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I am working with a story that takes place where humans are fighting against fey. However I realized that the Fey (who are famously weak to iron) would never use iron in any form to equip their (non-fey) troops. Magic does exist but would not be suitable for any kind of mass production.

I have considered nickel, titanium, aluminum and various woods but I really don't know enough about material science to make a informed decision. For example, I have trouble finding anything nickel that hasn't been alloyed with iron. Titanium is expensive, soft and has edge retention issues and aluminum armor would be very bulky for the same strength.

So my question is there any known material or alloy that is largely similar to steel that does not use any iron? Having a few unusual properties compared to steel is fine (as long as they don't melt into soup when exposed to water or something) however I want to avoid anything massively more difficult or labor intensive to produce.

Thank you in advance for any help you can provide.

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    $\begingroup$ What are the nonfey troops using this metal to make? Swords? Assault rifles? And why wouldn't the fey equip their troops with iron? Its not like the fairies want that iron for something else. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Feb 4, 2022 at 3:06
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    $\begingroup$ Not a duplicate, but the answers to this related question may be of use: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/11899/… $\endgroup$ Feb 4, 2022 at 3:15
  • $\begingroup$ I assume your talking about arming the Fey given the humans would have no problem using plain old hardened steel (MOH hardness of 8). For the Fey face hardened bronze (an alloy of tin and copper) is one possibility as, although softer than steel bronze matches poor quality steel in toughness/durability to a degree and is corrosive resistant. Titanium would also work (MOH hardness of 6.) Still softer than hardened steel but lighter (really hard to refine though). Perhaps even quartz (MOH 7) or similar non metallic element could be used or arrow heads since these are mostly 'one shots' anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Feb 4, 2022 at 4:55
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    $\begingroup$ So in the beginning was the Stone Age. And then there was the Iron Age. And in between them was the ... don't know ... Aluminium Age? No, not aluminium. Tantalum Age? No not tantalum. Drats, cannot remember. What came between the Stone Age and the Iron Age? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 4, 2022 at 5:13
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    $\begingroup$ Wen Spencer's Elfhome series has a similar problem; iron isn't toxic to elves, but it messes with magic and is therefore contraindicated (great word) if powerful magic is going to be around. Wen's solution is a magically enhanced ultra-strong tree material, "ironwood". $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Feb 8, 2022 at 16:58

4 Answers 4

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So the Fey don't want to use iron themselves or to give their non Fey troops iron in case those troops revolt against the Fey?

Bronze armor and weapons are better in some ways than iron weapons and armor. But bronze is more expensive to make and form into tools and weapons than iron is. So when iron became commonly used, armies using iron weapons could be larger than armies using bronze weapons.

And people using more numerous iron tools could produce more food and goods than people using less numerous bronze tools.

When steel was developed it was superior to iron and many forms of steel were superior in some ways to many forms of Bronze. But steel was rare and expensive, used mostly for swords, until it began to be mass produced in the middle and late 19th century.

I note that shields were usually made of wood, so it dosen't matter much whether bronze, iron, or steel is the main metal in use.

And armor was not always made out of metal. Other materials for armor used in varous times and placed included wood, cloth, bone, hardened leather, paper, etc. And possibly an armor material which combined some other material with bronze in layers could be superior to that other material or to bronze alone while using a lot less bronze.

I imagine high ranking Fey warriors would wear the most complete sets of bronze armor while lower ranking Fey warriors would wear less complete sets of bronze armor. Non Fey warriors in the Fey army might wear less complete sets of Bronze armor than any Fey warrior, and the lower ranking ones might wear armor made of non metallic materials.

I note that the amount of armor worn by warriors in ancient and medieval societies around the world varied greatly by time and place and by warriors status. If only a little armor is worn in your world, the Fey will have no problem providing bronze armor.

I note that the most common ancient and medieval weapon was the spear in various forms, which is a shaft of wood with a rather small pointed piece of steel, iron, bronze, or stone at the end. So long as the spearhead is able to pierce enemy flesh through their clothing and whatever type of armor they wear, that spearhead is good enough, whatever substance it is made of.

Similarly, arrows are shafts of wood with arrowheads of metal or stone attached, and they are propelled by bows usually made of wood or horn and rarely made of metal, with bowstings made of linen, hemp, sinew, silk rawhide, and other fibers.

The effectiveness of non iron and non steel spearheads and arrowheads can be enhanced by coating them in poison or some substance which burns in contact with water, which bodies ae full of. A coating of a substance which burns in contact with water can be protected from moisture by a sheath or coating of another material, which will tear off as the spearhead or arrow head cuts through the armor or clothig or skin of the opponent.

Slings usually hurled rocks, and were usually made of cloth or leather. I note that crossbows and catapults and trebucets were mostly made out of wood, with rather small amounts of metal.

I note that varius types of chemical weapons were developed in ancient and medieval times.

The "Greek Fire" of the "Byzantine" Empire was one of the most famous and significent secret weapons in all of history.

Use of various gunpowder weapons began in medieval Chinan and may have been adopted by the Mongols in the 13th century.

So your Fey armies could use small war rockets and early cannons and hand guns against their enemies witout being too anachronistic.

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Why not just make up some metal for your world?

The reason steel is so early in human development is because it is really easy to make and really common to find in ores. Impure steel is still relatively strong compared to a lot of copper and bronze weapons (assuming no faults in the material like voids or cracks). Most metals are too soft for weapons or too difficult to produce. Chrome seems like a good choice, but it is much harder to melt (1900C vs 1000C) and much less common (21st most common element vs 4th most common element).

If you don't want to use a magic metal or something, change what weapons the Fey use. Steel is necessary because it is hardenable, ductile while working, and common. Say instead of puncture weapons like swords, the Fey use hammers of stone to circumvent plate armor? Or they use ceramic daggers that break off inside subjects. Or they use anything style of weapon that doesn't use steel that somehow circumvents the armor of their enemies. Arms races are races for a reason. It is everyone trying to outsmart everyone else.

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    $\begingroup$ Lets not go as far as really easy. There's a reason people used bronze for thousands of years. $\endgroup$ Feb 4, 2022 at 9:53
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime Bronze is comparatively easier yes, but it wasn't until the bloomery was discovered that iron or steel even became possible. People then didn't understand fully that more fuel and forced induction produces a higher smelting temperature. Now that we understand that, it is fairly easy to do it in one's backyard. $\endgroup$
    – frogs2345
    Feb 6, 2022 at 1:01
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Bronze worked well for millennia.

Copper is relatively easy to obtain, though tin is not (as much so).

There's a good reason, however, why bronze was the first metal worked on a large scale: it can be cast (at lower temperature than iron or steel), it can be forged (also at lower temperature than iron or steel), it can be hardened, ground, the alloy adjusted -- and doesn't require the extreme conditions of a cupola furnace; in fact, bronze can be alloyed by smelting tin ore in an open fire (blown with bellows) and letting the tin dissolve the copper at well below copper's melting temperature (though you do still need to be able to melt copper for its own smelting). Additionally, bronze is much less subject to corrosion than iron or steel; where the least hint of dampness or salinity will kickstart rust that then catalyzes its own formation, and tends to produce pitting that can completely penetrate thin plates before much of the surface shows rust, bronze is almost impervious to sea water, ordinary damp, heat (up to the point it starts to soften, at least) and most common acids in natural strengths (fruit juices, body fluids, etc.).

No, bronze won't hold an edge like steel does -- but it's rather comparable in that respect to the kind of iron that's easy to get (bog iron, aka wrought iron). Real steel, whether crucible or Damascus type, requires much more knowledge and skill to produce, as well as far higher temperature fires.

The native golden color of fresh bronze also makes it potentially flashy, if it's kept polished or engraved and allowed to tarnish only in the engraving. Elves have always enjoyed beautiful things, haven't they? Even if those beautiful things are weapons?

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What about 2D polymer sheets that are stronger than steel?

Using a novel polymerization process, MIT chemical engineers have created a new material that is stronger than steel and as light as plastic, and can be easily manufactured in large quantities.

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