Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Forged in the Fires of Mordor: The Epic History of Welding

Everyone loves a good battle scene in a movie. Whether its William Wallace charging the battlefield with his army of war-painted Scotsmen or the 300 Spartans holding back Xerxes’ army at Thermopylae. We remember the inspiring lines, the epic music, even some of the weapons—how could anyone forget William Wallace’s six-foot long sword? But when we’re engrossed in these magnificent scenes, mouths full of popcorn, we often forget how impressive these ancient weapons were. Without welding, these ancient warriors would have been forced to charge into battle armed only with sticks and stones. But because of the transformative power of welding, these warriors were armed to the hilt with some of the most impressive weapons in history.

Without the luxury of plastic welders that we have today, these ancient civilizations had to be resourceful and innovative in creating welding techniques. The first recorded use of welding occurred around 3000 BC in Egypt—maybe not surprising considering this is the same ancient civilization that built the Great Pyramids. The Egyptians used forge-welding to create bronze and iron weaponry that replaced wooden throwing sticks and stone-tipped arrows.

Welding as we know it today was not invented until the 1800s, but this ancient technique of pressure or solid-state welding allowed metals to be heated in a charcoal fire and then shaped and molded with repeated hammer blows. Solid-state welding doesn’t heat metals to the melting temperature, but the pressure of the hammering does allow two different metals to be joined and create a compound weld that is stronger than either individual metal.

The strength of these metal weapons gave the ancient Egyptians an enormous military advantage over armies that lacked welding technology. Wood doesn’t fare well against iron on the battlefield, and this was extremely influential in Egypt’s ability to conquer surrounding regions and grow as an empire.

Some of the major weapons utilized by the ancient Egyptians were the Khopesh and the battle axe. The Khopesh, also known as the Sickle Sword, was a crescent shaped sword featuring a thick blade with a hook on one end. The hook allowed Egyptian warriors to grab enemy shields to make them vulnerable for stabbing or slashing. This brutal but powerful weapon is the one most often associated with ancient Egyptian armies. Battle axes could be used for hacking or throwing and featured curved blades attached to long handles. These weapons were effective in breaking through shields in hand-to-hand combat. Bronze and iron spears and arrowheads also gave the Egyptians a competitive advantage over their ancient counterparts. Combine these powerful weapons with the speed of chariots, and you have an army that couldn’t be stopped on the battlefield.

However, the Egyptians weren’t the only ancient civilization that employed welding techniques to craft metal weaponry, jewelry, and utensils. The Sumerians, Persians, Greeks, and even the ancient Irish, utilized forge-welding to create intricate gold and silver boxes, goblets, bowls, and royal finery. Ancient welding techniques can be found depicted in wall paintings in Thebes, and archaeologists have discovered artifacts in ancient tombs and pyramids that provide evidence of welding and soldering. So next time you watch an epic battle scene, take a moment to admire the innovation of these ancient civilizations that literally shaped history by forging and welding metals.

Ella Gray is a happy home maker who's home renovation has brought her down some crazy learning paths.  In the process she has developed a special love for welding and the history thereof.  Please feel free to contact her at ella.l.gray@gmail.com.

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