A silversmith is a person who works primarily making objects in solid silver; historically the training and guild organization of goldsmiths included silversmiths as well, and the two crafts remain largely overlapping. Unlike blacksmiths, silversmiths do not shape the metal while it is red-hot but instead, work it at room temperature with gentle and carefully placed hammerblows. The essence of silversmithing is to take a flat piece of metal and by means of different hammers, stakes and other simple tools, to transform it into an useful object.
While silversmiths specialize in, and principally work, silver, they also work with other metals such as gold, copper, steel, and brass. They make jewellery, silverware, armour, vases, and other artistic items. Because silver is such a malleable metal, silversmiths have a large range of choices with how they prefer to work the metal. Historically, silversmiths are mostly referred to as goldsmiths, which was usually the same guild. In the western silversmith tradition, guilds do not exist; however, mentoring through colleagues becomes a method of professional learning within a community of craftspeople .
Silver is cheaper than gold, though still valuable, and so is very popular with jewellers who are just starting out and cannot afford to make pieces in gold, or as a practicing material for goldsmith apprentices. Silver has also become very fashionable, and is used frequently in more artistic jewellery pieces.
There are several different types of silversmiths: Some are involved in the fabrication of the metals, where items are typically cut and then constructed with differing connections, such as soldering or riveting. Others work in wax and then cast their pieces using a process called lost wax casting, where the wax original is evaporated in a burn-out process in a kiln. There are silversmiths who specialize in forging and forming, producing pieces that are typically made from a single piece of metal that has been hammered or formed under the pressure of percussion or squeezing from a press, such as a hydraulic press. In the Canadian western tradition, silversmithing is done through hand tooling and bright cut engraving of silver . There are silversmiths who only make jewelery and there are silversmiths who only make utensils.
Traditionally silversmiths mostly made "silverware" (cutlery, table flatware, bowls, candlesticks and such). Only in more recent times has silversmithing become mainly work in jewellery, as much less solid silver tableware is now handmade.