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    For those of you interested in the craft, here are some terms from blacksmithing practice, lore, and tradition. More will be added as time goes by. Let us know if you think of a word that should be defined here.
    For a full-fledged dictionary of farrier terms (including etymologies and many blacksmithing terms), follow the links page to the Millwater Horseshoeing website.

ALLOY: A metal which has been combined with another material to give it certain properties. Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon. Bronze is copper and tin. Brass is copper and zinc.

ANNEAL: To reduce a given piece of steel to its softest state. This is done by heating the metal to cherry red (or until a magnet will no longer stick to it), then cooling it very slowly by leaving it in a dying fire or burying it in lime or ash.

ANVIL: A large, specially shaped block of steel (sometimes an iron base with a steel top) against which hot metal may be shaped by hammering. Popularly known by most folks today as the item frequently dropped on the heads of Warner Brothers cartoon characters. An interesting feature of these Acme brand anvils is that they seem to have very little weight until positioned directly over a coyote's braincase.

BLISTER STEEL: An early form of steel formed by crude carburization of bar of iron. This steel tended to contain a lot of carbon, but the carbon level would be uneven through the bar, creating hard and soft areas. So Blister steel was often welded onto the cutting or striking edge of tools and weapons made primarily from reliably tough iron.

BRAZE: To use molten copper, bronze, or brass as a "glue" to hold metal pieces together.

COAL: Fossilized, formerly living material made up primarily of carbon. Coal contains a considerable amount of potential energy, but does not ignite easily, nor does it burn well unless fed by forced oxygen. Coal (in small chunks or "pea coal") is the traditional fuel of preference for blacksmith forges. Coal is called "green coal" when it is first added to the fire because its impurities can release thick, green smoke. After being "cooked" on the periphery of the fire, the purified coal is called "coke".

COKE: Coal after being purified by heat at the outer edge of the fire in the forge. Coal is packed around the outside of the fire, then gradually pushed toward the center as it turns to coke. Coke looks and feels rather like black popcorn.

DAMASCUS STEEL: An ingenious approach used by eastern Old World smiths to overcome the limitations of the materials available for blade making. The carbon content of blister steel was too unreliable to make effective tempering possible, so blister steel blades were likely to fracture in use. Iron was tough, but easily bent and blunted. Iron bodied blades with blister steel edges had to be large and heavy to make the component parts manageable. Damascus steel was made by twisting, folding, and forge welding iron and blister steel together. The resulting material looked like it was made of tiny blobs and swirls of iron and steel pressed together. The tough iron supported the brittle steel and made the blade difficult to break, while the hard steel held an edge far better than soft iron. The soft iron tended to wear away faster than the steel at the cutting edge, leaving the blade with a sort of micro-serrated edge with savage cutting properties. Today, Damascus steel makers tend to be more interested in creating visually striking patterns in the metal than creating great blades. Rather than blister steel and iron, steels of strongly contrasting color are often used.

FORGE: A hearth or furnace used to heat iron and steel. While some modern heretics use propane fueled insulated ovens as forges, the traditional forge is essentially a hearth or wide pot in which a pile of coal or charcoal is set aflame and fed by a controlled blast of air. The inner core of a properly built fire is coke, and burns hot enough to incinerate steel. Insulation is provided by the green coal packed around the core. The word "forge" is sometimes used to denote a smithy.

HARDEN: To render a given piece of steel to its hardest possible condition. This is accomplished by heating it to cherry red (or until a magnet will no longer stick to it), then cooling it very quickly, usually by quenching in liquid.

HEPHAESTOS: Greek god of smithing and craftsmanship. His mother was Hera, queen of the gods. She was hoping for a great child to distract her adulterous husband Zeus from his beautiful, illegitimate offspring. When Hephaestos was born plain-looking and with an annoying cry, Hera flung him off Mount Olympus, permanently laming him. Unlike other gods who were invited to dwell on Olympus because of their beauty and natural talents, Hephaestos gained a place on the lofty heights by hard work, making himself too valuable to the gods to be rejected. Despite being lame and homely (at least by Olympian standards), Hephaestos did quite well for himself, and wound up being married to Aphrodite, the goddess of feminine beauty and physical love... Not too shabby!

IRON: An elemental metal. Wrought iron, which was very popular with blacksmiths, had considerable silicon and carbon impurity, but these were not bound to the iron in alloy, as they would have been in steel. Wrought iron had a fibrous nature, could be worked at very high temperature, was easily welded, and rusted a satisfying black with age. Wrought iron is no longer available, and has been replaced with low carbon "mild steel". Having little carbon content, iron (wrought iron or mild steel) is almost completely unaffected by hardening or annealing, and always remains relatively soft and flexible.

NORMALIZED: Either steel at the cherry red, non-magnetic temperature, or steel that has been heated to that temperature, then allowed to cool at room temperature. Normalized steel is softer than the same steel would be when hardened, but not quite as soft as it would be when annealed.

POINT: One percent of one percent, used to measure the amount of carbon in steel. "One hundred point steel" contains 1% carbon, which is enough to make it glass-hard when hardened and difficult to bend even when annealed. Most steel used in smithing is less than 100 point.

SAMURAI: The smiths who made the swords for the Samurai warriors in Japan found a solution to the material problem similar to (probably inspired by) the Damascus steel approach. But the Japanese smiths folded the blade stock without twisting it, creating layers rather than swirls. It is commonly said that the metal of a sword was folded more than 200 times. In truth, if the smith started with two bars of stock (one wrought iron, the other blister steel), only seven folds would be needed to create 256 layers of metal. Not all Japanese smiths started with just two bars, and quenching/tempering approaches varied.

SMITH: Used alone, this term usually means a blacksmith. As a suffix, it means a craftsman who works by hitting something. (Smith = smite.) A blacksmith hits iron and steel (considered black metals), a tinsmith (more commonly a "tinker") hits tin, gunsmiths used to have to hammer out the components of firearms.

SMITHY: The building in which a blacksmith or farrier houses his forge. A misreading of a popular poem causes many people to think "smithy" refers to the smith himself, which is actually like calling a mechanic a "garage". The opening line of the poem refers to the building which stands under a spreading chestnut tree, not the man who works in the building.

STEEL: An alloy of iron and carbon. The tiny amount of carbon (usually less than 1%) alloyed into the iron give the metal the ability to respond to heat treatment. The higher the carbon content, the greater the maximum hardness when quenched, and the less effective annealing will be at softening the metal. Modern steels often contain other components in addition to carbon to give it shock, heat, and rust resisting qualities.

TEMPER: Describes a hardness level at some specific point between annealed and hardened. The steel to be tempered is first quench hardened to its ultimate hardness, then polished and reheated slowly. As heat is applied, the polished steel will develop a glaze of colored oxidation which will go from straw colored, to bronze-brown, to purple, to blue. Each color represents a slight loss of harness and an increase in toughness. By applying the heat to the edge or face of a tool away from its cutting or striking face, various levels of temper can be imparted to different parts of the tool. This is a graded, or rainbow temper. It must always be remembered that different carbon levels in steel result in different hardness, even when the pieces are tempered to the same color.

UPSET: To hammer metal back into itself so as to thicken it. Also what the smith becomes when he picks up a piece of metal barehanded that was *supposed* to be cooled off.

VOLUNDR: Norse demigod of blacksmithing and invention. He was lamed by a king who wanted to make sure the smith would not escape from his service. After revenging himself against the king's family in a way best not discussed in polite company, Volundr escaped by air using wings or a flying machine of his own design and construction. (Many centuries prior to the Wright brothers.)

VULCAN: Roman god of blacksmithing and fire, identified with Hephaestos. Vulcan was supposed to keep his shops in the bowels of fiery mountains, called "volcanoes" after him. I don't know why Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry named his good looking, coldly unemotional aliens after this homely fire-god... But I do seem to recall that Spock had a Hephaestos-like limp in the original pilot.

WAYLAND: It appears that Volundr eventually retired to the Britain, where he is known as Wayland. On the Ridgeway in Oxfordshire stand the ruins of an ancient stone structure called Wayland's Smithy. Should a traveler leave a horse with a thrown shoe there along with some coin, and return a while later, he will find the horse shod and the money gone.

WELD: The union of two pieces of iron or steel into one. Both pieces are heated in a clean forge fire until their surfaces are slightly molten, then are hammered together on the anvil with a lovely shower of hissing sparks.

440C STAINLESS: According to certain home shopping programs, this is the material used to make "authentic" Samurai swords and Bowie knives... I am quite certain that neither medieval Japanese smiths, nor 19th century American smiths ever heard of the stuff.




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