A Blacksmith is a Blacksmith, Right?

Ask our guest Jennifer Uhlarik that question. She’ll tell you!

 

Blacksmiths—those who work to shape metal into useful tools, decorative pieces, or bits of jewelry—have been around since our earliest history. In the Old West, a blacksmith was a highly valued member of any community, as at some point, most people would find a reason to visit his shop to have a new tool crafted or an old one fixed or restored. A well-trained blacksmith would earn good pay for his craft. But it might surprise you to learn that not all blacksmiths could do all types of metalwork. Quite the contrary. Some were very specialized in their skills while others had a rather broad ability to work in many areas. Here’s a quick primer in the various types of smiths:

 

  1. Blacksmith—one who works with iron and steel. Going back to the Colonial days of America (and far earlier), blacksmiths made most of the metal tools anyone could dream of. Plows, hoes, shovels, door hinges, metal chains, and everything in between. Your typical village blacksmith had a wide range of knowledge and could work on lots of types of projects.

 

  1. Farrier—a smith who shaped and fit horseshoes. Since the Industrial Revolution, horseshoes have been mass-produced, but before that, shoeing horses required someone with the skill to be able to shape the iron into the horseshoe as well as adhere them to the horse’s hooves. In addition, this type of smith would have to have knowledge of how to clean, shape, and trim the horse’s hooves. Many farriers were general blacksmiths, but not all blacksmiths were farriers.

 

  1. Wheelwright—a craftsman who could create or work on wooden wheels or wagons and other conveyances. This included crafting the metal wheel rims and other metal parts of wagons, carriages, and the like.

 

  1. Locksmith—someone who forged locks from metal. Initially, locks were made from wood, but as man learned ways to craft with metal, the locksmiths changed their chosen media. They would work for hours, cutting and filing small pieces to create the inner workings of the locks.

 

  1. Gunsmith—one who designed, built, repaired, and/or modified guns. In addition, they might also apply decorative engraving or finishes to the completed firearm. Gunsmiths still have a place in modern society, working in gun-manufacturing factories, armories, and gun shops.

 

  1. Bladesmith—as you might guess, a bladesmith was someone who used blacksmithing techniques to shape metal into knives, swords, and other bladed implements. In addition, this smith would have knowledge of shaping wood for blade handles, as well as some leatherworking ability for creating knife sheaths, etc.

 

  1. Swordsmith—an even more specialized form of bladesmith, who worked only on swords.

 

  1. Coppersmith (also known as a Brazier)—this craftsman worked mainly with copper and brass, creating anything from jewelry to plates/platters to sculptures and more.

 

  1. Silversmith—a smith whose chosen metal was silver. An interesting tidbit about silversmithing: in this craft, the metal is worked cold, unlike iron which requires great heat. As it is hammered and shaped, it becomes “work-hardened”, and if it isn’t periodically “annealed” (heated to soften it again) the silver will crack and weaken.

 

  1. Goldsmith—Closely related to a silversmith, a goldsmith worked with gold and other precious metals to create silverware, jewelry, goblets, service trays, and even religious or ceremonial pieces.

 

There are other types of smiths, but these are some of the most common.

 

For the most part, the skill, craft, and artwork of the blacksmith is a thing of the past, though you can find working blacksmith shops in some places today. Sometimes they are part of historic sites or living history museums, meant to show what life was like in a given time period. Others are meant to introduce today’s culture to the craft of blacksmithing through simple hands-on classes where you can make an easy project in a few hours. Most common in today’s culture, those with smithing skills work in jewelry designing/sales, the firearm industry, or as locksmiths.

 

It’s your turn: Did it surprise you to learn that not all smiths could do all types of work? Which type of smithing work intrigues you the most? Leave me a comment with your thoughts, and I’ll give one commenter a signed copy of my latest release, The Blacksmith Brides, with four fun romances all containing blacksmith heroes.

 

Available now on Amazon!

Blacksmith Brides: 4 Love Stories Forged by Hard Work

 

Hearts Are Forged by the Flames of Gentle Love in 4 Historical Stories
 
Worth Fighting For (1774—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) by Pegg Thomas
Talk of war has surrounded Meg McCracken, including her father and four brothers. Alexander Ogilvie doesn’t care about the coming war; his plans are to head west. When Meg comes to his smithy, sparks fly off more than the forge. But can they build anything during unstable times?
 
Forging Forever (1798—Cornwall, England) by Amanda Barratt
When the actions of Elowyn Brody’s father force her into a marriage of convenience with blacksmith Josiah Hendrick, she consigns love to a bygone dream. But as Elowyn comes to know her new husband, her flame of hope begins to burn again. Until heartache threatens to sever the future forged between them.
 
A Tempered Heart (1861—Charlottesville, Virginia) By Angela K. Couch
Buried under a debt that is not his own, Thomas Flynn’s only focus is gaining his freedom. He has learned to keep his head low and not pay attention to the troubles of others, until a peculiar boy and his widowed mother show him how empty his life has become. After years of protecting her son from slights and neglect of the people closest them, Esther Mathews is not sure how to trust the local blacksmith with her child…or her heart.
 
A Malleable Heart (California—1870) by Jennifer Uhlarik
A hard-hearted blacksmith finds acceptance with the town laundress. But when his past comes to call, will he resist love’s softening or allow God to hammer his ruined life into something of worth?

 

Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions, and been on the ECPA best-seller list several times. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers, Women Writing the West, and is a lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.

 

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58 thoughts on “A Blacksmith is a Blacksmith, Right?”

  1. Very interesting! I guess I thought that the same person would work with gold, silver, and copper.

    • Hi Melanie, thank you so much for reading! It’s a common misconception, I think, but each metal has its own properties, so they react differently to heat and pressure.

  2. I knew if these different occupations and smith’s. I truly admire all of these. Silversmiths intrigue me with their beautiful intricate designs.

  3. I knew they could do a lot of things Because they were bending stuff over they hot coals all day long. Also fanning the flames or heat as they did they were the person to go to for anything that need to be bent or shaped.

  4. I knew smiths did different types of work but never saw it so wonderfully laid out. Thanks for the great post.

  5. Wow, what an awesome job. Quite honestly I never put enough thought into all that went into making everything into various metals and even wood until I read your blog. I mostly thought of knives and wrought iro for back in the old days when there was so much more! It’s funny what we take for granted! I have a friend that I graduated with that still does blacksmith work making homemade tools and such. I also have a friend I graduated with that’s family is jewelers, which just happen to be related to a fellow P&P follower. Her son is now the jeweler after her father retiring. The son does amazing work that includes things like knives and belt buckles since we’re from the cowboy capital of the world, Stephenville, Texas. Funny how I never tied in the fact that he’s a blacksmith until now! I loved your blog and its educational factors, it really got me to thinking this morning! Thanks for dropping by! I’ve yet to read one of your books and would love the opportunity. Stay safe in these difficult times!

    • Hi Stephanie, I’m so glad I was able to make you think this morning! I’ve watched videos on blacksmithing techniques and it is SOOOOO interesting to me! A fascinating skill to know. Very cool that you know some blacksmiths in real life!

  6. Not I am intrigued! My Grandpa was a blacksmith in Battle Lake, Minnesota. He barely carved out a living. But, he excelled in gentle hugs, laughter, and lending a hand however he could. Loved the Smith writing today. Brought back so many memories. Thank you!

  7. I would have thought the silver and gold smiths would have been the same person. Are there still blacksmiths today? I would think a machine would pound out those horse shoes today.

    • Hi Quilt Lady. OH YES, there are still blacksmiths today. You can find independent shops that teach classes on basic blacksmithing techniques as well as blacksmiths that work in historical settings (living history museums and the like). Obviously, they aren’t as prevalent as they once were, but they are still around. And, of course, jewelers employ some smithing techniques–though much has changed in their business since the old west times. As for the horseshoes, those began being mass-produced from the time of the Industrial Revolution.

  8. Hi Jennifer! Welcome back to P&P. We always love having you. I love how these old professions all had their own names. My maiden name is Smith and I know in England that spoke of a profession of some kind. I wonder what my ancestors made. Very interesting. I’m currently writing a book about a bladesmith who makes knives and swords and I’m learning how beautiful some of these knives were. He finds peace working with steel.

    Wishing you much success! Enjoy your visit.

    • Hi Linda, as always–thank you so much for having me back at P&P. I always love my time here. The bladesmiths really could (and still do) create beautiful works of art out of a raw piece of steel. I don’t know if you’ve watched videos showing them while they work, but wow! It’s fascinating stuff.

  9. Welcome. Interesting post. I guess I never gave it all much thought. Thanks for shraing the differences. I especially liked copper-smith, silversmith, goldsmith. What wonderful things can come from these.

  10. It’s so interesting to me to learn about the different specialized work each smith did. Someone who could master several different types would be incredibly talented. I am fascinated by the work of goldsmith and silversmiths. To be able to do that intricate, detailed work is just amazing to me.

    • I think many of the smiths would learn to work in various types of metal. It made their businesses far more lucrative if they did. I couldn’t agree more on the work of gold and silversmiths. Absolutely beautiful.

  11. Very interesting. After reading all your descriptions it was like a “duh” moment – of course that blacksmith in his shop on Gunsmoke or The Rifleman or Bonanza didn’t work on everything, but I never thought of it before. It sounds like silver is especially hard to work with. Looking forward to the stories!

    • I knew some of the different smiths (gunsmiths, bladesmiths, wheelwright, and farrier) before I started researching, but I learned so much more as I dug into the blacksmith trade. These so much more to it than just heat metal and pound. LOL

  12. Yes I too knew most of this information by having horses all my life and a cousin in a black smith who does metal work only!

      • I enjoyed learning about the different areas of expertise for blacksmiths. The one that surprised me was that of Cartwright ht, but I should have realized that would fall under the same field of work considering how many blacksmiths repaired damaged conveyances, including broken wheels. Thank you for the history lesson. 🙂

  13. I know of most of these from reading and watching my old westerns!! The one I really like the most, though, are the ones that work with iron and make decorative fencing and decorative scroll work for outside banisters, like on some of the old houses in Savannah. That’s one thing I remember from my visit there!

  14. I did not know there were so many different ones. Although we never had shoes on our horses, the farrier’s job still interests me.

    Looking forward to this book! Thanks for the opportunity!

  15. I had the pleasure of talking with a blacksmith once at the local museum. I’ve always been fascinated by their abilities! Unfortunately, I discovered there are very few people who have any knowledge of how, and even less willing to share their knowledge. It’s a disappearing skill that I wish I could have learned in my younger days.
    The Blacksmith Brides have caught my attention!

    • Hi Bert! Yes, I think that blacksmithing has been dying out as a skill–although there are some shops that are starting to pop up in certain areas where people can go to take classes and learn basic blacksmithing techniques. I found a few when I was researching blacksmithing for my novella. (Half tempted to sign up just to give it a try!)

  16. Something I didn’t know was that silver was worked with cold. I just assumed metal of any kind had to be heated. You post a lot of interesting things. I love history and learning new things!

  17. This is very interesting! I think the goldsmith work is maybe the most interesting to me, but they all are really! My husband is a welder, so it would be interesting which of these jobs he thinks he could do some of! Congrats on the new book! It looks really good!

  18. I knew about the different kinds of smiths. I have had farriers come for the horses for years. Dad kepr a small forge to make equipment repairs on the farm
    . Great article!!!

  19. Wow! I did not know all of the differences. I know that all of the types were valuable but I would love to be the goldsmith 🙂
    Congratulations and thanks for your giveaway.
    Connie
    cps1950(at)gmail(dot)com

  20. I knew about these different types of metal workers.

    Goldsmith would be cool since I can’t wear other metals due to allergies.

  21. No, I’m not surprised at all. Some of the nicest fellas I know are blacksmiths. If you visit the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC, you can view their work and observe forge work in action.

    It’s so nice of you to offer a chance to win.

  22. I didn’t realize there were different types of smiths. Your post was very interesting. Thank you for sharing.

  23. Thank you, Jennifer, for an enjoyable post. I am familiar with the blacksmith trade. Our daughter trained as a farrier, but never got to practice, except on their horses due to a hip that was injured in a fall from a horse. Her brother started “playing” with her gas forge and taught himself some basic blacksmithing skills. He and my husband have since joined a smithing group and our son has gotten rather good. He dabbles in a bit of everything – furniture, hardware, tools, pipe tomahawks & regular tomahawks, knives, and whatever else strikes his fancy. He is not a professional full time smith, it is one of many things he does. We have a forge in our back yard with a coal forge, anvils, power hammer, and the tools. I have gone to a couple “conferences” with them and am amazed at the work the experts do. There is one gentleman who does very fine work. One year he made a suit of armor for a hummingbird – tiny, decorated, and fully articulated. It was beautiful
    Stay safe and healthy.

    • Oh my goodness, Patricia! How very interesting. I love the idea of the suit of armor for a hummingbird. LOL The only thing I can think, though, is how incredibly hard that must have been to make–so tiny! Thank you for sharing your real-life look into the art and craft of smithing!

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