The History of Steel and Metal Forging, Part 1

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The History of Steel and Metal Forging, Part 1

history steel metal forging

At Wasatch Steel, our dedication to our customers and the quality of product we produce for them is something we’re proud of. When you buy steel from us, whether it’s steel tube, steel pipe or any of our variety of other products and materials, you receive materials that have been cared for and put through all the proper testing and processes to ensure they’re right for your project.

In addition to our attention to detail, we’re also highly cognizant of the history behind the steel field – a history that dates back thousands of years and tracks directly to modern steel processes. One such process is the forging of steel, which involves shaping the steel using compression, heat and extreme pressure. This two-part blog series will dig into the ancient history of steel and metal forging, plus how this evolved to the modern processes we have available to us today. 

Fire Taming

Before we get into the specifics of steel forging, it’s vital to note one major human historical event that set the table for this entire field: The taming of fire. The earliest humans viewed fire as a threat, but before long we had learned to utilize it for basic purposes like light, heat and cooking purposes.

And not long after that, even further utility was realized. Humans began using fire to protect them against wild animals or each other, and eventually realized it could be used to shape various metals. This was the beginning of the forging process.

Ancient Forging

Speaking to steel specifically, the forging process dates back well over 6,000 years, to 4000 BC and even earlier. It began in Mesopotamia – the first metals forged here were gold, bronze and iron, which were used to produce tools, weapons and jewelry. Steel would soon be introduced as well, and all these processes utilized a rock as a forging hammer along with the heat created by fire. This would remain the primary method of metal and steel forging all the way until the early parts of the 19th century.

19th Century Forging Processes

In the early 1900s, a process called open die forging for wrought iron became popular. This involved using a huge heat source to form iron – smiths still used hammers for many other processes where this heat wasn’t yet available.

And then another major event occurred: The invention of the steam engine, which set the foundation for modern forge engineering. The power supplied by the engine allowed the forging industry to expand and limit its reliance on river locations, developing steam and air hammers that could be used anywhere. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, hammers driven by transmission shafts were used in steel forging for parts in the vehicle, railway and even agricultural industries.

For more on the history of forging steel, or to learn about any of our steel processes or products, speak to the staff at Wasatch Steel today.