Blacksmithing vs. Welding
The word blacksmithing is a compound word coming from two words. “Black” being the color of heated metal, “smithing” is the activity; from the word smite, to hit. A blacksmith, therefore, is the person who creates objects from wrought iron or steel by forging the metal. Blacksmiths use tools to shape their pieces. They hammer, bend, and cut until they’ve created railings, furniture, sculptures, gates, grills, tools, decorative items, and more
The metal blacksmiths use is iron, and steel its derivative. When oxides form on the surface of the metal during heating, fire scale forms resulting in a black color. Metal is heated in a forge, fueled by propane, natural gas, coal, charcoal, or coke. Blowtorches provide localized heating. Temperature of the metal can be largely determined by the color of the metal. Iron goes from red to orange, then yellow and white. Then it melts. Forging heat is at the bright yellow-orange color
When the heated metal is soft enough to shape, blacksmiths use hand tools including hammer, anvil, and chisel. Forging is the process of metal smiting that involves use of a hammer and anvil. Material is not removed, as is in machining. The iron is simply hammered into shape. Blacksmithing creates little waste. Other than when trimming, even punching and cutting processes rearrange material, rather than remove it entirely. To accommodate odd-sizes, shapes, or make repetitive work repeatable and consistent, blacksmiths will employ additional tools.
The forging or sculpting process can be broken down into five techniques:
- Drawing lengthens the metal. When the depth is reduced and the width narrowed the piece grows in length. A smith can draw a taper to make a wedge or chisel shape. Tapering can be done to achieve a point. Drawing is commonly done by hammering on the anvil horn and hammering on the anvil face using the cross peen of a hammer. A fuller may be used on thick pieces. A series of indentations will be hammered perpendicular to the long section of a piece being drawn. Then the flat face is used to hammer the ridges level again. The metal will grow in length much more quickly than hammering with the flat face alone.
- Shrinking is in opposition to drawing. When a piece is curved, wavy surfaces need to be heated and pounded flat. The thickness will increase as excess “wave” metal is pushed down.
- Bending is done at orange-yellow forging heat with the hammer over the horn or edge of the anvil. The hardy hole in the top of the anvil is sometimes used as well. Hammering over different parts of the anvil will result in a variety of bends.
- Upsetting makes metal thicker. To do so, it must be shortened on the other dimension. A blacksmith can heat the end of a rod then hammer on it. As it gets shorter the hot part widens out. Or the smith could place the hot end on the anvil and hammer on the cold.
- Punching is a technique to create a hole or a decorative pattern. Cutting, slitting, and drifting with a chisel is all part of the punching process. The real magic is what happens when a skilled blacksmith combines these processes to produce refined, intricate, and beautiful shapes.
Blacksmiths often employ traditional forge welding or arc welding to combine materials. When steel is intense yellow or nearly white, the metal is reaching welding heat or molten temperatures. The smith may clean, heat, and apply flux to the metal; then heat it again. When the pieces are brought together, the center of the weld will be brought together first; then with hammer blows, the two pieces will be further joined and flux pushed out. Parts of the process are repeated until desired results are achieved.
A blacksmith has many options to finish a piece, depending on the pieces purpose. A simple rap on the anvil and brushing with a wire brush may be all that is needed, whereas detailed pieces or art may require filing, heat treatment, and even power tool finishing to smooth, brighten, and polish. Grinding stones, abrasive paper, and emery wheels may be used. Paint, varnish, bluing, browning, oil, or wax may be used to inhibit oxidation and give a finished appearance.
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