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I have just finished reading the first two books in the Riverworld series. The Grails provide food and few small trinkets for the inhabits.

That the containers are metal seems obvious

"the gray metallic containers" (page 11, To Your Scattered Bodies Go)

"the mushroom-shaped stones, the straps, the gray metallic containers" (page 12, To Your Scattered Bodies Go)

"rectangular container of gray metal" (page 15, To Your Scattered Bodies Go )

The bodies of the dead are used a source of raw materials

"convert human skin into leather"

"Strips of leather, undoubtedly human skin"

"The dead had to be taken to the rendering factory up in the hills, since their fat was used to make glycerin"

When someone dies their grail stops working and becomes just an object.

"They gave the slave enough to eat because the grail of a dead slave became useless"

But I don't recall any mention of why the grails are not melted down and refined into metal tools and weapons. The search for raw materials is a major plot point of The Fabulous Riverboat (1971).

When resurrected one always gets a new grail

"Unlike the first time he had been resurrected, he was not weak and bewildered... There was nothing at hand except the grail that always appeared with a resurrectee and the pile of towels of various sizes"

A few minor mentions implied that extra towels are available as resources

"the chain of white towels"

But using the metal of the grail to create weapons does not occur.

"Cyrano had take so long to reconcile himself to the fact that he would never hold a metal sword in his hand again. Then he heard about the meteorite and came here"

Is there a canon reason that grails are not exploited as a source of metal? While they might not provide sufficient materials for a river boat, they could be used to make tools and weapons.

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I've not read it but the article you've cited describes the grails as 'nearly indestructible'. Is that not your answer right there? – Valorum Feb 23 '14 at 14:06
I have read them but it's been almost 20 years. I can't provide an exact quote but my memory is that the Wikipedia article is correct - grails are "nearly indestructible". – user8719 Feb 23 '14 at 15:00
@Richard I don't think so. The main body of the meteorite is Iron–nickel, there is extensive metallurgy in the book. Th grail is described in the book as "practically indestructible" implying that while not a risk to damage from wood and stone, it could be damaged in some way. Also as it round, if it is was truly indestructible it would have been good projectile for steam cannons (i.e. filled with sand or stone prior to the death of the owner) rather than plastic rounds. – James Jenkins Feb 23 '14 at 15:02
@JamesJenkins - don't forget that the grails are required to provide food. They're a primary resource on the RiverWorld, and each grail (aside from the initial "free" grails) is attuned to a specific person. One isn't going to try to destroy them or - even worse - shoot them at one's enemies. That just seems insane. – user8719 Feb 23 '14 at 16:44
@JimmyShelter when someone dies, their body, their towels and their grail stay where they are, the person is resurrected someplace else on the river with a new body, a new grail and a new supply of towels. There is an endless supply, just keep killing your neighbors. – James Jenkins Feb 23 '14 at 20:23
up vote 8 down vote accepted

I've found a canon quote from "The Dark Design" (the Third book in the Riverworld series) that answers your question;

"Though the grey metal was as thin as a sheet of newspaper except for the base, it was unbendable, unbreakable, and indestructible"

Clearly this substance doesn't conform to the properties of any metal on the (known) periodic table and apparently requires a level of technology to work it that is beyond the capacity of the residents of Riverworld. Even if they could somehow smelt it, the amount of metal that would be gleaned is evidently very small.

share|improve this answer
This is further supported in other places in both the third and forth book. – James Jenkins Mar 16 '14 at 21:34
@JamesJenkins - Feel free edit if you think this answer is incomplete. – Valorum Mar 16 '14 at 21:41

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