In Europe in the Middle Ages, blacksmiths produced wrought iron (that is, iron which was hammered into shape when hot) weapons, tools and fittings for the dors of castles and cathedrals. Wrought iron railings (“iron lace”) became popular in the 17th and 18th centuries and, in the mid-19th century, wrought iron furniture became popular in England.
Cast iron was produced in China from the 6th century. It was used in building supports, particularly for multi-story pagodas. Europeans learned the technique of casting iron from the Chinese and used it for items such as parts of stoves and fireplaces. From late in the 18th century, cast iron was used in place of the more expensive wrought iron for railings and garden furniture. As they were mass produced items, these were considered at the time to have no artistic merit but, more recently, has come to be valued by collectors.
Steel, an alloy of iron and carbon, was first manufactured in the 14th century. At about this time, improvements in crossbows had made chain mail armour useless and, so, it was replaced by steel plate. Armour was often decorated by engraving, acid etching or gilding. In the 16th century embossing was also popular for “parade armour” but the uneven surface made this useless for deflecting weapons and it was never used in battle.
During the Middle Ages, a number of cities became famous for their steel swords and knives. These included Toledo in Spain, Damascus in Syria and Sheffield in England.