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A blacksmith is a professional who works with metals, such as iron, shaping them into useful or decorative shapes. Blacksmithing is a highly skilled trade, and although these individuals are not as abundant as they were historically, they can still command respect and high prices for their services. The work has also been extremely important historically, as blacksmiths at one point made everything from nails to wrought iron furniture.
The “black” in this term is a reference to the metals that individuals in this profession work with. These metals develop a layer of dark or black oxides as they are worked. “Smith” is developed from “smite,” to hit, so a blacksmith is literally someone who hits black metal. The tools he uses are simple, and the art of the work lies in the skill of the practitioner. At a minimum, he has a forge for heating metal to malleability, along with an anvil, a hard surface to work the metal against. Blacksmiths also have hammers and similar tools for beating and refining their metal.
Most modern blacksmiths focus on producing fine art or custom metal pieces for clients. Wrought iron furniture and ornaments may be made at a shop, as are tools. The metalworkers at a forge might also make things like hinges, coat hooks, and other iron accents for people who request hand-made versions of these items rather than commercially produced versions.
Visitors often note the low light conditions in a shop. This might seem counterintuitive in the shop of a craftsman, but it allows the metalworker to judge the temperature of the metal he or she is working by its color. Metals go through several stages as they heat, and it is important to find the ideal temperature for working to create a strong, solid piece of metalwork. A shop also tends to be noisy from all the hammering, as well at hot and dirty from the forge.
One branch of blacksmithing known as farriery cannot be replaced by machine tooling. A farrier specializes in making horseshoes and fitting them properly. While basic horseshoes can be mass produced, they still need to be custom shaped for each horse client, a skill that involves knowledge of equine anatomy and sports. Properly fitted horseshoes make the difference between sound, healthy horses and lame ones, and some farriers specialize in fitting medical horseshoes that are designed to treat specific conditions of the leg and hoof.