S&W - Scandium exclusive ?


May 6, 2005, 03:03 PM
S&W seems to have some real powerhouses on their hands with the Scandium AirLite revolvers. From what I've read, the Scandium alloys have almost the strength of steel but the weight of aluminum.

Does S&W have exclusive access to the Scandium/aluminum alloy or is it something that can be purchased on the open market? Why haven't other makers used a Scandium alloy in their products?

E.g. Not that it needs to be even MORE expensive but the Rorhbaugh R9s with a Scandium alloy frame would be very nice indeed.

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May 6, 2005, 03:16 PM
The "scandium" buzz-word appears in markets other than just handguns. Bicycles is the first that comes to mind.

My understanding, I'm not a materials scientist so get out a grain of salt...,is that products marketed as "scandium" are basically just one of the many variations on aluminum alloys.

Aluminum alloys are made up primarily of aluminum with a "smattering" (highly technical term) of other metals. I imagine most alloys of aluminum are at least 90% aluminum but I'm sure I will be set straight if my numbers are wrong. :)

So anything marketed as being made of "scandium" is basically just an alluminum alloy in which scandium is one of the "trace" elements.

Ok, how close did I get?

May 6, 2005, 03:18 PM
Pretty close.

May 6, 2005, 03:29 PM
S&W does use only a trace amount of scandium/titanium in the aluminum portions of their guns, but that trace is really expensive and really does make the alloy much stronger and harder to work with. So don't think you are paying for a 100% Sc/Ti gun because you aren't. You (or at least I) couldn't afford one.

Mal H
May 6, 2005, 05:22 PM
Correct ddc and Kalrog, but I wouldn't use the word 'trace' to describe the amount of Scandium in the alloy. Trace usually implies a very small percentage - in fact it is usually represented by parts per million as opposed to a percentage. Scandium in an Aluminum alloy can be 1 or 2% and that can more than double the tensile strength of Al alone.

Just as small percentages of Carbon, Chromium, Manganese, etc. make soft iron into very strong stainless steel, it doesn't take much of an additive metal to make Aluminum much stronger than the raw metal.

May 6, 2005, 05:51 PM
'Scandium alloy ' is a misnomer. It is in fact an aluminum alloy with about 1/2% scandium.The bit of scandium does improve strength and other properties significantly.Aluminum weighs about 1/3 of steel and titanium about 1/2 of steel. This was a development of the Russians and is now being used for various things including bicycles [it produces a much better weld ].

May 6, 2005, 06:00 PM
This is from S&W's site....

The latest step in this technological evolution is the introduction of products that use scandium to produce the strongest, lightest revolvers known, the AirLite Sc™ Series from Smith & Wesson.

Scandium is an element that is located between calcium and titanium in the Periodic Table of Elements. The possibility of its existence was predicted in 1871 but it wasn't until 1879 the Swedish Chemist, Lars Nilson, actually discovered this mysterious element after refining it from the mineral Euxenite. The source of this mineral was Scandinavia so Nilson named the new element Scandium. Pure scandium is extremely difficult to refine. Its overall concentration in the Earth's crust is roughly 5 parts per million. That means 500 tons of material would have to be processed to obtain 5 pounds of scandium. The market price of scandium today is in excess of $7,000 a pound.

Russia discovered a major source of scandium in the Ukraine and started the original investigations of scandium-aluminum alloys in the early 1970's. What soon became apparent to the Russian Scientists was that when very small amounts of scandium were combined with some aluminum alloys, major changes took place. The results were alloys in which there were great increases in tensile strength and enhanced superplastic performance. This meant far greater fatigue resistance and pressure containment capability. These discoveries rapidly resulted in the use of these new, stronger, lightweight alloys in the MIG fighters and Russian missiles. With the fall of the Iron Curtain and the release of countries such as Ukraine from Communist control this unique element was made available to the world.

Fast forward to the late 1990's where Smith & Wesson had just released its first generation of AirLite titanium and aluminum alloy revolvers.

We were searching for stronger lightweight metal systems to continue the AirLite concept into Magnum calibers. It was during this time that company engineers obtained the first samples of scandium alloy and the first AirLite Sc™ Magnum revolvers were built. The startling result was a small frame, under 12-ounce revolver that could safely fire full load 158 grain 357 Magnum rounds.

So how does a little scandium produce this remarkable increase in strength in aluminum alloys? Regular aluminum alloys have a grain structure that can be coarse and non-uniform, not a desirable property for yield strength. Even more problematic, this structure has a tendency to weaken over time through use. Adding a tiny amount of scandium to the alloy produces several results, the most important being a new alloy with a much finer grain structure which means greater strength and a reduction or elimination of long-term fatigue effects. The scandium alloy is a material that is lighter in weight than titanium or steel but with tensile strength and fatigue resistance that make it an ideal candidate of firearms fabrication.

May 6, 2005, 06:46 PM
I appreciate all the responses but my real question was why OTHER gun makers don't use a Scandium alloy in their firearms as well?

May 6, 2005, 07:39 PM
This is only conjecture but my guess is that semi's are out of the equation since polymer is as light as scandium alloys while costing a whale less. I don't know if one would gain enough from running the alloy in the slide only to justify it.

There's also a question of how big the market is. A lot of people like a little weight in their handgun. Those S&W's firing full house loads are considered "fun" by a relatively small percentage of shooters, if it hurts, you get no practice - not good.

There's a certain amount of the gunnie population that are lukewarm on super light and like it to carry but not enough to pay extra to get the snot slapped out of oneself at the range. I'd expect the number lining up to pay a LOT extra for the privilege wouldn't be enough to support Taurus jumping in.

Ruger isn't in that market. Colt is out: a Scandium SAA would be an abomination, who's left? I see a fair number of scandium framed Smiths in the shops around town - they don't appear to be flying off the shelves. I can only see two reasons to buy one: 1. because it is :cool: 2. one needs a firearm easy to carry but hard to shoot. I project a limited pool.

May 6, 2005, 10:58 PM
The major baseball bat companies have been making Scandium bats for several years now and they certainly aren't indestructible, especially in colder weather which voids warranties. There is also cryogenic treatment for bats using nitrogen as there is with rifle barrels to relieve metal stress and fatigue and increase durability usually at extra cost. I wonder if S & W does this with their alloy?

May 7, 2005, 08:48 AM
I appreciate all the responses but my real question was why OTHER gun makers don't use a Scandium alloy in their firearms as well?
Perhaps because the other gun makers haven't put as much time into getting the metallurgy right as S&W has. I'm not bashing other gun companies, but I can't see Ruger (who hasn't even bothered to tweak the mini-14's accuracy deficiencies with inexpensive known fixes) putting lots of money into R&D to make a high-end GP101. In the defensive-gun market, S&W caters to the higher end of the market, while Ruger caters to the midrange (i.e., compare the price of a 3913 to a Ruger P-series).

And calling the material a "scandium alloy" is perfectly reasonable, just like we talk about "chrome vanadium steel" and so on. The scandium does make a huge difference in the material properties, all out of proportion to the amount used.

As far as S&W using scandium alloy in semiautos--there was an article in Guns & Ammo a year or two ago about a prototype .40 that was dimensionally identical to the 3913 Ladysmith (IIRC). The stronger scandium alloy allowed the 9mm frame to handle the .40 loads without stress cracking.

May 7, 2005, 01:38 PM
semi's are out of the equation
Hmmmm .... Smith and Wesson lists 5 (count 'em, 5) 1911 models with Scandium alloy frames, and one Scandium-frame .40 (4040PD). The weights are reasonable, the prices are just a bit more than regular aluminum alloy frames. The only one that I have tried was the 4040PD, and its weight was about the same as the non-Scandium 410, but the 4040PD is said to be a bit stronger because of the more expensive material. It felt great, shot fine. I'd Really like to have a Scandium 1911.

May 7, 2005, 02:17 PM
While we are on the Scandium subject. There are a number of different scandium alloys available, does anyone know what scandium alloy S&W uses, what percentage of scandium? S&W is known for the best forgings in the gun industry in this part of the world, are their scandium guns forged or machined from billets?

May 7, 2005, 11:33 PM
Clarification: Semi's likely off the radar ---- for S&W's competitors as polymer and more traditional alloys already cover the weight reduction issue. I was guessing scandium alloys were used by S&W as the increased strength is likely a real benefit in a revolver and more a matter of "we've already got it laying around" in the context of a semi.

The question was "why weren't others using it?" In the case of semi's, my question would be "why would they?" Existing alloy framed semiautos don't seem to have any issues with either strength or longevity. Using scandium would save maybe a gram(?)

But I'm still guessing :)

May 7, 2005, 11:55 PM
Clarification: Semi's likely off the radar ---- for S&W's competitors as polymer and more traditional alloys already cover the weight reduction issue.
Oh, OK, I misunderstod. I think that you are right about polymer. Polymer frames seem to be a lot lighter even than the Scandium aluminum alloy frames. For instance, the S&W 4040PD at about 26 oz. versus the Kahr P40 at about 17 oz., both with 3.5" barrels. The S&W 410 with an aluminum alloy, not Scandium, frame weighs about 29 oz. with a 4" barrel, suggesting that the Scandium alloy frame does not save any weight relative to a more conventional aluminium alloy.

I still really want a Scandium alloy S&W 1911....

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