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Medieval Blacksmith

Medieval life and Times

Definition of a Blacksmith
Definition and origin of the term Blacksmith: A Blacksmith is a combination of the two words 'black' and 'smith'. A 'Smith' is someone who works with metal (especially by hammering it when it is hot and malleable). A 'Smith' was described according to the metals that he worked such as a goldsmith, silversmith or a blacksmith.

A blacksmith was named because he was a 'smith' who worked in the "black" metal namely iron as opposed to the "white" metals such as tin, silver or gold. While 'Smith' may have first appeared in its current form in Middle English, it is really a much older word, probably based on a prehistoric German word meaning "worker" or "craftsman."   

Description of a Medieval Blacksmith
Description of a Blacksmith: A smith who works in iron metal, especially by hammering it when it is hot and malleable, working with a forge making iron utensils, horseshoes, weapons and repairing armor.

Iron worked by the Medieval Blacksmith - Turning iron into steel
The iron used by the blacksmith required shatterproof hammers with handles and iron tongs to hold the work piece in place. Carburizing, that is the addition of a small amount of carbon (between % - 2%) and quenching turned the iron into steel suitable for making weapons and tool manufacture. Repeatedly heating the iron in a forge and hammering it was the method the Blacksmith used for carburizing. The value of iron is largely due to the facility with which it can be worked by a blacksmith. Thus, when heated iron is malleable and ductile, and can be easily welded and forged at a high temperature. As cast iron, it is easily fusible; as steel, is very tough, and (when tempered) very hard and elastic. Steel is therefore a variety of iron containing more carbon than wrought iron and an excellent metal for making the weapons so sought after during Medieval times.

Description of a Blacksmith Forge
A Blacksmith forge is a workplace where metal is worked by a blacksmith by heating and hammering via a furnace consisting of a special hearth where metal is heated before shaping The name of a forge was also referred to as a a smithy. A Forge wagon was a wagon fitted up for transporting a blackmith's forge and tools. A Portable forge was a light and compact blacksmith's forge, with bellows, etc., that may be moved from place to place.

Medieval Blacksmith Tools and Equipment
There was a variety of Medieval Blacksmith tools and equipment. A list and description of the tools and equipment used by a Medieval Blacksmith are detailed as follows:

  • An anvil - a heavy block of iron or steel on which hot metals are shaped by hammering
  • Tongs
  • Bellows
  • A variety of hammers varying in size for shaping and finishing
  • Swages - Tools, variously shaped or grooved on the end or face, used by blacksmiths  for shaping their work  by holding the swage upon the work, or the work upon the swage, and striking with a sledge hammer
  • Swage block - a perforated block of iron, having grooved sides and adapted for use in heading bolts and swaging objects of a large size
  • Fullers - A half-round set hammer, used by a blacksmith for forming grooves and spreading iron. Also called a 'creaser'
  • Sledge Hammers
  • Punches - Tools for making (usually circular) holes
  • Drifts - Slightly tapered tools of steel for enlarging or shaping a hole in metal, by being forced or driven into or through it. Also called a broach
  • Axe
  • Chisels
  • Bit - A tool for boring, of various forms and sizes
  • Auger bit - a bit with a cutting edge or blade
  • Molds for making popular and everyday items
  • Nails
  • Table, stools, shelves etc.

Medieval Blacksmith Bellows
The Medieval Blacksmith Bellows definition: Blacksmith bellows are a mechanical device that blows air onto a fire to make it burn more fiercely.  The invention of the bellows was highly significant. Before the invention of the bellows the Blacksmith apprentice would be required to blow through hollow tubes into the base of the fire to enable the furnace to reach a high enough temperature to make iron melt and to strengthen it through the addition of carbon to make steel. The invention of the bellows allowed the Medieval blacksmith to control the temperature of the fire better than blowing could.

Items made by the Medieval Blacksmith
The Medieval Blacksmith made a huge variety of items and objects which included:

  • Medieval Weapons including swords, daggers, lances, arrow heads etc.
  • Siege Weapons
  • Medieval Armor and shields
  • Tools
  • Nails
  • Church and Castle Doors - hinges, locks and keys
  • Portcullis
  • Instruments of torture and chains
  • Household objects including knives, light fittings, pokers etc.
  • Ornaments
  • Jewelry
  • Decorative Objects

Life of a Medieval Blacksmith
The Medieval blacksmith was an important member of the community. The life of a Medieval Blacksmith would vary according to their location:

  • Village Blacksmith - Lived in a small rural community making various tools, household objects and weapons
  • Castle Blacksmith - Lived in the protection of the castle and required to make and maintain the weapons and armor of lords, knights and men-at-arms
  • City of Town Blacksmith - Lived in the town and belonged to a guild
  • Monasteries or Abbeys - Monks were also blacksmiths
  • Medieval blacksmiths were also an important part of a fighting army, making new weapons keeping up a supply of arrowheads and repairing and the maintenance of old weapons and armor
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