It’s all very well and good brandishing a sword at your sworn enemies, but in order to create the last word in non-mechanical weaponry you’re going to need some serious tools. If you think the finished product is dangerous, you should have a jolly good look at what’s required in order to get to the end product - and believe me, it’s not pretty.
For good reason Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge, cut a savage figure in contrast to his beautiful clients residing in Mount Olympus. Like his modern counterparts, the blacksmiths’ body bears witness to his (or her, that’s right, girls do it too, lads) trade.
It’s hardly surprising, we’re talking about a business that involves fire, metal and hitting very hot stuff really hard. The profession is notoriously hard on the ears too (what with all that clattering and banging, even the furnace makes a massive din) and all manner of debilitating musculoskeletal injuries - especially serious back problems- are in the offing as well. And that’s only the half of it.
By the the middle of the British iron age, say 450BC, the bloke responsible for turning a slab of metal into a two-handed Bidenhänder sword, or beautiful filigree handle for a ladies chiffonier, had a name. While some trades offered a degree of comfort no such luxuries were available to the humble blacksmith. For a start the floor on which they worked had to withstand extreme heat, the sheer weight of the metal and the odd hoof -that’s stone or dirt, then- and for fairly obvious reasons the workspace had a propensity to get rather warm. To add insult to further injury the blacksmith needed to be able to see the relative glow/colour of the hot metal in order to judge its temperature, this favoured a darker working environment, not too handy when you’re surrounded by large lumps of pointy, heavy metal and the odd floor mandrel (a hollow cone-shaped device, perfect for the making of rings, hoops and broken ankles).
This is the heart of the trade, a heart of hot, hurty heat. It all began over 5000 years ago when some enterprising person discovered certain rocks purged a material when heated to extreme temperatures, and said material could be partially cooled, worked, and used to make tools, weapons or wrappers for crème eggs. At the start of the iron age round 1200BC this fire had evolved into a basic furnace, or bloom, the wood had been replaced by charcoal -more efficient, burns at higher temperatures- and mechanical bellows superseded the puffing man. The principle is exactly the same today.
These come in three barely differing forms, the London model, slightly less fussy European version and the Farriers’ anvil that features a hole through its base. The anvil is the foundation, the pitch, on which the metal is formed. And you wouldn’t want to walk into the beak (that’s the stabby bit at the front) bang your knee on the hanging end (at the back) or stub your toe on the throat (underneath).
There are seven different types of hammer, more if you include the pair of sets (basically, chisels on sticks) and flatters -for making things flat. Each one made to shape a lump of metal as prescribed. Unsurprisingly, missing fingernails and broken digits (and teeth) aren’t unusual -just dropping a straight-peen sledge on your foot would knacker most of your toes- and before the invention of adequate eye protection, what with all that metal flying about, you’d be at serious risk of blindness too. Actually, even with eye protection you’re still at risk of blindness; metal swarf or shard, when projected at speed (especially when hot) has a tendency to penetrate virtually anything.
Tongs, Chisels, punches, drifts etc.
Also Swages, Fullers, Bolster plates... There are a host of auxiliary tools and devices, each specifically designed to allow the blacksmith to craft his material to his exacting standards. All are either, heavy, sharp and pointy and are probably red hot at any given moment allowing for a cornucopia of injurious possibility. Actually, why anyone would want to be a blacksmith is anyone’s guess. But without them the world would be a flimsy, dull place, and Judas Priest wouldn’t have any lyrics for their songs so they’re fine by me.
By James Dwelly