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What is a Blacksmith?

A Blacksmith is a person who pratices the art of shaping heated iron and steel (forging) with hand tools such as hammers, tongs and chisels on an anvil or with forging machines. "Black" comes from the color of the metal after being heated and cooled.  "Smith" comes from the word, "smite" or "to strike".  Therefore the blacksmith is one who strikes black metal.

Blacksmithing dates from the earliest Iron Age, which started about 1500 BC or earlier in Central Asia.  Many of the metalworking tools and techniques of the blacksmith date from the earlier times of the Bronze Age going back over 5,000 years.

Blacksmiths work either the old ductile wrought iron or modern steel.  Wrought iron is the product of early iron furnaces called bloomeries.  Wrought iron has no carbon and cannot be hardened.  Wrought iron contains thin layers of silica slag that give it a wood grain like property.  It is no longer manufactured but old scrap wrought is sought out by blacksmiths and recycled. 

Steel is iron with a small amount of carbon (0.1 to 1.5%) that makes it hardenable.  Early steel was an expensive product made in small quantities by hand.  Modern low carbon steel has largely replaced wrought iron.  Modern steel has been available in bulk since the invention of the Bessemer process in 1855 in England and in the 1870's in the US.

Modern blacksmiths produce a wide range of items including small hand forged craft items, architectural railings, guards and balconies, tools for other craftspeople and parts and tools for industry.  Industrial blacksmiths operating huge forging machines or drop hammers have largely replaced the individual blacksmith. But small smithys still produce some items in the thousands including tools and decorative objects.

The Forge

The forge is the place that holds holds the blacksmith's fire.   The term is also used to describe the blacksmith's shop or blacksmithing business.  Shaping hot metal with a hammer is known as forging. And a part made by the process is called a forging.

A forge includes the place to hold the fire, the passageway for the air called a tuyeer, and a source of air such as a bellows, fan or blower.  A forge can be as simple as a hole in the Earth or a box lined with clay.  The air supply can be provided by hand or power from machines made of wood, wood and leather or all metal.  Forges have been made of stone and brick and modern forges are made of cast iron and steel. 

Forges burn various fuels. Early forges were fueled by charcoal and peat. Later coal was used. Modern forges also operate on natural gas, propane and fuel oil.  Modern forges are built with refractory brick and ceramic insulation such as Kaowool.

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