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What does a Blacksmith do?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon959841 — On Jul 07, 2014

What kind of jobs did blacksmiths used to do, like they used to work on horseshoes, nails, other farming tools (shovels etc.). What else did they usually work on making?

By anon300235 — On Oct 29, 2012

Does anyone know the names of any famous or extremely well-known blacksmiths? I'm doing a report for school.

By anon86788 — On May 26, 2010

thank you for your information. I am doing some research on this and your article was very helpful.

By anon27816 — On Mar 06, 2009

Modern blacksmiths typically work with mild steel, iron as in cast iron is not malleable or particularly weldable. Wrought iron is not readily available and although much better for hot working is seldom used by commercial blacksmiths. While most have anvils, forges are relatively rare even in large fabrication shops. This is because the bread and butter of the modern blacksmith is steel fabrication of gates and railings as well as structural items for the construction industry. Most of this article is a mix of anachronism and a description of the artistic blacksmith.

Finally the low light levels are more to do with stinginess and the dirt that cakes everything as the red and orange colors are easily visible in any light levels but the straws and blues used to judge the much more important tempering process require good light to judge and are often done outside or at the door.

By anon24354 — On Jan 11, 2009

Could someone please write an article about blacksmiths in the middle ages? If you do, please mention their daily life and every other aspect of their life. Thanks-----Anonymous

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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