Steel wool, now commonplace in the modern home, came about somewhat by accident. It is believed that 19th-century mechanics used to gather up the metal waste shavings from below their lathes and use them to polish metal surfaces. By the 20th century, steel wool was being mass-produced. The process begins with steel rods that are thinned and shaved; the resulting strands are then woven together to form long spools of steel wool. It is then either sold in smaller rolls or formed into pads (sometimes soaked in soap) for use in homes and shops everywhere. Steel wool comes in eight grades, from extra-coarse (4) to finest (0000)—the coarser the wire, the more abrasive the steel wool. Steel wool is handy for a variety of jobs, from removing tough rust and old varnish to buffing fine woodwork to a brilliant shine. Because it's so versatile—as good for cleaning your garden tools or car tires as it is for home renovation projects—there should always be a place for steel wool in your home or garage.