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Let's say that in 1,100 AD, aliens secretly come to Earth and turn all of the titanium oxides into pure titanium.The aliens then leave and humans discover this new metal.

By the late medieval era, forges should be powerful enough to melt titanium. If medieval blacksmiths had access to titanium and titanium alloys, would they use titanium in weapons, armor, and other metal tools? Or would the medieval blacksmiths just stick to steel anyway?

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    $\begingroup$ I think there's a hidden question : Does turning all titanium oxides into pure titanium will provide enough titanium to work, regardless of the conversion method (if they gather together or stay as dust), or the possible usefulness? $\endgroup$ Sep 3, 2022 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ "Forges should be powerful enough to melt titanium": (1) Forges don't melt anything. They heat up pieces of metal past the point where work hardening occurs, so that the blacksmith can then hammer them into shape. (2) In normal air titanium catches fire long before melting. I hope those medieval titanic smiths had mastered the technique of melting metals in an argon environment. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 3, 2022 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ See also How feasible is using Titanium for weapons? for some more detailed answers on problems specific to machining Ti. $\endgroup$ Sep 4, 2022 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ We "have access to titanium", and we use over a hundred times more steel than we use titanium. $\endgroup$
    – hobbs
    Sep 6, 2022 at 2:51

4 Answers 4

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The main advantages of titanium are the following.

  1. Resistance to corrosion: This could be important, especially with weapons that were used then sat idle for some time. If there was a war then, say, 2 years of peace, your weapoons would be ready for use. You would not need to paint them or oil them or polish them or whatever.

  2. Strength: It has the highest strength to density ratio of any metal. This could obviously be important.

  3. Non toxic: This might not be all that important since steel does not tend to poison somebody who uses a steel knife or steel armor. This is usually only important in places such as pins to repair broken bones and such, where the object is to be left in the body.

  4. Low thermal expansion: Under normal use this is unlikely to be important. It might mean you could make the joints on plate armor a little tighter without worrying about them binding in hot sun. But I don't think that would be a big deal.

  5. High melting point: This is actually a drawback for people using bellows-and-forge type blacksmithing. It makes it more difficult to work titanium compared to steel. Under normal use it won't be important.

  6. Easy to machine: That is, it is relatively easy to start with a block of titanium and cut it to the desired shape. This is less important for weapons since that is usually only a minor aspect of making weapons. One tends to forge a weapon close to shape and then sharpen the edge. For armor it might make the more detailed portions easier. Gauntlets and joints and such might be easier than in steel. That might make armor with smaller gaps.

Disadvantages include the following.

  1. It is harder to forge due to high melting temperature.
  2. It is more easily deformed due to low modulus of elasticity. Could be bad for armor. Although some alloys can overcome this effectively.
  3. It is more brittle than steel. So it will be inferior for any aspect involving prying or intense bending. You would not want a titanium screw driver or crowbar or anything like that. There is a kind of weapon intended to make holes in your opponent's armor by prying open small holes. Probably you won't make them from titanium. And you would need to design titanium armor carefully or that guy with a hammer becomes a problem.
  4. It will lose an edge faster than steel. So it will need sharpening more often.

In summary, there are pros and cons to titanium. If the metalsmiths could learn to make alloys, some of the cons can be overcome. It will tend to be applied to special purpose situations where corrosion and strength-to-weight are important, and where it does not have to stand up to intense bending force, and possibly where fine detail is required.

So, some places (by no means an exhaustive list) it might be used:

  • Gauntlets and helmets where fine detail is important and excess weight a significant drawback.
  • Parts of a blade but probably not in the cutting edge portion.
  • "Trim" or possibly in coatings on certain things to reduce corrosion.
  • "Straps" to give tensile strength in some situations. As the backing to a blade or across strategic locations in armor.
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    $\begingroup$ Titanium easy to machine? It's known to be a PITA. Also, titanium as a fatigue limit. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Sep 4, 2022 at 0:47
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    $\begingroup$ @BillOnne I am talking about machining. It's a strong material and doesn't conduct heat well so gets really hot when machining. It has other gotchas as well. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Sep 5, 2022 at 4:12
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    $\begingroup$ @BillOnne Mmmmmm...that sounds very wrong compared to what I have heard and read from machinists. Also, just because a metal is soft doesn't mean it's easy to machine. Soft metals do things like smear, weld themselves to the cutter, or make chips that are difficult to get rid of and clog the machine. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Sep 5, 2022 at 4:15
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    $\begingroup$ Reducing overall weight of armour (and other equipment!) would be a likely use case in its own right. It may not be as effective as a cheaper steel version, but simply weighing less would reduce fatigue and likely earn it adherents who consider the trade-offs worth it (...and give grizzled veterans one more thing to scoff at their lordling charges about) $\endgroup$
    – Pingcode
    Sep 5, 2022 at 10:25
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    $\begingroup$ I think you are really really understating the higher melting temperature / increased effort required to machine into shape. This is a huge part $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Sep 5, 2022 at 11:02
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As someone who has actually worked with titanium to make tools (I made a small axe and an ulu for game processing back when I was 17 and had a lot of time in a metal shop), medieval people would have stayed the hell away from it. It took days of work with modern tools. It would be absolutely horrible to use hand tools to work titanium.

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    $\begingroup$ This is the best answer. $\endgroup$
    – Tony Ennis
    Sep 4, 2022 at 13:54
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    $\begingroup$ When you say it takes days of work, how much metal working experience did you have? Could an expert have done it in a much quicker time frame? $\endgroup$
    – Joe W
    Sep 5, 2022 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeW Yes, someone who was more competent would be faster. Most of my experience was in aluminum as well. $\endgroup$
    – user71781
    Sep 5, 2022 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ If you become more skilled with the material the difference in time might not be as much $\endgroup$
    – Joe W
    Sep 5, 2022 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ If a king starts waving about titles and fortunes looking to squeeze that extra bit of performance out of lightening their armour, well, all that trouble would probably start to seem more worth it. These are the same people who historically got their armour gilded, after all - they can afford it $\endgroup$
    – Pingcode
    Sep 6, 2022 at 1:28
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Working titanium from a bar or whatever it is to the a usable shape requires additional effort and procedures with respect to iron.

Considering that manual working is already time consuming, adding additional steps would probably severely limit the use of titanium.

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Absolutely not.

Titanium has absolutely fatal drawbacks compared to steel:

  • Smelting/forging is much more difficult because Titanium simply burns when it comes into contact with air at forging temperatures (and requires higher temperatures to begin with, which is a big obstacle if you don't have propane tanks handy ;).
  • Getting comparable properties to steel requires alloying. Your best candidate for weapon smithing would probably be something like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ti-6Al-4V, which contains both Aluminum and Vanadium; thats absurdly out of reach for a medieval society because they don't even know about elements (much less vanadium, which was discovered in ~1800), and aluminum processing is just... not going to happen.

Its also unclear that even good titanium alloys would be preferable over steel for a weapon/armorsmith anyways: The main selling point of titanium over steel (corrosion resistance) is not really relevant, and weight is an integral part of any weapon, especially those intended for use against steel-like armor; making those weapons lighter is not really helpful.

And even with armor, as I said-- you need both good titanium alloys (or the material properties can't even really compete with medieval steel anyway) AND forging/melting costs/complexity is MUCH higher. At that point, you would pay a huge premium for marginal gains: It seems very unlikely to me that the required industry/know-how for titanium forging could even develop and/or find any use...

So even if medieval blacksmiths had access to titanium, there is ample reason to assume they would just stick with steel.

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