Smithing


Forge.jpg

Overview

Development Credit: Maltruism

The iconic metalworker, the smith is an integral part of every village's ability to function. The man's wares touch on every aspect of life. farmers need him make tools, everything from shovels to tillers to drag behind a horse team. And that horse team needs such trivial things as bridle hardware and of course, horseshoes. Cooks need cookware, leatherworkers need the dies to emboss their materials, soldiers need weapons and armor, clothiers need buckles, builders need nails. Who doesn't need tools? Nearly every vocation depends on the smith to some extent. If for no greater reason than the brackets or chains upon which to hang their signs.

And he is far more than the typical portrait of a big man with a hammer, pounding on a red-hot slat of iron. There is the heat tempering, the cutting, the drilling, the grinding, the punching and measuring, joining and finishing, the diagrams and models, metallurgy and foundry. Not to mention the mundane business aspects of purchasing and assessing quality of materials. Even the maintenance of proper forge temperature is a matter of detailed expertise.

For this reason, it is a misconception that the smith is the lone man in the shop, seeing to every aspect of a job. He will delegate different phases to his apprentices, based on the level of exacting standards that must be met for each phase. Some of this will be the crafting of his own tools as he comes to find more specific needs to be met.

There are four main elements of the smithy: The Forge - the source of heat; The Anvil - the surface to work on; The Hammers - the tools to work the metal; and The Tongs and/or Vise - the means of keeping the metal in place while working it. All of these need further details.

Forge1.jpg

The Forge is, of course, the oven where the material to be worked is heated for greater malleability. It may be open or enclosed, and unless it is very small, it will usually have some sort of bellows, fan and vent to direct airflow in or out. It may rely on direct contact with the coals to heat the metal, or there may be a rack to keep the material just above the coals. Or the heat may be maintained in a closed forge. This will provide a more even heat across the metal's surface while maintained, but is more difficult to monitor. The colors of glowing coals, and the level of heat indicated by that color become an instinctive knowledge to a practicing smith. So being able to see the coals makes the maintenance of heat easier to keep watch on.

Often, a new apprentice is tasked to do this frequently amid mundane tasks like sweeping, fetching and returning tools, draining and filling quenching tanks and the like. This will not only help ensure a well-maintained level of heat, but also instill into this beginner that most basic and necessary of smithing skills; the ability to tell at a glance if the forge is properly heated. This refers not only to the evenness of the heat, but also its actual temperature range. For too hot a temperature is as bad as too cold, as it will burn itself out too quickly or actually melt the intended material into the coals.

Anvil.jpg

The Anvil is the block upon which most metal work is performed. Whether this is shaping, thinning, cutting, twisting or what have you, it is done upon the great block of metal called the Anvil. Most anvils are of cast iron and have the usual features: a wide, flat, central top or "face", where the standard pounding is done; the conical horn, called the "beak" or "bick", which extends from the side of the table (many anvils have more than one), where the shaping of most curved surfaces are performed; and a small shelf below the face, called the "Table", for forming collars and cuffs.

The face has a pair of standard features as well: a round "pritchel hole", which allows holes to be punched or drilled through the hot metal; and a square "hardy" or "hardie hole", which accommodates additional attachments for special tasks. A square-shanked blade called a "hardie" is such a commonly used tool as to be the namesake for this feature. Likewise, the "pritchell" is the name of the punching tool.

Like his own tools, these attachments are often made by the smith himself, and are crafted with a squared post to fit into the hardie hole, which keeps them steady on the table while in use. The beginner may mistakenly use the hardie hole to punch holes in the metal. This should be discouraged from day one. The concern here is that the inexperienced hand may scrape the inside, and cause a mar to the inside of the hardie hole. This could cause the precisely fitted shafts of the attachments to no longer fit, or to be unsteady. And while reparable, it is an annoying and often time consuming detail.

Depending upon a smith's decision to specialize as he grows in knowledge, an anvil may be crafted with unique and specifically desired angles, outcroppings and insets. Or it may be made longer and thinner, or taller, or have additional pritchell or hardie holes, or even have the table set at a slight angle. Such things are all up to the smith's own imagination.

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The Hammers are the subject of another common misconception. People imagine the man wielding a massive sledge, slamming the beaten slab of heated metal into submission. The fact is, control is a far more important aspect than impact. It is rare that the purpose of the strikes are just to flatten indiscriminately. Even when the purpose is to draw out the length of a piece, it is usually done in a tap-and-turn manner, which ultimately accomplishes the same kind of approach as rolling a piece of clay. The heads of hammers have as much variety of width and depth as they do weight, and all are for the purposes of exacting control over the impact.

And there is as much variety to the "peen" on the other side. Most have either a rounded "ball" peen or a straight raised peak called a "wedge" peen. Both of these come in a variety of widths and heights. often, the girths of both sides are altered to accommodate weight parameters. It is best to have a hammer that is not going to wear your arm out too quickly. This is usually somewhere between 2 and 3 pounds. Any more and the smith may lose control and mis-strike his target, requiring the spot to be reworked. When an area needs to be spread both in width and length, it is more often the ball peen that is used. Then the standard tool is used to smooth it out.

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The Tongs and Vises are simply there to turn the materials in the forge, and to free up work that requires 2 hands. Whether this is to allow the use of some wedge held in one hand while the hammer works it with the other, or just to have the tongs hold and turn the material to allow every side of the object to be worked, it still requires something beyond the usual heavy canvas or leather gloves to hold red-hot metal. Tongs also come in as many designs of tip as there are curves, thicknesses and shapes to be held.

The vise is more for when serious hold is required, like when a shaft is twisted for a decorative spiral look, or multiple bends are being shaped at the same time. Beyond these tools are such necessities as ear plugs, leather or canvas aprons; finer tools like chisels, rasps, saws, files, wire brushes, clamps and punches; quenching tanks, ingot molds, sand and plaster for creating new unique molds, and materials like flux and borax, oil and water, and lots and lots of coal.

This represents the most basic sort of the smithing skill; where functionality is the only real concern. This is not the life and death crafting of weapons or armor. But to begin in those skills requires a ground floor base of this skill. This means a player must already be competent in basic smithing before being able to branch into specialized fields like Armorsmithing or Weaponsmithing. Whitesmithing, or Tinsmithing, is another specialized field focusing primarily on tin and other lighter metals, as well as enhanced polishing and bright surfacing techniques. These specializations will be indicated by knowledges gained when the competent smith PC role-plays such a focus.

Before he begins to learn, the player knows nothing more than the appeal of ringing metal. He has watched the man in admiration, wishing he could be as respected and important as the smith, as well as being in awe of his strength. He has seen the man tend the forge, quench the hot metals and bend them into all kinds of shapes, only barely recognizing some of their ultimate purposes ahead of time. He has approached the man during his down times, asking about an apprenticeship. The smith has warned him that much of what he would do as an apprentice will not be this primary type of work.

Skill Ranks

Novice (0-25)

Now he learn what the smith meant with his warning. His most glorious task is tending the forge, something he is not even that successful at to begin with. He gets to empty and refill quenching tanks and sweep up debris. There is much loading and unloading of wagons with heavy bundles. By the time he reaches the end of this bracket, he has only begun to actually heat and work metal. He has learned the necessity of hearing protection, and if he has any wood carving skills, he has crafted several models as work templates for contracts. He has learned a couple of metallurgy formulas, and has practiced them enough that he no longer screws them up. If he has hopes of going into a specialized field, he has only begun to even ask about it. The smith laughs and tells him that he will need to be patient.

Competent (26-75)

He now has succeeded at most of the basic types of bends and twists. He is amassing knowledge of all known formulas of metallurgy, but has little skill in the more exotic blends. The master trusts him now to carry on with, or even finish, most tasks the master has already begun, if they are basic. There may be a second apprentice under him now, that sees to the grunt work the player used to have to do himself. Otherwise the player has gotten quicker enough at it that it does not take away that much time from the more intriguing work. He can now gauge the condition of the forge at a glance and knows how to keep it going without any trial and error. He has heard of alchemical reagents and has begun to research them. If he is looking to specialize, he is being allowed a few breaks a day to study some of the techniques of tempering, folding and blending metals. He is learning of finishing techniques unique to the specialty crafts, and has created a few models to show his master.

Expert (76-150)

The player is now fully capable of running a smith of his own. Of course, this includes the knowledge that he could use an apprentice or two. He can perform all tasks of basic blacksmithing, including training a beginner, to the degree that he gets no complaints from his customers. He knows all basic blends of metal and has successfully created his own stock of them. His work is known to be trustworthy, but he is still overshadowed by the local masters of the craft. He has learned how to infuse some basic alchemical reagents into his materials. He follows standard patterns with consistent success, but experiences occasional failures when he tries a new approach or design. He feels that attempting to branch into a more specialized smithcraft would be an equally hit-and-miss proposal. It is this fact that makes him decide whether or not to specialize.

Master (151-250)

He is now the standard by which other smiths are judged, and they are found wanting. Other smiths seek the patterns he employs to make everyday items, because they somehow transcend the mundane function for which they were crafted, standing as works of art as well. He knows all blends of metal, however exotic, and rarely makes a mistake in achieving the very best standard of craftsmanship. He has created whole new schools of thought on how to perform smithing and his work outlasts the competition by a significant margin. And he knows all the tricks to make them rust resistant, in most any environment. He has used many more exotic reagents as well. If an item has been crafted which includes his work, it will always be a different aspect of that item that breaks down first. The handle of a shovel always breaks long before his blade. A door will rot before his decorative door handle will even rust. When some construction goes to seed, it is worth the trouble to glean all the metal parts he contributed to it, for later use, for they will still be in great condition.