The Art of the Blacksmith
In the domain of metalworking, no craftsman is as iconic as the blacksmith. Blacksmithing goes back to prehistory, and even mythology. A “smith” in general is a skilled worker, and the word derives from both German and English words meaning “skilled worker” and “to strike” respectively. The association with “black” comes from something called firescale, or firestain. This is a layer that oxidizes on the surface of metal when subjected to heat. Different metal mixtures can turn different colors depending on the level of heat they are subjected to, including anything from red and purple to the most common being black. Hence, the blacksmith.
By definition, a blacksmith is someone who works primarily with iron and steel by heating it in a forge and uses tools to hammer, bend and cut it. In contrast to a whitesmith who primarily works soft, light metals (like tin) without the need to heat them up; a blacksmith does their job by heating metal to the point where it can be manipulated, not melted. While the scale of what a blacksmith can produce out of metal is enormous, even the smallest projects are by no means easy work. Working with a forge and heated metal can be extremely dangerous, and if great consideration isn’t paid to safety the results can be disastrous. The stereotypical blacksmith is a hulking, giant of a man with great huge arms and a leather apron, but really anyone can get involved with metalworking at this level; from men to women, young and old. Just be responsible.
In general, blacksmiths are associated with producing tools, weapons, cookware, gates, grilles, railings, fences, fixtures, furniture and even artistic sculptures. Blacksmiths have a general knowledge of metalworking and can put together pretty much anything out of hard metals like iron and steel, even complicated devices so long as they don’t require machined parts. Even then a blacksmith may have knowledge of machine production as well.
Typically, armor is crafted by an armorer, horseshoes are crafted by a farrier, and wheels by a wheelwright. These are examples of other metalworkers that also manipulate iron and steel, but they will typically know only how to do what they need to do, or only have time to focus on the single task (armoring is no simple feat). The blacksmith has a general knowledge of what goes into any of these trades and they too would be able to take on any role should the need arise. Hence while a farrier is a more specialized type of metalsmith, a blacksmith in theory should possess a more advanced skill set that simply allows them to produce more based on being knowledgeable of more processes and techniques.