The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







A blacksmith is an artisan specializing in the hand-wrought manufacture of metal objects, such as wrought iron gates, grills and railings, light fixtures and furniture, sculpture, weapons, decorative and religous items, cooking utensils and tools.

Blacksmiths work by heating pieces of metal (usually steel or iron) with a forge until the metal becomes malleable enough to be shaped to a desired outcome via repeated manipulation with a hammer, punch or other tooling against an anvil. Heating is accomplished by the use of propane, natural gas, coal, charcoal, or coke. Modern blacksmiths may also employ oxyacetalene torche s and electric induction furnaces as a heating medium. The other reason for heating the metal, other than for increasing its malleability, is for metallurgical purposes. The metal can be normalised or annealed, to reduce work hardening .

Specific to the craft of the blacksmith, when working with steels, the metal can be heated and then quenched . The purpose of this is to produce rapid cooling to generate specific microstructures in the metal. A quench generally results in steel that is hard and brittle, so a tempering process takes place to increase the toughness of the alloy and reduce the hardness. This involves heating the material to a specific temperature. With most tool steels, this tempering process can be gauged by the appearance of a coloured oxidation tint on the metal surface. Different uses require different hardness and toughness combinations, and so receive different temperings. It is possible to temper different parts of an object to different levels, which is one area where the skill of the blacksmith comes into play. For example, the face of a hammer is often left as a harder material than the main body, giving a blend of the hard wearing face with a resiliant and tough tool. Japanese samurai sword makers were particularly adept at making their weapons very hard on the cutting edge while keeping the main body of the blade tough to support the cutting edge in powerful jarring blows.

Blacksmiths work with 'black' metals, especially iron (see wrought iron), while whitesmiths work with 'white' metals (such as tin and lead), although such artisans are more commonly called tinsmith s. The term 'black' metals arises from the layer of oxides that form on the surface of the metal during heating (called fire scale). The black metals have a dark firescale, whilst the white metals show a light coloured firescale, if any. The art of working with the precious metals (gold and silver, primarily) is known as goldsmithing .

Mass production techniques have reduced the marketplace for blacksmiths' work except in Africa where large numbers of artisans remain doing traditional work. The great demand for custom metalwork has given rise to a new breed of smiths commonly known as Artist-Blacksmiths. A famous pioneer of this type of artisan is Philip Simmons of Charleston, South Carolina.

One very famous blacksmith was Hephaestus (Latin: Vulcan). He was the blacksmith of the gods in Greek and Roman mythology and constructed all of their weapons and, especially, the lightning bolts that Zeus (Latin: Jupiter) threw at the Earth.

External links

  • Philip Simmons Artist-Blacksmith Guild of South Carolina

Last updated: 02-06-2005 22:01:51
Last updated: 05-03-2005 02:30:17