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Blacksmithing and bladesmithing in the colonies

Page history last edited by Vance 11 years, 6 months ago

The Art of Blacksmithing In The Colonies

  In colonial times a blacksmith did more than just shoe a horse.  The blacksmith was the one that made all the tools that were used by people.  This would include everything from kitchen utensils to farm equipment.  "He shaped iron and metal into pots, pans, nails, gates, chains and every other metal item used by the colonists"[1].  "If the blacksmith had a good reputation, his shop was often busy and frequently visited. Because of the nature of the work, everyone in the colonial village eventually came to his shop. His work was bespoken, meaning he only worked at somebody's request. The shop itself consisted of one room with a large fireplace called a forge and near the forge was the bellows, an accordion-like instrument that draws air in through a valve and expels it through a tube, which served as an air supply for the fire. Charcoal was used as fuel for the fireplace. Near the forge was a large bucket or barrel of water and the tools the smith used. In the center of the shop the blacksmith kept the anvil. He kept his shop dark at all times so he could determine the temperature of the metal. It was here the blacksmith made routine repairs and made the products people requested"[1].  "British restrictions on the making of iron before the Revolutionary War made it hard for blacksmiths, as well as the colonies themselves, to obtain iron"[2]

"The tools in this shop were fairly sophisticated for that time. They can be classified based on their purpose, including heating, striking, holding, cutting, measuring, tempering and finishing. The tool the blacksmith used most often was the hammer. This was used either to pound the metal or a tool placed on top of the metal. Other important tools included tongs, punches and chisels. He used tongs when the metal was too hot to handle or if the piece was too small to pound with a hammer. Tongs came in different shapes and sizes and were chosen based on the job the smith was working on at the time. The blacksmith used punches to force holes in the metal, and chisels were used to cut the metal, allowing it to be broken. 

The anvil was another important tool because he would use it as a surface to shape and pound his tools. Anvils too came in various shapes and sizes and functionally could double the hammer stroke into two blows, one from above and the other from below"[2]


You need to weave this information back into the first and second paragraph as it appears to fit there

"The blacksmith in the 18th century could make or repair just about anything of that

time, but probably his greatest accomplishment was what is known as the American

Ax. Sometime around 1700, the blacksmith added a square poll on the back of the

ax, which added more weight. Then by the mid-1700s, the ears were added to the

eye, the square poll was elongated, and the eye was changed from round to a triangle

shape. All of this added to the stability in the swing of the ax and it has seen very

little change in the last 225 years.

Another important invention, that took place in the 1740s -1750s, was the pipe tomahawk. These were highly prized

by the Native Americans, for they loved to smoke and make war on the settlers. The Native Americans already had

the tomahawk, beginning with the first encounters with Europeans. This version added a pipe bowl and hollowed out

the handle to create one of the biggest trade items used by Native Americans as well as white settlers. These were

produced until well after the Civil War"[3].  Blacksmiths were a very important part of the fronteir life.  They were the fix it all man.  It was a long process to become a master balcksmith. 

   "In the Colonies, the masters gladly took on an apprentice at no charge, but few

boys in the Colonies served seven years. A four or five year term, was the norm and sometimes less if the boy ran

away like Ben Franklin did. The master agreed to teach the apprentice the secrets of the trade and to feed, clothe,

and supply lodging until the end of his contract. At the end of his term he became a journeyman. In most

circumstances, the master let boys attend school in the evening to learn the three Rs. In Europe, the guilds required

the journeyman to submit a masterpiece before he could go into business for himself in some other town. A

journeyman in the Colonies was not required to do these things but could be hired by plantations to train slaves to do

the work at the plantation"[3].  Blacksmiths could be mobile also.  Most people think of blacksmith's working in a shop but this was not always the case.  Lewis and Clark took blacksmiths with them on their expedition.  

BladesmithingThumbnail for version as of 05:56, 21 September 2009

     Bladesmithing is a form of blacksmithing.  Bladesmithing is as the name implies, it is the smithing or making of blades.  To forge or make a knife the bladesmith or blacksmith needed only a few tools a couple of hammers, an anvil, his forge and bellows a grinding wheel and tongs.  A bladesmith would make a blade by forging.  You have these hyperlinks to discuss forging anvil...are there supposed to be extra pages with more info?

"Forging is the process in which metal is shaped by hammering. Forging is different from machining in that material is not removed by these; rather the iron is hammered into shape. Even punching and cutting operations (except when trimming waste) by smiths will usually re-arrange metal around the hole, rather than drilling it out as swarf.

There are five basic operations or techniques employed in forging: drawing, shrinking, bending, upsetting, and punching.

These operations generally employ hammer and anvil at a minimum, but smiths will also make use of other tools and techniques to accommodate odd-sized or repetitive jobs. 

Drawing lengthens the metal by reducing one or both of the other two dimensions. As the depth is reduced, the width narrowed, or both the piece is lengthened or "drawn out".

As an example of drawing, a smith making a chisel might flatten a square bar of steel, lengthening the metal, reducing its depth but keeping its width consistent.

Drawing does not have to be uniform. A taper can result as in making a wedge or the woodworking chisel blade. If tapered in two dimensions a point results.

Drawing can be accomplished with a variety of tools and methods. Two typical methods using only hammer and anvil would be: hammering on the anvil horn, and hammering on the anvil face using the cross peen of a hammer.

Another method for drawing is to use a tool called a fuller, or the peen of the hammer to hasten the drawing out of a thick piece of metal. The technique is called fullering from the tool. Fullering consists of hammering a series of indentations (with corresponding ridges) perpendicular to the long section of the piece being drawn. The resulting effect will be to look somewhat like waves along the top of the piece. Then the hammer is turned over to use the flat face and the tops of the ridges are hammered down level with the bottoms of the indentations. This forces the metal to grow in length (and width if left unchecked) much faster than just hammering with the flat face of the hammer.  Shrinking, while similar to upsetting, is essentially the opposite process as drawing. As the edge of a flat piece is curved,—as in the making of a bowl shape—the edge will become wavy as the material bunches up in a shorter radius. At this point the wavy portion is heated and the waves are gently pounded flat to conform to the desired shape. If you were to compare the edge of the new shape to the original piece, you would discover that the material is thicker than before. This change in thickness is due to the excess material that formed the waves being pushed into a uniform edge that has a smaller radius than before.  Heating steel to a "forging heat" allows bending as if was hard plasticine: it takes significant but not Herculean effort. Bending can be done with the hammer over the horn or edge of the anvil or by inserting the work into one of the holes in the top of the anvil and swinging the free end to one side. Bends can be dressed and tightened or widened by hammering them over the appropriately-shaped part of the anvil.  Upsetting is the process of making metal thicker in one dimension through shortening in the other. One form is by heating the end of a rod and then hammering on it as one would drive a nail: the rod gets shorter, and the hot part widens. An alternative to hammering on the hot end would be to place the hot end on the anvil and hammer on the cold end.  Punching may be done to create a decorative pattern, or to make a hole. For example, in preparation for making a hammerhead, a smith would punch a hole in a heavy bar or rod for the hammer handle. Punching is not limited to depressions and holes. It also includes cutting, or slitting and drifting: these are done with a chisel"[4].  Once the blacksmith or bladesmith had the blade shaped they would put a handle on the blade. the last step was to sharpen the blade.  This was accomplished by the use of files and a grinding wheel.   I'd also like to see a bit more on handles.  How are they made, chosen, attached.....?  If you're going to do this, you need to think about it.  Are axes linked within knife making?  Are knifes easy to make from a blacksmith standpoint, moreso thatn an adze, ax, hinge.....?











  1. associatedcontent. Mar 5th 2010
  2. associatedcontent. mar5th 2010
  3. www.pickettsfort.org. Mar 5th 2010
  4. wikipedia. mar 5th 2010

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