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Example of a Lesson Plan for the Blacksmith Shop

Example of a Lesson Plan for the Blacksmith Shop
Theodore R. Hazen

Blacksmith Ted Hazen and his apprentice Caleb Pierce,
Virginia's Explore Park, 1850's Historical Area , the Blacksmith Shop, 1997 season.

Blacksmithing TEACHER: Theodore R. Hazen
GRADE LEVEL: 4th to 6th DATE: March 1997


1. The student will understand who the blacksmith was and why he was important to the early settlers.
2. They will recognize the basic equipment found inside the blacksmith shop.
3. They will be able to understand that the blacksmith and his apprentice were craftsmen who deserve special recognition.
4. The student will define in special terms distinguished from other craftsman because he worked with tools often of his own design and creation manipulating a material called wrought iron.


The blacksmith was a professional who worked in the field of iron working, and was a well qualified specialist in metallurgy. The blacksmith transformed lumps of hot iron into objects of utility and grace.

"Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
are strong as iron bands. - written in 1810 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the eight verses published in 1841.
The blacksmith has been neglected by history. The blacksmith's trade, his methods of working are like of the raw material which he worked of the earth. The blacksmith worked with fire, smoke, and sweat to create an inexhaustible amount of massive hardware over the centuries from the Crusades through the Renaissance.

When the blacksmith came to American he was on his own. He had to start from scratch. He was dependent upon England and Europe to import his basic tools and the raw material with which he worked. When the native American iron was produced by ironworks and water powered furnaces in America the British crown discovered new ways of reshipping to impose taxes on the iron. During the colonial period the blacksmiths specialized during their apprenticeships and often learned to make just one type of hardware item. After the colonies fought the Revolution and people began spreading over the Appalachian Mountains, the blacksmiths began making and repairing a wide variety of needed items and were less specialized than they once were.


1. Introduction: A. The Name of the Park.
B. Self Introduction.
C. Program Introduction.
D. Safety message.
2. Blacksmithing trade: A. Iron - the magic dirt.
B. Four thousand year history. The knowledge of iron ores and smelting methods.
C. Discovery of heating and hammering iron into crude implements of warfare, hunting, and agriculture.
D. What part did iron play in the thrust forward to civilization? Its part in invention and manufacture of complex machines which could not have been built with traditional materials, such as water turbines?
E. The workability of iron gave inventors and machinists the ability to make intricate moving parts with an accuracy superior to wooden counterparts.
3. Discuss the properties of wrought iron: A. Wrought iron is the blacksmith's raw material.
B. Wrought iron is tough, long lasting, naturally resistant to rust and corrosion.
C. The most important thing about wrought iron is that it is easily "worked" with the equipment of the blacksmith.
D. Charcoal is the better fuel for the blacksmith and the blast furnace.
4. Discuss the blacksmith shop and the forge fire: A. The forge is the heart of the blacksmith shop, and the anvil is the soul of his shop.
B. The bellows is an accordion-like device which forces air into the fire and controls the heat of the fire.
C. Simple tools were used for thousands of years in blacksmithing all over the world.
D. The blacksmith and his helper or apprentice (known as the striker) worked the forge.
E. The blacksmith and his world, the village smithy, the mystery, sounds, smells and excitement of smiths portrayal in our minds, memory, and literature.
F. What do the records show and what, where and who are the blacksmiths of today.
5. What was the importance of the blacksmith?: A. Making hardware and harness.
B. Shoeing a horse, was it the blacksmith's or farrier's job?
C. Making wagons, buggies and sleds.
D. The blacksmith's world has become our world with "sayings," the material of the makers' culture in our lives today.
E. How did the blacksmith get paid for his hard work?

1. Set: Introduction to program. A. Compare modern methods of blacksmithing with historical process. Is it the same or has it changed?
B. Demonstrate simple blacksmithing skills.
C. Make an item from start to finish.
2. Activity: A. One student will pump the bellows to heat the fire. 3. Assignment: A. Ask students if anyone in their families was a blacksmith?
B. Discuss what type of world it would be if we never learned to use iron ores and there were never blacksmiths.
4. Closure: A. Ask students to compare modern importance of blacksmiths with that of the mid-1800's blacksmiths. Which was more important? Why?
B. What are the benefits and effects of items made by the blacksmith on our lives and culture?

1. Forge.
2. Bellows.
3. Anvil.
4. Hammers, tongs, hardie and box vice.
5. Iron and fire.


1. Observe how easily the students learn the basic steps of processing iron into everyday usable items.
2. Ask the students to list the basic steps in making a simple item.
3. Ask the students to identify the tools used historically by the early blacksmiths.
4. Ask the students if there is an end to the usefulness of blacksmiths in our world and in the future? In 1911, Stan Merritt wrote his version of Longfellow's poem The Village Blacksmith : Beneath a huge electric sign,
The village smith now sits;
His brawny form, though plump and fat,
His easy chair just fits.

The old clay pipe is laid away,
His brow reveals no sweat;
He calmly views the cars roll up
And puffs a cigarette.

Six shining pumps adorn the spot
Where once the anvil stood:
The heavy traffic daily pays
This modern Robin Hood.

Blacksmith Shop
Narrative Interpretive Program
Theodore R. Hazen


Good morning/good afternoon. I want to welcome you to the Blacksmith Shop. My name is Ted Hazen. I am currently the blacksmith at the Park.

First of all I must mention that the work of the blacksmith can be dangerous. Please exert care and common sense while I am working for you and myself. The forge is very hot. Often when I strike the metal, sparks fly in all directions. The tools and the metal can remain hot for long periods of time. Please don't throw anything in the fire or water bucket.

Does any one know what a blacksmith does? What does a blacksmith make? Why then is this place called a blacksmith shop?

What is the Job of the Blacksmith?

Well, it depends upon the time period and location of the blacksmith. In the 1700's when the apprenticeship program was still in effect in the trades, the blacksmiths specialized. A blacksmith might spend his six year as an apprentice learning how to make just one thing. A blacksmith might spend his six years learning how to make just nails, another blacksmith might learn how to make just hinges, door latches, and another blacksmith might learn how to make household fireplace items. So in a colonial town you might have a half a dozen different types of smiths. Some of them even working in different types of metal. Like the smiths who work in white metal are called silversmiths, and then there were also tin smiths. The blacksmiths worked in black iron or wrought iron. Wrought iron is the main material the blacksmiths used. The most common type of black iron the blacksmith used was nail rod. Cast iron is too brittle and would shatter when heated and struck with a hammer. Steel was rare and precious. They would only use steel to make flint strikers.

When people moved into the frontier you were lucky enough to have one smith in town let alone a half a dozen different types of smiths. So when people spread out along the Great Wagon Road, the blacksmith had to become the jack-of-all-trades. Whatever had metal about it the blacksmith made, fixed or repaired. The blacksmith had to learn other trades which involved metal, like shoeing horses. Shoeing horses was the farrier's job. It was not uncommon to see signs hanging outside of the blacksmith shop advertising the different trades which the blacksmith took on such as horse shoeing, fixing wagons, making wagon wheels and even pulling teeth. How would you like to go to the blacksmith shop to have your teeth pulled?

The Importance of Nails

When people moved from Pennsylvania, New York or New Jersey down the Great Wagon Road, do you know one of the last things they did before they left? After they said goodbye to all of their friends and relatives, they burned down their houses and barns. Do you know why they did that? What is so valuable that they would burn down their houses and barns to sift out of the ashes to get? The nails, hinges, and hardware. The old nails would become the new nails for their new houses. Where they were going they were not sure they would find a blacksmith to make them new nails, so they would use their old nails. Nails were very expensive.

When people traveled down the Great Wagon Road they would carry iron with them in the bed of their wagons. As they traveled down the wagon road their iron tires would stretch and slip off, or other iron parts might wear out. So if they were lucky enough to find a blacksmith he might not have the iron to do the job, so they carried iron to do the work and extra iron to barter or trade with the blacksmith for doing the work. In turn the blacksmith might make something from his iron and trade or barter with someone else. Like with the miller, the blacksmith might make an iron candle holder or mill part to get some flour.

There's a folk saying going back to the 15th century, if not earlier, reminding us that a nail isn't any good if it isn't used.

"For want a nail the shoe was lost,
For want of a shoe a horse was lost,
For want of a horse a rider was lost,
For want of a rider the battle was lost,
For want of the battle a kingdom was lost."
Who worked in the Blacksmith Shop?

We take anyone. We love everybody. Not all of the time the blacksmith had sons to help him in the blacksmith shop. Sometimes the blacksmith only had daughters. So it was not uncommon to find a girl working in a blacksmith shop. It was not uncommon long ago to find a girl blacksmith. But most of the time after a while girls would go off and do more feminine types of jobs in life, but that is not to say there were not girl blacksmiths long ago. Today there are lots of girl blacksmiths.

The Apprenticeship Story

How old are you? Did you know that long ago when you became eight years old you were old enough to go to work? Any where from eight to fourteen years old. For a long time schools were not free and if someone would take their sons or daughters off you would go. You would learn a trade to help you do something in life. You would spend six years in an apprenticeship program. We would make sure the apprentice would not run off and get married and they would have to stay celibate just like an indentured servant. In a blacksmith shop the apprentice often would sleep in a loft in the blacksmith shop with several blankets. Sometimes the apprentice slept in the master's house. In the morning they were expected to have the fire going and all of the tools laid out when the master got to work. The apprentice would first learn how to pump the bellows, in turn he or she would learn about heat and how hot the fire was. Also, an apprentice would learn how to heat metal for different types of work.

The Iron and Tool Story

Everything the blacksmith had came from England. (Does everyone know where England is?) This anvil came from Sheffield, England. The bellows that I am pumping came from Birmingham, England. It was made by Alldays & Onion between 1860 and 1890. [Alldays & Onion became Alldays & Peacock that made automobiles] The Park purchased this bellows from an antique dealer. They had no idea that it was a blacksmith bellows but it made a nice coffee table. We still have the legs back on the table that came off the bottom. All of the blacksmith's tools including the metal came from England. How would you like to be dependent upon England for all of you school supplies: books, pens, pencils, crayons and papers. How much would you get done? If you were waiting for the ship from England to bring your school supplies, it was the same thing. Many blacksmiths fashioned their own tongs to hold different shapes and sizes of metal. Now you may have heard we started making iron in America in the 1600's. Sargus Iron Works in Massachusetts started making iron in the early 1600's. (There were many iron furnaces around here in Virginia such as Clifton Forge, many other places were iron ore deposits could be found. Crude iron was made from bog iron, much like digging for peat.) The idea was that at least on paper the iron was to journey to England and when we bought it was to journey back again. That meant they added an inflated price to our own iron. They were greatly upset when we bypassed them and started using our own iron, it was like throwing tea into the Boston Harbor.

The Fuel Story

Today we are burning coal in the fire. We don't want to cut down all of the forests. Long ago the blacksmiths, forges and foundries burned charcoal. Charcoal is made out charred wood. At one time they would have colliers that made charcoal for the blacksmiths, forges and foundries. They would cut down the wood and build a charcoal mound. It would be covered with two to three feet of dirt. They would then light a fire under the wood and let it smoke for two to three weeks. When the fire was out they dug out the charcoal. If the wood was still too hot, it would burst into flames and all of their work would do gown the drain.

They first dug for coal in this country in 1659 in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. It would have been too expensive to have coal carried down here. Blacksmiths did not first use coal in this area until after the railroads came around after the 1840's and 1850's. It burns hotter, but it smells much worse. Another problem with burning coal is the clinkers. Clinkers are residue from the metal and impurities from the coal. You know there is a clinker in the fire when you look into it and see a black cloud. Normally the fire is orange or yellow, but clinkers are the same color when they are cool as they are in the fire. Clinkers absorb all of the heat and keep the metal from getting hot. When people heated with coal they would have to get up in the middle of the night and clean out the grate of the furnace because the house got cold. Clinkers are called clinkers because they produce a "clink" sound when dropped.

The Blacksmiths back in medieval Europe Story

The blacksmith never had the dishonest repartition that let's say the miller had. But who was the blacksmith in medieval Europe? Well he may not be your friend or a peasant like you. Most often he was the agent of the lord of the land. The blacksmith made things for the lord or the Abbott. Things for the castle or for warfare. For a long time they were not sure about the blacksmith. After all the blacksmith transformed ordinarily rocks or stone into all of the useful thing we need. But how did the blacksmith go about his work? Until several hundred years ago all of the trades were secret. No one saw you practice your trade. The miller saw some one coming and he would turn off the mill. He would say leave your grain and come back latter or tomorrow to get your flour. The millers were considered so dishonest they were not allow to form guilds, they had to rent their mills from the lord or Abbott (who had soke rights). If they thought the peasants were not giving the lord his just due the miller was made to steal from the peasants and in the meantime the miller would steal for himself.

The blacksmith never had the dishonest reputation that the miller had. Because the blacksmith worked with fire for a long time they believed he might be in league with the devil and that he used black magic to transform ordinary rocks or stone into ordinary metal things we need. Sometimes the forge looks like and smells like the fires of hell. They would make the blacksmith set up his shop on the edge of town where he was close by and they would not be forced to walk by his shop every moment of the day. They would not be forced to look at the blacksmith or have him look at you. The blacksmith would not be nearby to give you the evil eye.

It was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who in 1810 (published 1841) wrote the poem that romanticized the village blacksmith. "Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
are strong as iron bands. "
What happened to the original chestnut tree? Someone cut it down and made it into a rocking chair for Longfellow when he got old. After Longfellow died their were several blacksmiths in Massachusetts who claimed to be the inspiration for Longfellow's poem about the village blacksmith. They were even several blacksmiths in England who argued that they were his inspiration. One blacksmith who claimed to be his inspiration was born after Longfellow died. That is pretty good inspiration!

Demonstration: Making a Nail

[NOTE: This may be done at any point in the program, as a separate item or while telling one of the stories to the visitor or school group and repeated again several times during a single program]

Let me cut a piece of this rod using a hammer and the hardy. This is called nail rod. The basic wrought iron used by the blacksmith........

[1. cut a section of rod with the hammer and hardy]

You place the rod in the fire and pump the bellows to heat the metal. All you need to know to work in a blacksmith shop is the first thing we all learn in life. Do you know what that is? What hot is. Once you have that basic understanding that is all you need to know to work in the blacksmith shop. Things stay hot around here for some time and you never know what is hot, when in doubt pick it up with a pair of tongs.

[2. make the point of the nail on the anvil pounding out the four sides from the two sides]

Did you ever hear the saying strike while the metal is hot? Is the piece of metal still hot? It has turned black again. Let's see if it is still hot........

[3. place the metal in the water]

[4. turn the nail around and place the metal back into the fire]

[5. heat the metal again]

[6. move the hammer to the vice while you are talking]

[7. when the metal is hot place it in the vice and make the head]

[8. cool the nail in the water again]

Cooling the metal in the water tempers the metal. Not all things the blacksmith makes is cooled in water, some things are air cooled. That is why you never know what is hot. And there you have a nail!

Conversation while heating (you may have to clean out and build back up the fire) and making a nail or this may be the source for answers to questions:

1. When we get some of our buildings they often don't have the original hardware. So we have to make nails and hinges for the buildings.

2. The early blacksmiths had to learn to make do. Out away from civilization sometimes it was hard to get things like flux. Flux is a substance like borax which helps two metals fuse together in welding. When the early blacksmith could not get borax they learned that mud daubers nest ground down into a powder would help metal bound together.

3. No extra metal or wasted metal was used to make items. The apprentice would rake the floor from time to time to find scrap pieces of iron which would be used.

4. This all works the best when it is so hot we don't even want to be here. We get lots of volunteers when the weather is cold or mild. But when the hot metal is laid on the cold anvil in the vice the the heat quickly disappears, and you have to work that much faster. The first rule a apprentice learns in making nails is that they are made in two heats. One for the point and another for the head. If it takes more than two heats you are wasting fuel. When the weather is cool we break that rule all the time.

5. Wax and linseed oil were both used to coat the metal to prevent it from rusting.

6. Holes were made in metal in two ways, either by using a post drill or by heating the metal and punching a hole through it with a punch.

7. Sometimes metal was cooled in oil when making hinges. Water changes the molecular structure of the metal to make it harder and oil changes it in another way to make it stronger.

8. The material flaking off of the metal when I hammer on it is slag. Slag is the gray flakes struck away from the metal when it is worked. Slag mostly contains carbon. It has no practical use.

9. Nail making was sometimes a cottage industry. Farmers would make nails during the winter when there was nothing else to do. Nail making is very boring.

Final Test Question

[To be asked of the class, one student, teacher or adult] Once in a while the army might come by and say we need the services of a blacksmith. For the blacksmith would shoe the horses, make bullets, fix and make guns, fix cannon, wagon wheels, wagon parts, and cooking items, all the army has that is made from metal. Now which anvil would you take with you? They are about the same size and weight, that is not the question. Maybe the answer is found in how they sound. Let's hit one anvil then the other.

[1. Hit the good anvil] It has a nice ring to it, remember that.
[2. Hit the dead anvil] It has a thug sound to it. Now which anvil would you take?
[3. If they choose the dead anvil, tell them] They will live a long time.
[4. If they choose the good or live anvil, tell them] They won't live long.
[5. Stand there hitting the good or live anvil, waving your arm and saying] If you pick this anvil, it is like ringing a bell saying come shoot me. They can hear me striking the anvil at the house over there [point to the Hofauger House] or even farther. The enemy would sneak up through the woods looking for the blacksmith to take him out. The army may travel on its stomach but it is the blacksmith that makes it all work. Without the blacksmith the army would soon stop functioning.

Do you have any questions? Thank you for coming to the Blacksmith Shop.

"The smith, a mighty man is he." from "The Village Blacksmith," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, George T. Andrew, Edmund Henry Garrett, Frank Thayer Merrill, Charles Copeland, Jessie Curtis Shepherd, Elizabeth S. Tucker, Frederic B. Schell, E.P. Dutton & Company, 1890.

Blacksmith Shop
Narrative Interpretive Program
Theodore R. Hazen

1. Introduction

2. What is the Job of the Blacksmith?

3. The Importance of Nails

4. Who worked in the Blacksmith Shop?

5. The Apprenticeship Story

6. The Iron and Tool Story

7. The Fuel Story

8. The Blacksmiths back in medieval Europe Story

9. Demonstration: Making a Nail

10. Final Test Question


The Village Blacksmith, written and illustrated by Aldren A. Watson, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York, 1968.

Foxfire 5, Ironmaking, blacksmithing, flintlock rifles, bear hunting, and other affairs of plain living, edited with an introduction by Eliot Wiggington, Anchor Press/Doubleday, Garden City, New York, 1979.

Practical Blacksmithing, Compiled and edited by M. T. Richardson, Weathervane Books, New York, originally published in four volumes in 1889, 1890, and 1891.

Chapters: Blacksmithing & Wheelwrighting, The Forgotten Crafts, A practical guide to traditional skills, by John Seymour, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1984.

Chapters: Those Who Worked with Iron, 1. the Blacksmith Shop, 2. The Farrier, 3. Blacksmith and The Nailer Shop, Handwrought Ancestors, by Marion Nicholl Rawson, E. P. Dutton & Company, New York, 1936.

The Village Blacksmith, by Ronald Webber, Great Albion Books, U.K., 1971.

Virginia's Explore Park Blacksmith Shop program by master blacksmith Daniel Young and apprentice Paul Campbell, 1996.

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Copyright 2001 by T. R. Hazen