The Blacksmith

   One of the pioneer settlers of Mother Bedford was Jacob Schmitt Sr, who settled in the vicinity of present-day Smith Corner in Freedom Township, Blair County in 1774. Having been settled in this region without close neighbors for roughly ten years between the years 1774 and 1783, Jacob Schmitt had a blacksmith forge on his own farmstead. Jacob Schmitt did not engage in blacksmithing as a profession though, and was recorded on the tax assessment returns as a farmer. Jacob Schmitt's blacksmith forge was used for the purpose of producing and repairing his own metal articles. A short length of chain with a hook on the one end that he or his son, Jacob Schmitt Jr possibly made is a cherished possession of his great5-grandson Larry Smith, this website's owner.


   The blacksmith was a valued member of the community because his trade was a much needed and appreciated one. Few men could or would take up the job of blacksmithing because it required strength and endurance to hammer a piece of raw metal into a useful article. The stereotyped image of the blacksmith being a big burly man with sinewy arms the size of small tree trunks is probably true in most cases because the nature of the occupation demanded that the craftsman do a lot of continuous hammering with heavy (and often cumbersome) sledges and hammers to form and shape the raw metal. It is difficult to imagine a man of weak or delicate constitution wielding a sledge in one hand while grasping a piece of hot metal with tongs in the other for any length of time.

   The name smith is derived from the Saxon word which became (smid) in the Dutch and (schmied) in the Teutonic or German languages. The root word denotes one who works with iron. Smithery was the trade of a smith. The word black is derived from the Saxon word which denotes the color of soot (i.e. black); the combination of the two into the Anglo Saxon blacksmith denoted an individual who worked with the black colored metal iron. In a way the combination was somewhat of an unnecessary duplication of terms since the word smith already denoted a worker of iron. The word blacksmith might have come into wide usage when the word smith began to be applied to the working of other metals. Words produced by combining the root word smith with the various malleable metals gave us the words coppersmith, goldsmith, tinsmith, silversmith, and so forth. These words, in turn, were often employed as surnames by the men who practiced such crafts. Thusly, we might find Johann Jakob, schmied of Mimbach eventually being referred to as Johann Jakob Schmied.

   The building in which the blacksmith worked was called the smithy. The dominant feature of the smithy was the forge. The forge might occupy the center of the room as easily as one of the corners. The layout of the smithy varied according to the desire of the owner; the deciding factor being the means of getting a blast of air into the forge. If a hand-operated bellows was utilized to provide wind, the forge might be located in the center of the room to allow space behind it for the bellows apparatus. If the air source was mechanized, such as a water-wheel driven bellows built as part of a nearby mill, the forge could be located closer to the walls because the air would be directed to the forge by way of a pipe. The forge did not need to be very large.

   The forge was needed to heat the metal to a malleable state and the metal being worked on needed to fit into the forge, but seldom was anything too large for the blacksmith to handle by himself put into the forge. It must be remembered that the blacksmith would seldom cast objects out of molten metal. Instead he fashioned and fabricated articles from rod iron. Therefore the forge did not need to be so large as to hold a crucible to melt iron in. The casting of objects from molten iron was normally done at iron forges or furnaces. Since the blacksmith was a solitary worker (apart from possibly having an apprentice to work the bellows and retrieve tools) he constructed a forge only as large as the objects he would be able to handle himself.

   The forge was often constructed of stone rather than brick, so that it would withstand the higher temperatures that would be created to melt iron. The forge was constructed so that a somewhat shallow depression would be created to hold hot coals. The base of the depression would be covered by a grate through which the spent coals could drop into an ash pit. An iron door would be attached on a hole on the side of the ash pit would allow it to be cleaned periodically. A second hole would be made in the back of the forge to allow the "tue iron" to pass through. A hood and chimney would surmount the entire forge not only to direct the smoke of the fire outward, but to help create a draft and thereby increase the temperature of the fire.

   The bellows for the forge has already been mentioned, but not fully described. In the earliest of smithys, the bellows was a large apparatus constructed of wood and leather. The "leaves" of the bellows were constructed of wood planks at least an inch thick, oftentimes being up to two inches thick. The leaves might measure up to six feet long and three and a half feet across. The leaves were shaped like a water drop with the narrow end pointed toward the forge. In many cases the top leaf would be permanently nailed to the underside of a crossbeam set between two upright posts (themselves sunk into the dirt floor of the smithy). On the narrow end of the top leaf would be attached a "tue iron". The tue iron was a variation of a tuyere, a conical shaped metal form which was intended to constrict the air flow as it passed through, and therefore raise the speed of that air flow. The tue iron would be aimed into the back of the forge and cemented into the stonework. The bottom leaf would be attached to the top by means of a sort of hinge at the back of the tue iron. Then the edges of the two leaves would be smeared with pitch or oakum and a large piece of leather, often an entire ox hide, would be nailed around the edges with closely spaced big-headed nails. The purpose of the pitch and the arrangement of the nails was to ensure that the air inside the bellows would go nowhere except out the narrow end, through the tue iron, and into the forge. Some sort of lever would be rigged so that the bottom leaf could be pulled upward and so compress the "lung" and expell the air inside. The weight of the bottom leaf would, when the lever was released, fall back down to the floor and refill itself with air in the process. The important thing was that the air taken back into the bellows would not be that just expelled through the tue iron. In order to achieve this feat, the blacksmith would cut a hole of a few inches in diameter into the top leaf. That hole would then be covered on the inside with a piece of flexible leather along one of its edges only. The bottom leaf, falling downward toward the floor, would create a vaccum and the flexible leather patch would fall down or inward and allow the lung to fill up with fresh air. As the bottom leaf would again be pulled upward the force of the pressure would again press the leather patch upward to seal the intake hole.

   As the years passed, the means by which the blacksmith supplied air to his forge changed. Fans were devised which could be turned by hand, with the help of an apprentice. In the late-1800s with the advent of electricity, flywheels were attached to motor shafts and the blacksmith could easily operate the air source at his whim.

   After the forge, the smithy's most important piece of equipment was the anvil. The anvil was a massive and heavy piece of iron fashioned into a form that had developed over the centuries. The form of the anvil has always basically been the same; it having a broad flat surface on the top on which to hammer rod iron into flat forms, and a horn shaped protuberance at one end around which to shape curves and bends. A description of the anvil appeared in the Cyclopaedia: Or, An Universal Dictionary Of Arts And Sciences published in the year 1741: "a smith's utensil, serving to place their work on, to be hammered or forged. The face or uppermost surface of the anvil must be very flat and smooth, without flaws; and so hard that a file will not touch it. At one end is sometimes a pike, bickern, or beak-iron, for the rounding of hollow work. The whole is usually mounted on a firm wooden block." (It should be noted that the logo of the Old-Greenfield Township Historical Society includes the illustration of an anvil.) The base of the anvil was massive and solid so as to provide a stable foundation on which the blacksmith could hammer. Into the flat top surface of the anvil were often a number of square holes. These accepted the bases or tangs of various auxiliary tools that the blacksmith could use to more effectively create a particular bend or shape to the metal he was forming. The tools which fit into the anvil's holes included the "hardy", a chisel shaped tool that the blacksmith used to cut the iron he was working. He would lay the piece he was working across the hardy and give it a couple of blows with the hammer, forcing the hot metal downward over the inverted "V" and thusly force it to separate and split. It has been stated in references to early tools that the anvil has not changed much in basic appearance for over two thousand years! The anvil was placed in a location that would make it convenient to the forge's open face. The blacksmith would place his piece of bar or rod iron in the hot coals of the forge. He would increase the draft of air into the forge be operating the bellows. Then the heat of the forge would increase and bring the rod iron to a near molten state. When the iron glowed between orange and a bright cherry red, the blacksmith would draw it from the coals and lay it across the surface of the anvil and begin to hammer at it with either a sledge or a flattening hammer. The anvil had to be placed close to the mouth of the forge so that as the metal cooled and lost its fiery glow, it could be replaced in the heat. Close by the anvil and forge would be placed a large tub of water. Into the water the blacksmith would plunge the work-in-progress from time to time. It would then again be placed into the forge to be heated again. The water plunge and reheating was necessary to anneal the metal. Too much pounding harmed the integrity of the molecular structure of the metal; the annealing process continued to revitalize the metal.

   The blacksmith made all sorts of iron tools and articles. Chains, such as the one believed to have been made by Jacob Schmitt Sr, were fabricated link by link. The links were short lengths of iron strips or rods hammered into shape over the horn end of the anvil, and when that shaping was completed they would be reheated to the point of being nearly white-hot and incandescent. They would be taken from the forge and connected to the preceeding link in the chain; their loose ends then being hammered together until the softened metal would fuse together into a virtually invisible weld. What was practically the most important tool of the early settler the ax was more often than not fabricated by the frontier blacksmith. The blacksmith started his ax by forming two flat pieces of iron into the basic shape of the intended tool. Each of the halves were beveled along the inside face of the cutting edge, so that when they were connected a "V" shaped channel would be formed. The two halves were placed in the forge so that the "poll" end (the flat edge opposite the cutting edge) received the greatest heat. When the two pieces had reached the white-hot state, they would be laid one on top of the other on the flat surface of the anvil. The blacksmith would then hammer the two pieces together until they fused together. Then the piece was thrust into the water bath and back into the forge's heat, this time with the cutting edges being heated. The cutting edge was then hammered together. The blacksmith hammered with skill to prevent the space between the poll and cutting edges from joining and also to maintain the "V" channel at the cutting edge. A thin sliver of heated steel would be inserted in the "V" channel and then the channel was hammered tight together fusing the piece of steel to the iron body. The steel (which was an iron/carbon alloy that had been refined by forcing air through the metal to force out impurities) would take and hold a sharper edge than the iron alone. The hole left open in the middle of the ax would then be enlarged by hammering the forming ax down over a tapered swage tool. The hole would thusly be enlarged and formed to accept the hickory or ash helve or handle.

   There was one thing that the blacksmith was singularly noted for: he shoed horses and oxen. Because it was the blacksmith who made the horseshoes and the nails used to attached them to the horny wall of the hoof, it was to the smithy that everyone went to have their horses shoed. The shoes would be shaped and formed to an exact fit and holes punched in them to accept the nails that would attach them to the animal's hoof. The shoes would be heated in the forge just prior to being placed on the animal's hoof; the heat causing them to attach to the hoof even before the nails were driven in. Horse and oxenshoeing often made up the bulk of the blacksmith's business and, with the advent of the automobile, the smithy disappeared from the landscape.