People of the medieval world, in many ways, relied on metal to live. Most people during the Middle Ages used everyday tools made of metal, and knights and soldiers relied on well-crafted metal weapons and armor. The blacksmith had a vital role during this age, as he held responsibility for turning basic materials into what many people needed to survive.
"Blacksmith" originally referred, strictly speaking, to a man who hammered iron, most specifically wrought iron, to form tools and weapons. No matter what other materials the medieval blacksmith incorporated into his products, the base material remained wrought iron, also occasionally referred to as "black iron" or "black copper."
Blacksmiths first smelted the iron ore to remove impurities, and, in the process, small amounts of carbon mixed into the iron. Too much carbon made the iron weak, and medieval blacksmiths needed to discern which iron to use for which purposes. Blacksmiths used hard iron to make swords and armor, and soft iron for everyday tools.
Blacksmiths also used steel, a specific alloy of iron and carbon, to make weapons and armor. Steel wore less easily and proved to be stronger and more heat-resistant than ordinary iron, and was therefore well suited for many projects. Unfortunately, the medieval blacksmith had no means of consistently making steel, and the alloy remained rare and precious throughout the Middle Ages. Blacksmiths mostly used steel to make flint strikers and sharp edges for soft iron swords.
Copper, Bronze and Other Metals
Before the widespread use of iron, blacksmiths primarily used copper and bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. Blacksmiths of the early Middle Ages still relied heavily on these metals until they accustomed themselves more to iron. Copper melted and formed easily, and smiths created a number of short daggers with copper. Blacksmiths could not use copper for swords, however, which led to the use of bronze, a much harder metal. After iron became the metal of choice, smiths limited the use of bronze, copper and other metals to everyday tools or less vital elements of iron weapons.
Medieval blacksmiths had little use for wood, as it made a poor substitute for any type of metal needed in weapons, armor or tools. Sometimes, however, a smith needed to incorporate some wood into certain tools, such as axes to cut trees or handles for other everyday tools.
Blacksmiths rarely relied on stone during the Middle Ages, because metal melted and formed more easily and proved more resilient for both everyday use and use in battle. When medieval blacksmiths incorporated stone into other, metal-based objects, the smiths used it for aspects of everyday tools that did not need to be strong, such as handles and chisel edges.
- medieval blacksmith image by sumos from Fotolia.com