What Was Daily Life Like for a Medieval Blacksmith?

Long hours of great physical exertion in a hot, loud and often noxious environment made daily life for a medieval blacksmith difficult. Named for working with black iron ore, smiths in the Middle Ages made much more than weapons; they forged the tools and materials necessary for civilization.

A blacksmith typically started his apprenticeship from the age of 11 to 14, often working for five to eight years before he was able to produce a masterwork and work as a tradesman on his own. A typical day would start before sunrise with the preparation of the forge, which required the acquisition of fuel and hours of pumping the bellows to get the flame hot enough to process ore and forge tools. The air flow from the bellows, often pumped by an apprentice or waterwheel, needed to be sustained for the entire day. Physically shaping the hard metal required long hours of precise pounding from a shatterproof hammer. As the metal cooled, it had to be reheated and the process repeated.

A blacksmith’s location determined what he produced. Village blacksmiths were primarily responsible for forging horseshoes, plowshares, hobnails and the heads of tools like shovels, axes or pitchforks. Closer to the moneyed nobility, a castle blacksmith was responsible for decor such as braziers, chandeliers and hinges. Most blacksmiths did not manufacture weapons, but instead crafted the tools necessary for keeping the medieval world operating.