Iron is hard to smelt. Not until about
2500 BC. Did man find methods to reach iron's melting
point, some 500 degrees higher than copper. Again
we find nature cripples pure materials with a weakness.
Iron by itself is limited in its usefulness, but alloyed
with less than one percent carbon, iron becomes steel.
Steel first appeared in India about 1000 BC. Yet it
remained a comparatively rare material in our civilization
until about 200 years ago. A number of communities
developed as cutlery-making centers, most notably
Sheffield, England, and Solingen, Germany. In the
time since steel's origin, we learned about annealing
and tempering, and that different rates of cooling
heated metal produced different crystal structures,
which in turn results in different properties of flexibility
and hardness. We learned how to forge weld steel through
repeated heating and hammering for form layers. We
learned to improve the purity of our materials through
better furnaces. And we learned to utilize new alloys,
creating more sophisticated, specialized steels.
Most people believe there are only two types of steel:
carbon steel and stainless steel. This over-simplification
leads to many misunderstandings.
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