Writer’s Deep Dive: Metalworkers

When most people think of metalworkers, the image that commonly comes to their mind is a medieval blacksmith hammering at his anvil. However, there are other types of metalworkers, most of whom were skilled in a specialized craft.

I will focus in this article on metal crafts from before the Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately, that means I will leave out ironworkers, welders, and machinists.

Now, let’s dive in!

Whitesmiths

While blacksmiths worked with dark-colored metals such as iron, whitesmiths worked with light colored metals such as tin. [1] Whitesmithing is also used as a term for finishing work such as polishing, filing, lathing, and burnishing. [2] The first written description of a whitesmith is from 1686. [3]

The tin shop at Colonial Williamsburg. Image source.

Jewelers

Although we rarely consider people who craft metal jewelry as metalworkers, they are masters at manipulating gold, silver, and other precious metals. The first metal jewelry was copper and made 7,000 years ago. [4] The ancient Egyptians crafted and wore a tremendous amount of gold jewelry.

Ancient Egyptian jewelry on display in the British Museum, London. Image source.

Founders

A founder is a craftsman who casts objects by pouring molten metal into molds. A variety of metals can be cast, including aluminum, cast iron, bronze, brass, and steel. There are also many types of casting, such as sand casting, shell molding, die casting, and loam molding. The oldest cast piece is a copper frog from 3200 BC, that was found in Mesopotamia. The Chinese began casting iron between 800 and 700 BC and the technology made its way to Europe in the 15th century.

Farriers

Farriers specialize in shoeing horses, although it also involves trimming the excess growth off the hoof. These tradesmen must have blacksmithing skills to custom fit or even fabricate horseshoes, but also knowledge of the anatomy of the lower leg and foot. Although the term farrier is synonymous with horses, there are farriers who see to the trimming and health of the hooves of cattle, goats, and sheep. The first horseshoes were made of leather or woven plants. The metal horseshoe developed in northern Europe during the 6th and 7th centuries.

A farrier trimming a horse’s rear hoof. Image source.

Armorer

A craft specializing in armor, this art requires blacksmithing and usually leatherworking. Plate armor was first used by the ancient Greeks and full suits of plate mail were developed in Europe, starting the 12th century and through the 14th.

The craft of the armorer has gained new attention with its inclusion in The Mandalorian. Image source.

Blade and Gunsmiths

Bladesmithing is a catch-all terms for craftsmen who made a variety of blades, including knives, daggers, scythes, and swords. [5] There are specific terms for each type, such as knifemaker and swordsmith. Blademaking is a specialized skill that requires knowledge of metallurgy and various techniques. Different regions became famous for their unique metal, techniques, or quality.

The art nearly died out in the Western world after the Middle Ages when the sword stopped being a common weapon of war. The last couple of decades have seen a rebirth, although much of the knowledge was lost. Other parts of the world kept the craft alive, such as Japan, where they never stopped making blades.

Gunsmithing is the art of crafting and repairing firearms. It requires incredible precision and exact machining.

Traditional Japanese sword smithing. Image source.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or by writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways, please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2022 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Susan Hanway Scott (2012), "Whitesmithing", The Hunt Magazine, vol. Summer 2012
[2] John Holland (1831). "VI". A treatise on the progressive improvement and present state of the manufactures in metal. Vol. II:Iron and Steel. Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green & Longman, and John Taylor. pp. 124–157.
[3] Oxford English Dictionary https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/
[4] Holland, J. 1999. The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia. Kingfisher books.
[5] Barney, Richard W.; Loveless, Robert W. (March 1995) [1977]. How to Make Knives. Knife World Publications. ISBN 0-695-80913-X.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: