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xi_tujue View Drop Down
Arch Duke
Arch Duke

Joined: 19-May-2006
Location: Belgium
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  Quote xi_tujue Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Iron,Meatal&Steel
    Posted: 10-Jun-2006 at 07:59

I have a few questions about metal steel or iron.

1.Who were the first to use it (is it the sumerians)
2. best metal worker in history (ancient or middle ages)
3. Who invented steel (The japanese samurai is made of steel right? or damascus steel?
I rather be a nomadic barbarian than a sedentary savage
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edgewaters View Drop Down
Snake in the Grass-Banned

Joined: 13-Mar-2006
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  Quote edgewaters Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13-Jun-2006 at 23:09

A book could be written to answer your questions! Much is very unknown about the rise of iron, and steel's emergence is hotly debated.

Iron and steel are really two very different topics. One thing to understand about iron is that the first people to use it, did so largely for reasons of scarcity. Using iron well takes practice and knowledge, and the first iron implements are far inferior to their bronze counterparts. But bronze is an alloy and requires tin, so in situations where the tin trade collapses or is cut off and where they have the technical capacity to smelt and forge iron, they turn to it as an inferior substitute. In a short time, their techniques become more refined and iron actually becomes superior. Iron seems to emerge independantly in different locations because of the way its use occurred; so, in Europe, you have one iron making culture emerging known as Hallstatt culture, in India and China other iron cultures emerge independantly. It takes a very long time, in most cases, for iron to replace bronze. It takes more fuel, more labour, and much greater technical capacity to realize the true potentials of iron. Also, iron rusts but bronze does not. Iron implements are found in many different cultures as far back, in at least one find, as 3000 BC but widespread use is an entirely different matter; in Europe, iron is not at all common until some time after the tin trade collapses, some time in the early 1st millenium BC (and bronze remains widely used even so).

Steel is another matter entirely, and quite contentious since defining steel is dependant on carbon levels and there is no universal agreement as to what constitutes steel, and what is iron. Pig iron, for instance, contains about 3% carbon but is not considered steel because the carbon is not diffused evenly enough to confer the same properties on the substance.

There is some agreement that true steel was first manufactured in India, from very ancient times, although in limited quantities - this is likely the "Damascus steel", imported to that city from India. However, extremely skilled smiths in some specific iron cultures (in ancient Europe, the Noric kingdom for instance; in Dark Ages, many different groups, from Saxons to Vikings) had special forging techniques which could impart steel-like qualities to iron implements. This is why some of these cultures revered great smiths as near-legendary figures. Nonetheless, the East was in the lead from early times - the arts of steelmaking appears to have first developed in India, and iron alloys and industrial production techniques such as cast iron and blast furnaces in China, both at a very early date. The appearance of truly modern steels and iron production techniques on an industrial level is European, in particular emerging in England with things like the Bessemer process - although there were forerunners in China long before this, they were eventually abandoned.

To answer question 2, the best metalworkers were probably Englishmen from the Wealden iron zone during the mid to late 1500s, during its height as a centre of cast iron cannon production - which is probably the most technologically difficult proposition of that entire era. Once England established that lead, it went on to keep it until the early 20th century, always a step ahead of its competitors (good book on that era is the Arms of Krupp, which partially covers the means by which German industry closed the gap). However, they were late bloomers, and to be technical, the Middle Ages ended about 30 years before cast iron cannon production was developed. For the majority of history I think it is safe to say that India and China dominated metalwork by a very large degree.

Edited by edgewaters - 13-Jun-2006 at 23:21
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