JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
We hear daily reports referring to refining, but there are very few about fining.. But there the word was, (appropriately) stick in the title of John Petrus' translation of Lazarus Ercker's classic work, Fleta minor: the laws of art and nature, in knowing, judging, assaying, fining, refining, and inlarging the bodies of confin'd metals. In two parts / the first contains assays of Lazarus Erckern ... in V books : originally written by him in the Teutonick language, and now translated into English ; the second contains essays on metallick words, as a dictionary to many pleasing discourses, by Sir John Pettus ... Knight . (See the Richard Westfall entry at the Galileo Project on Erker, especially on how he was able to support himself. The book itself is an engineer's delight, with applications of practical experience on all aspects of mines, mining and working with mined products. It turns out that the original work by Ercker was so useful and popular that it was still around more than a century after Ercker's death. Oh yes--the original German editions were also among the first technical books to be supplemented by illustrations of the topics.)
The story of iron is very old in Europe--and much older in China, older by more than another thousand years or so. In Europe, though, iron from a blast furnace that has a high carbon content and a low melting point is called cast iron, and is quite brittle and cannot be worked by a smithy; fining is the process of cooking that cast iron up to its boiling point and skimming away the carbon, thereby giving the iron a higher melting point and a great capacity to be worked by a smith. This product is called wrought iron, and it was a major step forward.
Which really does have something to do with a more popular definition of "fining", which for the sake of simplicity would mean just to make something, well, "finer". I can imagine an eight-year-old figuring that out when aged six. A good, no-nonsense, perhaps 400-year-old word.