forging and hammering. Lots of tedious forging and hammering.
Prior to drawplates and rolling mills, our raw materials of sheet and
wire which we take for granted, represented already a lot of hand
labor to fabricate just the sheet and wire. But it did present some
opportunintes that we'd find difficult, or at least not so obvious.
Some medieval armor, for example, is made of steel sheet that varies
a great deal in thickness. It's thickest where the protection is
most needed, thinning out where the needs are less, to cut the
weight. When the sheet metal being used is forged from an ingot in
the first place, and the skills to do that are second nature, then
either making sheet metal with variable thickness as desired, or
simply forging the metal as it's being made into an object to
control the sheet metal's thickness "on the fly", becomes also
second nature. We, without those built in forging skills, tend to
leave our sheet metal "as is", even if the piece would improve with
changes in thickness.
And with wire, in particular, getting highly uniform shape and
thickness obviously requires a tremendous amount of work. One of the
more common hallmarks of forgeries of work that would have been made
prior to the introduction of drawplates, is that few forgers will
take the time to manually make the wire, and drawplates leave marks,
even if only that the thickness and cross sectional shape of the
wire is so very uniform that it might be unlikely to have been
manually made "the old way". more common is simply finding drawing
striations on the wire from the drawplate. Wire made before
drawplates was often done by taking sheet metal, and, often with a
chisel, cutting an even spiral shape, which would then be
straightened out to form a long narrow strip. Gentle hammering,
burnishing, and the like would then even out the shape. if it needed
to be reduced in size, annealing and stretching will also do it
(in addition to actual forging or the like), if you're very very
careful not to break it at thin spots....
I've occasionally thought to myself that the skills required just to
produce what we now consider our raw materials, in ancient work,
might even have represented much or even most of the required work to
produce some of the pieces. Occasionally it's just mind blowing. I
recall seeing some precolumbian (peruvian) work up very close, and
marvelling at the precision of the wire and sheet used to fabricate
some of those intricate pieces, especially knowing not just that the
wire and sheet were hand formed, but that they were probably formed
not even with iron or metal tools, but rather with stone hammers
and natural abrasives...
Gives one reason to pause, now and then... But remember that some
of these tools may go back farther than we realize. I seem to
recall reading (probably in one of Jack Ogden's books. Did I
remember this right Mr. Ogden, of you're reading this?) that
drawplates were known in roman times...