Metalworking Through The Ages

Jul 2, 2024

See How Metalworkers Transformed Civilization

Have you ever wondered why different eras of human history are named after different types of metals? Why did ancient Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria’s greatest achievements happen in the Bronze Age? And why did the rise of powerful empires like the Persians, Greeks, and Romans take place in the Iron Age? 

Many of humanity’s greatest technological leaps were enabled by advancements in metalworking!

Through centuries of trial and error, we’ve learned how to bend some of the strongest elements known to man to our will. This has allowed humankind to fly across vast oceans to faraway continents and even put a man on the moon—which wouldn’t have been possible without a way to transform titanium and aluminum into specific shapes with precise dimensions.

In this article, we explore the history of metalworking and its transformative role in the development of human civilization. 

The Beginnings of Metalworking — Out of The Stone Age, Into the Future

Human civilization began with a technological explosion that moved our ancient ancestors out of the Stone Age and into the Bronze Age. Early humans lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years, using basic stone tools for hunting, cooking, and making art.   

Then everything changed with the start of the Agricultural Revolution! The advent of farming allowed for the development of permanent settlements. Soon, cities started popping up across Sumeria, Egypt, and the Indus Valley. The success of farming also led to surpluses of food, and a stable food supply meant that not everyone had to focus on farming! This led to specialization and the development of crafts like carpentry, masonry, pottery, and, most importantly, metalworking.

The Bronze Age Begins

Perhaps the biggest innovation in early metalworking was smelting copper and then alloying it with tin to create bronze. 

Early empires, like Egypt and Mesopotamia, expanded supercharged by their access to bronze tools for farming and warfare. Mastery of bronze work gave these civilizations a major technological advantage since bronze was harder and more durable than other widely used metals. As a result, bronze was widely used in warfare and crafted into spears, shields, swords, chariots, and armor. 

Today bronze is valued for its conductivity and resistance to corrosion, as well as its visual appeal. It is widely used in electronics, marine applications, and art.

Latest Metalworks is famous for our bronze sculptures, like this one we made for one of Michael Stutz’s projects:

Fun Fact: Metalworking was so important in the ancient world that many classical cultures worshiped blacksmithing gods, like the Greek god Hephaestus or the Roman god Vulcan, from which we derive the word volcano since it was said that Vulcan forged weapons for the gods in fiery mountains below the Earth!

An Age of Iron and Steel

Eventually, bronze gave way to iron, and humanity entered a new era of technological advancement. Around 1200 BC, metalworkers found a way to smelt iron into carbon steel, which proved to be harder and lighter than bronze. Smelting iron had previously been impossible since it required metalworkers to first heat the iron to over 2,280 °F! However, the creation of better furnaces and specialized processes for the removal of impurities enabled Iron Age smiths to craft stronger, lighter tools using steel instead of bronze. The need for steel is just as important to the modern world as it was to our ancient ancestors! America’s Wild West was defined by six shooter guns and sprawling railroads, both cast from steel. And without the ability to bend steel, White Star would have never been able to build the ill-fated Titanic — which at the time it launched was the single largest ship known to man!  Today, steel is used for a variety of applications, like reinforcing buildings and bridges, and creating large scale art installations, like these towers that our metal workers custom built for a community in Rancho Cucamonga.  






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Each tower was made using over 15,000 pounds of corten steel!

There’s also this sculpture, which now proudly sits in Wichita State’s Ulrich Museum of Art.  

Metalworking Technology 

For thousands of years, metalworking was the focus of craftsmen called smiths. They crafted everything from weapons to everyday household items using a handful of simple tools, including an anvil, tongs, and hammers. 

Early smiths used hearths called forges to heat metals. After heating the metal in their forge, the smith would then hammer it into shape. There were seven basic techniques to forging:

  • Drawing down
  • Shrinking 
  • Bending
  • Upsetting
  • Swaging
  • Punching
  • Forge welding

In most of medieval Europe, metalworking was monopolized by professional organizations called guilds. These guilds set standards for craftsmanship and advocated for the interests of guild members.

Unlike their ancient predecessors, modern metalworkers have access to a host of high-powered machinery that allows for faster production and more precise builds. 

Innovative tools like lasers, water jets, machine presses, and electrodes have revolutionized metalworking. These developments have enabled the production of heavy machinery (like cars and space shuttles) and large-scale projects (like the metal beams that support skyscrapers).

Modern Metalworking 

Metalworkers from the ancient world leave behind a legacy of craftsmanship and innovation. 

Latest Metalworks is the latest chapter in a long and celebrated history that stretches back millennia to the very beginnings of human society. Our team works to preserve our ancestors’ commitment to quality craftsmanship while using cutting-edge technology to improve the production process. 

Take a look at our homepage to view the best of what modern metalworking has to offer.