Forging is one of the oldest trades in the world. There is plenty of evidence of jewelry and tools made with this technique and found in archaeological excavations. These elements are part of our artistic and cultural heritage, and they provide important information about the beliefs and customs of our ancestors.
But how did they work metal back then? What remains of those processes today? Here we will try to answer these questions.
The origins of forging: Fire and the hammer as the main tools of manual forging
Forging is a process of shaping by deformation — meaning that the material, usually iron or steel, is taken beyond its former limit of elasticity without breaking. This is accomplished by applying different compressive forces. The result is a material with great strength and durability.
Today there are many forging techniques, but originally what we now know as manual forging was used. In this process, two main elements are used to shape the material: fire and the hammer.
In manual forging, the material is heated to a high temperature and struck with a hammer until the desired shape is achieved. This is a process that requires a lot of strength and stamina, but also skill.
A traditional forge is a brick or stone structure covered with a grid, where the fire is fanned by forcing a horizontal air current through a manual or mechanical bellows. In a workshop of this type, we also usually find an anvil, which serves as a surface to strike the red-hot iron on.
Iron forging, one of the first forging techniques
Manual forging is one of the first methods by which iron was worked. It is not known exactly when itemerged, although some experts place it around 3,000 BC in Mesopotamia. What we do know is that the ancient Egyptians were familiar with this technique and used it continuously, as evidenced by the weapons and ornaments found in some tombs of the time.
In the Iron Age — which in the Iberian Peninsula lasted from 1000 B.C. until the Roman conquest in 218 B.C. — the forge became a key element for the improvement of the quality of life of the inhabitants of our planet. This period is characterized by the popularization of iron to the detriment of bronze, which had been most widely used in the previous era. Although its resistance is lower, iron was and still is one of the most abundant metals in our planet. Thanks to forged iron, agricultural tools and utensils were able to be created, allowing people to better cultivate their land, as was jewelry, which encouraged exchange and trade with other civilizations.
Forging continued to be used during the Roman Empire, but it was after its fall, in the Middle Ages, that the practice spread. At that time, many different types of businesses were created to manufacture everything from horseshoes or nails to jewelry or weapons. The forges multiplied and the blacksmiths’ guilds were born.
Manual Forging Today
Over the years, the metal industry has evolved on every level, with the incorporation of new processes and technological tools that have helped to lessen the physical strain on workers. However, the artisan processes of manual forging still have a large following today. Proof of this is the success achieved by a well-known television program where several blacksmiths compete in the manufacture of historical weapons that are put to the test by a panel of judges.
Beyond the anecdotal case of television shows, hand forging is still used for complex and elaborate decorative designs — in parts of doors, grilles, lamps and other fixtures, as well as in sculpture and jewelry. This is because the products resulting from natural forging carry the imprint and personal style of the blacksmith who designed them, something difficult to achieve with industrial processes.
Industrial Forging – ULMA
Forging experienced a great leap both in quality and quantity in the industrial era with the development of different types of presses. Currently, ULMA has different technologies (hydraulic presses, mechanical presses, hammers, rolling mill) and processes (closed die or open die) that are key to our ability to manufacture a very wide range of products — in terms of shape, size and material — and do so efficiently.
We have very high quality human and productive resources and at ULMA we are always able to provide the right solution for our client’s needs.