Blacksmiths were a staple of every medieval town. They created objects from wrought iron or steel by forging the metal with tools to hammer, bend, and cut, and produced objects such as weapons and utensils.
The “black” in “blacksmith” refers to the black layer of oxides that forms on the surface of the metal during heating. Smith, on the other side, might come from the old English word “smythe” meaning “to strike”.
Blacksmiths heat pieces of metal until it becomes soft enough for shaping with hand tools, such as a hammer, an anvil and a chisel.
History of Blacksmiths
During the Bronze Age, humans in the Mideast learned how to smelt, melt, cast, rivet, and forge copper and bronze (the last one being harder, more resistant to corrosion and having a lower melting point). Much of the copper came from the island of Cyprus, and most of the tin from the Cornwall region. Because copper and bronze cannot be hardened by heat-treatment, they have to be hammered for a long period of time.
Before the Iron Age, iron was not thoroughly understood – plus, it didn’t significantly improve on the qualities of existing bronze artefacts (unalloyed iron is soft, doesn’t hold an edge as well and needs more maintenance). Iron ores were, however, more widely available.
In the medieval period, blacksmithing was considered part of the set of seven mechanical arts. The original fuel for forge fires was charcoal (coal only began to replace it during the 17th century).
Books about Blacksmithing in the Middle Ages
Books about Medieval Life
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