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I'm designing a computer game in a fantasy setting with dwarves who need to produce steel. This is a very traditional Tolkein-esque fantasy world at a relatively "middle ages" level of technology (no gunpowder for example).

Detailed production chains are a big focus so I'm trying to keep things somewhat realistic (Is "hard fantasy" a thing?) and trying to design how dwarves (masters of working with stone and metal) would produce steel in this setting.

I think it's not too far-fetched to think that Huntsman's production of crucible steel in the 18th century could have been employed in a less technologically advanced society in the real world, if the knowledge was there.

So far I have the process as something like:

  • Mine iron ore from the mountain
  • Possibly need to grind this down and roast it
  • Produce fuel by turning coal into coke or wood into charcoal
  • Produce some kind of iron - this is the part I'm unsure of
  • Place the iron along with a flux in heated crucibles to produce steel

I'm not sure exactly how the iron production, the key step to a smith, should go. Is direct reduction of the iron ore into "sponge iron" acceptable for use in this scenario, or would it need to be worked into wrought iron for use in this method? I guess sponge iron/a bloom of iron would contain too many impurities to use?

Is there a better method I should be using? Some way that dwarves in this setting could avoid the labor-intensive working of iron into wrought iron? I'm aware of wootz/Damascus steel but I think it would be nice to have dwarves use the (more advanced?) crucible method to produce larger quantities than the medieval-level humans do in the same setting, is possible. Assume that the dwarves have a fairly large workforce of willing blacksmiths, as well as the ability to use waterwheels or windmills where appropriate.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hard fantasy is a thing. It requires that any magic systems are very clearly defined in what they can and can't do. Read more here -brandonsanderson.com/sandersons-first-law for more on that. Brandon Sanderson is a master of Hard fantasy. $\endgroup$ – ArcWraith Jun 24 '18 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ @ArcWraith Brandon Sanderson is my favourite author, for his rules-based magic systems and detailed worldbuilding $\endgroup$ – Ross Taylor-Turner Jun 26 '18 at 7:24
  • $\begingroup$ "(...)avoid the labor-intensive working of(...)" In most fantasy literature I've read, the dwarves would be offended by that. If it's not labor-intensive it is not dwarvish. $\endgroup$ – Renan Jul 3 '18 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ What are you planning the steel be used for? Arms and Armor? $\endgroup$ – James Jul 3 '18 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ Yes I suppose arms and armor is to be the primary use $\endgroup$ – Ross Taylor-Turner Jul 5 '18 at 8:25
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Why not go full out and have them use blast furnaces and the bessemer process?

Blast furnace This will get you iron. Blast furnaces were first invented in china in the first century, construction wise they are fairly simple. The biggest issue needed for a blast furnace is a powerful bellows which would naturally progress from engineering focused dwarves trying to get hotter and hotter flames or just trying to get fresh air into a subterranean city. It could even be an accidental discovery, to keep fires going underground without suffocating they will have to know how to reliably move air around. I can almost imagine dwarves cutting the furnace out of solid rock so it will last forever. Blast furnaces are still used today.

You also need limestone flux and coal but again... dwarves. If anything they will start with a much better footing as mining is far more common for dwarves and the ability to extract the necessary rocks will be easier for them. Blast furnaces are fiddly but in the exact way dwarves would love; precisions mixing, close observation, and assessment of material quality. It also requires a big collective effort, which is perfect for dwarves.

Bonus the slag from making coke from coal can be used as fertilizer and dwarven agriculture needs all the help it can get.

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The bessemer process. This step is more optional and individual dwarves could still make smaller furnaces. The bessemer process if used to mass produce steel from pig iron. It will make dwarven steel consistently better and as a subterranean race they will start with a better understanding of forced air processes necessary. In the early days the process was regulated just by looking at the fire, no fancy sensors necessary. It also favors coal as a fuel source over charcoal, which requires a lot of lumber, so again better for subterranean dwarves. Even the Spiegeleisen needed to make the best steels is just a matter of mixing iron ore and certain rocks together in a blast furnace.

The only thing you really need is precise metalworking and stone cutting, which dwarves are supposed to be good at, and a small amount of metallurgy(chemistry) that they would likely have discovered anyway.

Using a limestone or dolomite instead of clay lining for the furnace will result in a better product and stoneworking dwarves would certainly notice this. It has the bonus feature of producing fertilizer usable slag, which might explain how dwarves are able to grow so much with so little farmland.

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The dwarfs best smelters use steam distillation of iron to make the best steel. They find certain magma flows that have a higher temp than the evaporation temperature of iron (iorn boiling point 5,184°F,2,862°C). This might be a bit of a factual stretch, since most high upper strata magma temps top out around 2,000°C but if they can figure out the fundamentals of heat transfer they could pump up the temperature of one stream of magma.

They have stone tubes that guide the iron steam and it slowly condenses into liquid iron as it cools. They then add the elements they need to get the carbon into the iron. They cool it and are good to go.

Simply using magma as a heat source to melt iron in minutes instead of hours or days makes dwarfs more efficient than surface dwellers.

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  • $\begingroup$ I do like the idea of dwarves using near-surface magma flows and it can form a great gameplay feature, thanks for this! $\endgroup$ – Ross Taylor-Turner Mar 10 '17 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ Though the more I think about it, boiling iron may not be quite feasible enough, I'm a bit undecided on it $\endgroup$ – Ross Taylor-Turner Mar 10 '17 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ I suspect the game 'dwarf fortress' influenced this answer. Magma solves everything! $\endgroup$ – Mark Ripley Mar 11 '17 at 11:33
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    $\begingroup$ I have never heard of using distillation principles to get metal from ore. Distillation does not address how to make the iron man into steel but the premise is so cool you get my vote. PCSgtL did you invent distilling ore or do people do that? If it exists can you add a link to your idea for those who might want to read more? $\endgroup$ – Willk Mar 12 '17 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Will Modern steel is made from molten iron and nearly pure carbon. Distillation is process of separating the component from a liquid by selective evaporation. Many industries use it on liquids other than water. Due to the energy cost of getting most metals to a liquid state I don’t think any place is currently doing it. Modern tech can generate temperatures up to 3.6 billion degree Fahrenheit. So it’s definitely possible. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distillation $\endgroup$ – PCSgtL Mar 13 '17 at 15:56
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I'm no expert, but i'll give it a try. As far as i know you mostly need know-how to make steel from iron.

To make iron you smelt iron-ore and then separate iron and slag (that's were the flux is used).

Afterwards one can convert the iron to steel by using know-how, fuel and a special oven: puddling

Personally i think its far more "realistic" that a race like dwarves have a natural connection to stones and metal to have instinctual knowledge the humans needed centuries to discover.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree that it feels right for dwarves to have more know-how than medieval humans for more advanced processes. In the case of using a puddling furnace, the question is still how the iron would be produced - puddling furnaces seem to use pig iron which is produced from a blast furnace (at least in modern times) so I'm unclear on how the dwarves would or should produce quantities of iron for this use $\endgroup$ – Ross Taylor-Turner Mar 10 '17 at 15:07

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