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Blacksmithing - The Process

Materials | Techniques | Tools

Diderot's A blacksmith is a person who forms hot iron with hammer and anvil - a process called forging. When iron is heated it becomes softer and can be readily shaped by skilled hands. Forging is a cyclical process of heating in the forge then shaping with a hammer on the anvil as the metal cools. When the metal gets too cold and hard to forge, the process starts again, and is repeated until the desired effect is achieved.


Traditionally, a metal containing layers of silica interbedded with iron, called wrought iron, was used. Often, if you look at old ironwork you can see the wood-like grain caused by the iron rusting away, leaving the silica raised. wrought iron Smiths today generally use mild steel, a readily available, homogeneous iron alloy, though we now have many choices of medium - stainless steel, brass, bronze, copper, aluminum and even titanium.

There is some confusion about the term wrought iron. Wrought means worked or hammered, so the term literally means hammered iron. When referring to types of steel, it means the historic, layered iron described above, containing layers of silica. In this case it refers to its method of manufacture. An end product of iron smelting, called a bloom, was hammered out with a large trip hammer, into wrought iron bars. The term is often used today to mean decorative ironwork made of mild steel that, hammered or not, resembles traditional ironwork.


Traditional forging techniques are often divided into categories. In practice these divisions are not clear-cut and more than one can happen simultaneously. Some of these are used on both hot and cold metal.

A contemporary blacksmith commands a host of auxiliary skills in addition to those listed here, such as brazing, heat treating, electric welding, filing, grinding, etc.

drawing out

Draw Out -
To make thinner and longer. Usually acomplished by hammering the hot metal on a convex surface.


Upset -
To make thicker and shorter. Usually by hitting the hot piece on the end.


Bend -
This term is used in the normal way -- to cause to assume a curved or angular shape.


Chisel -
To shape or cut with a sharp tool - a chisel.


Chase -
To indent with a blunt tool from the front.


Repoussé -
To push out from the back giving more depth. Usually used on sheet metal.

hot punching

Hot Punch -
To make a hole by displacement and shearing, using a special punch.


Twist -
To turn the ends of a piece in different directions and impart (or take out) a helix shape.

forge welding

Forge Weld -
Bonding two or more pieces by hammering them together at a high temperature. Usualy flux is used to clean the steel surfaces during welding


Again, this list contains only the most basic traditional elements, the tools that distinguish blacksmithing from other trades/arts. A modern, well equipped shop will have a large assortment of tools, some specialized and some extensions of those listed below. One of the great things about blacksmithing is the ability to make our own tools. This gives smiths great creative latitude as we are not limited by what is commercially available.


Forge - The furnace or hearth where the metal is heated. Mild steel is forgeable between 1300F and 2400F.


Anvil - These come in many shapes but all are heavy blocks of iron or steel with a flat top on which metals are pounded into shape. The horn is the pointy end, the hardy hole is square and the pritchel hole is round.


Hammer - Hammers typically have a flat side, called the face - the other end is called the peen. Hammers are usually named by the shape of their peen end. In this case, a cross peen hammer on the left and a ball peen on the right.


Tongs - Large iron pliers that allow the smith to handle hot metal.

leg vice

Leg Vice -
These vices are designed to pound on, with a leg to keep them solid under the hammer.