According to merriam-webster.com, a blacksmith is:
1. A person who makes or repairs things made of iron (such as horseshoes)
2. Smith who forges iron
While this is a good starting definition, we need to know more if we want to understand what a blacksmith is. Let's start with the word "smith". This word comes from the word "smite" which means to strike or hit. In the case of blacksmithing, we strike iron and steel. Indeed there are many types of smiths. There's tinsmiths, silversmiths, goldsmiths, and a bunch of others each according to the material they work with. Each of these professionals hammers their work and smashes it to their desired shape.
So then what does the "black" refer to? For a while I had thought it referred to the color my face turns from all the smoke and soot after just 15 minutes of forging. This may be true in part but there are other professions that get just as dirty and use coal but aren't called "black" anything. This got me thinking of what my work looks like without polishing (and sometimes even with). Steel is pretty dark after it gets heated up and cooled. Likewise, iron is a very dark material this often reddish or jet black. Hence the term "black".
So now we know a little about the word and basic premise of a person who strikes iron and steel, let's learn about why they use hammers and forges.
Hammers for blacksmithing are meant for smashing, bending, smoothing, or otherise shaping metal while it is hot. This is referred to as "moving" metal. In order to "move" iron or steel without causing it to weaken or crack it must be very hot. This is what a forge is for. Hammering is done on an anvil, which is a large hard surface often made from hardened steel. A forge is where the fuel, be it wood, gas, or coal is burned to produce the heat needed to work iron and steel. This usually has some sort of forced airflow attached coming from a fan, bellows or the like to increase the heat in the forge, thereby quickly heating the metal within.
Once metal is hot it can be shaped to whatever the blacksmith wants. There are also different types of blacksmiths, just as there are different types of forges, anvils, and hammers. Farriers are those who work with horseshoes. The name of their trade comes from a similar root as the blacksmith but using a Latin root for iron: "ferrum". Not all blacksmiths work with horse shoes. I have while learning how to forge weld but I normal don't use them.
A Geothite, a type of iron or
A sample of one of my blades,
the Brushwhacker Rhino
Swordsmiths are those who usually or only make swords, I have made swords in the past but I make more than swords so I don't fall primarily into this category.
There's also industrial blacksmiths who work with large, often huge, equipment rather than hand forging on a hammer.
A sample of an unnamed utility knife made by me.
There's also the demonstrating blacksmith. These are often time knowledgeable and skilled blacksmith who enjoy performing and educating people about their trade. A typical demonstrator only carries to a show what he will need to give the audience a taste of what blacksmithing is like. At their own shop they often have many more tools and projects. Blacksmith shops are often quite cluttered. I've found that in my own shop that any horizontal surface is susceptible to be filled with unfinished projects, tools, supplies and junk that doesn't belong there. I've done a little demonstrating myself and I hope to continue it.
Lastly, I have a category of, well, I'm reluctant to call them blacksmiths. These are the ones you see in many movies, like Conan the Barbarian, Lord of the Rings, and Pirates of the Caribbean. I mention these because it is through movies and media like this that many people first form an impression about blacksmiths. Movie blacksmiths are often sweaty dudes wearing an apron hitting a piece of metal, hot or cold, putting it in a fire, and then dunking it in water. Great for intriguing an audience because of the alluring ring of the anvil, the light of the sparks and flames, and the sound of the water instantly turning to steam. It inspires many a man to become a backyard swordsmith. But please believe me when I say that what they do in the movies would destroy any nice piece they are wanting to make.
If you want to learn how to be blacksmith, don't learn it from the movies. Find a local blacksmith guild or practitioner and study under them. Here's a few resources for those of you who want to get started:
Also, you may have noticed there is a huge gap since the last time I blogged. This was because I picked up an odd job and was working on completing my classes at my local community college. I've been taking classes nonstop since the summer of 2014. I'm finally taking a break this summer.
I will be picking up more classes in the fall but for now I want to grow my business a bit and keep on practicing writing. I will be posting some more information about history and skills and such but I will also be doing a few product highlights. I got some new stuff coming out that I'm really excited about so please stay tuned in the coming weeks.
Keep forging on,
Definition of BLACKSMITH. (2016). Merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 13 June 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/blacksmith
Iron. (2016). Minerals Education Coalition. Retrieved 13 June 2016, from https://www.mineralseducationcoalition.org/minerals/iron
Iron. (2016). Wikipedia. Retrieved 13 June 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron