Metalwork - a potted history

Question: what was invented in 1979; of a clamshell design; roughly the size of a laptop and priced at a mere $10,000?

Most of us stayed awake in history class long enough to know who was behind the television, the telephone, the radio. But what binds most modern breakthroughs?

Metal, of course.

No one at Building BloQs claims to be a real history buff, but we have to recognise that the daily skills on show here are the continuation of processes and practices that date back to the days of sun worship and talking snakes. A potted history of metalwork from the workshop? Why not.

Experts date metalcraft back to at least 7000BC, just as humankind entered a Neolithic age. Working with the world around them, agriculture began and metals were pivotal in laying the sod of civilisation as we know it.

Similar to some BloQs metalwork members, those humans who first found and manipulated metals had dark skin, blue eyes, and were, most likely, lactose intolerant.

Anyway, metalwork itself predates the Bronze Age, which arrived circa 3000BC and takes its name from the process of the smelting of copper to produce bronze. The Bronze Age was characterised by mixing metals and creating, by stone and by hand, stronger, more durable tools.

Of course these 'ages' would be defined much later but what metal meant to the peoples of the time was not just farming, tools, weapons and ornaments. It became a profitable commodity.

Precious metals have been used as official currency since around 4000BC. The Roman and Chinese empires traded metal, as did the pharaohs in Egypt, the Vedic kings in India, the tribes of Israel, and the Maya civilization in North America.

The Iron Age started much later, around 1200 BC, once bright minds starting smelting the metal to create bigger and more purposed tools. The most plentiful metal on earth (nickel is second but wasn't discovered until the 1700s), iron was crucial in developing robust weapons of war, more advanced nautical vehicles - and windmills.

The Iron Age was akin to our own era's technology revolution, progress was rapid and skills were finely honed. Techniques were practiced and developed by artisans, blacksmiths, atharvavedic practitioners, and alchemists all across the globe. The lathe was created around this time and bigger structural engineering projects became possible.

By 1000 BC, everyone from the Med to Persia and India had weapons, instruments, tools and ornaments made of bronze, gold and iron. In China and Japan, samurais were armed with the swords that bore their name, and temples were crowned with striking gold domes.

History also tells us that metalworking was a marketable skill: practitioners traveled to faraway regions to share processes. For example, granulation – covering surfaces in granules of precious metals – was on-trend in jewellery-making. Along with soldering and fusing, some old world techniques are still used by metalsmiths today.

That's the ancient history – the discovery bit. But on the whole the methods used to manipulate metals throughout this time were basic. Although lathes were now in play, the creation of tools and objects wasn't yet possible at scale.

The Middle Ages saw a boom in blacksmithing and basic welding became a staple but we had to wait until the Georgian era, and the industrial revolution, before the development of machine tools, the rise of the factories, and new and improved water and steam power.

Metals were soon broadly procured and deployed in construction and infrastructure. After hundreds of years of wooden carriages, carts and their wheels would now be made of steel, suring up their integrity and ushering in a more modern age of mobility. In the same era UK experienced a gin boom – so it seems drunk driving was born here.


In 1781, over Shropshire's River Severn was built the world's first major bridge made of cast iron. A century later, the world's first skyscraper – a 10-storey, steel structure in Chicago – was completed after the city's great fire took out a lot of wood and brick building stock.

The discovery of aluminium in 1827 paved the way for lightweight and foil products – and the aircraft era was made possible. Welding as we know it today was soon in play thanks to the discovery of acetylene in 1836.

The wars of the 19th and 20th centuries were, depressing as it is, vehicles for much progress in the field of metalwork.

The arms races following the Napoleonic wars - during and after the Crimean War, the American Civil War and WWI - ramped up the need for slicker and more efficient metal-based materials, vehicles, weapons, components, shapes and chemical compounds.

It was during this time that civilisations merged - the sensibilities of Victorian age were being ushered out and a new day was coming: the 20th century.

And Fin. For now. As we move into the last 100 years there’s so much ground to cover: a globalising commercial world, swelling communications networks, the rise of technology - not to mention the digital and dotcom booms …

The history of metalwork hasn’t ended, innovations and breakthroughs are happening every day. Including here at Building BloQs. Where we’re doing our best to support metalwork’s best breakthroughs and practices, old and the new, analogue and digital.

It’s somewhat amazing to think that what we have available here at the BloQs workshop represents a body of work that’s at least 9,000 years in the making.

So if you want to come in and practice metalwork with us, or simply pop in to correct some of the mistakes we’ve undoubtedly made in our potted history, we’re here.

Oh, and the answer is an actual laptop.

See some of the members who work from our metal workshop by CLICKING HERE

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