The Medieval Blacksmith

What did a medieval blacksmith do? Did he only make swords?

Medieval door or shutter hinge

While I’m sure that there were some who made swords specifically, most blacksmiths would have crafted whatever a paying customer wanted, be that door latches, hinges, horseshoes, pokers, pitchforks, tools, bakeware, nails, swords, weapons, shackles, chain, wire, sconces, and toys. If they were good at their art, blacksmiths were valuable members of their village. Over time, blacksmithing would become more specialized with smiths focusing only on horseshoes, or nails, or swords, etc. Today blacksmiths are artists or hobbyists who create items for reenactments.

Medieval horseshoe

The Etymology dictionary says that a “smith” is one who works with metals and that a “blacksmith” was one who worked in heated, heavy metals, opposed to one who beat gold, silver, tin, or pewter (whitesmith). Most blacksmiths were called “smithys” back then.

The better the weapons, the stronger the army. So blacksmiths were usually housed within castle walls. Their work was hard and hot and dangerous. They used charcoal to hear their forge fires. Chunks of iron were heated until they were red hot. It would often take two men to remove the heated iron. The smith and an apprentice would use tongs to pull the metal out and onto an anvil, which was usually mounted to a wooden stump. Then they would hammer the iron until it was cool, then put it back in the forge. The process was repeated until the iron reached its desired state.

Ancient keys

Smiths used many tools in their trade. The forge heated the iron. Tongs were used to grip and hold hot metal. An anvil was used to pound the iron on. Hammers were used to pound. Bellows blew air into the fire to make it burn hotter. Smiths used chisels to cut the metal. Fullers of all shapes and sizes were used to form grooves, hollows, and holes in hot metal. And a slack tub was a container filled with water, brine, or oil so that the smith could quench the hot metal.

Pounding the iron removed oxygen and made it stronger so that it would not rust or break as easily. There were many more processes a smith might use to produce different qualities in the iron: quenching, annealing, and damasking. A good smith could sort the iron by quality, knowing which would make the best swords and armor and which would be better used for tools and toys.

Ancient nails

Apprentices would tend the fire, fetch water and charcoal, work the bellows, wield tongs, and maybe sometimes do simple forging.

In my third book, From Darkness Won, Harnu works with his father, the blacksmith of Sitna Manor. Harnu is a blacksmith himself and has made many updates to Gren and Riga’s cottage, including shutters, a chandelier, and toys for Gren’s coming child.

Cast-iron toy horse

It is believed by many archaeologists that iron toys were popular in medieval times. Cast-iron toys were very prevalent in the early 1900s. My father-in-law played with a beloved set of cast-iron farm animals when he was a boy in the late 40s. I imagine that my father-in-law’s toys were not all that different than what medieval children played with and what Harnu made for Gren’s child.

13 Responses to “The Medieval Blacksmith”

  1. Leighton says:

    Again you are very knowledgeable! Very nice article. 😀

    When I was around 9 years old I was crazy about blacksmithing and wanted to do it myself. I got for my birthday a forge and anvil and had alot of fun with it following. I never got very good at it. (about as good as an average 9 year old can get) Haha 😛

    • novelteen says:

      So that’s where you got the anvil. When you told me you used the anvil for the sound in the trailer, I was thinking, “They have an anvil in their house?” LOL
      Do they sell forges for kids? Or did you get the real thing? I am intrigued by this birthday gift. Tell me more.

  2. Leighton says:

    Haha, well my dad actually made the forge. He took a wooden box about 3′ x 2′ and a bathroom fan and rigged up a pipe to blow the fan through a hole in the bottom of the wooden box. He then took a ton of modeling clay (the real stuff, not sculpie) and put that all around the edges to form a forge! We just lit some charcoal (real coke would have worked better but was more expensive) and took some metel and we were all ready to go!

    Does that make sense? I may have worded that a bit confusing. 😛

    – Leighton

  3. Leighton says:

    Yes! He is and I did have fun with it. lol The anvil sure came in useful with the trailer. 😀

  4. Eve says:

    In talking to a smithy on a historical site, I discovered that only certain types of coal burned hot enough for various projects.

    Great info. I did the similar delving for my book, Rebel of Castuenda and discovered much about sailing fully-rigged ships and some about swords. Learning is half the fun 🙂

  5. Lilly says:

    I wondering how much pences did you get payed

  6. Michele says:

    Great article, very informative!!

    My 10 year old son is doing a school project and he is trying to find the name of a real medieval blacksmith, preferably European as all of his research to date has been about Europe. So far, he has had little success finding names of real blacksmiths from this era, only references to mythical ones.
    Do you know if any real blacksmiths from this time or where he could locate this information?

  7. Freco says:

    What about their clothing, food, hygiene. You think you can help me with that information?

  8. beast says:

    the pounding was to “draw out” or “upset” the iron, the only two things a blacksmith really does other than cut the iron, through these tthree processes he shapes the iron into usable articles.
    what stopped the iron from rusting back then was a high concentration of silicates(glass) alloyed into the iron along with carbon and sometimes other minerals, nickel and zinc stop rust too, copper added in makes brass. the old time smiths did many things with iron to make it more durable or look better, some treatments, like making damascus, made it stronger and tempering made it harder, they even used different things for looks, like color case hardening. nice post and love your little smithy but you need to do a little more research and learn some more
    a working blacksmith

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