For certain categories of items, namely weapons, armor and machinery (that's pretty general, I know), how well would stone fare vs metal? Assume that any complications with shaping the stone are gone.

As far as machinery goes, I would like to know about things as simple as door hinges, to things as complex as systems of gears, or even vehicles of some description. What about the hull of the vehicle?

For context:

I'm trying to build a world for a tabletop game, and it's going to be fairly high magic. In D&D, there's a spell called Stone Shape. In my world, wizards (or the like) with the capability of casting a spell like that would be fairly ubiquitous, so it's use could be very common. The spell can shape at most a 5 ft cube of stone, and into any shape (of the same mass of course), or even multiple shapes (the spell says the object can have hinges, and hinges are really two separate parts). The spell is instantaneous. That, to me, seems like a good incentive to use stone over metal where applicable, as it doesn't take anywhere near the same effort to forge.

So, given that forging from stone is instantaneous, and nearly effortless, and forging from metal is not, what sorts of things that we are used to being metal would be stone instead, if any?

I didn't include the magic tag, because while magic is being used to shape the stone, any application of the stone is decidedly non magical.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Stone isn't very good at mining diamond, gold, or redstone. $\endgroup$
    – user21719
    Aug 28, 2016 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ Why use stone all those things can and were made of wood. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 16, 2019 at 13:34

5 Answers 5


Given that people used polished stone axes in the real world and went to a great deal of effort to make them, your wizards being able to knock out dozens for very little effort seems likely. Neolithic stone axe industry If the magic takes no effort, these axes will be the cheap and cheerful ones that every peasant has dozens of. Metal axes will be expensive and high status objects in comparison.

Pottery may take a hit. Why bother firing up a kiln and processing all that clay if a wizard can make you a stone jug or stone bowl with virtually the same properties? So anything made of ceramics - from your toilet to your roof tiles - could be made of stone instead.

If wizards can do the shape stone thing to make the stone flow out of the way, then they'd be very popular with folks who want to do mining or dig tunnels through rock. Even if each wizard can only do 5' cube a day, they'll be burrowing through granite faster than a bunch of guys with pickaxes. Aqueducts, railway cuttings and canal tunnels will have gangs of wizards as navvies.

Castles with thick stone walls will have teams of wizard sappers burrowing holes through their walls, undermining their foundations and generally wreaking havoc, unless there is some sort of anti-magic cast on the walls.

Lithographic printing is so named because it used limestone. If wizards can make this process faster or cheaper, books may be more common.

Anything we make out of glass a wizard could make out of quartz (rock crystal) or other gemstones like amethyst. Most quartz will be semi-opaque compared to modern glass, but it will let a bit of light through. Making lenses from flawless clear quartz will be dead easy, so telescopes, magnifying glasses and spectacles should be another wizardly product. And crystal balls actually made of real crystal, obviously!


As a general principle, different materials have different properties. There's many variants of stone, and many variants of metal. Far too many to explore fully. However, there are some general trends you can rely on:

  • Stone is far harder than metal, but more brittle. This means that it totally ignores hits that may dent metal, but harder strike which may have left a large dent, or even a small hole in metal may shatter the entire stone because once stone starts to give, it gives all the way.
  • Because of this, stone things tend to have to be made thicker. A 1/8" layer of steel is effective in combat as armor. a 1/8" layer of stone in combat may be very easily shattered. This also means stone things will typically weigh much more, simply because they have to be thicker to have the mechanical properties.
  • Because stone doesn't bend, any errors in the final finish tend to lead to chips. Your stone hinges could work great if they're well polished, but imperfectly polished stone would quickly wear on itself and wear out.

Generally bronze age trumps stone age and iron age trumps bronze age. Not because it is easier to create but because the tools are stronger, better and typically longer lasting.

It was easier to bash two stones together and shape them than to take said stones, break them down into smaller chips, heat them, and learn how to forge them into a metal.

That being said, the metal end result was always stronger or more durable, and most importantly prettier! We humans love a shiny bauble!

A stone item may last for a millenia while a metal one rusts and breaks down. But that is if the stone item is not used for millenia and just allowed to sit there. If you have a stone pickaxe and a metal pickaxe, the stone would wear out from use before the metal could rust. So speaking in tool use and moving machinery parts, metal would outlast stone.

As mentioned before, stone is hard but brittle. We use metal tools to shape stone, so metal is actually harder. Because it is 'flexible' it doesn't shatter into pieces when hit too hard ( generally, I'm sure there are examples where it does).

Stone items that do not have lots of moving parts or need to be moved regularly would most likely continue to exist in your world. Eg a stone table is simple enough but it is easier to move a metal or wooden table around the room than drag a ton of rock...

Replacing moving parts made of heavier stone would be more frequent than moving lightweight longer lasting metal components. We humans are incredibly lazy. So while it may be cheaper to buy a stone cog once, having to buy and replace four 2ton cogs in a month/year would be repetitive, back breaking and annoying. It would still end up being cheaper in the long run to have things made up of longerlasting metal.

Think of todays economy. People have the choice of buying cheap and nasty items that need frequent replacing or they can simply buy a single more expensive quality made item.

So in summary. For simple things and quick fixes, your stone spell would work. But in the longer run, metal would still be used. Especially as this allows you to be independent of those wiley wizards!


If the wizard can alter crystalline structure of the stone or yet better, purify it, this could lead to ceramics made from natural minerals with interesting properties. Alumina, which is very widespread in nature, allows for metal/ceramics composites used in modern armour. Zirconia (found in nature as mineral Baddeleyite) is used for ceramic knives. Both can be used to prolong life of metal tools/weapons by coating them.

For heavy duty bulk structural uses (hinges, bearings, hulls etc.) you need carbide and nitride ceramics, which aren't found in useful quantities in nature and must be made technologically or magically.


How about reinforced concrete? If you can introduce other material into the mix (like steel rods), you have a much more flexible range of substances to work with.

Is silica rock? You can make lenses, mirrors and all kinds of interesting stuff.

Also: elegant stone boats.


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