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While my setting has magic, the material world acts the same way as ours. Only reason why I am mentioning magic in my question is because I'm explaining why I need to satisfy such an odd set of requirements.

In my setting, most civilizations consist entirely of magic-users. This however has a drawback, as magic users have negative reaction to iron, and mere presence of larger-than-grain-of-sand-sized piece of metallic(non-compound) iron or steel within 3-5 m distance causes them headaches, which only can eventually even kill the person. This led to ironwork becoming road not taken(except for occasional use in torture and such).

However, assuming existence of non-magic or almost non-magic civilizations which later wish to interact and even trade with these civilizations, there might be need for me to make steel exportable comodity to magic civilizations. With that comes one solution for - iron alloys.

My question is: which metalic or non-metalic element should I introduce into my iron/steel alloys to neutralize its magician torturing effect, to satisfy following set of conditions?

These are things that such an ingredient has to satisfy:

  1. In concentration within 1-2%, it doesn't impede qualities of steel for production of things such as steam engines, guns, etc. That probably means the addition can't have too drastic effect when combined with other alloying ingredients, as I don't want them to impede development of my magic civilization.

  2. The alloying ingredient can't be naturally present in most iron ores(duh), to ensure that no magic civilization can accidentally discover workable iron before non-magic civilization comes into play.

  3. It's artificial addition into the iron shouldn't require 20th century technology. Ideally it should be something that can be sucessfully introduced into the cast iron.

  4. Rather than just one ingredient, if needed, I can perhaps justify two or three different ingredients that might neutralize anti-magician effect of iron. This shall however only apply if restricting it to single ingredient would lead to too much restriction on steel alloy materials as my society develops. (That is, if no single ingredient can be mixed into iron/steel alloys without it causing large barrier in 20th century tech tree.)

TL;DR: What do I mix into my iron, steel and steel alloys at around 1% which isn't naturally occuring in early produced iron and which doesn't really affect qualities of steel and steel alloys.

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    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, the literal best candidate for this answer is steel, which can be around 98% iron and 2% carbon, doesn't require 20th century technology, makes the iron stronger instead of weaker, isn't present in natural alloys, and can be mixed with trace amounts of other metals. But you expressly say steel works the same way iron does. It's kind of a pity, especially considering that steel would never be developed if civilization didn't touch iron. $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed Dec 29 '19 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ Problem is, pig iron. You don't go wrought iron without pig iron, and pig iron has carbon content. Also, once you have pig iron, you might avoid wrought irond but discover cast iron, which has 2% carbon. So, sorry, unless I misunderstood something along the way, sadly, I can't go for steel. $\endgroup$ – Failus Maximus Dec 29 '19 at 23:50
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    $\begingroup$ Iron ore itself doesn't have the effect, because in order for the effect to manifest, it requires the metallic bond to be there. Compounds, such as iron oxides, sulphides etc. just don't have any negative effect on magicians in their presence. $\endgroup$ – Failus Maximus Dec 30 '19 at 0:32
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    $\begingroup$ The answer is whatever you want, in tiny amounts you can add a who slew of things to iron, pure iron is VERY difficult to produce so I doubt your civilization has ever even notices its anti magic effect. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 30 '19 at 3:11
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    $\begingroup$ Pig iron isn't used in all iron smelting processes. It's not traditional to Europe for example. The European ferrometallurgy tradition used bloomery iron instead. $\endgroup$ – ikrase Dec 30 '19 at 4:38
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I would use Niobium.

It is not a major component in the main iron ores (though its main ore itself contains some iron). Producing a casting-suitable iron-niobium mix requires

  • The ore, naturally obtainable
  • Potassium carbonate, obtainable through potash (which has been used since ~500 CE)
  • Hydroflouric acid, first produced in 1771 (18th century)
  • Aluminum, first produced in the late 1820s (19th century)

Through a different method (less detailed on the wikipedia page), the metal itself was produced in the 19th century, specifically 1864.

In our world, it can be used in very small amounts in steels (<0.3%) for an effect not massively different from normal carbon steels, or up to ~5% to make rocket engines. (both of these usually require a couple other elements as well)

A secondary point is that, if you manage to get ahold of the pure metal, it already does a pretty good job of being magical on its own. It's corrosion-resistant, superconducts under 9K, is neutron-transparent (and can hold up in the conditions where that is desirable), and can be made into a pretty blue colour really easily.

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    $\begingroup$ Niobium carbide and niobium nitride improve the grain refining, and retard recrystallization and precipitation hardening. These effects in turn increase the toughness, strength, formability, and weldability. Within microalloyed stainless steels, the niobium content is a small (less than 0.1%) but important addition to high strength low alloy steels that are widely used structurally in modern automobiles. Niobium is sometimes used in considerably higher quantities for highly wear-resistant machine components and knives, as high as 3% in Crucible CPM S110V stainless steel. [Wikipedia] $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Jan 2 at 21:53
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The key issue is what property of iron makes it dangerous. Is it magnetism? Is it a chemical effect like rusting? Is it something specifically to do with its density? Or is it atomic?

Depending on what causes the problem, there are a vast number of alloys that could give you trouble-free iron. For example, if the magnetism is an issue you might want a non-magnetic alloy (or one in which magnetic domains are arranged to cancel each other out). Stainless steel is very different to rusty iron in some ways, but it's basically the same stuff.

Maybe the problem is at an atomic level, in which case the issue is the specific isotope of iron you're dealing with. (Yes I know separating out isotopes is harder than alloying, but it provides a neat way around the problem). If the problem is with normal Fe-56 only, then a chemically-identical sword made of Fe-54 would be perfectly acceptable to magic users.

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