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The year is 2035 and Channel 55-KYED decided on a new reality show. the XXI century knighthood games.

It will be your basic renaissance faire re-enactment of medieval combat but since they are doing it in the extraterritorial micronation of Garlandistan they are doing it just like they did in Agincourt: With blood, wounds and the ominous risk of death.

But with a twist, they don't want to use medieval metals. They have a billionaire contract with some big foundries and metallurgic companies that make aerospatial alloys and weapons.

It comes to the picks now. From the modern metal alloys, which ones are the best to make weapons (swords, maces, axes, lances, spears), and which ones are best to make armor (mail, scale, plate) from?

The show is backed by metallurgic companies. There's no budget limit, and ceramics are off. They want to sell metal. For the definition being used, click here.

Assume no new alloys were invented / discovered between 2020 ~ 2035. This is so it is expected that answers will back their choices with data from reputable sources - bonus points for those that compare their alloys with the rejected choices. Social & political aspects are handwaved. Focus on the metallurgy only.

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This question asks for hard science. All answers to this question should be backed up by equations, empirical evidence, scientific papers, other citations, etc. Answers that do not satisfy this requirement might be removed. See the tag description for more information.

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    $\begingroup$ What is your limit for 'metal' because there are a lot of exciting things going on in the ceramics field, often involving mostly-metal crystals like en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminium_oxynitride And I can see a neat loophole involving titaium weave and resin. $\endgroup$ – Borgh Sep 20 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ Not just ceramics. But various composite materials are lighter and stronger than steel. What's more, you can 3-D print them, then put them through a curing process to harden them. Some with microwaves, some with heat, some other methods. We are just starting to experiment with these materials in our lab. $\endgroup$ – puppetsock Sep 20 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ @puppetsock, but how are they on impact resistance when compared to steel? Most such materials turn out to be quite brittle. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Sep 20 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Separatrix Such materials are the preferred material for bullet resistant armor and military helmets these days. Kevlar is one such material. Another in research these days is "spider silk" protein, which turns out to be quite startlingly strong. $\endgroup$ – puppetsock Sep 20 at 14:16
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    $\begingroup$ @puppetsock, kevlar is easily cut, the ceramic plates in body armour are specifically sacrificial, they don't take repeated impact. Knife resistant and bullet resistant are very different use cases and we're on knife resistant here. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Sep 20 at 14:23
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I'm going to open the bidding with S1 Steel covered by ISO 4957

Rather than being cutting edge science, this is a commercial product. Specifically a shock resistant cold work tool steel. Medium carbon with tungsten and chromium. Ideal for weapons and likely armour as well. Specifically resistant to losing edge and deforming under repeated high impact while maintaining the traditional advantages of steel, low cost, high toughness, easy to work with, good availability.

This is very much a baseline to use as a solution for this question. There may well be exotic alloys with better properties, but then again, there may not.

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  • $\begingroup$ S1 steel for what? it is a not a good sword steel, too soft. you want something more like 5160 or 1060. Generally you want something like a high carbon spring steel for swords and armor as well. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 22 at 14:56
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Depleted Uranium : for Flails, Two-Handed Hammers/Swords, and Shields

For a swung weapon, mass is the reservoir in which the kinetic energy of a swing or a horse's charge is stored. This reserve of kinetic energy is what tries to foil potential energy reservoir of the target's yield strength times the strain. A high momentum hit will daze the other guy, break bones, numb nerves, and so on.

At 18 thousand $kg \over {m^3}$, depleted uranium alloys has almost 2.5 times the density of A36 steel, and a yield strength in the neighborhood of the hardest steels (123ksi, which is equal to 1,100 MPa). Osmium would be 15% better at 22 thousand $kg \over {m^3}$, but I didn't find any reliable sources of industrial Osmium or Osmiridium.

You'd want to wrap your DU (depleted uranium) core in a hard steel. Maybe chrome alloy Sandvik 13C26 for edged weapons, but a more durable mild steel like A36 for blunt ones.

For tower shields, you don't want the shield to move. So, DU is the best core material for that purpose. Also wrapped in a durable and mild steel.

Razor Steel : for Edged Weapons and Armor

Sandvik 13C26 boasts a yield strength of (700 to 1,100MPa) and a hardness of 98 Rockwell / 240 Vickers. It's a chrome alloy, and corrosion resistant. I think this would be the best alloy to use for things that need to hold an edge.

Spring Steel : for Armor

According to MyArmoury.com, the best steel for armor is a good spring steel. The use case for armor is different than weapons, or even shields : the total energy that a weapon must possess to penetrate the armor is the yield strength of the material, multiplied by how much the material will deform before it breaks. Spring steels capitalize on this mix. I'd recommend Elgiloy with a 890 MPa yield strength, and 24% max strain.

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    $\begingroup$ Weight for a lance is a bad idea. It needs to be agile as the target may move. The weight is the three quarters of a ton of horse and rider behind the lance. $\endgroup$ – Thorne Sep 20 at 23:30
  • $\begingroup$ Good point. I'll update the answer $\endgroup$ – James McLellan Sep 22 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ Does uranium hold up? Density doesn't mean strength. A lead hammer would deform and break quickly. $\endgroup$ – 458 Sep 23 at 16:36
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    $\begingroup$ @fredsbend it does. I've added a hyperlink to the patent application, which includes the material characteristics. $\endgroup$ – James McLellan Sep 24 at 0:33
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This is already happening

See Unified Weapons Master

Metal in the armour will be limited to a thin outer layer for appearances only with the inner layers being carbon fiber and impact foam.

Sure it'd be nice to see more metal but really knights won't use that much and the sponsorship logos on the shield will sell more. At the end of the day you have two men hitting each other with weapons therefore you have a obligation to keep them safe as humanly possible which means the best materials for the armour.

The suits for United Weapon Masters is fitted with sensors and lockable joints. If a body part gets hit hard enough the joint locks up and they can't use that part again which means a knight can lose an arm but still win. The suit allows for simulated injuries whilst keeping the wearer safe.

Where metals comes in is the weapons as you need to bypass modern armour if you want actual injuries (which I wouldn't recommend as you want to sell your product but bad publicity could lead to legal action in other countries, human rights violations and sanctions against the sponsor if they can't touch him directly)

At the end of the day selling metal is what matters and the tabard and shield with the sponsor's logo will sell far more metal than the composition of the armour.

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If you don't want steel Aluminium and titanium are your best bets.

For armor there are aluminum-steel alloys and titanium alloys. Making armor lighter is the biggest benefit you can gain. For more minor alloying components nickel improves both strength and corrosion resistance of steel.

If you aren't restricted to just improving the metal parts of the armor carbon fiber can make it even better, especially if layered with metals. Better cloth is also a big advantage, making the padding under armor out of modern synthetics means you can have a gambeson that are lighter, stronger, and more flexible that actually breaths, using impact foams you can even get better padding especially in a helmets. Clear plastic eye protection would be excellent.

For shields aluminum would be the material of choice as shields are heavy and disposable so the lower performance of aluminum is not a problem, of course carbon fiber would be even better. Titanium would also be an excellent choice it is stronger than aluminum and still reduces the weight.

For weapons aluminum is not good, except for reducing weight in things like crossguards and baskets, parts not subjected to repeated stress, it fatigues and fails under repeated loading. Titanium iron alloys are good for many weapons (a titanium hammer would be brutal) but not great for swords it is too soft, however titanium vanadium alloys allows for tempering and can be used to make excellent swords, especially for longer or lighter swords. Even better for a show it makes weapons lighter meaning your "actors" fatigue slower. A titanium-iron core with a steel outside would be an excellent sword composition.

to get away from the metal parts, for polearms (spears, halberds, ect) the possibility of carbon fiber poles would make these weapons far easier to weild, the king of weapons becomes the emperor of weapons.

Source1

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Steel

If your fine with steel it depends on the weapon and armor, for swords and armor you generally want a spring steel or something close. 5160 and 1060 are considered the better steels for these, (best is loaded word and depends a lot about the goal and design of the piece. The steel you want for a rapier is different than the steel you want for a katana) although composite steels are also common in swords. For things like hammers you want a slightly softer steel (XX40-XX45), while the best axes use a combination of a hard steel edge and soft steel body.

But the real benefit of modern techniques is better precision at every stage, composition (both chemical and physical) and heat in particular is far better. Just by using modern consistent production and heat treating you are already exceeding medieval metallurgy.

Study of japanese sword steel microstructure.

Study of damascus steel microstructure

Study of european sword microstructure

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  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "aluminum-steel"? "Aluminized steel"? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Sep 20 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ I have clarified I meant aluminum alloys and Aluminum steel alloy, popularmechanics.com/technology/news/a13919/… $\endgroup$ – John Sep 20 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ Titanium makes for a terrible weapon, as it is rubbish holding an edge (for swords and axes) and its lower density compared to steel makes for unnecessarily large and bulky maces and hammers. It'd make nice armour, though. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Sep 20 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ lower density can be an advantage for mace or hammer, titanium is not aluminum the density is not so low the weapons start to lose effectiveness, it allows for a longer or sturdier impact weapons without the problems of excessive weight. Titanium by itself does not hold an edge titanium vanadium alloy however holds an edge well. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 20 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ @John titanium vanadium is expensive and awkward to produce and machine, and does not exceed the capabilities of a high grade stainless steel. Its kinda academic of course, because using swords against heavily armoured people is stupid (and half-swording is a hack to make inadequate tools doa job they weren't meant to do, in a less convenient way than a decent warhammer or dagger). $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Sep 20 at 19:22
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Beryllium is as exotic as it gets and it's the lightest usable metal. Due to its rarity only beryllium copper is made today but certainly better and lighter alloys are possible. Both for armor and for weapons. The downside is, beryllium dust is toxic.

Staying with beryllium copper, the "extra hard" treated wire has 1415-1620 MPa tensile strength, it can be formed and then hardened, it does not corrode, does not spark...ideal for chain mail!

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