Metalworking has had a continuous role in human history, even though the welding tools, materials and techniques we use today hardly resemble those of several centuries ago. From new forms of laser cladding to metal 3D printing services, what we can make out of simple compounds continues to rise, yet there's many independent workers in the industry who are determined to ensure traditional techniques and arts don't get lost in the process. Whether the fruits of their labours have a practical purpose in performance art or are enjoyed purely for their novelty value, there's plenty of classic metalworking practices still in use today.
Once the world's foremost important use of metal, sword making is what many immediately think of when they imagine an anvil in modern use. Because the process of making a sword to the right criteria of hardness, strength, flexibility and balance was a long and tedious process, swordsmiths (or bladesmiths) were handsomely paid, and that's very much the case today. Aside from personally commissioned weapons and novelty ornaments, the creation of new arms owes a lot to the popularity of fantasy fare like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and various period dramas.
These however are often made with some modern tools and materials to keep costs in check; real old school sword making is very rare. Those that saw the new Brian Cox series Human Universe saw glimpses of the process of Japanese sword making, where iron and carbon are combined by heating iron sand to 1200-1500°C in a classic furnace for 72 hours, then it is cooled and sent to a swordsmith for forging. This process is still practiced by modern ddescendantsof centuries old Japanese bladesmith families. You can watch the entire process in the video below:
Other countries with hallowed histories in metallurgy have kept their best practices alive for the sake of art and culture. As we explained our last blog on the Top 5 Historic Breakthroughs in Metallurgy, India has had an important part to play in modern metal working with their legendary carburized Damascus steel. The country's process of dhokra metal casting (or 'lost wax' casting) is still being used after over 4000 years. Essentially a process where a clay-filled wax model is filled with molten metal and the clay is chipped away, the figures it creates have huge significance in the Hindu religion.
There are many instances where traditional metalworking techniques can sharply raise the price of the final product, yet many seek it out purely for its novel man-made quality. Jewellery is a global example in this regard, with the cultural relevance of many indigenous tribes and cultures kept intact thanks to the interest in Mexican Mazahua handcrafts, silver metalwork of Vietnam, copper-based Turkish jewellery in Anatolia and the use of traditional 'tagane' chisels in modern Tokyo-found trinkets to name a small few.
Even in the UK, where mild steel became the established material of choice in the 1870's, there's huge demand for traditional metalworking techniques where the unique set of aesthetics attributable to the craft are desired. Family run businesses like The Iron Art of Bath and Topp & Co. are constantly called upon to build, repair and restore beautiful bespoke metal fittings.
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