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I Forge Iron

Junior Research Paper


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Hello Everybody,
I am currently a junior at an early college; we were assigned to write an 8-10 page paper about a topic that interests us. I decided to write about the history of Blacksmithing it is something I do not know a lot about so I think it would be fun to learn more. The reason I made this post is because I am looking for any publications, articles, websites etc. that I could use as my resources. At this point i only have about 3 and we are required to have at least 6. 
Any help will be appreciated,

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Off the top of my head, (I'm not near my research library and am dealing with sinus issues).  Note I'm generally involved in Medieval and Renaissance blacksmithing.


Primary sources: (all in english translation)

late 1800s "Practical Blacksmithing", Richardson

late 1700's Diderot's Encyclopedia

late 1600's Moxon's "Mechanics Exercises"

1500's De Re Metallica, Agricola

1500's Pirotechnia, Biringuccio

"Sources for the History of the Science of Steel 1532-1786"  C.S.Smith

early 1100's Divers Arts, Theophilus


Non-Primary sources:

The Knight and the Blast Furnace, Williams (foremost book on the metallurgy or renaissance armour!)

The Mastery and uses of Fire in Antiquity, Rehder (doctoral thesis)

Archeological Metallurgy, Tylecote

Prehistoric and Medieval Iron Smelting in Scandinavia and Europe: Aspects of Technology and Societyy, Norbach, Lars Christian

The Celtic Sword, Radomir Pleiner

The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England  H.R.Ellis Davidson

Crucible Steel in Central Asia, Fuerbach


Egyptian Metalworking and tools, Scheel

Steelmaking before Bessemer, vol 1 Blister Steel, Vol 2 Crucible steel



Be alert to anything by R. Tylecote, P. Craddock, C.S.Smith and A. Williams all well known in the field.  There is also an Archeological Metallurgy mailing list on the internet where it migh help to post your request.


Also much of the groundbreaking work is found in the journals; eg:

Nature 379, 60-63 (4 January 1996) | doi:10.1038/379060a0; Accepted 5 December 1995


  • An ancient wind-powered iron smelting technology in Sri Lanka

Gill Juleff


Some interesting articles in JOMS too!


So speaking from experience: primary sources, journal articles, a doctoral thesis---the mix impresses a professor with your research.  I assume you will have to narrow your topic

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Thomas, that looks like a pretty good list. I may go and try to find some of those myself. I know that Practical Blacksmithing is available from Google Books as a free download. Or at least I have downloaded it.

I just got back from this past weekend's SOFA conference and went through the book stalls looking for history books on blacksmithing. I didn't really find anything that matched what I was looking for.

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Most of those will have to be "mined" for information:


De Re Metallica is about mining and refining of metals and has a LARGE number of great woodcuts showing the technology of the period, Dover publishers has a nice reprint out in English. 


Pirotechnia is a slightly earlier work on smelting without the pictures.  Dover publishers has a nice reprint out in English.


Diderot's encyclopedia is one of the gems of the enlightenment where they wanted to document how stuff was done.  Finding the *complete* work is a problem; a University library may have one. The excerpts never seem to have the part you are hunting for.


Moxon's "Mechanic Exercises" has a section on how a smithy should be set up and equipped, what types of iron were good for what and instructions for several items including a spitjack.  Was written in the latter 1600's and published in 1703 Astragal press did a nice version BEWARE as many copies being sold are only partial dealing with printing and not the whole thing!


Sources for the History of the Science of Steel, has a bunch of excerpts all in English tracking how people were trying to figure out how steel differed from iron.  The excerpt from the Boke of Natural Magick has a fun listing of quenchents that are supposed to improve the metal being quenched (radish juice and worm water anyone?)  (ends in 1786 with a fellow slapping his forehead and saying "it's *CARBON*!")


Divers Arts is a "how to" book from around 1120; written by a German monk trying to explain how to make everything for church ornamentation including how to make the glass for stained glass, cast bronze censors, make enamels, polish ivory, etc and so on.  He is also where we get the "quenching the steel in uring of a red headed boy or a goat fed ferns for 3 days: or how to quench a graver in candle wax, hot to make and heat treat files, etc.


Gotta go perhaps more later

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Unless a simple overview is going to do, you're going to have to narrow your focus.  The oldest known iron artifacts are from about 2500 BCE, so people have been working iron for a very long time.


One aspect of iron work that interests me, as a student of the craft, but also as an amateur historian, is the supply train.  How many miners of ore to supply one smelter?  How many charcoal burners to supply the same smelter?  How many trees to supply the burners?  How many smelters to supply a smith with raw materials?  How many smiths to supply town of X many people with needed iron stuff?


Or, when did smiths begin to specialize?  I know that by 1800CE, most iron work trades were specialized, at least in the big centers of manufacture.  No one could be good at it all.


There are lots of good topics, though many are book sized rather than 8-10 pages :( .





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If you are able to fine a few proper scientific papers, they each have a bibliography - so you actually already have at least 30 references.  And each of them will have perhaps 10. My guess is that with just a couple of hours online, you could have a bibliography of several hundred relevant papers.  And don't make the mistake that so many young researchers do today, that you only need to look at the last one or two most recent papers - to really understand the subject - any subject- you have to start with the earliest papers and work your way forward to look at how ideas have changed through time about the subject in which you are interested.


Hope this helps!

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Thank ya'll for all the help, the reason I asked for the whole history of blacksmithing was because my teacher wanted to choose the topics to see how well I would get the information for them. The topics she chose were: how was it used in warfare (asuming a broad spectrum of history), used for artwork, general uses today, and the roles of the blacksmith throughout history. Also 8-10 pages is the mininum requirements for the paper. Thanks for everyones help and websites, I greatly appreciate it; now she told me to find 100 facts for the paper so I have a long quest ahead me.



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Give you a hint "The Knight and the Blast Furnace" is a work on the metallurgy of armour in the late medieval and Renaissance period---it's over 900 pages long.



Cathedral Forge and Waterwheel, Gies & Gies is a very readable book on medieval technology that includes quite a bit on blacksmithing---like when coal stated to be used.


For today "Decorative and Sculptural Ironwork" is a good overview.

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Along with wot Frank said. Writing about the necessity of the blacksmith as the United States was settled towards the west would be a more focused work. Smiths allowed communities to exist. We may even be able to think of them as the early day big box home improvement store....and a lot more. But even narrowing down your work to that may make it hard not to exceed your page count..a visit to a farm museum where you could see some of the items they made,,,wagons parts, hinges, latches, springs, wagon tires. Would be great for your work. And of course the small items like nails. The smith in a small town would also be the place for repairs of metal items...And without internet. you could place an order for a new  item...maybe a replacement spring for a rifle or pistol? and expect a pretty fair turn around.

Have I reached the 8 page minimum yet?

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