The art of blacksmithing has been around for centuries, and it continues to forge on into the future as people carry on the long held traditions of this craft. Even with advances in technology, many of the earliest techniques are essentially unchanged in modern blacksmithing. These techniques are centered around four main stages of the blacksmithing process: Heating, Holding, Hitting, and Shaping.
Heating the metal is the first step in blacksmithing in order to manipulate the metal. It must be heated to the perfect temperature (usually around 760°C) to do so. There are four primary tools used in the process of heating:
Forges are the primary source of heating metal used in blacksmithing. A forge only requires fuel and heat, and that fuel can either be from coal or propane. Coal once fueled all of the earlier forges, and many still use this technique as it gives heat quickly. However, coal forges can be quite dirty. A forge can now instead be fueled by propane which is cleaner and relatively inexpensive.
A torch is used for cutting and heating small areas of metal. Before torches, it would take multiple assistants to help position and cool the work, but now a torch can be used to concentrate heat to a specific area to make small decorative maneuvers easier.
The quenching bucket is simply used to cool the metal. Mineral oils are often used to facilitate the hardening of steel by controlling heat transfer. It also helps minimize the formation of unintended gradients which may lead to increased distortion or cracking.
Apron worn to protect from hot metal, sparks, and coals injuring the blacksmith.
There are many variations of tools used to hold the metal in place while the blacksmith hits and manipulates the metal:
Blacksmith’s tongs are are hand-tools used to pick up and hold hot pieces of metal. They are generally made of wrought iron or steel and have large, flat smooth jaw surfaces that do not scratch the work.
Vices and clamps are used to firmly hold hot iron while it is hammered, chiseled or twisted. These tools are carefully made to withstand decades of heavy use.
In blacksmithing, hitting the metal accurately is more important than simply hitting the metal with great force. There are certain tools used in the process of hitting that help the blacksmith achieve greater accuracy and precision.
The anvil is the tool used beneath the work that the smith is hitting. They are made of either forged or cast steel so that it may withhold the brutality of the blacksmith’s force. They serve to aid the blacksmith by rebounding the smith’s hammer with the same amount of force which helps make the job less strenuous. Anvils often have two holes: the pritchel used for punching through a piece of metal and for stabilization and the hardy which can hold a number of cool tools.
Blacksmithing hammers come in various shapes, weights, and head styles that perform the different techniques of manipulating metal. Each is used to strike the metal to control the metal’s movement.
Shaping metal can be likened to the art of molding clay in that both has to be shaped. In order to shape the metal, there are three fundamental forces used:
Hitting the metal on four sides again and again to draw it out into a longer piece
Applying force to the end of a piece of work to shape the metal out to add volume
Applying force to move the metal in a certain direction or to spread it in all directions