A Victorian blacksmith

The blacksmiths' tools

The village blacksmith

The Blacksmith - a bit of history

Blacksmithing involves the shaping of iron, which is only possible when the metal is heated to a very high temperature. Since iron is a very strong metal, weapons and tools made from it are superior to those made out of stone or copper. So societies who knew how to work with iron dominated those who didn't beginning as early as 1000 B.C. when there were Egyptian and Asian blacksmiths. The craft remained of huge importance until the Industrial Revolution at the end of the nineteenth century. Now, blacksmithing has been revived as an artistic craft.

The earliest blacksmiths created conical stone furnaces called "bloomeries" in which they burned charcoal to heat iron ore. To make the fire hot, they used bellows to pump in air. When the furnace reached 2,800 degrees F, the iron would be malleable enough to be shaped into things like spears, chariots, plow blades and axes. When blacksmiths hammer and fold the hot iron, they are working in wrought iron. When they pour the molten iron into molds, they are working in cast iron. Until the eighteenth century, blacksmiths used charcoal as fuel, and later coke became the fuel of choice because it burned hotter longer.
Blacksmithing was so essential a craft that all of the European explorers travelled with at least one blacksmith on their team. Blacksmithing subdivided during the Middle Ages into several different trades. Armorers made armor and shields that knights and other soldiers wore into battle. Bladesmiths made swords and knives. Locksmiths made locks for doors, trunks and safes. Gunsmiths made iron guns. Perhaps the most familiar blacksmiths were the farriers, whose products were horseshoes and other items essential to equestrian life.

Blacksmiths frequently functioned as village dentists!!! They also made axes, plows, nails and hoops for barrels. Blacksmiths were also in great demand to make the hardware used in eighteenth century sailing ships. The craft was passed on from master blacksmiths to boy apprentices, who began learning the it when they were about 6 or 7 years old.

Today, however, the work of a blacksmith that was essential to our great grand-parents, has a tendancy to be towards artistick work rather than functional tools or goods. During the last 40 years blacksmithing has made a huge comeback and the public has responded by buying the wares of modern blacksmiths. The average family holds it's own favorite ironmongery items in the form of a garden gate, chandelier, wrought iron bed, pan holder or fireplace screen.

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