You may have seen them in movies or documentaries, pounding iron and steel amidst a burning flame. I’m speaking, of course, about the blacksmith. Though a prominent profession in history, blacksmithing still exists today. In fact, it’s more popular than you may think!
Blacksmiths today make the same things they did in the past, which are mainly tools forged from iron and steel. Unless it’s a hobby for you, chances are (as a blacksmith) you’ll make things that sell. In other words, items that are currently popular and/or in demand. There are so many objects that the list seems almost endless – from hardware to housewares and everything in between!
Now that you know modern-day blacksmith make pretty much the same items that they did back in the 1800’s, let’s take a closer look at this in more detail below. I’ll discuss what a blacksmith is exactly and who was the greatest example in history. I’ll also explain what blacksmiths make today as opposed to those in the past and whether (or not) it’s a good career choice.
And so, if you’re ready to learn more about the art of blacksmithing, then let’s get started!
What is a Blacksmith?
A blacksmith is someone who crafts objects out of iron and steel – not to be confused with a smith, which is a person who works mainly with metal.
A blacksmith hammers iron (that’s been heated in a fire) on an anvil, changing its shape to create a variety of things, namely tools. Also known as a farrier, which is derived from the Latin root word “Ferrum” or “iron”.
Who Was the Greatest Blacksmith?
There are many noteworthy individuals who could claim the title of the greatest blacksmith of all time.
However, the person most awarded and honored in America in the 20th century was Philip Simmons of South Carolina.
His work is synonymous with the beautiful city of Charleston – adorning window grills, gates, fences, and balconies from the end of the city to the other.
What Do Modern-Day Blacksmiths Make?
The blacksmithing trade hasn’t changed much over the centuries. The practice itself has essentially remained the same, with some interesting artistic advancements taking place along the way.
Today, blacksmiths are responsible for the creation of many iron and steelworks, both classic and modern. See a complete list below:
- Weapons – knives, daggers, swords, spears, arrowheads, etc.
- Armor – helmets, shields, chain mail shirts, metal plate suits, etc.
- Tools – axes, chisels, crowbars, hammers, hoes, shovels, vices, etc.
- Hardware pieces – locks, keys, hooks, handles, hinges, hooks, nails, screws, bolts, brackets, etc.
- Household items – light fixtures, furniture, railings, cooking utensils, fireplace fittings, etc.
- Decorative objects – sculptures, candlesticks, garden trellises, hanging artwork, etc.
- Religious artifacts – tabernacles, credence tables, chalices, patens, crosses, etc.
- Musical instruments – bells, chimes, cymbals, gongs, steel drums, etc.
- Agricultural implements – cowbells, horseshoes, horseshoe nails, sickles, plowshares, etc.
- Structural amenities – window grills, gates, fences, balconies, etc.
- Jewelry – rings, bracelets, watches, necklaces, earrings, etc.
- Automotive parts – wheel rims, steering and suspension parts, exhaust and engine parts, etc.
- Miscellaneous items – tent stakes, boot scrapers, spikes, chains, cables, etc.
As you can see, the list seems almost endless when it comes to things made in the past and present by blacksmiths.
With so many options, the sky’s the limit when it comes to hand-crafting various iron and steel pieces!
What Did Blacksmiths Make in the 1800’s?
Blacksmiths back in the 1800’s were responsible for making necessary tools of the time. These included items mainly related to farming, such as horseshoes, cowbells, nails, axes, plows, rails and gates.
Often considered “a jack of all trades”, the blacksmiths of the past also made many household items such as pots and pans.
What Did Blacksmiths Make in Medieval Times?
The blacksmiths of the middle ages often made items essential for battle, such as armory and weapons.
Swords, knives, daggers, spears and arrowheads were required during times of war. Helmets, shields, chain mail shirts and metal plated suits were also a necessity as well as torture devices.
Instruments and jewelry were also commonly made by blacksmiths in the 15th century.
What are the Steps Involved in Blacksmithing?
The basics of blacksmithing involve 4 main techniques which include the following:
Heating the iron or steel is the first step. The metal must reach a temperature of at least 760 degrees Fahrenheit for it to be properly manipulated. The blacksmithing tools needed at this stage include:
This is the primary tool used during the heating process. It requires coal or propane to create a high heat source good for melting iron and steel.
Historically, coal was used but nowadays, blacksmith prefers to use propane as it burns cleaner and is relatively inexpensive.
This tool is used for heating and cutting smaller pieces of metal. It concentrates heat on a specific area which allows the blacksmith to create intricate, decorative details in the iron or steel.
Before torches were used, multiple men were needed to properly position the work.
The Quenching Bucket
This item is used to cool down the metal. Mineral oils are often added to the bucket to regulate heat transfer and enable the steel to harden. Some blacksmiths are also using water for the quenching process. (click on the link to learn more)
It also helps prevent inadvertent gradients from forming which can cause the metal to crack or warp.
The Safety Apron
This item helps safeguard the blacksmith from coals, sparks, or hot metal shards.
The high temperature of these airborne fragments can severely injure a person if not properly protected.
It is heat resistant and usually made of leather. Read more about them here.
This step involves using tools to hold the metal in place while it’s being heated.
Tongs, clamps and vices are necessary and provide a strong grip on the iron or steel during the manipulation process.
These tools are highly heat-resistant and designed to withstand years of intense use.
This step requires techniques that blacksmiths are using to strike the heated metal to coax it into shape.
For this, an anvil and various hammers are needed.
The anvil is a tool that the heated iron or steel is placed on for support while hammers of different sizes and shapes are used to manipulate the metal.
The final step is where the “art” of blacksmithing comes into play. The fundamental forces necessary to shape the metal properly include the following:
This technique involves hitting the iron or steel on four sides repeatedly to extend it out into a longer piece.
This approach utilizes applied force to shape and add volume to the end a piece of iron or steel.
This method allows the blacksmith to move a piece of iron or steel in a certain direction (using applied force) in order to spread it out.
Is a Blacksmith a Good Career Choice?
While blacksmithing may seem like a “dying art”, it’s often pursued nowadays as more of a hobby than a career choice.
However, this skill can lead to various job opportunities including a journeyman welder, sheet metal fabricator, autobody technician, and factory millwright, just to name a few.
If you live in a region where there’s a demand for ironwork, then it could potentially be a great job for you!
To conclude, modern-day blacksmiths make many of the same things as they did in the past. Tools forged from iron and steel are the most common.
Nowadays, however, the skill has taken on a more artistic tone and used to create everything from musical instruments to jewelry and even home decor.
Whether as a profession or as a pastime, blacksmiths often make objects of interest or in high demand.
Hopefully, you’ve found this article to be both interesting and informative. Thanks for reading and good luck with your future ironworking endeavors.
Cheer, tools owners!