The "black" in "blacksmith" refers to the metals which develop a layer of black oxides as blacksmiths work with them. "Smith" is developed from the word "smite," which means "to hit." Hence, a blacksmith is someone who hits black metal. Basically, a blacksmith must have a forge (for heating metal), anvil (a hard surface to work the metal with), hammers and alike (for refining and beating the metal).
Today, most people who practice blacksmithing do it as an expression of their artistry and for personal enjoyment. Still, the quality of their work whether sculpture, architecture, horseshoes, knives, or gun barrels, go on to be as remarkable as it has ever been.
The techniques used in blacksmithing may be divided into forging, heat treating, welding, and finishing.
Forging is a process of shaping the metal by hammering (enough to become malleable). It has several major techniques. These are drawing, shrinking, upsetting, bending, and punching.
Drawing is the method that lengthens the metal by decreasing either of the depth and width, or both. Take for example, a blacksmith making a chisel may flatten a bar of steel, reducing its depth but maintaining its width constant (lengthening the metal).
Shrinking is basically the opposite of drawing. It thickens and shortens the length of the metal. Bending is the process of bending the metal into a particular shape like hooks, chain links, and loops. This can be done using hammers and anvils but it can also be done in specialize tools that will make the job easier and more consistent.
Upsetting is similar to shrinking but its thickening by reducing one dimension only. An example of this is heating and hammering the end of a rod. This action thickens the rod and shortening its overall length.
Punching creates a hole or depression in the metal by punching into the metal. It is done to make a decorative pattern or a hole. A good example for this is making a hammerhead wherein a blacksmith would hit a hole in a rod (for hammer handle). This technique also includes slitting and drifting.
Combining the processes
The five (5) basic processes are usually combined to create and refine the shapes needed for finished products.
Welding is a method that joins the same or similar metals. Today's blacksmith has an array of tools to accomplish this. Forge welding and arc welding are among the basic types of welding employed in modern shops.
The metal can be annealed, case hardened, hardened, tempered, normalized, and subjected to other procedures that alter the crystalline composition of the steel to give it definite characteristics necessary for different uses. Only steel can be heat treated. In general, higher carbon content steel hardens more.
Depending on the projected use, a blacksmith may finish the piece in a number of ways.
Throughout recorded human history, blacksmithing is one of the most significant elements of any known civilization. Those nations who had this technology were able to produce better weapons of war thus controlling those around them.
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