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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rock Ridge Blacksmith

Welcome to Rock Ridge.

An essential part of every small town up until the invention of the automobile, the blacksmith made and repaired most things made of the "black" metals, usually iron and steel. The "white" metals, like tin, were more often cold forged into shape by tinsmiths using much smaller tools.

Since my small forge is in storage at the moment, I took a trip to the local historical society museum and took pictures of their displays. It was also a lot quicker than trying to find public domain pictures of what I wanted, so all of these pictures are my original content.

I'm not a blacksmith, but I know the basics of how to run a forge. I will leave detailed explanations to those who have spent years working with hot iron. The basic task of tempering steel by color as you heat it takes time to learn, and I'm still learning it myself. There is too much involved in being a blacksmith for me to try to cover here, so this will just be an overview of the equipment found in a smithy and the types of work a smith would do.

This actually looks a lot like my forge,
but is in better shape than mine. 
This is a "rivet" forge, originally used to heat up iron rivets for joining steel plates and girders at construction sites. They are also popular among farriers for heating horseshoes, since they are portable and still big enough to hold a set of shoes.

The wooden bar lifts a crank that spins the large wheel, which is connected to the blower by a leather belt. The faster you swing the lever, the more air you force up through the bed of coal, making the fire hotter.

Keeping a fire hot and deep is important to heating the iron without producing too much scale (oxidation) on the surface of the work. Coal, coke (cooked coal), and charcoal all make good fuel. Each type of fuel has a different way of burning and only experience and availability will determine what you should use.

Here is a general purpose forge. As you can see, it is a lot larger than the rivet forge and is a permanent part of the blacksmith's shop.

The bellows are wood on top and bottom, while the sides are leather. There is a simple leather flapper valve on the inside of the bottom plate that opens when the top plate is raised and closes as gravity pulls the top plate back down. Working the bellows was usually the job of the blacksmith's assistant or apprentice, while he watched and learned the trade.

The large cone-shaped object in the background was used for forming hoops and rings of differing sizes, like door pulls.

This is a reproduction in a museum, so the floor is made of wood. A proper smithy would have a dirt or sand floor to avoid the risk of fire from the sparks and hot slag produced by the forge and anvil work. The lack of quench tubs for cooling metal between heats was one of the few things I found wrong with the layout.

Essential tools for any smithy- tongs and an anvil.

Tongs were usually made by the smith to fit the type of work he was doing. Jaws were rounded, flat, notched or whatever was needed to grip the piece of iron in the forge. Length for handles was determined by the size of the forge - larger beds required longer handles.

Anvils up to about 100 pounds were purchased and shipped in, while larger anvils (the largest I've ever seen was big enough to sleep on) were cast in place and the 'smithy built around the anvil. Wikipedia has a minimalist page on anvils here, where you can learn the basic anatomy of an anvil. Despite what they say, a good anvil will be attached to a wood base to absorb vibration since steel and concrete are too inflexible.

Hammers of various sizes and weights were an integral part of a blacksmith's trade, but they were too far back in the display to get a good picture of.

A blacksmith would be called upon to form and repair pretty much anything made of iron or steel. By heating two pieces of iron, applying a flux, and then hammering them together a smith would form a "faggot weld" which was less prominent than rivets, useful for making wheel rims. Door hinges, window latches, "cut" nails, and the like were common jobs for a blacksmith, while the bigger jobs like forming the fittings for a local wagon-maker or gunsmith would be taken on as needed. Raw, or standard, horseshoes would be formed by a blacksmith and sold to a farrier who would custom-fit them to an individual horse or mule. Common hand tools like shovels, hoes, knives, scissors, shears, axes, hammers, chisels, and pokers would flow out of a smithy.

This is what you get when you have a bored blacksmith. It is a black-powder shotgun set in concrete and aligned to act as a sundial. The glass box was originally a simple lens that concentrated the sun's rays. When the sun was directly overhead (at noon) the concentrated light would be lined up with the touch-hole of the shotgun, igniting the black-powder charge -- a simple alarm clock to let everyone in town know when it was time to break for lunch.

Every town needs a blacksmith, so if your training and inclination leads you to enjoy hot labor and working to the specifications and expectations of others, it may be something for you to look further investigate.

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