Nowadays steel seems to be omnipresent, a vital component in the construction industry as well as being found in a variety of products such as food ware, machinery, weaponry and vehicles. Whilst being integral to our modern world it has a rich history and has been produced and used by mankind for millenia.
In its simplest definition steel is an alloy of iron and carbon with the carbon atoms helping to bind the Iron atoms together. Steel is generally therefore more rust resistant and easier to weld; two properties which lend it to widespread use as a building material and in machinery parts. It can, and usually does, contain combinations of other elements which cause it to display slightly different properties. For example chrome is added to create the stainless steel sheen that you see in much cutlery. Although the introduction of carbon makes steel more brittle, additional elements can increase steel’s ductility and can give it a higher tensile strength than other forms of iron (that is, it is stronger under tension and is more likely to deform and stretch rather than fail). It is this variety and versatility in its production and uses that makes steel such an important material in the modern world but it has been in use for thousands of years.
The history of steel production is tied to the technological developments over the ages in furnaces and the smelting process. The earliest smelting techniques involved a furnace known as a bloomery and the first alloys we know as steel most likely resulted from natural carbon ‘impurities’ finding their way into the resulting blooms (porous lumps of iron) which the smelting process produced.
The earliest found examples of steel come from prehistory and even stretch back beyond what we consider as the bronze and iron ages with discoveries of the material dating back to 4,000BC in Turkey, whilst further evidence of steel production has been found in East Africa going back to the start of the Iron Age in…