Chinese people first learned to utilize iron during the Shang Dynasty (1600-1100BC). Meteoritic iron was utilized for the blades of luxury weapons at the period, which were molded into bronze handles that were occasionally inlaid with silver or valuable stones. The first true tools made from cast iron were produced around 300 BC by Chinese smiths working under the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BC). These tools included axes, adzes, and knives. In 1405, Chinese metalurgists created a new type of tool using molten iron as a hammer: the cannon.
Cannons were originally used by Chinese soldiers to destroy enemy fortifications. They were also used to hunt large game such as elephants. However, with improvements in metallurgy over the next several decades, Chinese metalurgists began incorporating cannons into their weaponry. By 1555, the Chinese had developed an effective howitzer design called the "great gun". This weapon was capable of firing solid shot up to 20 feet away! It may have been this advancement that convinced Portugal's government to send out a fleet to compete against China for control of India. The battle took place in 1579 off the coast of Macao and ended in a Portuguese victory. Although this event is now known as the First Portuguese-Chinese War, it was actually part of a series of conflicts between the two countries throughout most of the 16th century.
China during the Iron Age Other alloys, like as bronze, were popular in China long before the usage of iron, so the Chinese knew how to smelt metals using high temperatures and pounding to manufacture tools and weapons. Iron castings dating back to the Bronze Age have been discovered in China. The first evidence that the Chinese used iron in weapons comes from the Northern Warring States period (around 500 B.C.!). They did not import iron weapons; instead, they forged them in large factories called forts.
In addition to forts, Chinese rulers also built large armies to protect themselves against invasion by foreign powers. These armies usually consisted of millions of men who carried iron weapons such as swords and spears. The use of iron caused many problems for the Chinese because it was very heavy and difficult to work with. But despite these difficulties, the Chinese continued to use iron because it was more effective than anything else available at the time. The Chinese had a lot of experience manufacturing weapons out of bronze, so they knew what needed to be done to make iron useful in warfare.
During the Qin dynasty (221 B.C.-206 A.D.), some military leaders advocated using guns instead of swords to fight wars. They believed that guns were more efficient than swords and could kill hundreds of soldiers at once. The idea was rejected because guns were expensive and hard to make. However, the concept of gunpowder technology has been proven wrong over and over again throughout history.
By the 2nd century BC, the ancient Chinese had developed wrought iron using the finery forge. The first cast and pig iron fined into wrought iron and steel were discovered in Tieshengguo during the early Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD).
Finery forges were used to make decorative items such as swords and knives. They worked by forcing air through a stream of very hot liquid metal, which caused the metal to "finish" or harden before being quenched in water or covered with clay. The ancient Chinese invented many techniques for producing intricate patterns in metal that are still used today. For example, they would pour molten metal into the mold of a previously cast piece of metal to produce copies or variants of the original.
Cast and wrought iron appeared around the same time in Europe, but only wrought iron has survived from an industrial point of view. Cast iron is useful for making objects that need to be strong and heat-resistant, such as pots and pans, but it can't be hammered like wrought iron. Instead, it's beaten with heavy stones to create a rough surface.
The first recorded use of wrought iron in China was during the Qin dynasty (221 B.C. - 206 B.C.), when the material was employed to manufacture weapons. It eventually replaced bronze in most applications.
Iron will become the main metal for tools and weaponry in China by roughly 300 BCE. Among other early descriptions of inventions, Shen Kuo's written work from 1088 includes a technique of repeated forging of cast iron under a cold blast akin to the present Bessemer process.
Cast iron was known in China during the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), but it is not clear who first made it. It may have been imported from abroad or produced locally. What is certain is that its use spread rapidly among craftsmen who required strong, lightweight articles that were easy to work with. The Chinese called this new material guanghan ("cast iron") because it could be molded into any shape you wanted.
The first evidence we have of weapons being forged from iron instead of wood comes from about 300 BCE. At that time, bronze weapons were still popular, but their use was becoming limited due to overuse and lack of replacement parts. Thus, the need for alternative materials grew quickly in China.
We know that by 200 BCE, Chinese engineers had developed a solid form of iron suitable for making knives and tools. By 100 BCE, steel had appeared on the market, but it was still expensive and only wealthy people could afford it.
In addition to its use for tools, the Chinese also applied their knowledge of metallurgy to produce armor.