The early ironsmith or blacksmith was a master
craftsman, an artist, an engineer and an inventor. He took shapeless lumps of iron and
created virtually every metal object a village would need. He was indispensable to the
people of the town because his craft was absolutely vital to their survival.
For a household, smiths crafted pot hooks, locks,
utensils, plates, cups, fireplace backs, handirons, dippers, skewers, knives, trivets,
kettles, pots and candleholders. For a farmer the smiths made hoes, hammers, axes, saws,
tongs, hinges, and nails. His talents were required by other craftsmen, he supplied the
metal tires for the wheelwright, all the metal objects used by saddlers, wagonmakers,
planters and millers. If any metal object broke, it was taken to the smith for repair. And
if a blacksmith did not have the right tool to do a job, he invented one! Designed and
built from scratch, these tools had no names, and were never duplicated later in mass
The smith who made, fitted, and nailed shoes to
horses, oxen, and mules was called a Farrier. The shoes were custom fit to the horse and
each of it's hoofs. Each shoe differed in shape, size and weight, and also on the type of
horse and the condition of the surface.
A blacksmith shaped his creations of iron by
heating the metal and then bending and pounding it to shape it. Forging was the series of
steps which were executed in a certain order, interrupted long enough to place the iron
into the fire and bring it to forging heat.
The blacksmith's forge was a square brick hearth
raised 2-1/2 feet off the ground, with a bellows at the side or back which forced air into
the fire. Above the hearth was a hood which carried smoke and fumes away, and close by
there was always one or more tubs of water to quench the hot iron. The fire was small and
concentrated, only a few inches across at the center. Around the fire, the smith placed
unburned fuel which he added to the fire when needed. Using his tools of slice (a
long-handled shovel), fire hook (long-handled rake) and by sprinkling water around the
fire, the smith controlled the size and depth of the fire. The bellows were used to
regulate the intensity.
The surface upon which the smithy worked is an
anvil, which was a piece of cast or wrought iron which weighed up to 300 pounds. The
anvil's upper surface (face) was flat, smooth and hard. One end was horn shaped and was
used to work rounded or curved pieces such as links, rings or shackles. The area between
the face and horn was called the table, and it was used to place work cut with a cold
chisel. The other end of the anvil was called the heel. The heel had two holes, the
pritchel hole was round and the hardie hole was square. When punching through metal, the
work was placed over the hole.
The blacksmith probably had more tools than any
other craftsman. The smithy's shop was filled with a variety of tongs, vises, hammers,
punches, cutting sets and chisels which he used in his work. The tongs were used to hold
the hot metal, and included link, hollow bit, anvil, hoop and horsehoes tongs. The hammers
were a large variety of different sizes and weights, a sledge could weigh as much as 12
pounds. He used scroll starters, scroll forks, twisting bars, top swags, heading stools,
button head set, upsetting plates, set hammer, ball peens, cross peens, and straight
peens. The blacksmith also had cutting tools called hot sets. After an iron was heated to
a red-hot pliable condition, it then could be cut easily. A good blow on the head of the
hot set would drive it through a 1/2 inch piece of iron. A smithy never discarded an old
tool because he could make a new one out of two old ones. And for every short-handled
tool, he had a corresponding long-handled counterpart.
Each of a blacksmith's jobs required the iron to
be a particular temperature or heat, which was revealed by the color of the metal.
Blood-red heat was used when the surface of iron was to be smoothed, but not reshaped.
White heat was used when the work was to be hammered into a different shape and welding
heat, or sparkling heat, was used in welding.
In welding two pieces of iron were joined together
by heating them and firmly placing them face to face. The weld types were corner, split,
T, jump, clift, split, lap, faggot and butt. Drawing was the thinning and lengthening a
piece of metal by heating and hammering it. In making nails the first step was to draw the
iron down: making the large dimension of a piece of iron smaller.Nail heads were formed
using a skill that was the opposite of drawing, called upsetting. Upsetting thickened or
bulged the iron.
Annealing softens the metal by heating it to
blood-red and then cooling it slowly, so it can be worked by cutting tools. Tempering is
the opposite of annealing because toughens the iron.
Axes, plows, hoes and other tools had wooden
handles and wrought-iron heads and a strip of metal welded on to make the cutting edge.
The process for replacing the strip when it was worn was called laying.(The Blacksmith,
Nancy Hendrickson, History Magazine, April/May 2000)
In Bavaria, at the time the earlier generations of
Wallner Master Blacksmiths were practicing their trade, the Guild (an association of
merchants or craftsmen, much like the trade unions of today) was still powerful in the
German work field. To have the right to operate his own business, a man had to become a
member of the Guild and had to meet not only technical qualifications, but moral
qualifications as well. He had to be of legimate birth, attend church regularly, and enjoy
a good reputation. The Guild permitted its members to work only at a particular trade, in
a particular place, and made sure that a newcomer in town became a citizen before he
joined the Guild. By the 15th century guilds had been organized in Germany for all trades,
including Ironsmiths or Blacksmiths, and flourished for centuries. In many larger towns
the Guild became a political power.
There were three stages of progression in a craft:
apprentice, journeyman and master. As an apprentice, a young man learned the basics of a
craft under the tutelage of a master. Upon achieving a certain level of proficiency, the
apprentice became a journeyman, or a "Wandergeselle" and travelled for three
years offering his services to master craftsmen and laypeople. Afterwards, the craftsman
settled in a community to set up shop and became a "master".
In some areas the Guild exercised so much control
over their members that they could dictate the area in which a member lived, and even who
they married (preferably the daughter of another guild member!). Whether it was the
influence of the Guild, or simply a matter of practicality, each and every generation of
our Wallner line were Master Blacksmiths - who all married the daughters of Master
Blacksmiths from another town - and took over their father in laws' business there.
The Wallners weren't the only
blacksmiths in the family:
Photos of Philip Koehler's Blacksmith
On Wyckoff Avenue in Ridgewood, Queens, New York
We learned the poem, and then promptly forgot it.
Most of us recognize at least the first few lines of Longfellow's famous ode to the
Blacksmith from our school days. The poem becomes more personal, and takes on a whole new
meaning, when generation after generation of these village smithys are your roots.