Metalworking is the process of turning metal ingots made by smelting ore and treating it into useful components. Historically, metalwork has been a very valuable skill and was practised by artisans who manufactured tools, weapons, armour, and other equipment for medieval kingdoms. They were a vital component of an ancient economy as they made the tools and equipment required for other trades such as animal husbandry and irrigation. The metalworking industry is still thriving in the modern era but have much less prominence in the production and manufacturing industries as they are generally automated, or mass produced. However, the hobbyist metalworking industry is extremely popular, and the community is welcoming to newcomers as well. It is also considered a relatively easy-to-get-into hobby, although it requires specialised equipment such as forges, smelters etc. which can be obtained from hardware or hobbyist stores who are also likely to have other required tools such as hammers and anvils for sale. This article describes several metal fabrication techniques and processes used since medieval times and are still in use today.
This refers to the technique of pouring molten metal into a mould or a “cast” in order to achieve a desired shape. This is one of the oldest metal fabrication methods and is one that is widely used today, as it can be automated relatively easily, such as in a factory line. The metal is poured into a cast and left to solidify and cooled in a water bath once removed from the cast. It can then be reheated and hammered into shape. In modern processes however, complex casts are made which allows metal objects to directly be cast into intricate shapes as required.
Cutting is a relatively simple method which involves the metal first being made into an ingot or metal sheet and the cut into the required shape. It can be the only fabrication technique used or lead onto a series of other processes. Historically, cutting involved literally cutting the metal or sawing it but in modern metalworking processes, laser and electric arc technology as well as high power water jets have been used.
Welding is popular in modern context for metal fabrication among hobbyists and professional metalworkers as it is a relatively cheap and easy way to join two pieces of metal together. Welding uses a flame (usually electric) to heat two pieces of metal together which can then be bonded with the molten metal. This is different to soldering as there is no intermediary metal used, the metal to be bonded is molten to create the bond.
This is one of the more complicated methods of metal fabrication and involves metal surfaces being folded on top of themselves or shaped at an angle to create sharp edges and make the overall surface stronger. Historically, this has been used in the production of swords (especially Japanese Katana) and is used in the production of knives today. The folding can compensate for weaker metals as the layers of metal increase the overall strength compared to a single layer.