The art of forging dates to at least 4000BC and probably earlier. Metals such as bronze and wrought iron were forged by early man to produce hand toots and weapons of war. Forging of wrought iron and crucible steel continued until near the end of the 19th century for similar purposes and it is unfortunate that weapons of war are still produced by the forging process using more contemporary metals.
Forging Through the 19th Century
The forgesmiths of the 19th century were particularly skilled at hand and open die forging of wrought iron. As wrought iron was only produced in heats of 50 kilograms, the smiths became skillful in hammer welding and many large shaft forgings weighing 10 tonnes and more were gradually built up by a process of forging and hammer welding. The invention of the Bessemer steel making process in 1856 was a major breakthrough for the ferrous forging industry. The forgers now had a plentiful supply of low cost steel for production of volume quantities of forgings. It has been accepted that the first cavity steel forgings using a closed die process commenced in the United States in 1862 for production of components for the Colt revolver.
Steel Making Developments That Aided the Forging Industry
The further development of the Bessemer process with the invention of the basic steel making technique meant that cheaper supplies of iron ore containing high phosphorus and sulphur levels could be smelted to produce good quality steel.
The simultaneous development of the open hearth steel making process toward the end of the 19th century meant that the forging industry now had a reliable, low cost, high volume raw material.
Invention of the Forging Press
With the introduction of motor vehicles and in particular Henry Ford’s T Model a considerable demand for forgings developed in the early years of the 20th century. Up until 1930, when National Machinery Company of the USA introduced the first forging press (Maxipress), all forgings were produced on hammers. The advantage of the forging press was exemplified by higher production rates and a lesser degree of skill in producing forgings as compared to hammer forging.
The introduction of the forging press did not obsolete the forging hammer but rather challenged the manufacturers to improve their product and of course, there are many forgings which are best made on hammers.
Modern Computer Controlled Forging Machines
Today we have computer controlled hammers and presses capable of making a wide range of components in a variety of materials for many applications including aerospace, automobile, mining and agriculture, to mention a few.