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I Forge Iron

Recreating a 15th century smithy

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Hi everyone, I'm hoping you can point me in the right direction. I'm looking for what a decently equipped 1450's smithy would have in it.

What would the forge look like/be made out of?
What kind of bellows?
What sort of tools and how many of each?
Would he have a vise, or what would be used instead?

Anything else, especially a recommendation of any good books on the subject would be highly appreciated.


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To add to the list of questions, what kind of fuel would be used in the forge?

You can't go wrong with charcoal. Any period from mid-19th century back would most likely use charcoal. There were, and probably always are, exceptions... but charcoal would have always been the number one fuel from the very beginning.

I work in a 1755-60 period site, and we buy bagged charcoal in big lots. I dump it in a period correct storage container, and have at it. I love the stuff.

I might recommend a looking into a stone masonry forge and a set of bellows. You need to check with Thomas P. and some of these other guys as to when the "great bellows", or double-action bellows, came into popular use (I'd be interested to know that myself). I'll bet you will probabaly still need two singles for the 1400's.

To really be spot-on, you'll need a period anvil. It's going to look more like a rectangular chunk of iron than the "English pattern" we normally think of when we think "anvil".

Tools are going to be much the same as we use now, but always simple and hand-wrought (a Home Depot hammer stands out like a sore thumb in a period historic setting). How many depends on the smith. I tend to be a minimalist when I'm doing 18th Century.

Good luck to you, and keep us posted,

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Most likely, charcoal. Hardwood charcoal was preferred and likely more available. Mineral coal was possibly used in some areas but it was considered to be poisonous by many and not widely used. Hearths/forges would have been side draft, with a cermaic tuyere. I don't know the design offhand, you'll have to do some research. Draft would have been provided by bellows, probably great bellows. (These would have of course been pulled by one of the several young apprentices in the shop.)

Iron was wrought, from blooms. Steel was made by the blister process (search: blister steel), or possibly picked from higher carbon blooms. Cast iron was a new introduction to England, and had limited applications.

Depending upon the size of the smithy, Oliver hammers would probably have been present. No power hammers, not even helve hammers at this time (except perhaps in the biggest of bloomeries). If you wanted something hit hard, you called over one of the apprentices and told him to bring a sledge.

Anvils were probably stump type for the most part, like this http://homepages.tig.com.au/~dispater/celtictools.jpg. Larger anvil for the master smith probably, but at this time no horn/bick/beak/pike. The anvil was a tool for pounding on. Bickerns were available for when one was needed.

In the 1500s in England, smiths in urban areas had specialities. Are you planning to represent a specialist, a country blacksmith...?

ETA: xxxx, Don got in there before me! Some good points there Dom.

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Actually, there are woodcarvings which depict water wheel powered trip hammer helves dating to the 15th century. The anvils of the period were mostly like the one depicted in the link Matt posted above, though many were pentagonal in shape rather than square. Larger post anvils were used as well, with the apperance of a large bickhorn. A double bellows, not a double chamber bellows, but 2 bellows side by side, with a pivot bar, would be the air source

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Thanks everyone for your input so far, I'm getting a good starting point together.

Matt: The plan is to be a "country blacksmith", however I would be the only smith in town, so I should have at least some of the tools to be able to repair armour, weapons, etc.

I'm guessing most of the work would be more along the lines of making belt knives, hoes, scythes, pots and pans, shoeing horses, etc.

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Hi Justin,
I do 15thC smithing/demoing with the Companie of st George. There are no 'proper' books on 15thC blacksmithing books that I am aware of, however there are a lot of snippets that help to build up a good picture of what it was like.
For starters you could try the following ......
De re metalica by Agricola a Dover publication - mid 1500,s but useful bits on making bellows.Also earliest illustration I have seen of double action bellows.
The book of trades by Jost Amman - Dover isbn 0-486-22886-x - again a mid 1500,s book but lots of illustrations of metalwork shops and the different anvil shapes used by different trades.
On diverse arts by Theophilus - Dover isbn 0-486-23784-2 A 12thC book with useful info on tools, soldering, brazing etc.
Online try -http://homepage.univie.ac.at/rudolf.koch/mendel/m_inh.htm this should take you to lots of pictures from the mendelson hausebuch 13,14 and 15th century workshops.
as for the forge you are looking at a simple table without a fire pot, a wall seperates the bellows from the fire with a small hole between for the airflow. Coal or charcoal can be used - I suggest you get a copy of the UMBA DVD of Jymm Hoffman demoing on his travelling forge, his forge is similar to the above but with a metal plate instead of brick/stone wall. Jymm shows what can be done on this type of forge along with fire maintainance.

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Obtain a copy of Diederot's Encyclopdeia of Industry (I think that is the correct name), it will give you a little bit of an idea of what life was like before the Industrial Revolution. This may not be an old nough period for you to study, though it will give you some idea.

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Do you take your Ferrari to the local shade tree mechanic to be fixed? Would you have your local GP do heart surgery on you? *Very* unlikely that a rural smith would be repairing arms and armour---shoot if you are in a small village very unlikely you *know* anybody with armour! They might not even be making knives; but there is the possibility that they might be a bit of a toolsmith and so work with steel at times.

A bit later the Wars of the Roses would come along and the possibility of battlefield repairs being needed might skew it a bit more toward a possibility that you might have worked on a repair in extremis.

The generalist smith is more an artifact of the American Frontir and the decline in smithing where the smith did just about everything to keep it together. Look at the number of Guilds in existance at that time period that are "smithing based"; but seperate guilds.

Coal for smithing fuel came into use in the high middle ages and England was a bit of an early adopter as they had both sources for acceptable coal and a lack of trees for charcoal; however your time period is still early enough that the laws banning new ironworks based on charcoal had not been enacted and coal was still looked down upon as was mentioned.

May I commend to your attention "Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel"; Gies & Gies for information on medieval technology. As for building a set up, Moxon's "Mechanics Exercises" was published several centuries later but can give you some basics on a smithy---especially if you "merge" it with the ideas and pictures shown in "Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel". Moxon is particularly helpfull as he discusses the different types of wrought iron and what they were good for and testing of each new load to see what you have got.

The basics have been mentioned, masonry side blast forge with twin single action bellows, often with them aranged so that 1 pole will alternately pump them. This is getting towards the time when the double action bellows makes it's way into the smithy from the goldsmiths; but especially for a small rural smithy you would not expect to be on the cutting edge of big city technology. (Note that in the big "industrial" ironworks shown in "De Re Metallica" that single action bellows are still shown in use---with directions on building them!)

Probably the biggest point not mentioned is *people* as a small rural smithy you should have only 2-5 assistants in your shop---no powerhammer but two people with sledges striking for you! As a basic level you want at least a striker and someone to fetch coal tend the fire, etc.

As for tooling: start out with several hammers of differing sizes and a couple of pairs of tongs and make what you would need as you go along. Very unlikely a shop would have tools that were not used for what it did. Note too that the apprentice made tools will be cruder than the master's tools with the journeyman's tools somewhere in between.

If you look at smithing tools in the illustrations from that time you will note a number of them that are pretty easy to find nowdays for hammers and tongs as many designs went from pre-roman times through the 19th century. These are good ones to hunt for as they can be used for other time portrayals as well.

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