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Last Edited: December 6, 2012, 12:17 pm
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Article © MAIL User: lorenzo
This article is meant to be a general guide to the use of titanium for chainmail. It is based on my own experience and data obtained from several suppliers. Although the information is correct to the best of my knowledge it is by no means comprehensive. Titanium(Ti) is the ideal material for jewelry and armor grade chainmail. Unfortunately very few people have even considered using Ti. It has achieved the status of a modern day legend, the equivalent of the mithril of faerie tales. Most of us have only heard of Ti in reference to some fabulously expensive piece of high-tech equipment such as a stealth fighter or Swiss watch. Very few realize that Ti is actually becoming quite common with several grades of Ti wire available to mail makers.
Titanium is a silver colored metal, it is from the reactive metal family and has the highest strength to weight ratio of any other commercially available metal. This means that pound for pound Ti is the strongest metal you can buy. It is only approx. 60% the weight of plain steel, less than two-thirds. This is the main benefit of titanium for chainmail purposes, when you can cut the weight of a hauberk from 30 to 19 pounds and still use it with live blades, it is definitely worth the extra cost. Ti is totally non-corrosive and hypoallergenic. If you were to throw it into the ocean, one hundred years later it would be unchanged. Titanium welds easily but must be welded in an inert gas atmosphere. It cannot be soldered by any traditional means, but there are special Ti soldering compounds available. Ti is very difficult to machine due to its strength and chip welding to cutting tools.
Titanium wire has a satin grey finish(#1) to it and with wear it ages to a shiny dark patina. Ti must be polished(#2) to reveal its silvery color, this is best done by tumbling the finished rings in a vibratory tumbler. I would not recommend a barrel tumbler, only because they are messy and very slow. The wire or rings may also be polished by buffing with a polishing compound.
Titanium is also the only metal I know of that can be heat anodized. Usually anodizing is an expensive, tedious and even dangerous process. Ti however can be anodized with a broad spectrum of colors(#s 3-9) just by heating it with a torch or baking it in a kiln. The range of colors in the order that they appear include gold, dark bronze, pink, violet, dark blue, light blue, gold, teal and green. Ti can also be electrically anodized and does not require any dyes for color, only a suitable electrolyte solution.
There are hundreds of alloys of Titanium that are available. Many are rare and exorbitantly expensive while others are all too common and totally inferior. I have compiled a list of alloys that are relatively inexpensive and that I know are suitable for chainmail. All titanium alloys are classified according to chemical composition. Alpha = low alloy content, Alpha-Beta = Mid alloy content, Beta = high alloy content. Basically the higher the alloy content the stronger the metal.
The most basic is commercially pure Grade 2 Ti(alpha). This is a relatively soft form of Ti, it is approximately equivalent to mild steel. The hardness is slightly lower, but the tensile strength is slightly higher. Best used for jewelry or decorative pieces. Prices for Gr. 2 start at $30 U.S. per lb.
Next is commercially pure Grade 4 Ti(alpha), it contains slightly higher levels of carbon and oxygen, which increase its strength. It is approx. equivalent to galvanized steel wire in strength. Works great for both jewelry and armor. Prices are comparable to Gr. 2.
3Al-2V is a Ti alloy of 3% aluminum and 2% vanadium(alpha-beta). It is good for armor being about equal to soft stainless steel. I would not recommend using this alloy as it is too hard to work with for jewelry and not strong enough for serious combat.
6Al-4V(alpha-beta) is probably the most common alloy of titanium. It is used extensively in the aerospace industry because of its incredible strength and low weight. Also the ELI form of this alloy has all but replaced surgical steel (316L stainless) for medical implants. The alloy contains 6% aluminum and 4% vanadium and is heat treatable. Strength-wise it is more than a match for most stainless steels. 6-4 is the best high-strength alloy for your money at approx. $50-$80 U.S. per lb.
6Al-6V-2Sn(alpha-beta) is just now becoming commonly available. It is used mainly for springs, as it easily surpasses most spring tempered steels. It has 6% aluminum, 6% vanadium and 2% tin. Prices vary due to the newness of this material.
13V-11Cr-3Al(beta) is an incredible titanium alloy. Although I have not personally been fortunate enough to try this material, the specs for it are unbelievable. It is heavier than a typical Ti alloy at approx 70% the weight of steel, but the trade-off is worth it. This alloy is equal to all but the best stainless and tool steels.
When coiling high tensile Ti alloys, extreme caution must be exercised. I have had a piece of Ti wire whip around and take a chunk out of my pliers, and then cut clear through heavy leather gloves. Wear eye protection, wear gloves. If you are hand coiling use a vise to hold your mandrel. If you are machine coiling use a guide to wind the wire, not your hands.
You will also notice that the I.D. of your rings will be significantly larger than the diameter of the mandrel. I always wind on a smaller bar to help offset this. How much smaller of a mandrel you need is determined by the alloy you are using, the size of the rings and the gauge of the wire.
The alpha alloys of Ti can be cut into rings with conventional means, side cutters, bolt cutters, aviation shears and jewelers saws will all work.
When weaving high tensile Ti alloys, you may experience blistering or callousing of your hands. To avoid this I recommend padding the handles of your pliers or wearing gloves. Personally I wear close fitting leather gloves with the first two finger and thumb tips cut off. I find that I have full dexterity and less wear-and-tear on my hands.
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