluminum would be too soft. It probably couldn't hold an edge, and a lot of aluminum weapons would bend under the stress of battle. Perhaps some things where weight is a factor might be practical -- a spear shaft, maybe. I certainly don't think aluminum would have been world-changing in that an army outfitted with aluminum weapons would have conquered the world.
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Old 12-19-2003, 06:06 PM
AndrewL AndrewL is offline
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Aluminum doesn't hold an edge as well as steel. It's a less dense, softer metal. A sword blade made from aluminum will lose its edge very fast. You don't want to make weapon tips out of it.

Casting aluminum isn't hard, so a medieval smith with a pile of aluminum ingots and not much else beyond what they'd already have could make cast aluminum parts easily. But cast aluminum is much more brittile than steel. I don't know if I'd trust armor made from it.
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Old 12-19-2003, 06:19 PM
Yllaria Yllaria is offline
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How it was used would depend largely on how rare it was. Since it does not tarnish easily, it could be used for jewelry and ornamental plates, bowls, and cups, provided its rarity was kept sufficiently high.

If it became common, it would still be good for dishes, but for people of a different social standing. (Hey, it still beats wood.) Also good for containers. Beer kegs come to mind, but a lot of bulk goods were transported in barrels. Only if the material was cheap, though.

Bells, aglets, and other costume bits could be made of aluminum.
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Old 12-19-2003, 06:19 PM
Kinthalis Kinthalis is offline
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Well I'm not a metallurgist, but I am a schollar of Medieval Martial Arts, so I'll give you my cents worth.

First off aluminum IS used for swords now a days. Specifically for practice swords.

And let me tell you, as long as the craftsmen is capable, aluminum makes great PRACTICE swords. They handle almost like real weapons and you can be confident that even in a heated full-speed match they are not going to injure your opponent, even if the score a telling a blow (given some light padding).

But as yourself pointed out, there are limitations to this metal which would make it inferior to steel when it comes to swords and armor.

Most important on the list: It's not hard enough. This means a sword will not hold a sharp edge. It means it's resistance to shock is reduced as well (with steel you can balance hardness with toughness much better so as to produce both a hard sword that holds an edge and a flexible sword that will bend 90 degrees and return to it's true shape.).

The same holds true for armor. If it's not strong enough to stop an incoming blow, it is of little use.

Perhaps someone more in the know about metallurgy can chime in and help us fill in the rest of the blanks
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Old 12-19-2003, 06:40 PM
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If I recall correctly, a mixture of aluminum and iron filings makes a nice explosive. I was warned to clean grinders real well between uses for this reason...
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Old 12-19-2003, 06:49 PM
David Simmons David Simmons is offline
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We can set aluminum now, but I don't think the technology to get the metal out of the ore in any appreciable amounts existed then.

In order to serve as useful armor I believe it would have to be one of the aluminum alloys and not the pure metal.
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Old 12-19-2003, 06:52 PM
The Scrivener The Scrivener is offline
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[Warning: utterly frivolous post.]

OTOH, to imagine how the anachronistic advent of aluminum could have altered military history, consider this revisionist version of the great battle scene from Braveheart:


SCENE 42.

[Setting: The two great armies, those of Braveheart's Scots in blue body-paint and the English-allied Irish mercenaries, view each other tensely from across a distance of about 50 yards across the great plain.]

After a suitable pause, Braveheart strides forward five yards, with his left hand conspicuously behind his back. He stops and reveals what he has been concealing: a shiny, aluminum beer can (albeit with the old-fashioned tab-top feature).

[CLOSEUP on beer can]

He holds this mysterious object on his outstretched palm and displays it to the Irish hordes with a majestic, broad wave.

[PAN SHOT: Both sides are raptly fascinated with this bit of battleground theatrics, although the Scots are grinning with anticipation, well-knowing what comes next.]

A grin steals over Braveheart's face, as he grips the can with both hands. With a single confident move, he rips off the top, and the sound of the carbonated hiss reverberates across the plain. With a second move, he upturns the can and chugs the entire contents in one great uninterrupted chug. And with a third movement, Braveheart cradles the can at its base, and, fixing his fanatic, unblinking glare on the Irish pikemen, smashes the can against his forehead...

[CLOSEUP on the beer can crumpling against forehead]

...and belts out a ferocious, barely articulate roar of unbridled testosterone and macho-ness: "TASTES G-G-GR-REAT!!!"

[CUT to Irish lines]:

[long beat] [unison] "LESS FILLING!!!"

[CUT to Scot lines]:

[unison] "TASTES GREAT!!!"

[PAN SHOT]

[unison]"LESS FILLING!!!"

[unison]"TASTES GREAT!!!"

[All together in disorganized, jumbled unison, for a few seconds, their cries intermingling and breaking up in laughter. The lines break, tentatively at first, and then in a rush, as Scots and Irish rush forward to embrace as kin.]

[CUT to the English commanders]: The English break and run.

*****
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Old 12-19-2003, 06:53 PM
David Simmons David Simmons is offline
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I note that you covered the difficulty of getting it. Sorry I brought it up.

The fuselage armor of WW II aircraft was aluminum alloy, wherever there was such armor.
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Old 12-19-2003, 06:56 PM
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Well, I'm certainly not wedded to pure aluminum. Could our medieval smiths create their own alloys? What other elements would they need to make stronger alloys? Or would they need to be given alloy ingots?
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Old 12-19-2003, 06:59 PM
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Lots of fighters in the SCA used aluminum for armor. In smaller pieces (legs & arms) it was very popular. For helmets, steel was required.

The alloy is important. If you get the wrong alloy, it dents too easily or is too brittle. The right alloy is springy and durable.

Consult your local SCA armorer for the right alloy - it's been too long for me and I don't remember. I do remember that is was considered an "aircraft grade".

Strange, too, how may street signs are made of nice aluminum plates. Strange, too, how much SCA armor was reflective on one side.
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Old 12-19-2003, 07:01 PM
Kinthalis Kinthalis is offline
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I wouldn't recommend the SCA for any sort of weapons or armor advice.

They come from a stage fighting background and do not practice medieval martial arts. They could probably point out a 'nice looking' piece, but not a very functional one.
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Old 12-19-2003, 07:02 PM
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Oh - and refining aluminum is purely a modern process. I remember a description of a debate about the finial for the Washington monument. The debate was over the three valuable metal choices, gold, silver, & aluminum.
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Old 12-19-2003, 07:09 PM
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I disagree. The SCA is one of the few groups making functional armor. It's not always historically accurate but it is decently close and definitely protective. (closed cell foam underpadding is not period but it is safer).

If all you've experience is public demonstrations of SCA combat (note the implied qualifier) then you've only seen deliberately "stagified" combat - to entertain the modern folk.
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Old 12-19-2003, 07:27 PM
Kinthalis Kinthalis is offline
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I'm 100% certain all SCA does IS staged combat. With the exception of a handful of members, the SCA Does not teach medieval martial arts or historical fencing.

I have seen private and public displays from them here in new jersey myself. I know historical fencing when I see it.
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Old 12-19-2003, 07:41 PM
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Aluminium would be completely useless for edge weapons such as swords and axes because it is too soft; try a blocking move and a steel sword would cut right through it - even hacking into an unarmed, unarmoured person with it would damage the edge (or deform the shape, if you hit bone).

It might work for arrowheads, in fact there's a certain advantage to making them so that they are usually destroyed on first use - makes them harder to pick up and re-use against you.

I think an aluminium cannon, if it didn't simply split open, would erode in the bore quite quickly and this would result in structural flaws, leakage of pressure and inaccuracy.

Aluminium and its alloys would have found uses in construction of lightweight ladders and siege towers etc.

Except (and I think the OP realises) it simply wasn't available.
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Old 12-19-2003, 08:21 PM
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About the only way any reasonable thickness of Al could be useful against iron-headed weapons is to combine it with other materials.

For example, you could make a decent but light armor from bilayer plates of steel/iron + Al. The outer layer would provide some impact resistance against iron weapons, and the lighter (thicker) aluminum, could provide rigidity. Aluminum is 1/3 the density of iron.

I suppose you could make a light (compared to iron) but very hard single-battle shield by pouring 1/2" or more of low melting point glass (also 1/3 the density of iron) into a hollow Al form made from plate aluminum. (Glass that melted well below 660C was used in the medieval era.) You might use a two-part inner/outer Al form rather than a deep hollow mold for fabrication reasons.

Such a shield could, after testing and refinement, join the hardness and lightness of glass with the shatter-resistant ductility of Al. Iron weapons could dent or cut the aluminum casing, and crack the glass within, but the Al would still hold it together. It would certainly kill the edge of any iron/steel sword. Between battles, you remove the cracked glass for remelting, and fix or re-manufacture the shell.

Perhaps a decent composite might be made from aluminum and formed pottery? How about glass aluminum *and* pottery? (I know, I'm giving your craftsmen headaches) I'm certain I'm overlooking some killer leather-Al composite application. How about multilayered wood/Al shields with crossed grain layers? I can see that being more shock-absorbing and less deformable than AL alone.

I agree that Al would have benefits over wood for war machines - but many are as much due to its workability and our modern engineering knowledge, as its density or other bulk properties. Their metalsmiths were good, but they still wouldn't have our centuries of added experience and concepts - like adding strength to sheet constructions with formed grooves, honeycombing or corrugation.
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Old 12-20-2003, 01:30 AM
Valgard Valgard is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Kinthalis
I'm 100% certain all SCA does IS staged combat. With the exception of a handful of members, the SCA Does not teach medieval martial arts or historical fencing.

I have seen private and public displays from them here in new jersey myself. I know historical fencing when I see it.
Gotta disagree with you on this one. My sister was active in the SCA for many years and I used to go to fighter practice a lot. There is absolutely nothing staged about it. I'm certainly not an expert on medieval weaponry, armor and martial arts however a lot of the SCA'ers are really into that stuff. Medieval historians, blacksmiths, martial artists were very common. While a number of the folks I knew had done a lot of stage fighting, that was not what they did in SCA battles - they are really going at it with those rattan weapons. I won't vouch for the historical authenticity of any particular move, but those folks are really trying to hit each other hard enough to register a solid "wound", the armor really has to stop hard blows, and they are really dodging, blocking and parrying so as not to get smacked.
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Old 12-20-2003, 01:39 AM
Valgard Valgard is offline
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Whoops, sorry - r.e. the OP:

There's a reason you don't see much aluminum used for blades - too soft and won't hold an edge. As Kinthalis said about aluminum practice swords:

" They handle almost like real weapons and you can be confident that even in a heated full-speed match they are not going to injure your opponent, even if the score a telling a blow (given some light padding)."

I know, I know, a lot of this is because they're blunt but still, that's not a recommendation that will send me charging into battle with an aluminum broadsword :-)

As others have said there are probably aluminum alloys that are much stronger and might make good armor, but I don't know if the weight advantage would be enough to turn a battle. "Real" mail and plate are surprisingly maneuverable.

Aluminum tubing makes very nice light arrow shafts though. Dunno how well a blacksmith of the time could produce them.
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Old 12-20-2003, 01:49 AM
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Hrm.

After reading a few posts, I offer only a few pointers:

As a bona fide, certified Armchair General, I would totally use aluminum as arrowpoints. Think of it this way, an arrow is a "fire and forget" weapon. While unguided, chances are you won't get it back. Sharpen your aluminum point as best you can to a point, and let the kinetic energy of the arrow itself punch through the armor of the Communists once, which will be the arrow's wartime service life. Besides, with a lighter tip (aluminum is lighter than iron or steel), you could get a better range out of your shot.

Besides that, I would never train my troops with aluminum swords and arms. I want them guys to learn the steel and iron. I want them to be able to swing a 20# Claymore on the battlefield without hesitation. I want that 7# kitana to slice through the Communist heads.

Tripler
But hey, use your materials as best as they're well suited.
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Old 12-20-2003, 04:05 AM
AtomicBanana AtomicBanana is offline
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Would the fact that aluminum is lighter possibly be detrimental? While I'm sure it'd make it easier to swing, it seems like you'd have to build up a bit of momentum if you were planning on tearing through platemail, or knocking an opponents shield out of your way.
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Old 12-20-2003, 06:16 AM
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Would lightweight aluminum make for better seige weapons, like trebuchets or catapults, i.e. getting into the larger items?

I expect it would also be useful for small skiffs and possibly barges.
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Old 12-20-2003, 06:56 AM
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Tripler: Yes, because we all know that the English were fighting Communists at the battle of Poiters.

Damned Commies.
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Old 12-20-2003, 08:33 AM
Tripler Tripler is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Derleth
Tripler: Yes, because we all know that the English were fighting Communists at the battle of Poiters.

Damned Commies.
[hijack]

I'm not sure if you're agreeing with me, or poking fun at me.

It's a distinct possibility you're doing both at the same time.

[/hijack]

Tripler
Damned commies.
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Old 12-20-2003, 08:41 AM
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Wow. Okay, first off, as I recall, aluminum was first refined in the mid-late 1600s, but only in very small quantities. It was considered extremely valuable at the time.

It's also rather difficult to properly smelt, requiring evacuated furnaces and other later technology. Even if some aliens gave large ingots to a mideval blacksmith, he would have considerable difficulty actually doing anything with it.

It cannot be "forge welded" (like heating two bars of steel to bright red, then hammering them together, the usual technique for, say, making Japanese swords of the time) and it cannot be "wrought" (heated to a state of soft ductility and hammered into shape.)

Aluminum retains much of its strength until just before it turns to liquid, and it gives no visible sign- IE, turning red as steel does- to tell a smith when than will happen.

At best, if the aliens gave the 'smith some premade sheets, he might be able to rivet them together to make certain items. Unless he used iron rivets, which would eventually lead to galvanic corrosion (dissimilar metals) and eventually to a total failure of the assembled part.

With a decent alloy- including some silicon, perhaps some zinc- it can be easily cast by any competent blacksmith, but that's about the extent of it's usefulness to a mideval sort. Cast parts are also not the strongest by any means- the resulting piece would be light, but soft, and being cast, would tend to crack from any heavy blow, rather than bend (which would absorb some of the energy.)

Basically, it would have done little or no good whatsoever- not even as seige ladders.

Aluminum arrowheads: Perthaps, yes. Decent against wood, more than adequate against flesh, mediocre against iron mail, possibly wholly worthless against good plate armor.

Going with the "more range" error, the arrow has to have some mass in order for it to carry any energy. Like throwing a golf ball vs. throwing a ping-pong ball; if both are thrown with identical starting velocities, the heavier/denser golf ball will fly considerably further.

A bow provides a fixed amount of energy, so yes, a lighter arrow will indeed travel further, since the bow can accellerate it to a higher initial velocity. But that additional range does no good if the arrow doesn't have enough energy at range to do any damage.

And again, being softer than the armor it's trying to defeat, it will tend to spend that reduced impact energy simply deforming it's own point, rather than penetrating.

Aluminum Cannon: Quite right. A very thick, forged aluminum barrel would resist the pressure just fine, but a cast aluminum barrel would be a bomb. And yes, erosion of the bore, both from the harder steel of the ball and the hot powder gasses, would be a considerable problem. A very few shots indeed would have "burnt out" the barrel in short order.

"Aircraft grade": That's basically a marketing term. Nearly any alloy you can think of, from 2021 to 7075-T6, whether cast, extruded, rolled or forged, has been used in aircraft. Any aluminum is "aircraft grade" one way or another.

Hardnesses and tensile strengths do vary, of course- 2021 is quite soft, and is typically found in thin sheets. Old Ferrari bodymen would form racers from hand-hammered sheets, and oxyacetelene-weld them together, both nearly a lost art.

On the other hand, the BattleBots guys will armor their 'bots with 7075-T6 (the T6 being a reference to temper, how the alloy was heat-treated) which, while still being softer than Titanium or most steels, is lighter than both, and considerably cheaper than the former.

It's interesting to note that the actors in the movie Zorro (Hopkins/Bandera, et al) used aluminum blades. I did know the alloy at one time, but it was essentially the same material, tempered to the same spec, as Cessna landing-gear struts. Both very rigid (for aluminum) and springy (it would return to shape rather than permanently deform.)

Aluminum mail: As noted, probably no better than decorative. A true sword blow, from a steel edge, would simply have to part several small sections of aluminum- basically a distributed mesh of soft wires- rather than a single homogenous plate.

Mail in general is poor against bludgeoning weapons (maces, clubs) and aluminum mail would be little better than leather against swords and spears, and probably almost worthless against steel-tipped arrows.

Long story short, if they had it, they wouldn't have been able to do much with it. If they were able to do anything with it, it wouldn't have done them much good anyway.
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Old 12-20-2003, 08:46 AM
Kinthalis Kinthalis is offline
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I'm not so sure a lughtweight arrow is the best way to go.

Wouldn't a lightweight arrow be more succeptible to wind resistance?

Valgard:

Ask your sister if she has indeed study medieval martial arts. My guess is she will say "no".

I don't doubt they go after each other with intent at SCA matches (as I've mentioned, I've seen them), but going at each other with swords does not necessarily mean you have to know what you are doing.

It's still a lot of fun just trying to nail one another without any sense of technique or fencing skill.

So again, the SCA does not practice actual historicla fencing. They play fight.

A historical fencer would have them for lunch. Or maybe a snack
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Old 12-20-2003, 10:59 AM
Master Wang-Ka Master Wang-Ka is offline
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Mm -- arrowheads were not necessarily "fire and forget." It was common to collect them after a battle. After all, they were reusable, and cost money.

Unfortunately, the difference in weight of a steel arrowhead and the weight of an aluminum one is pretty negligible. Why bother? Particularly considering that after one or two shots, the aluminum one will be unusable, and it won't penetrate armored targets.

I agree that durn near any aluminum GUN would be, at best, usable a few times. And that's assuming you had a VERY experienced gunner who knew the limitations of the piece. Given the malleability of most aluminum alloys, it seems to me that a gun or cannon or field gun would likely burst or simply explode on the first shot, under most circumstances. Hell, quite a few medieval guns exploded or burst under the BEST of circumstances -- medieval gunsmithy was not the most refined of arts; highly skilled and very exact, sure, but a joke by modern standards.
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Old 12-20-2003, 12:03 PM
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Kinthalis, I hope you don't mind me linking to the fascinating discussion you and Una had on the subject of swords and modern metallurgy in godzillatemple's thread Are there any known "lost arts"?
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Old 12-20-2003, 12:07 PM
Kinthalis Kinthalis is offline
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I was looking for that link, but I didn't recall the title of the thread.

did aliminum get mentioned there? (looking through it now).
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Old 12-20-2003, 02:35 PM
Valgard Valgard is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Kinthalis
I'm not so sure a lughtweight arrow is the best way to go.

Wouldn't a lightweight arrow be more succeptible to wind resistance?

Valgard:

Ask your sister if she has indeed study medieval martial arts. My guess is she will say "no".

I don't doubt they go after each other with intent at SCA matches (as I've mentioned, I've seen them), but going at each other with swords does not necessarily mean you have to know what you are doing.

It's still a lot of fun just trying to nail one another without any sense of technique or fencing skill.

So again, the SCA does not practice actual historicla fencing. They play fight.

A historical fencer would have them for lunch. Or maybe a snack
IIRC one of the important criteria for aerodynamic stability of a projectile is sectional density - mass divided by cross-sectional area. This is why things like discarding sabot DU tank rounds are good at long rang - very high mass with fairly small diameter. So all other things being equal a heavier arrow will "wobble" less in flight. On the other hand machined aluminum will give you more uniform arrows and they'll fly faster.

As far as my sister goes, no argument there as she was an archer (and quite a good one). However I still stand by my assertion that a lot (not everyone, but not 0%) of the fighters are not engaging in either stage fighting or just random fiddling around with a stick in their hands. I had more than a few friends in the SCA who did in fact study medieval fighting techniques - and not just fencing. Like I said a lot of those people are very seriously into what they do and they go to great lengths to be accurate about it, including how they fight. Survive enough fights and you have good technique!

In regards to who would actually win some of those fights, no argument that in a fencing match I'd lose against somebody who knows fencing. I don't think that that means a fencer would automatically fare well against a fighter who learned the hard way, regardless of how historically accurate the moves are. This is the old "which martial art is better" debate, no?
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Old 12-20-2003, 02:41 PM
Valgard Valgard is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Kinthalis
I'm not so sure a lughtweight arrow is the best way to go.

Wouldn't a lightweight arrow be more succeptible to wind resistance?

Valgard:

Ask your sister if she has indeed study medieval martial arts. My guess is she will say "no".

I don't doubt they go after each other with intent at SCA matches (as I've mentioned, I've seen them), but going at each other with swords does not necessarily mean you have to know what you are doing.

It's still a lot of fun just trying to nail one another without any sense of technique or fencing skill.

So again, the SCA does not practice actual historicla fencing. They play fight.

A historical fencer would have them for lunch. Or maybe a snack
IIRC one of the important criteria for aerodynamic stability of a projectile is sectional density - mass divided by cross-sectional area. This is why things like discarding sabot DU tank rounds are good at long rang - very high mass with fairly small diameter. So all other things being equal a heavier arrow will "wobble" less in flight. On the other hand machined aluminum will give you more uniform arrows and they'll fly faster.

As far as my sister goes, no argument there as she was an archer (and quite a good one). However I still stand by my assertion that a lot (not everyone, but not 0%) of the fighters are not engaging in either stage fighting or just random fiddling around with a stick in their hands. I had more than a few friends in the SCA who did in fact study medieval fighting techniques - and not just fencing. Like I said a lot of those people are very seriously into what they do and they go to great lengths to be accurate about it, including how they fight. Even somebody who doesn't study old techniques will develop good ones after enough combat - let's face it, that's how every combat art was developed, trial and error and live testing.

In regards to who would actually win some of those fights, no argument that in a fencing match I'd lose against somebody who knows fencing. I don't think that that means a fencer would automatically fare well against a fighter who learned the hard way, regardless of how historically accurate the moves are. This is the old "which martial art is better" debate, no?
  #32  
Old 12-20-2003, 03:26 PM
KP KP is offline
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Doc Nickle: your post was quite informative (I am especially glad that you mentioned galvanic corrosion, which I meant to note) However, I do have a few minor quibbles. Mostly they are clarifications of points that might be misinterpreted. I know how hard it is to reduce a technical subject to lay language - or even to figure out how a layman might interpret a statement.
Quote:
Okay, first off, as I recall, aluminum was first refined in the mid-late 1600s, but only in very small quantities.
While I've seen dates as early as 1808 claimed, Hans Christian Oersted is usually acknowledged as the first to isolate aluminum in 1825 in Copenhagen. Friedrich Wöhler is usually considered the first to make a pure sample of aluminum by chemical reduction in 1827.
Quote:
it cannot be "wrought" (heated to a state of soft ductility and hammered into shape.)
While I completely agree that forge-welding aluminum is extremely difficult, and usually requires equipment and techniques completely out of the reach of a medieval metalsmith, wrought aluminum is not uncommon. While the current processes, like rotary degassing, date to the 1970s, hand-wrought aluminum pieces from the 1930s (not long after aluminum became affordable) are not uncommon. I know someone who specifically collects them.
Quote:
Aluminum retains much of its strength until just before it turns to liquid, and it gives no visible sign- IE, turning red as steel does- to tell a smith when than will happen.
You are quite correct that it is tricky. It is not, however, impossible Farriers rework aluminum horse shoes using some care and fairly standard techniques. It isn't like working with iron, but there are small smithies in Florida and Hawaii that work in nothing else.
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Any aluminum is "aircraft grade" one way or another.
I'm so-o-o glad you raised this. In our consumer markets, the term "aircraft grade aluminum" is basically meaningless, and AFAIK the newer version "aerospace grade" is no better. Certainly, the AIA (Aerospace Industries Association) doesn't list a standard.
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Old 12-20-2003, 04:17 PM
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- - - Aluminum is just more difficult to make and work with than steel is. Aluminum is an artificial suspension in that it doesn't want to stay alloyed--if it is melted, the alloying ingredients will tend to separate out into layers according to their different densities. This is one of the two big reasons that aluminum is profitable to recycle--the other being that under normal atmospheric conditions, it will not oxidize the way steel does. A steel vegetable can will rust into a handful of brown flakes in a few years in a mid-lattitude humid locale, but an aluminum soda can left submerged in water will live for centuries.
- Present-day re-enactors use it because it doesn't rust ugly-brown like regular steel would. To that end, the guy I know who has been into re-enacting used stainless steel wire for making chainmail and aluminum for making armor. Stainless steel sheet could be used also of course, but cutting it by mechanical means is a royal b!tch and it requires different equipment to weld than regular steel or aluminum--so many of the people who do manage to cut pieces of it end up riveting it together.
- Also: when someplace sells "aircraft grade" aluminum, usually what that means is that the material contains no recycled material and is inspected more closely. In the case of smaller pieces and welding rod, it also may be wrapped in plastic to prevent oil and dirt from impregnating it during shipping.
-----------
Quote:
....Aluminum retains much of its strength until just before it turns to liquid, and it gives no visible sign- IE, turning red as steel does- to tell a smith when than will happen.....
-Um, well,,,,,, it does kinda turn light brown. The bigger problems (for middle-age metalsmiths) with working it are that it needs flux to join and that it spreads heat over a wide area--steel needs neither of these things and so is much easier to work with.
~
  #34  
Old 12-20-2003, 05:27 PM
Kinthalis Kinthalis is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Valgard
IIRC one of the important criteria for aerodynamic stability of a projectile is sectional density - mass divided by cross-sectional area. This is why things like discarding sabot DU tank rounds are good at long rang - very high mass with fairly small diameter. So all other things being equal a heavier arrow will "wobble" less in flight. On the other hand machined aluminum will give you more uniform arrows and they'll fly faster.
Ok this does make sense.

Quote:
As far as my sister goes, no argument there as she was an archer (and quite a good one). However I still stand by my assertion that a lot (not everyone, but not 0%) of the fighters are not engaging in either stage fighting or just random fiddling around with a stick in their hands. I had more than a few friends in the SCA who did in fact study medieval fighting techniques - and not just fencing.
Yes, I know some who do the same as well. But the SCA does NOT teach medieval martial arts in any way shape or form.

Their bouts have a lot of rules and regulations that have no place in a study of martial arts (where every part of the body is a legal target and where contact -body on body- maneuvers are also studies).

Quote:
In regards to who would actually win some of those fights, no argument that in a fencing match I'd lose against somebody who knows fencing. I don't think that that means a fencer would automatically fare well against a fighter who learned the hard way, regardless of how historically accurate the moves are. This is the old "which martial art is better" debate, no?
No it isn't. And the answer why is very simple.

The SCA bouts are NOT martial arts. They are based on staged combat with rules and regulations which make it into a sort of sport (much like modern fencing).

A historical fencer would have studied manuscripts from the ancient masters of swordplay, dagger and wrestling combat, as well as other weapons.

He would have researched with and trained with modern practioners of the art as well.

Comparing the two fighters would be like comparing your average off the street driver with a tournament champion formula 1 driver.

Or better yet a modern fencer and a historical fencer.
  #35  
Old 12-20-2003, 06:49 PM
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But of course the primary reason why the SCA and their usage of aluminium is useless in discussion of the OP is that they do not attack each other with hard edged weapons ie the particular area in which SCA fighting is not realistic, is the particular area which would otherwise reveal the flaw in aluminium in armour or weaponry (its softness).
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Old 12-20-2003, 07:56 PM
BlackPheonix BlackPheonix is offline
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Aluminum would make fantastic flesh piercing arrows, which would work excellent against light calvary.

Aluminum plate would be a joke, as with mail. A aluminum helm might be effective but only slightly more so than leather. I can see aluminum being effective for any troops that would normally wear leather. Blunt aluminum weapons wouldn't be even slightly effective.
  #37  
Old 12-20-2003, 10:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by viking
If I recall correctly, a mixture of aluminum and iron filings makes a nice explosive. I was warned to clean grinders real well between uses for this reason...
It is a combination of small aluminum granules and Fe2O3 (iron oxide) called Thermit. It burns fast producing red hot molten iron in the process.
It is used in demolition work and as a welding agent for heavy iron/steel pieces.

Aluminum wasn't known at the time. It is only good for it's light weight and ease of fabrication of replica armour and weapons.
Even then it should be colored to look authentic.

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  #38  
Old 12-20-2003, 11:04 PM
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Napoleon Bonaparte wished he could make aluminum cannon and was kind of pissed off that the technology for obtaining affordable aluminum from ore hadn't been invented yet in 1812. When invading Russia, he kept getting his cannons bogged down in mud. He figured that aluminum would be light enough to make cannon transportation more feasible. Whether he fully considered the question of aluminum being strong enough to withstand artillery use, I don't know.
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Old 12-20-2003, 11:33 PM
Wearia Wearia is offline
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Sorry if I'm repeating someone elses arguement that I missed, if someone was using an aluminum sword against someone using a steel sword, they would die very quickly. A sharp piece of steel would make short work of a sharp piece of aluminum. Aluminum clubs on the other hand might work.
Aluminum armor would be destroyed by steel tipped arrows and weapons. Same goes for chainmail. Steel would go right through it.
Cannons as other have said would explode. Bronze and brass are far better materials for the job.
As for arrows, they wouldn't pierce steel armor but would be good on lightly armed opponents. However, aluminum would be of more use for the shaft than the head. They still are making arrow shafts from aluminum because it holds up better than wood. A steel headed arrow with an aluminum shaft would be a definate advantage on the battle field.
The only other use for aluminum I can think of is for the little things. Sword handles, decorations, accents on armor, utensils and cups. Steel still beats it in other respects.
  #40  
Old 12-21-2003, 03:06 AM
Valgard Valgard is offline
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OK Kinthalis, I see what you mean. I took "stage combat" to mean predetermined motions & outcome. Modern fencing has very specific rules about what is and is not allowed but a fencing match is still "real combat" within that context. Obviously two people trying to kill each other for real will probably discard one or two of the stylistic conventions of the time ("You don't have rules in a knife fight!")...

Still haven't thought of any big advantage of aluminum for battles of the day. Perhaps this is because they didn't move large objects made of solid metal around, where the weight advantage of aluminum would start to tell. Aluminum horseshoes don't make a big difference compared to iron ones, whereas a tank with cast-iron armor will be considerably slower than one with aluminum armor. Jomo's mention of Napoleon wishing for lightweight field artillery seems closer to the mark.

Perhaps aluminum assault ladders for climbing walls, battering rams with aluminum plate shields to protect the operators?
  #41  
Old 12-21-2003, 09:05 AM
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Yeah I was also thinking of ladders for sieges, but as someone mentioned this would likely require skills and technology not available at the time leaving this contructions perhaps too weak to be functional.

I know for exaple my extension ladder had a weight limit of some 400 pounds.

That's probably 2 guys in chainmail armor.
  #42  
Old 12-21-2003, 01:11 PM
js_africanus js_africanus is offline
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Take a look at one example of some Rockwell Hardness comparisons. Steel is clearly harder, which means (I think) that for an arrowhead or a plate resisting it, steel is better than aluminum. I've got a history of metallurgy book around here somewhere that mentions that blacksmiths reached a level of skill that is unmatched today, i.e. they could cold-hammer bodkin arrowheads that would do as well as anything we'd produce today. If the armor was prohibitively heavy, they could just reduct the amount of metal used. They didn't.

To put another way, there's a reason that they don't use aluminum rifle barrels. That's how I understand it, anyway.

(Price is the real issue. I recently saw a documentary where archeologists were looking for old battlefields. They said that you can't search for abandoned metal because iron & steel were so expensive that every last arrowhead was collected.

Before 1886, when it was discovered that cyrolite lowered the melting point of aluminum to managable levels, it was so expensive that Napoleon kept aluminum utensils for only the most I's of the VIPs. You'll note that in 1855 aluminum costed $113/pound. That's about $2,000 in today's prices. ( http://www.eh.net/hmit/ppowerusd/ ))
  #43  
Old 12-21-2003, 05:38 PM
BlackPheonix BlackPheonix is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Wearia
Sorry if I'm repeating someone elses arguement that I missed, if someone was using an aluminum sword against someone using a steel sword, they would die very quickly. A sharp piece of steel would make short work of a sharp piece of aluminum. Aluminum clubs on the other hand might work.
Aluminum armor would be destroyed by steel tipped arrows and weapons. Same goes for chainmail. Steel would go right through it.
Cannons as other have said would explode. Bronze and brass are far better materials for the job.
As for arrows, they wouldn't pierce steel armor but would be good on lightly armed opponents. However, aluminum would be of more use for the shaft than the head. They still are making arrow shafts from aluminum because it holds up better than wood. A steel headed arrow with an aluminum shaft would be a definate advantage on the battle field.
The only other use for aluminum I can think of is for the little things. Sword handles, decorations, accents on armor, utensils and cups. Steel still beats it in other respects.
Blunt aluminum weapons would be useless. The key here is the weight of the weapon, the idea being you can easily throw someone off balance and crush even plate armour with a heavy weapon.
  #44  
Old 12-26-2003, 12:29 AM
Baldwin Baldwin is offline
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Kinthalis, my friend, I suspect you're trolling for SCA fighters such as myself. Suffice to say, respectfully, I believe you're mistaken in your assessment of both our level of skill and our field of study. If we ever meet in friendly martial competition, perhaps we'll see who supplies the lunch and who dines thereupon.

Regarding the OP, although aluminum is a very useful metal, its utility in arms and armour is limited. If introduced into the Middle Ages, it could have been used for some very nice jewelry and cookware, but not so much for weapons.
  #45  
Old 12-26-2003, 09:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Kinthalis
I wouldn't recommend the SCA for any sort of weapons or armor advice.

They come from a stage fighting background and do not practice medieval martial arts. They could probably point out a 'nice looking' piece, but not a very functional one.

I have no stage-fighting background. Niether does the SCA, which began as a back-yard medievil party in Berkley Ca. 1963. It's grown considerably since then, and includes a great many people with diferent focuses and skill levels.

However, any blanket statemants about whether or not a "historical Fencer" would be able to win in a bout against an SCA fight are pointless. No matter how hard someone may have trained at his historical fencing, going up against a chap who's spent most every weekend trying to hit/not to hit his friends as hard as possible with a rattan stick is not going to be a cakewalk. The more experienced SCA fighters I've known have honed their speed and reaction time on attack/defense that I'd bet even you might find surprising.

Were you a member I'd throw a freindly gaunlet down myself, and afterwards, we could discuss the relative merits of our not dissimular hobbies over a Guiness around the campfire.
  #46  
Old 12-26-2003, 02:40 PM
Kinthalis Kinthalis is offline
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I have no doubt that your continued practice has honed your ability to wack someone over the head with a padded waster, but can you handle live steel in a real fight to the death?

This is a bit of a trick question, really.

Even historical fencers do not fight to the death in this day and age. It is because of this, fortunate, obstacle that we strive towards a goal that is ultimately unatainable.

That being said we DO practice REAL techniques developed by masters of these weapons using them in REAL life and death situations. These people honed their skills not only through out their lives, but they have also built their technique on a base of experience several hundred years strong.

As I mentioned, I have seen several SCA bouts. Hella fun looking, but I can plainly see technique that is simply not applicable to the way real live weapons handle.

There are straight edge on edge, static blocks (unheard of using medieval techniques) and in very poor form, slashing at people with waster 'rapiers', something that a renaissance master would NOT do, and for good reason.

So a bout between an SCA member and a student of historical martial arts using your equipment and your rules.... I say it might go either way.

Give them both live steel and actual weapons and the SCA fighter will die, plain and simple.

I'm not trying to troll or be antagonistic. I simply stated my opinion, and hopefully, some useful info backing up my position.
  #47  
Old 01-02-2004, 08:55 AM
BMalion BMalion is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Kinthalis
Give them both live steel and actual weapons and the SCA fighter will die, plain and simple.

Maybe, and give the Historical Fencer SCA equipment and he might die.

I seem to remember Musashi Miyamoto fought 'live steel' duels to the death while armed only with a stick and he killed several opponents.

Oh well, I suppose we can agree that Batman would beat us both.
  #48  
Old 01-02-2004, 10:58 AM
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GargoyleWB GargoyleWB is offline
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I think the SCA argument going on isn't addressing the simple point that I think Kinthalis is trying to make.

If I may...

While the SCA has many members that individually may study and train classical martial arts, the SCA does not officially teach or instruct said arts in any formal organized manner.

So in any particular SCA group, one tends to get a potpourri of skills, knowledge, and abilities. Techniques can range from amatuerish Highlander wannabe up to elegant beautiful fencing.
  #49  
Old 01-02-2004, 12:27 PM
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They made the armor for the film Excalibur out of aluminum. It's light, which is th big draw. But I suspect that it's not as good at protecting you as stel.

Just for the record, there were relatively cheap processes for making aluminum before the electrolytic processes were developed, and made it really cheap. When Jules Verne wrote From the Earth to the Moon the electrolytic processes hadn't been developed yet, and he still talks about aluminum as not outrageously expensive. Unfortunately, IIRC, the processes in use at that time required alkali metals, which ae also produced by electrolysis, so it's hard to imagine a Medieval procss that would've worked.
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  #50  
Old 01-02-2004, 01:07 PM
sturmhauke sturmhauke is offline
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Kinthalis, do your friends study medieval or Renaissance fighting? They are quite different.
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