The history of welding in sheet metal fabrication

Welding is a crucial process in modern sheet metal fabrication. In short, the process involves fusing metals by heating them to a high temperature, and then the metals solidify in their new shape as they cool.

Welding is unlike other metal-joining processes, such as soldering or brazing. These techniques don’t melt the base metal involved, so there’s no actual fusion. Nowadays, welding is ubiquitous in metal fabrication and sculpturing worldwide. It’s an essential process in CSM’s day-to-day sheet metal production, for instance.

But how did the process come about? Let’s delve a little deeper.

When did welding originate?

Welding in its primitive form dates back thousands of years. There’s evidence of welding processes being used back in the Bronze Age.

This type of welding is known as forge welding. Although specifics vary to a degree, this essentially involves heating metal placed on an anvil until it’s red hot, and bashing into shape with some kind of hammer.

Forge welding has its limitations. It’s only really possible to use softer metals, and the process is incredibly labour intensive. And because the metal is red hot – but not at melting point – any two metals used will not actually fuse together.

When was modern welding born?

Like so many processes, modern welding wasn’t born in one ‘eureka’ moment. It evolved in stages over the course of the 19th century, fuelled by the onset of the industrial revolution.

While researching electricity, in 1800, Sir Humphry Davy was the first person to produce an electric arc. By using a battery, he joined two carbon electrodes.

Another ultimately momentous step occurred in 1836, when Edmund Davy discovered acetylene. But in spite of its importance, it would be over 60 years before this was harnessed in the form of a suitable torch.

In the meantime, advances in welding were made in eastern Europe. Nikolai Benardos was the first to develop practical arc welding, and patented a method of doing so using carbon rods. This opened the floodgates for rapid advances in welding processes.

Back west, an American engineer called C.L. Coffin discovered another arc welding process, which would lead to shielded metal arc welding.

During this time, different types of welding were practised, such as oxyfuel welding. This became the major player in the industry for many years, because oxyfuel was portable and comparatively cheap. However, with this process oxidation would occur, leading to brittle, porous welds. Sadly, a lot of equipment that was poorly welded using this process posed a great danger to many industrial workers. Over the decade straddling the turn of the century, thousands of workers were killed due to equipment breaking and exploding.

How is modern welding different?

Throughout the 20th century, arc welding became the dominant type of welding used in industry. This type of welding shields the base metal from impurities, but is also more stable – meaning, crucially, that it’s much safer.

Of course, welding has come on in leaps and bounds over the last hundred years. For instance, computer-controlled robotic welding is being used more and more in the metal fabrication industry, which can be more accurate than manual welding. And, most importantly, the risk to human workers is minimised. 

Want to know more?

Here at CSM, we’re well-versed in producing high-quality, bespoke welds for a wide array of purposes. And we have over a quarter of a century’s metalwork and welding experience. If you’d like to know more about the other metalwork services we offer, please get in touch today.

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