An increasing number of people are taking up metalwork as a hobby, creating their own projects and developing their skills as they do so. People are passionate about metalwork, taking on a wide range of projects with creativity and enthusiasm. In fact, referring to “metalwork” as just one hobby is misleading, as projects can range from creating simple household shelving to model building and even large sculpture.
Certain considerations are important if you want to be serious about your hobby. The first of these is safety. You need gloves and goggles at the very least – hot metal sparks or cold metal shavings can cause damage. Then there’s the equipment: metal saws and welding equipment, usually arc welders. These can be surprisingly affordable, with some high-quality tools available at a relatively low price. Some hobbyists are even beginning to use laser cutters as their price goes down.
Finally, you have the metal itself. Exactly which metal you require will depend very much on what you want to create. If you are thinking of creating jewellery, you may want precious metal – or at least, shiny metal. In this case, you will be judging a metal on its lustre. If you are looking at creating machinery, then the hardness, heat and water resistance and flexibility might be considerations. So might malleability – how easy it is to bend or shape metal, usually when heated. You will also need to find a supplier who sells metals in small quantities, especially to begin with.
So Which Metal Should I Use?
Metals come in different classes, or categories. First you have noble metals. These are usually found – or mined – as pure metals, because they don’t react with other materials to form compounds in nature. This means that they don’t corrode easily and so are very good if you want to create jewellery, coins, medals or decorative items. Noble metals include gold, silver, copper, platinum and palladium.
Then you have alkali metals and alkaline earth metals, which have low melting points, are very soft and react strongly with other substances. They are not often used in metalwork – they are more likely to be used in industrial processes and manufacturing.
Transition metals are the metals that probably spring to mind first if you’re thinking about metalwork. They include iron, gold, silver, chromium, nickel and copper, some of which are also noble metals. They are hard, shiny, strong and easy to shape. They have a huge range of industrial purposes and just as wide a range of uses in hobbyist metalwork. Machine parts, model parts, furniture or jewellery – they can all be made using transition metals.
The you have alloyed metal, or alloys. These are metals which have been manufactured. Different amounts of metal are combined with other substances to create a new metal which has particular properties, such as strength, flexibility or a particular appearance. Steel is probably the best known alloy – it’s made from iron with a small amount of carbon. Add chromium as well and you have stainless steel. It’s strong, easy to use and not brittle.
Other alloys include bronze, which is resistant to seawater, and brass. Both are attractive to look at and easy to work with. An alloy containing titanium is likely to be very light and very strong. Gold is usually alloyed to a greater or lesser extent, because pure gold is very soft and needs alloying (usually with silver or zinc) to keep its shape. Gold can also be alloyed to change its colour – white gold, for example, is usually made from gold and platinum or palladium.