About the Blacksmithy

Blacksmith using a portable forge
Example of a blacksmith at work, in this case using a portable forge.

Interior of a substantial smithy; this is larger than what would have been found at Fort Willow
Example of the inside of a substantial smithy; this is likely much larger than the smithy at Fort Willow.

Examples of wrought nails found through Fort Willow archaeology; probably made by a blacksmith at Fort Willow
Examples of wrought nails found at Fort Willow, probably made by a blacksmith at the Fort itself.
Possible 'whimsy'; an end-of-day artistic creation by a blacksmith with the last of the day's iron.
Possible ‘whimsy’; an end-of-day artistic creation by a blacksmith with the last of the day’s iron

Researcher: Spencer Godin and Elimio Alonso, Grade 12

Life as a Blacksmith

Blacksmiths, also called simply smiths, are craftsmen who fabricate objects out of iron by hot and cold forging on an anvil. Blacksmiths who specialized in the forging of shoes for horses were called farriers. The term blacksmith derives from iron, formerly called “black metal,” and farrier from the Latin ferrum,“iron.”

Iron replaced bronze for use in tools and weapons in the late 2nd and the 1st millenia B.C. and from then until the Industrial Revolution, blacksmiths made by hand most of the wrought iron objects used in the world. The blacksmith’s essential equipment consists of a forge, or furnace, in which smelted iron is heated so that it can be worked easily; an anvil, a heavy, firmly secured, steel-surfaced block upon which the piece of iron is worked; tongs to hold the iron on the anvil; and hammers, chisels, and other implements to cut, shape, flatten, or weld the iron into the desired object.

During the 1800’s blacksmiths worked widely across British North America to craft everything from nails and buttons to musket and cannon parts. Blacksmiths were employed by the military to repair horse shoes, repair equipment such as wagons, hose tack and artillery equipment.

Archaeology at the Blacksmithy

In the 1950s, archaeologist Wilfred Jury claimed to have found evidence for a smithy at the Fort. However, subsequent digs have not pinpointed the exact location for the smithy.

However, artifacts found near the proposed location of the smithy indicate that there likely was a smithy in the general area: finds include layers of iron-stained soil as well as pieces of iron ‘slag’ (waste iron produced when iron is heated by the blacksmith).

It is assumed that many of the wrought nails found across the site (see images above) were produced on-site by the blacksmith. This includes ‘whimsical’ iron objects like the twisted nail pictured above. It is not uncommon for craftsmen, at the end of the work day, to use up the last of the day’s raw materials to produce a whimsical piece of non-functional art.

The Blacksmithing Process


Blacksmithing Terms:

  • Forging: metal is shaped by hammering heated iron, usually on an anvil.
  • Drawing: Lengthens the metal by reducing one or both of the other two dimensions; ‘strecthes’ the metal into a longer form.
  • Bending: Bending metals to warp them into a desired shape, usually on an anvil.
  • Upsetting: Process of making metal thicker in one dimension through shortening in the other.
  • Punching: Adding a hole to a piece of iron. May be done to create a decorative pattern, or to make a hole for attaching other iron pieces (for example, when forming links of chain).
  • Welding: The joining of pieces of the same or simliar kind of metal.

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