Today’s smithery can make a variety of metal products: staircase rails, sculptures, ornamental decorations… However, for most of us, smithery is associated with antiquities, historical facts, and production of arms. I will tell about the art of blacksmith in the Middle Ages in this article.
In the Middle Ages, the blacksmith profession was of particularly high demand, as metal was processed exclusively manually. People of this profession were making tools for work, horseshoes, manufactured and, of course, manufactured arms and armours. Iron in a smithery was forged using a hardened hammer and special tongs. By heating iron in fire and adding a small amount of carbon, the metal suitable for the production of tools and weapons was made. For many hours blacksmiths, where heating iron and then forging it, thus primitively performing the carbidisation process.
In the Middle Ages blacksmiths often had forges on wheels, allowing them to follow armies or go to different cities when the demand for blacksmith services became too low. Later, through the development of metal heating furnaces, the blacksmith’s profession has become sedentary.
Forges the Middle Ages were making the following tools:
- different sizes of hardened metal hammers;
- different sizes of presses;
- work tables and shelves.
Perhaps one of the greatest inventions of the Middle Ages, specifically developed, are bellows to blow air and to facilitate burning in the furnace, thus increasing the heat. Before the invention of bellows, the blacksmith’s apprentice had to blow air using special pipes. This was a very difficult and ineffective job, however, this still helped to melt iron and connect with carbon thus producing the metal. Of course, the introduction of bellows in the production of metal facilitated the control the furnace temperature and proper preparation of iron.
Medieval blacksmiths made the following metal products:
- weapons: swords, daggers, spears, arrowheads, etc.
- castle siege machines;
- armour and shields used in Mediaeval times;
- various tools;
- castle and church locks, keys and hinges, stair railings;
- torture instruments and chains;
- household tools: knives, lamps;
- decorative details.
In the Middle Ages the blacksmith was a very important member of the community. Blacksmiths had different living conditions in different areas.
Rural blacksmiths lived in small communities, and mainly produced household and farming tools.
Castle blacksmiths lived outside the castle walls, and had the main tasks of making weapons, armour and horse shoeing.
Town blacksmiths usually belonged to professional guilds, and were making jewellery and expensive weapons, actively cooperating the merchants and improved working methods in guilds.
Blacksmiths in monasteries – monks also engaged in blacksmithing, as they had to make a variety of necessary tools for everyday life.
Very often, blacksmiths were called to military campaigns, where they were responsible for the repair and production of arms, and they travelled with the army.
Interestingly, in the Middle Ages, in order to learn the blacksmith craft, they had to move to the smithery and live under constant supervision of the blacksmith teacher. Usually, such learners were working free of charge for several years. Once the master decided that the student is skilled enough, he was given a chance to create their own metal product which was assessed by the blacksmith, and in case of positive assessment, the work was sent to the blacksmiths guild; once it gave authorisation, the student received the name of a qualified hireling. The hireling was obliged to travel around the country for a certain period of time to and learn the craft from other blacksmiths. After some time, the last work was presented to the guild. In case of positive assessment, the blacksmith was granted the name of master and could open his own smithery, have his own students. Learning the craft would take up to 15 years – the time to master this art.