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I Forge Iron

Portable Blacksmith's rig in the 1170's


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Hello there,

I was wondering if any of the fine crowd here could help me in establishing what the rig of a smith would look like who was following a Norman army around in 12th century Britain.

I imagine the most probable answer is that the anvil is going to be an iron or stone block set into the ground. While the forge is a hole in the ground with air supplied via a small set of bellows.

The problem is that you can't always dig holes in the ground and with it being Britain you're not guaranteed the ground will be dry anyway.

So could anyone help me come up with a reasonable period extrapolation of a rig where possible with some period reffernce to its use?

Thanks to those who take the time to read and a bigger thanks in advance to those who answer.

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Here is a link to some Viking tools, I expect Norman period is about the same:


And another one - pics near the bottom of the page:


One or two round, accordion-style bellows would likely be correct. I expect the fire would have been built on the ground, wet or not and blacksmiths following an army would have primarily been doing farrier work so those types of tools would constitute the rest.

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It's a bit later than my chosen period, but here we go

by the 12th century waist level hearths and single action kite shaped bellows were pretty much standard (had been for the last millennium). The hole in the ground was as far as I have been able to find confined to the Iron Age and maybe some emergency improvisations a bit later, but not that late. Some Anglo Saxon field forges are depicted as being a clay/daub hearth built up on a pile of turf or wooden table and the only part that is carried with them is the clay tuyere and sometime s aback plate to protect the bellows.

anvils are mostly rectangular lumps, sometimes with a small beak but they are often not very heavy. So a simple rectangular stake anvil with a separate L-shaped bick iron is most probable. The big picture of the Viking smiths tools looks a lot more like a 14th or 15th century set to me, though they may well have found a source that I have not. The other picture (at the bottom of the long page) is much better for saxo-norman, then it should be the chest above it is the Mastermyr find a 10th Century chest of tools! Hammers, tongs, chisels etc are all the same since the early iron age through to modern times, but NO ball peens please!

If I can help with any specific questions please let me know :) I'm not claiming to be an expert on 12th century army forges, but I might be able to find some references for you to look at :D

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Thanks HWooldridge for the links, I quite like the look of the stump set with various forms. It looks very workable.

Another thanks to Dave Budd I can see I underestimating the level of craft in the time period. I don't suppose you have any images or more specific refferences of the clay tuyere to give me an idea of proportions.

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Ground forges were well documented in the American civil war even (on both sides). Carrying only a bellows and the necessary tools and anvil was a lot less effort than managing a forge cart. Smiths were often attached to cavalry as farriers so ease of movement was necessary. Forgoing a special forge wagon by simply using any wagon or cart improved mobility.

I am not a historian, so I can't give references very easily.


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First of all; you'd generally use the shop of the local village; armies were generally where people were---very hard to fight in wilderness conditions!

Next level would be to carry a travel anvil much like a fairly small cube with a spike on the bottom to use with any local stump.

I have one based on a roman example in the museum in Bath, that is also like a Spanish colonial one in the Camino Real Museum here in NM, that is just like once used in the French and Indian war... Mine is about 4.5" on a side weighing around 25 pounds.

No stone anvil!

Remember you are forging real wrought iron at nearly white heat and so much softer under the hammer than modern steels---you don't need as much hammer or anvil!

As for forge: work on the side of a fire pit raking coals over to your "forge" as needed. If you were going to be someplace for a while and no village was available---rather strange---turves are a fast and easy method of raising your fire up to a convenient height---but without grazing the grass would be a bit long! Two single action bellows, side blown, charcoal as fuel. (Divers Arts, 1120, has bellows plans, Note that while his organ bellows has a checkvalve the metal working bellows do not---there is a trick to working them alternating so as to not inhale any burning coals.! There is a stave church with carvings of the Sigvard story on it showing a nice set up close to that time period.)

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Thanks for more replies. I've now updated my loacation, and I'm afraid I wont be able to make your display.

This rig is intended for a living history display. Suggesting to the croud that the local smith's workspace would have been comandeered at any possible point as opposed having the fore thought to have the backup of a small rig in place appears to be out of the spirit of the event.

One thing I am wondering. If the Vikings had developed stakes that have a horn would it be reasonable to say that while the Normans wouldn't have had a horn as they look now they could at least have had a rounded edge?

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