Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What is a blacksmith?

Someone once told me the world was divided into two types of thinkers, lumpers and splitters. That was the opinion of a splitter.

Thinking about classification of crafts and trades I always had in my mind that the name of the largest set was “metalworker” and the subsets were “blacksmith”, “machinist”, “Goldsmith”, “Tinsmith”, etc.
Then there were the subsets of blacksmithing such as Farrier, armorer, bladesmith, etc.

I tried out some Wikipedia searches to see how others thought about this and was somewhat surprised to find that the metalworking article had almost nothing to say about blacksmithing and was almost entirely about what I think of as machining. My thinking was refined a bit more when I checked out the bladesmith article and noted the contemporary distinction between bladesmith and knifemaker.

The question, “What is a blacksmith?”, or “What does a blacksmith do?”, and many related forms of the question often comes up at demonstrations. The answer is usually tailored to the imagined sophistication of the enquirer. But, what about the blacksmith? How does he or she think about how they are defined?

For me, the craftsman is defined by the tools and processes of the craft. The blacksmith uses heat metal with fire and shapes it with hammer and anvil and other forming tools.

Given the way our minds work, we often think in terms of bipolar opposition or contrasting pairs, synonyms and antonyms. So what best contrasts with blacksmithing? I think it is machining. That goes along with how I’ve thought about this ever since I heard an instructor say, “Blacksmiths move metal while machinists remove metal.”

As a practical mater, I announce myself as a blacksmith, yet I frequently use the tools and processes of the machinist, so maybe, to be honest, I should just say I’m a metalworker. My approach to work is to get it done “by any means necessary.” I think it’s good practice to give credit to the source of an idea or a phrase but do I have to say I borrowed that one from Malcolm X who borrowed it from Jean Paul Sartre?

Check out:
A blacksmith is a person who creates objects from wrought iron or steel by forging the metal; that is, by using tools to hammer, bend, and cut. Blacksmiths produce objects such as gates, grilles, railings, light fixtures, furniture, sculpture, tools, agricultural implements, decorative and religious items, cooking utensils, and weapons.
Despite common usage, the person who shoes horses is a farrier, rather than a blacksmith. Many farriers have carried out both trades, but most modern or engineering smiths do not...............The term "blacksmith" comes from the activity of "smiting" iron or the "Black" metal - So named due to the color of the metal after being heated (a key part of the blacksmithing process)..............Forging is the process in which metal is shaped by hammering. Forging is different from machining in that material is not removed by it; rather the iron is hammered into shape.

A machinist is a person who uses machine tools to make or modify parts, primarily metal parts, a process known as maching. This is accomplished by using machine tools to cut away excess material much as a woodcarver cuts away excess wood to produce his work

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