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Metalworking is the process of working with metals to create individual parts, assemblies, or large-scale structures. The term covers a wide range of work from large ships and bridges to precise engine parts and delicate jewelry. It therefore includes a correspondingly wide range of skills, processes, and tools.

Metalworking is a science, art,[1][2] hobby, industry and trade. Its historical roots span cultures, civilizations, and millennia. Metalworking has evolved from the discovery of smelting various ores, producing malleable and ductile metal useful tools and adornments. Modern metalworking processes, though diverse and specialized, can be categorized as forming, cutting, or joining processes. Today's machine shop includes a number of machine tools capable of creating a precise, useful workpiece.

Prehistory

The oldest archaeological evidence of copper mining and working was the discovery of a copper pendant in northern Iraq from 8,700 BCE.[3] The earliest substantiated and dated evidence of metalworking in the Americas was the processing of copper in Wisconsin, near Lake Michigan. Copper was hammered until it became brittle, then heated so it could be worked further. This technology is dated to about 4000-5000 BCE.[4] The oldest gold artifacts in the world come from the Bulgarian Varna Necropolis and date from 4450 BCE.

Not all metal required fire to obtain it or work it. Isaac Asimov speculated that gold was the "first metal".[5] His reasoning being, that, by its chemistry, it is found in nature as nuggets of pure gold. In other words, gold, as rare as it is, is sometimes found in nature as a native metal. Some metals can also be found in [1][2] hobby, industry and trade. Its historical roots span cultures, civilizations, and millennia. Metalworking has evolved from the discovery of smelting various ores, producing malleable and ductile metal useful tools and adornments. Modern metalworking processes, though diverse and specialized, can be categorized as forming, cutting, or joining processes. Today's machine shop includes a number of machine tools capable of creating a precise, useful workpiece.

The oldest archaeological evidence of copper mining and working was the discovery of a copper pendant in northern Iraq from 8,700 BCE.[3] The earliest substantiated and dated evidence of metalworking in the Americas was the processing of copper in Wisconsin, near Lake Michigan. Copper was hammered until it became brittle, then heated so it could be worked further. This technology is dated to about 4000-5000 BCE.[4] The oldest gold artifacts in the world come from the Bulgarian Varna Necropolis and date from 4450 BCE.

Not all metal required fire to obtain it or work it. Isaac Asimov speculated that gold was the "first metal".[5] His reasoning being, that, by its chemistry, it is found in nature as nuggets of pure gold. In other words, gold, as rare as it is, is sometimes found in nature as a native metal. Some metals can also be found in meteors. Almost all other metals are found in ores, a mineral-bearing rock, that require heat or some other process to liberate the metal. Another feature of gold is that it is workable as it is found, meaning that no technology beyond a stone hammer and anvil is needed to work the metal. This is a result of gold's properties of malleability and ductility. The earliest tools were stone, bone, wood, and sinew, all of which sufficed to work gold.

At some unknown time, the process of liberating metals from rock by heat became known, and copper rich rocks, tin, and lead came into demand. These ores were mined wherever they were recognized. Remnants of such ancient mines have been found all over Southwestern Asia.[6] Metalworking was being carried out by the South Asian inhabitants of Mehrgarh between 7000–3300 BCE.[7] The end of the beginning of metalworking occurs sometime around 6000 BCE when copper smelting became common in Southwestern Asia.

Ancient civilisations knew of seven metals. Here they are arranged in order of their oxidation potential (in volts):

The oxidation potential is important because it is one indicator of how tightly bound to the ore the metal is likely to be. As can be seen, iron is significantly higher than the other six metals while gold is dramatically lower than the six above it. Gold's low oxidation is one of the main reasons that gold is found in nuggets. These nuggets are relatively pure gold and are workable as they are found.

Copper ore, being relatively abundant, and tin ore became the next important substances in the story of metalworking. Using heat to smelt copper from ore, a great deal of copper was produced. It was used for both jewelry and simple tools; However, copper by itself was too soft for tools requiring edges and stiffness. At some point tin was added into the molten copper and bronze was developed thereby. Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. Bronze was an important advance because it had the edge-durability and stiffness that pure copper lacked. Until the advent of iron, bronze was the most advanced metal for tools and weaponsNot all metal required fire to obtain it or work it. Isaac Asimov speculated that gold was the "first metal".[5] His reasoning being, that, by its chemistry, it is found in nature as nuggets of pure gold. In other words, gold, as rare as it is, is sometimes found in nature as a native metal. Some metals can also be found in meteors. Almost all other metals are found in ores, a mineral-bearing rock, that require heat or some other process to liberate the metal. Another feature of gold is that it is workable as it is found, meaning that no technology beyond a stone hammer and anvil is needed to work the metal. This is a result of gold's properties of malleability and ductility. The earliest tools were stone, bone, wood, and sinew, all of which sufficed to work gold.

At some unknown time, the process of liberating metals from rock by heat became known, and copper rich rocks, tin, and lead came into demand. These ores were mined wherever they were recognized. Remnants of such ancient mines have been found all over Southwestern Asia.[6] Metalworking was being carried out by the South Asian inhabitants of Mehrgarh between 7000–3300 BCE.[7] The end of the beginning of metalworking occurs sometime around 6000 BCE when copper smelting became common in Southwestern Asia.

Ancient civilisations knew of seven metals. Here they are arranged in order of their oxidation potential (in volts):

The oxidation potential is important because it is one indicator of how tightly bound to the ore the metal is likely to be. As can be seen, iron is significantly higher than the other six metals while gold is dramatically lower than the six above it. Gold's low oxidation is one of the main reasons that gold is found in nuggets. These nuggets are relatively pure gold and are workable as they are found.

Copper ore, being relatively abundant, and tin ore became the next important substances in the story of metalworking. Using heat to smelt copper from ore, a great deal of copper was produced. It was used for both jewelry and simple tools; However, copper by itself was too soft for tools requiring edges and stiffness. At some point tin was added into the molten copper and bronze was develo

Copper ore, being relatively abundant, and tin ore became the next important substances in the story of metalworking. Using heat to smelt copper from ore, a great deal of copper was produced. It was used for both jewelry and simple tools; However, copper by itself was too soft for tools requiring edges and stiffness. At some point tin was added into the molten copper and bronze was developed thereby. Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. Bronze was an important advance because it had the edge-durability and stiffness that pure copper lacked. Until the advent of iron, bronze was the most advanced metal for tools and weapons in common use (see Bronze Age for more detail).

Outside Southwestern Asia, these same advances and materials were being discovered and used around the world. People in China and Great Britain began using bronze with little time being devoted to copper. Japanese began the use of bronze and iron almost simultaneously. In the Americas it was different. Although the peoples of the Americas knew of metals, it was not until the European colonisation that metalworking for tools and weapons became common. Jewelry and art were the principal uses of metals in the Americas prior to European influence.

About 2700 BCE, production of bronze was common in locales where the necessary materials could be assembled for smelting, heating, and working the metal. Iron was beginning to be smelted and began its emergence as an important metal for tools and weapons. The period that followed became known as the Iron Age.

By the historical periods of the Pharaohs in Egypt, the Vedic Kings in India, the Tribes of Israel, and the Maya civilization in North America, among other ancient populations, precious metals began to have value attached to them. In some cases rules for ownership, distribution, and trade were created, enforced, and agreed upon by the respective peoples. By the above periods metalworkers were very skilled at creating objects of adornment, religious artifacts, and trade instruments of precious metals (non-ferrous), as well as weaponry usually of ferrous metals and/or alloys. These skills were well executed. The techniques were practiced by artisans, blacksmiths, atharvavedic practitioners, alchemists, and other categories of metalworkers around the globe. For example, the granulation technique was employed by numerous ancient cultures before the historic record shows people traveled to far regions to share this process. This and many other ancient techniques are still used by metalsmiths today.

As time progressed metal objects became more common, and ever more complex. The need to further acquire and work metals grew in importance. Skills related to extracting metal ores from the earth began to evolve, and metalsmiths became more knowledgeable. Metalsmiths became important members of society. Fates and economies of entire civilizations were greatly affected by the availability of metals and metalsmiths. The metalworker depends on the extraction of precious metals to make jewelry, build more efficient electronics, and for industrial and technological applications from construction to shipping containers to rail, and air transport. Without metals, goods and services would cease to move around the globe on the scale we know today.

General processes

A combination square used for transferring designs.
jewelry, build more efficient electronics, and for industrial and technological applications from construction to shipping containers to rail, and air transport. Without metals, goods and services would cease to move around the globe on the scale we know today.

Metalworking generally is divided into three categories: forming, cutting, and joining. Most metal cutting is done by high speed steel tools or carbide tools.[8] Each of these categories contains various processes.

Prior to most operations, the metal must be marked out and/or measured, depending on the desired finished product.

Marking out (also known as layout) is the process of transferring a design or pattern to a workpiece and is the first step in the handcraft of metalworking. It is performed in many industries or hobbies, although in industry, the repetition eliminates the need to mark out every individual piece. In the metal trades area, marking out consists of transferring the engineer's plan to the workpiece in preparation for the next step, machining or manufacture.

Calipers are hand tools designed to precisely measure the distance between two points. Most calipers have two sets of flat, parallel edges used for inner or outer diameter measurements. These calipers can be accurate to within one-thousandth of an inch (25.4 μm). Different types of calipers have different mechanisms for displaying the distance measured. Where larger objects need to be measured with less precision, a tape measure is often used.

Compatibility chart of materials versus processes[9]
Material
Process Iron Steel Aluminium Copper Magnesium Nickel Refractory metals Titanium Zinc Brass Bronze
Sand casting X X X X X X Prior to most operations, the metal must be marked out and/or measured, depending on the desired finished product.

Marking out (also known as layout) is the process of transferring a design or pattern to a workpiece and is the first step in the handcraft of metalworking. It is performed in many industries or hobbies, although in industry, the repetition eliminates the need to mark out every individual piece. In the metal trades area, marking out consists of transferring the engineer's plan to the workpiece in preparation for the next step, machining or manufacture.

Calipers are hand tools designed to precisely measure the distance between two points. Most calipers have two sets of flat, parallel edges used for inner or outer diameter measurements. These calipers can be accurate to within one-thousandth of an inch (25.4 μm). Different types of calipers have different mechanisms for displaying the distance measured. Where larger objects need to be measured with less precision, a tape measure is often used.

Casting achieves a specific form by pouring molten metal into a mold and allowing it to cool, with no mechanical force. Forms of casting include:

Forming processes

These forming processes modify metal or workpiece by deforming the object, that is, without removing any material. Forming is done with a system of mechanical forces and, especially for bulk metal forming, with heat.

Bulk forming processes

A red-hot metal workpiece is inserted into a forging press.

Plastic deformation involves using heat or pressure to make a workpiece more conductive to mechanical force. Historically, this and casting were done by blacksmiths, though today the process has been industrialized. In bulk metal forming, the workpiece is generally heated up.

Sheet (and tube) forming processes

These types of forming process involve the application of mechanical force at room temperature. However, some recent developments involve the heating of dies and/or parts. Advancements in automated metalworking technology have made progressive die stamping possible which is a method that can encompass punching, coining, bending and several other ways below that modify metal at less cost while resulting in less scrap.[11]

  • Bulk forming processes
    Plastic deformation involves using heat or pressure to make a workpiece more conductive to mechanical force. Historically, this and casting were done by blacksmiths, though today the process has been industrialized. In bulk metal forming, the workpiece is generally heated up.

    Sheet (and tube) forming processes