Industry Articles From Kaempf and Harris

The History of Sheet Metal Fabrication


Sheet metal fabrication can be traced back to Eygptian jewelry, using natural metals and prehistoric techniques. From modern means to project completion to the tools of the trade, here’s our (practically) comprehensive timeline of the history of sheet metal fabrication: 

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Around 1401: People stop using primordial furnaces to pile alternated layers of iron and charcoal to liquefy steel.

1485: Leonardo da Vinci draws a sketch of a rolling mill, which is very advanced for the time.

Around 1501: There are two reports of two rolling mills. One is used to obtain gold sheets with uniform thickness from which to draw coins while the other is used to cut previously formed sheets into strips.

1590: da Vinci’s rolling mill is brought to life utilizing two heavy cylinders to press different types of metal altering their thickness.

Around 1606: The most failed technique of sheet metal is invented. Puddling involves heating up the cast iron to liquefy material in reverberation furnaces, but only used the flame, which results in an insufficient amount of power.

1615: The first industrial plant produces lead and tin plates.

1682: A cold rolling mill is found in England.

1700: Russian engineers begin designing hydronics-based systems for central heating.

Around 1717: People can obtain cast iron by using pit coal and then compensating to the shortage of wood. It allows for more complex shapes like rounds, squares, rails, and double-T beams.

1760: The Industrial Revolution created a surge of sheet metal work. With new inventions like the assembly line and press brakes, sheet metal workers of the past can produce a higher quantity of parts and projects.

1770: English industrialist Joseph Bramah develops the hydraulic press.

1783: Swiss engineer Jean Pierre Droz perfects the sheet metal process, allowing the simultaneous production of obverse, reverse, and singing.

1801: Aluminum and the steam hammers inventions end the Iron Era.

1851: The British Great Exposition shows a piece of sheet metal more than 6-metre in length, 1-metre width, and 11-mm thickness that weighs 500 kg.

1857: The Bessemer converter becomes the first inexpensive process to mass produce steel from cast iron. 

1861: The merger of multiple unions, including the General Tramping Union of Tinplate Workers, creates the General Union of Braziers and Sheet Metal Workers in the United Kingdom and Ireland. 

1885: Fayette Brown patents the first Blast Furnace Charger.

1959: The General Union of Braziers and Sheet Metal Workers merges with the National Society of Coppersmiths, Braziers, and Metal Workers, renaming itself the National Union of Sheet Metal Workers and Coppersmiths. 

1960s: The Basic Oxygen Furnace process replaces the Bessemer.

1967: The National Union of Sheet Metal Workers and Coppersmiths merges with the Heating and Domestic Engineers' Union, renaming itself the National Union of Sheet Metal Workers, Coppersmiths, Heating and Domestic Engineers.

1970: Air bending becomes a popular technique. It requires less force and smaller tools than traditional pressing.

1983: The National Union of Sheet Metal Workers, Coppersmiths, Heating and Domestic Engineers merges into the Techincal, Administrative, and Supervisory Section (TASS), a British trade union.

2011: The sheet metal industry grows exponentially. With 4,400 fab shops in the United States, it’s worth around $20.5 billion.

The sheet metal industry has transformed over time from the sketch of genius to a billion dollar industry – and it’s still evolving. The future of sheet metal fabrication techniques, tools, and projects is exciting, and we can’t wait to be a part of it.

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Download Kaempf & Harris' Metal Fabrication Techniques Cheat Sheet to learn about each metal fabrication technique.

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