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Metalwork History, Tools & Processes | What is Metalworking?

Instructor: Nathan Mahr

Nathan has taught English literature, business, social sciences, writing, and history for over five years. He has a B.A. in Comparative History of Ideas from the University of Washington.

Learn about metalwork and understand the different types of metalworking processes. Explore the history of metalworks and study examples of metalworks. Updated: 01/20/2023

What is Metalwork?

Metalwork is the manipulation of metal materials to create art, tools, jewelry, and other objects. It involves a variety of techniques and processes, including welding, cutting, inlaying, gilding, casting, and machining. Metalworking has been used since ancient times as an important form of craftsmanship. In modern times, it is often automated or done with machines.

In metalwork, metal materials such as steel, copper, aluminum, bronze, and brass are manipulated to create desired shapes and sizes. The process typically starts with the selection of an appropriate piece of metal material for the project. This may involve cutting it into smaller parts or using a machine to shape it. Once the desired shape is achieved, the metal may be joined together using welding or soldering. In other cases, it can be fastened together with bolts, rivets, and other hardware.

For example, a metalworker might shape a piece of steel into the frame of a chair. They would then use welding to attach the legs and arms before sanding and painting it to complete the design. This is just one basic example of how metalworking can be used to create different objects.

Metalwork is a complex and intricate craft that requires knowledge of both the material being worked with and the techniques used to manipulate it. Safety is typically a top priority in metalworking due to the inherently hazardous nature of the tools and materials. As such, many metalworking shops require the use of protective eyewear and breathing masks when working with certain materials or tools.

Metalworking Tools

The most common metalworking tools are drills, saws, grinders, and welding torches. Drills are used to make holes in metal, while saws can be used to cut and shape the material. Grinders are used to refine shapes or create intricate details. Finally, welding torches are used to join two pieces of metal together.

Other tools used in metalworking include hammers, chisels, and files. These are used to shape the metal and refine its details. For larger pieces of metal, a press may be used to bend or form it into the desired shape. The tools used in metalworking can also vary depending on the process being used. For example, casting requires specific molds and tools, while machining requires specialized machines to shape and refine the metal.

History of Metalworking

Metalworking has been around since ancient times, but the tools and techniques used to shape metal have changed dramatically over the centuries. In ancient times, metalworking was done by blacksmiths who used primitive tools such as hammers and anvils to shape metal. By the Middle Ages, these tools had become much more sophisticated, and metalworking was used to create weapons, jewelry, and other objects.

When the Industrial Revolution came around, metalworking was revolutionized with the introduction of mass production and mechanization. This allowed for larger and more complex pieces to be crafted with more precision. In modern times, metalworking is often automated or done with computers to create intricate and complex pieces of art or tools.

Metalworking Processes

There are many different metalworking processes that can be used to shape and manipulate metal materials. The most common processes include inlaying, engraving, hammering, gilding, enameling, and embossing. Each of these processes requires specialized tools and techniques to achieve the desired effect. The following sections will discuss each of these processes in greater detail.


Inlaying is a metalworking process where pieces of different metals are cut and fit into grooves or indentations in the base metal. This is done to create intricate designs and patterns on the surface. It can also be used to add color or variety to a piece of metal by using different metals of different colors or textures. The process involves using tools such as chisels and hammers to cut and shape the metal pieces before fitting them into the grooves. It is often a painstaking and precise process that requires significant amounts of skill and patience.


The process of engraving involves cutting or etching designs, letters, or images into a hard substance such as metal. An engraver will use tools such as a chisel and hammer or a small power tool to carve out the desired design. Different techniques, such as hand-engraving, air-engraving, and electro-etching, can be used to achieve different effects. Engraving is often used to personalize jewelry or other metal objects or to create decorative pieces such as signs or sculptures.


Hammering is one of the oldest and most common metalworking processes. It is centered around striking a metal piece with a hammer or other tool in order to shape, form, or refine it. Forging (hammering on an anvil or hard surface) or even stamping can all be used to achieve different effects. Hammering is typically used to create or refine details such as edges, curves, and shapes on metal objects.


Gilding is the process of applying a thin layer of metal to an object in order to give it a decorative finish. This can be done by applying a thin layer of gold, silver, or other metals over the surface. It is often used in decorative arts such as jewelry making and metalwork. This process requires specialized tools and expertise to ensure a smooth, even finish.

Gilding is used to decorate the surfaces of various surfaces with various types of metal.

Photograph of a wooden frame being gilded with gold.


Enameling is the process of covering a metal surface with enamel, which is essentially a type of powdered glass. Enameling is typically achieved by either firing the enamel in a kiln or applying it to the metal and then curing it in an oven. The enamel is applied using specialized tools such as brushes or needles and can be used to add color and texture to metal objects.


The process of embossing is centered around pressing a design into a metal surface using tools such as stamps, dies, and presses. This results in a raised pattern or shape. It is often used to add texture or intricate details to a piece of metal. Embossing can be done using either hand tools or machines and typically involves heating the metal to soften it before pressing it into the desired design. Embossing is also used to create decorative patterns on jewelry or other metal objects.

Examples of Metalworks

It can be helpful to explore some examples of metalwork and metalworking processes in order to gain a better understanding of the techniques and tools involved.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are examples of metalwork?

Some examples of metalwork include creating decorative pieces such as jewelry, tools and weapons, aircraft parts, automotive components, sculptures, and artwork. Each of these examples requires different techniques and tools in order to create a finished product.

What are the types of metalworking?

There are many different types of metalworking that can be used to create and manipulate metal objects in different ways. Some of these methods of metalworking include welding, embossing, hammering, gilding, and engraving.

How difficult is metalworking?

Metalworking can range from being relatively simple to quite complex, depending on the type of metalwork being done. Generally speaking, many metalworking techniques require extensive training and practice along with specialized tools and machinery in order to achieve professional results.

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