I don’t know about you, but when I think about a blacksmith, I see a sweat soaked, soot covered man wielding a hammer. I think of him as someone from the past, as most of us probably do. My research brought some nice surprises. Blacksmithing is alive and well! The knowledge is still out there, if you want to get it.
So, what exactly is a blacksmith?
According to the American Heritage dictionary, a blacksmith is:
1. One that forges and shapes iron with an anvil and hammer.
2. One that makes, repairs, and fits horseshoes.
Foxfire 5 has an entire section on Iron Making and Black Smithing. It includes drawings and pictures of furnaces, as well as explanations of the difference between wrought iron, pig iron, and steel. Of course, in true Foxfire style, there are the interviews with “old timers” who have inside information on the relevant subject.
“A blacksmith forges objects of metal typically wrought iron or steel. To forge metal is to shape it, by heating then hammering, or pressing it into the desired form.” Foxfire 5, pg 112
“At that time the blacksmith played a vital role in his community and was generally accorded his respect. There is hardly a facet of life his work did not touch upon; indeed without his skills , the prevailing life-style would have been extremely primitive. Most of the items a blacksmith made and repaired were either tools or other work related items, such as harness fittings and ox yokes. In a culture where everyone, even children had to work just to get by, it’s not hard to understand how important the blacksmith was.” Foxfire 5, pg 108.
The book goes into great detail about what a blacksmith does, the tools he uses, and the importance of proper care of tools and equipment.
“On the subject of tools, Leo Tippett said, ‘My father took good care of his tools. He never threw them down in the dirt, or on a rock. They’s scarce. My daddy’d give me a going over if I throwed a tool down in the dirt or rock. And I’m glad he did. You have to respect tools. Good sharp tools are the name of the game’” Foxfire 5, pg. 112
That comment, in itself, says a lot about how attitudes have changed.
Don’t know about Foxfire books? Ed wrote about them here. It took us awhile, but we finally got the full set.
The blacksmith was important to a community because he made much needed tools and equipment. Today, much of what he did is manufactured in factories and shipped to stores where we buy it. One video I watched said the local smithy has been replaced by Lowe’s and Home Depot.
A partial list of things the blacksmith made is also listed in Foxfire five on pages129-131. Included are the things we normally think of, like horseshoes and axes, but we also find knitting needles, shoe buttons, nails and screws.
According to Simon Grant Jones, the passing of the time when horses were commonly used for work and travel spelled the end of the “traditional country smithy”. Simon is a practicing blacksmith, so take some time to explore his site. Another interesting historical fact he mentions is that often, at the end of the day, embers from the smithy were taken to the bread ovens to bake bread. Talk about members of a community working together!
Once again, I went to YouTube to see what I could find about Blacksmithing. I found a lot! The best one though, was this treasure. Love that he had kids learning in the shop, not to mention the techie.
If you decide to try and learn yourself, let us know how it goes.