There were many professions in the Middle Ages, but none of them has appealed to me personally more than the art of blacksmithing. I’ve always wanted to spend a few hours at a forge, heating metal and pounding it into shape. It would be hard, laborious work but I can imagine the sense of satisfaction that could come from holding that finished piece of arms or armor in your hand and knowing it began as shapeless metal. If the opportunity ever came about, I would dive into blacksmithing in a heartbeat. So I thought I would share a few interesting details about what blacksmiths did back in those days, as well as a video to a modern group of men crafting a sword using older smithing techniques. The video is definitely worth watching!
The name itself is derived from the type of metals worked with: black indicating iron and steels opposed to what a goldsmith or silversmith. Some of the tools of the trade would include the anvil, a series of heavy and durable hammers of varying sizes, and tongs to use to hold the metal in place or to plunge the metal into fire, oil, or water The forge was oftentimes portable, which meant it had to be light enough to transport yet sturdy enough to be practical. The blacksmith would take the iron and heat it in the fire and then pull it out and hammer it into shape on the anvil, repeating the process as many times as necessary until it took the desired form.
One of the most important things that a blacksmith used was the bellows, which would stoke the fire and help allow him to control the temperature of the fire. It needed to be hot enough to not only allow the blacksmith to shape the metal, but also to melt the iron if the blacksmith was aiming to make steel.
Some of the things a blacksmith might be asked to make would include:
- Weapons such as daggers, swords, and lances
- Household items such as knives and pokers
- Armor and shields
- Siege Weapons
- Nails, hinges, locks, and keys
- Chains and portcullises
- Decorative items
- And many others!
So for a good visual of what the forging process might look like, watch this video where the Man at Arms Reforged team works to make a replica of Aragorn’s Narsil from the Lord of the Rings… using only blacksmithing methods available in the 19th century. While they do use some things that a medieval blacksmith wouldn’t have had access to, as a whole this is a fun and exciting video to watch.