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