Think about this question. When Nephi and his brothers return to the city of Jerusalem to retrieve the plates of brass, Nephi crept into the city and finds Laban drunk and passed out. The first thing he sees or notices is his sword. “And when I came to him I found it was Laban. And I beheld his sword, and I drew it from the sheath thereof…” (1 Ne 4:8-9)
Why would that be the first thing he notices and admires? He goes on, “and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine…” How would Nephi know the workmanship was exceedingly fine unless he understood what fine workmanship looked like? “And the blade thereof was of the most precious steel.” Nephi not only knows it’s steel but that it’s precious or very valuable steel. I am guessing he worked in a metal shop learning this knowledge and ability. As we read further we will see the value of having the skills of working with metals.
While in the wilderness, Nephi broke his bow that was made of fine steel. He had the only steel bow because his brother’s bows had lost their springs. Why would the younger brother have a steel bow but not the older brothers? Because it was Nephi’s bow which he probably crafted.
When they get to the land they called Bountiful, Nephi is commanded by the Lord to build a ship. The first question he asks is, “wither shall I go to find ore, that I might make tools?” (1Ne 7:10) He did not ask how to make the tools he asked where the ore was. Making the tools was apparently not a problem for Nephi. When he gets the ore, he makes a smelter from coals and a bellows from the skins of beasts. He extracts the iron from the ore and refines it and forges the tools he needs. Did he already have a hammer? They probably brought one with them to pitch their tents.
Next, Nephi was commanded of the Lord to make plates of ore to engraven the record of his people… “And now, as I have spoken concerning these plates, behold they are not the plates upon which I make a full account of the history of my people; for the plates upon which I make a full account of my people I have give the name of Nephi; wherefore they are called the plates of Nephi, after mine own name; and these plates are also call the plates of Nephi.” (1 Ne 9:2)
He had two sets of plates. The second set of plates where called the small plates of Nephi. (Jacob 1:1) The plates were probably made within the first 20 years from the time Lehi left Jerusalem. Almost 1,000 years later, Mormon abridges what was recorded on the first set of plates. Then he searches among the records in his charge and finds the small plates of Nephi. “…I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets and many of the words of Nephi” (Words of Mormon vs. 3)
Nephi must have made many plates of ore and they must have been made of a metal that would preserve engravings for many, many years. Maybe brass, bronze or gold; either way Nephi knows how to make plates. He had that skill set. Did he learn that before they left Jerusalem? I can see him working with metals in Jerusalem. Not just metals but metallurgy; the combining of two elements to create steel; a combination of iron and carbon. Brass is a combination of copper and zinc. Copper and tin creates bronze. Further we read when Nephi arrives in the promised land “they did find all manner of ore, both of gold, and of silver and of copper. (1 Ne 18:25)
After he separates from his brothers and establishes the land of Nephi, he takes “…the sword of Laban and after the manner of it did make many swords…” (2 Ne 5:14) Here is the best part; “I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were given in abundance.” Nephi knew how to teach them to work with metals. This is probably why the Nephites were domesticated and able to till the ground and to grow crops, while the Lamanites, without the knowledge of working with metals where “ an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.” (2 Ne 5:24)
Thus we can see that the knowledge Nephi had of metallurgy made a huge difference in recording what we are able to read today and also in creating the cultural difference between the Nephites and the Lamanites. Thank the Lord for Nephi’s diligence.