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A unique sword is to be forged for the hero, a human-dragon hybrid. Forged in the dragonfire of his draconic father... I don't actually think it would be much different than a sword from a regular forge...

That brings me to this question. My metallurgic knowledge is limited, and so I am looking for a metal or metal alloy that can be used to make a sword for the hero, which can be made using technology of his time (+ help of his dragon father). And while I could say the sword is magic, where's the fun in that?

Technology and other information

  • Generally speaking the tech level is early-to-high medieval ages, no gunpowder (not sure if it would be of use anyway)
  • Iron and steel are common materials to make weapons and armor (steel less common than iron)
  • The hero - is actively involved in the sword-making process. Having the strength of ten men, he could potentially use his strength to work a metal that would otherwise be too hard
  • The dragon - he has human-level intelligence (higher if you ask him) and as such can be asked to follow complex instructions. He can breathe fire with a maximum temperature of about 3000 degrees Celsius, for a relatively short (two-three minutes) duration or about 2000 degrees for a more prolonged breath. He can of course breathe colder fire as well, about 1000 degrees minimum.

The weapon

  • The sword is intended to be a double-edged European-style sword. Size-wise could be described as a large longsword or perhaps a greatsword.

  • The sword is meant to outperform the common iron and steel weapons in any achievable way. I do not expect it to cut through other blades but things such as "ability to have a very sharp blade" and perhaps more importantly "ability for the blade to remain sharp after multiple collisions with sharp iron and steel blades" are what I am after, so to speak.

  • As the hero has the strength of ten men, the weight of the sword is a secondary concern.

  • The ability to mass produce these is irrelevant, and so is the cost - there will only be one.

And so, with the constraints above, what metal or alloy could best be used to create such a sword? I would please ask you to state what advantages it would or would not offer compared to iron and steel weapons when you provide your answers.

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    $\begingroup$ Titanium, maybe? Or an iron/titanium alloy? (Disclaimer: I don't know that titanium is actually useful for weapon-making.) Has a higher melting point, which might explain why Dad needs to be involved. OTOH, some sword making requires holding metal at 1,000-1,500°C for days. In general, you're probably going to need heat for much longer than a minute or so at a time. (Fun fact: iron boils at less than 3,000°C 😃.) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Feb 8 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ The hero having the strength of ten men is a lot more significant for the design of his weapon than the fire temperature. Here's two interesting videos on the subject, but in summary; with super strength you can have much larger weapons, and you generally always want that. He could wield a massive zweihänder with one hand - or one in each hand - and swing it about as if it were a toothpick. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Feb 8 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ there are a lot of "European" swords nearly any design you can think of. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 9 at 4:54
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    $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm I will disagree about wanting a bigger sword, the main problem with large swords is not the strength to wield them it is their weight compared to the friction holding your feet on the ground, swing a giant sword and your strength works against you, when you stop the sword and it drags you off your feet. the force holding you in place is the same but the momentum of the sword is much higher. it also makes them slower, and speed matters more in a sword fight than strength. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 9 at 5:40
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    $\begingroup$ With that kind of sheer physical power, he should really be wielding a mace. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Wells Feb 9 at 7:30

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According to wiki, the dragon's fire capacity is more than enough to manufacture high-carbon steel. Given the availability of such high temperatures, the dragon could replace the usual coke carbon source with something more exotic, like his own blood, symbolically linking the sword to its wielder in a way that later magically enchantment can utilize in creative ways.

High carbon steel's major advantage in medieval times is its hardness. If the weapon is scaled up in length and weight to test the upper bounds of its wielder's strength, the momentum it could bring to an impact would be devastating.

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  • $\begingroup$ @JANXOL I concur. This is where I was going to go. Your zmei-bogatyr will do best with this, unless you want to radically change either the tech level or the design. You could do Damascus steel/Japanese, but these are more technique based not alloying. Anything else is out of place for the tech level. Bigger sword, strong enough to handle the abuse, plus a hero able to wield it easily=legendary non-magical blade. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus Feb 8 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus I'm getting berserk vibes here :) $\endgroup$ – mishan Feb 9 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus, the main limitation in the middle ages was that blast furnace was not known, bloomery only barely melted the iron and produced low-carbon chunks with lots of incursions and while tatara did produce some high-carbon chunks, it was no better regarding purity. The dragon breath allows properly melting the iron like in a blast furnace and thus indeed get a higher grade steel than Wootz steel was. And then knowledge of tempering to produce spring steel is good, but that was known in medieval Europe. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Feb 9 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ You don't really want to test bounds of wielder's strength with it. Lighter swords are more practical, because they are more nimble. But the better material allows scaling the weapon in length without making it heavier, which would be big advantage. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Feb 9 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ Heat was not the thing preventing medieval smiths from making high quality steel (they could make high carbon steel but not quality (aka low impurity) steel. they lacked the knowledge of chemistry to remove impurities. Medieval smiths could make steel as hard as the hardest sword steels available today. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 11 at 6:45
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The dragon likely has a key ability other than fire breathing that will let them make a superior sword.

Flight lets them get the best metals.

Damascus steel was a unique type of steel that was forged supposedly with carbon nanotubes in it, by chance from the geography of the area, famed for its superior durability and ability to hold an edge. Your dragon can fly around the world, find the best steel, and bring it to him. It will have a sharpness that is like magic in its ability to rip through enemies.

The size of the blade should be massive. Ideally, he should be able to smash through the armor of smaller men and rip apart hosts of peasant levies, whilst wearing thick and heavy plate mail that protects him from any attack. His superior strength will let him have superior reach, weight, and armor.

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    $\begingroup$ I thought Damascus steel was less a material and more how the blade was forged; the watermarking is from the layering involved to create composite material layers. Re-forging could ruin the properties. But the could fly to a region where they make the stuff and forge it there. I think Wootz was exported and re-forged, so maybe it would work. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus Feb 8 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ We don't know exactly how it was made- a local alloy, or manufacturing technique. But, a dragon could acquire either the ore, or a manufacturer and learn how they make it. $\endgroup$ – Nepene Nep Feb 8 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus yes that is correct. We now know that half of the secret of Damascus blades was that they were made from Wootz steel. Up until probably the early 19th century Wootz steel was the best steel in human history, highly prized and secretly traded all over Eurasia. Carbon steels eventually surpassed them, which in turn have been exceeded by modern alloyed tool and specialized steels. $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Feb 9 at 2:29
  • $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep we do know how it was made, and where. We know that it is a crucible steel and modern equivalents have been made; not mythical or mysterious at all. What we don't know is quite why this veil of mystery has been draped over something so eminently non-mysterious... somehow medieval european ignorance has been transported into the modern era and treated as fact. The carbon nanotube content of wootz steel is, at best, apocryphal. I suspect it is simply more myth-making. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Feb 9 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ high quality steel billets were often traded long distance, there are Viking swords forged from wootz steel after all. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 10 at 4:16
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Heat and smelting

Making metal items of quality can be difficult. They developed better and better techniques over many years, increasing the durability and effectiveness of these weapons over time. One of these techniques is 'simply' making the metal hotter. If I remember correctly, the reason it gets better is because some imperfections in the composition of the iron is allowed to get out, as well as a more homogeneous metal after smelting. This is actually a reason why katana's were forged by folding the steel many times. To get rid of the imperfections in the steel that they were working with. With less heat, the carbon you add for strength might not be mixed homogeneous, hardening some parts more than others, making it qualitatively less strong. More purity will also rust less.

To further the strength you can actually differ the strenght throughout the blade, making it more flexible in places while thermal hardening it on the edges for extra durability.

Damascus steel is mentioned as well in another answer, but that is just one thing of the composition that might be improved. The design shouldn't be overlooked! Swords at the end of the medieval period are seen as some of the best. They aren't just designed for cutting an opponent. They are big, heavy two-handed swords that are also meant to simply bludgeon your opponent. As your guy has the "strength of 10 men" (lets hope not 10 puny men), he'll be able to lift and swing a two-hander easily. Although their effective range is actually less at the tip of the sword, your guy can make it work in the full range. He could easily make it an even bigger sword than a zwei-hander and still wield it with one hand if needed, giving him the range to nearly match spears. Further the sword had many improvements like area's where a sword of the opponent could catch on, less blood on your handle and such. Complement that with a shield and you'll be able to close the gap against ranged attackers.

You could actually go in a different direction altogether, which is spears. There is a reason spear-men were used a lot. They are very, very effective both in formations as well as one on one combat. The reason is simple. It's got range and a pointy end. It is really, really difficult to take a sword and get into cutting range without getting a spear in your body against an adept opponent.

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  • $\begingroup$ Just making the steel hotter is just as likely to make it worse, as you will burn the carbon out of the steel. Blast furnaces need to remove oxygen from the equation. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 9 at 5:50
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    $\begingroup$ @John sure, but if the father is intelligent (and has some smithing experience), he has the full range of heating&cooling options, not like the medieval smith who is limited by a maximum temperature. $\endgroup$ – toolforger Feb 9 at 9:08
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    $\begingroup$ @toolforger medieval smiths were not limited by maximum temperature, they were limited by their ability to control the chemistry of the steel. Removing impurities is more about chemistry than temprature. injecting gasses to lower the carbon content, limit nitrogen, ect. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 9 at 14:39
  • $\begingroup$ @John sure, crude of chemistry control was a problem. However, with dragon fire, you can smelt instead of merely forge the iron, which does give you additional ways to control chemistry (with the right temperature, some impurities will smelt before resp. after the iron), and it will you give a wealth of new techniques to inject additives (gases, liquids, metals, whatever). Forging allows mixing in additives, too, but the results will be different. $\endgroup$ – toolforger Feb 13 at 10:21
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Lead.

Lead is a crap material to make a sword out of. But it is crazy heavy; 3 times as heavy as iron. Your hero has a hollow sword made of steel, and it is filled with lead. To be hollow and also solid enough to use the sword must be big. The steel provides the cutting edge and contains the lead. The lead provides mass so your 10x hero can actually use his strength. This sword cuts through most things because it has so much momentum there are not many things that can stop it.

The end product is an eight foot long sword weighing 500 pounds.

giant sword dude

https://aminoapps.com/c/anime/page/blog/best-giant-sword-wielder/1et6_udlVPmDMRwl5XdGJVMG1qRNEq

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  • $\begingroup$ And the hero can't use his sword effectively because no matter what is strength is his mass has not changed. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 9 at 5:48
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    $\begingroup$ @John no problem: just wear a load of lead weights, too! his only weakness would be multi-story buildings. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Feb 9 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ He needs his full-plate armor in order to not go flying from the recoil of his own swings. On a related note I think we can "rule of cool" that his physical resilience is also scaled up, so that (for example) if he can lift a boulder that prevents it from crushing him for some reason. $\endgroup$ – Dast Feb 9 at 19:07
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The dragon is less helpful than you think

Material

the only better materials for making swords than medieval steel is modern precision steel alloys. The main problem medieval smiths had was they could not reliably make uniform steel, one end of a billet might be pig iron while the other was nearly pure iron with dollops of slag throughout. If the dragon can precisely control its heat that is help, but if he does not have good steel to work with, that is uniform steel alloys, he will just be rolling the same dice medieval smiths had to put up with. To make high quality steel the dragon needs chemistry and precision control of temprature. First he needs good steel which is down to chemistry, that is the biggest advantage your dragon could offer but nothing about being a dragon will help here. Of course you can handwave the dragons knowledge and get whatever steel you want, but I am working under the assumption the dragon has top of the line medieval knowledge and nothing more.

Forging

Properly hardening blade steel is about hitting a sweets spot of temprature and cooling. See my answer about dragon blood quenching if you want an idea of how to get a real advantage. The main flaw medieval swords had was the inconsistency of the metal. They tending to have the quenching down fairly well. Again precision control of temprature will help here but only if they have good steel to start with. Medieval smiths were not limited by heat but by their knowledge of chemistry.

Design

Use a normal sized sword, make it stronger instead. Once the blade of sword gets longer than about a meter you start seriously reducing your range of motion with the sword, real swords did get past this but many of those were single purpose swords, often anti-Calvary or functioned more like spears than traditional swords. You can make the sword a little heavier to make it a bit stronger (3 kg is a crazy heavy longsword but should be usable by your hero) but you are limited by three factors. First no matter how strong your hero he is still working against physics, bigger sword equals slower sword for the same strength. It also quickly means less controllable sword becasue the sword weights more compared to the hero's mass. When you swing a sword the sword also swings you, the huge difference in mass is the only reason it is hard to notice. No matter how strong you are the friction holding your feet in place is still the same. Second you don't want to make the sword too thick as that reduces its ability to cut.

Third Making the sword bigger also does not keep it from breaking, because the tang is still the same size, even with the best case scenario "the entire handle is solid steel", you can't actually make the sword that much bigger before the handle becomes the weakest point on the weapon. Using a solid metal handle will also suck for shock transmission. Giant sword with human sized handle ends up being weaker than normal sword with human sized handle. Picture trying to swing a cartoonish cardboard sword, the handle gets floppy first because it has the smallest cross section of material.

More importantly you are never swinging a sword as hard as you can. If you want to hit a static target as hard as you can use an axe, that is not what a sword is for. Sword fights are won or lost via speed, strength is rarely an issue, when it is the strength of the sword is largely irrelevant, it does not take much strength to kill someone with a sword. Super strength does have a benefit however, it means he can swing a sword much faster than his opponent and even strike from unconventional positions, which is a much bigger advantage than swinging a heavier sword at a normal speed. Also if your hero is routinely hitting steel with the blade of his sword he is using his sword wrong, of course that was practically the only the advantage of a double edged sword you have a spare edge once you have dulled one.

Using the sword.

Your hero is levering his strength into speed, because of his strength he is capable of moving himself (although he may have to invest in some cleats to move himself much faster however) and his sword faster than his opponent and is capable of striking from unusual positions. You almost never swing a sword with your full strength, truthfully your grip on the sword is were a person hits the limit of their strength first. Both speed and unusual strikes will give him a distinct advantage over other swordsmen and speed will give him a big advantage over anything else. Again you don't actually have to swing a sword that hard to kill someone, the hard part is getting it into the right position.

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Carbon nanotube reinforced steel. As explained in the Wikipedia article there are intriguing indications that some of the famed Damascus steel blades contained actual carbon nanotubes - and no one knows exactly what the lost process entailed. The Dragon's secret in this regard may not be his fire but his knowledge from working with (perhaps, depending on lifespan) thousands of years of human artisans. Steel is a playground for working with carbon, and potentially with this unusual method of forging the pressure could also be increased to increase the opportunities further. (Can the Dragon dive into a volcano and forge his billet in unfathomable depths of living fire?) There could be not just graphene sheets but microscopic diamonds, or stranger allotropes of carbon like lonsdaleite or T-carbon engineered into that blade, riddled in beautiful networks that provide aesthetic appeal and control the spread of vibrations and defects in the metal. If it could be made with sufficient knowledge and experience, such a blade could have the hardest edge, the strongest tensile strength, the toughest resilience of any object on the planet - ancient or modern.

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  • $\begingroup$ There's nothing magic about damascus steel. The where and when of its manufacture is well understood, was documented across a wide span of history and countries, and modern replicas have been made. The nanotube content seems dubious, as the quality of the research associated with the claim isn't great. It was just a particularly good ancient crucible steel. It doesn't need a cult built up around it. See also: claims about katanas being the best sword ever, passim ad nauseam. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Feb 9 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ On this forum I'm only arguing a plausible interpretation of the Damascus steel story, based on the idea that nanotubes could be present in a blade. I didn't mean to get sidetracked on the sordid issue of whether that truly happened in real life. In science, you want to think you know something did happen; in fiction, it's enough to not know that it didn't. $\endgroup$ – Mike Serfas Feb 9 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ We don't know what process they used becasue no one recorded it, we know several way to make it. Also ancient damascus is easily out-preformed by modern steels. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 10 at 4:31
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maraging_steel

Includes exotic metals in the mix, requires intricate / non-obvious high-temperature process to make. Actually used in modern fencing. Some varieties may be brittle. You could also go for AerMet and the combination of the two.

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Why not platinum or platinum-group metals alloy? Platinum 90% / Iridium 10% comes to mind.

  • higher melting point than iron alloys
  • 3x heavier than or and steel, 2x heavier than lead (in real world, your setup may vary)
  • impressively hard, that's why they made meter standard out of it.
  • expensive
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  • $\begingroup$ 3X heavier than steel is a big drawback. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 10 at 3:47
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It turns out the dragon is helpful after all

The good news is that the OP's dragon is of aid to the hero, thanks to the extraordinarily high temperatures that they can achieve. In particular, 2000°C is well above what's needed to turn pack-carburized type "blister" steels into a uniform, homogenous mass, through what's called the Huntsman crucible process. While the impurity levels of such a steel aren't quite as good as what today's tightly controlled steelmaking processes can achieve, the consistent carbon content throughout the batch and improved impurity extraction ability compared to prior processes would give our hero a major advantage in producing a blade that isn't going to be cold short, laden with slag nodules, or otherwise impacted by detrimental impurities.

Atop this, such high temperatures would enable either the smelting of alloying ores (such as chromite and pyrolusite), or even the use of an odd-off native chromium deposit to alloy the steel further with carbide formers. This would enhance hardness and strength, perhaps at the expense of a bit of toughness, and with experimentation, could lead to your hero ending up somewhere near a 5100 series alloy steel. Either this sort of alloy steel or the high-carbon steel commonly produced by Huntsman's crucible method would also lend itself to molten salt austempering, provided you could justify the level of experimentation needed to discover such, of course.

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  • $\begingroup$ Note blister steel requires wrought iron and reliably making low impurity wrought iron is another modern invention. Molten salt is extremely dangerous and volatile, if the salt is not very pure you can end up making an explosive instead or ruin the steel. the dragon is more likely to discover modern metallurgy than working with molten salt. the dragon would be more likely to make crucible steel than use molten salt $\endgroup$ – John Feb 10 at 4:00
  • $\begingroup$ @John -- apparently the Huntsman process was able to provide a secondary purification of the steel by the use of added fluxes? I'd have to do more research on that one. I agree that austempering is a fair ways down the list, as well, although my understanding of saltpeter baths is that they're OK as long as you don't get carbon (either as C or CN) in them. (Carbon + nitrate = fast reaction at those working temperatures I'm sure, though!) $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Feb 10 at 4:28
  • $\begingroup$ Or barium or sulfates, or oxides, or any of many common impurities in salts. And if water touches them they can explode. Again it comes down to chemistry. As for the huntsman process it is really just crucible steel which has been known about for a long time, huntsman industrialized it. allowing the steel to be worked with while keeping it at temprature, also again chemical fluxes to remove impurities. Earlier crucible steel produces steel at the end but you can't get to it until it is cooled down. The dragon can just buy Wootz steel like rich Vikings did and get the same thing. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 10 at 4:49
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Tungsten or Tungsten Alloy

While the answer focusing on filling the blade with a heavy metal such as lead or platinum to give it more momentum is great for the weapon's effectiveness, it doesn't really show of the "Dragon-forged" aspect.

Instead, you could make a sword out of an alloy from a metal with an exceptionally high melting point - something beyond the ability of a normal furnace and smith to forge. If you make your sword out of Tungsten (also known as Wolfram), it will not be able to be melted down. Furthermore, Tungsten is significantly stronger than steel. Your opponent's blades won't scratch it. It is also two to three times denser than iron, making for a truly legendary weapon. Mortal men won't even be able to lift it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Tungsten is HARDER than steel not stronger, seriously read your own source. tungsten also won't hold an edge and shatters when over stressed, A sword won't scratch corundum either that does not make it good sword material. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 11 at 6:38
  • $\begingroup$ If you sort the table by yield strength descending then you will see that Tungsten appears directly above several varieties of high strength steel. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$ – Jafego Feb 13 at 5:03
  • $\begingroup$ Exceptionally strong steel alloys do exist in the modern world, however they are relatively recent innovations. $\endgroup$ – Jafego Feb 13 at 5:07
  • $\begingroup$ And less than half of others others, that is the exact opposite of "significantly stronger than steel" that would actually make it significantly weaker than steel. You don't claim X is stronger than Y by showing X is only stronger than the weakest possibly Y. yield strength: tungsten 941, Maraging steel 2617. Tensile strength: tungsten 1510, Maraging steel 2693. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 13 at 5:13
  • $\begingroup$ Recent innovations just like the smelting of tungsten. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 13 at 5:13

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