A blacksmith is a specific kind of metalsmith who works with steel or wrought iron. The smith uses tools to forge, hammer, cut, bend, and shape the metal. They are oftentimes responsible for producing custom iron doors, gates, railings, furniture and fixtures. Some of the more utilitarian smiths use their skills to create agricultural implements and hand tools. Some of the more artistic smiths create decorative items and sculptures. Usually, the divisions are not very pronounced. A very artistic blacksmith might supplement his income by creating tools or furniture that is very utilitarian. A toolmaking blacksmith might spend his or her free time creating religious sculptures. These smiths are a blend of artist and manufacturer.
Because of the influence of metal throughout the ancient world, blacksmiths feature prominently in most mythologies.
In Hindu mythology, the blacksmith of the devas is named Tvastar. Tvastar is also called Vishvakarma. This smith can be found referenced in the Rigveda.
In Greek mythology, Hephaestus is the blacksmith to the Olympian gods. He is incredibly skilled at his work and constructs most of the weapons the gods use. He also uses his considerable skills to create assistants for himself. In Roman mythology, he is known as Vulcan. He is the god of crafting, fire, and metallurgy.
In Celtic mythology, the smiths are Goibhniu and Gofannon. Their names mean “smith” in Irish Gaelic and Welsh, respectively.
Iron working began with the Hittites of Anatolia around 1500 BCE. They discovered how to smelt iron ore and seemed to have been the only ones to have this knowledge for about three hundred years. However, around 1200 BCE, they were invaded, and their empire was destroyed. This caused the knowledge to spread from the eastern Mediterranean around the world.
Not much is known about the development of blacksmithing, though. Since iron corrodes so completely, artifacts buried in the ground can completely rust away in as little as one hundred years. The earliest records of blacksmithing make no mention of rudimentary techniques.
At the present, blacksmithing is still a discipline that is very much in demand. The appeal of custom furnishings is widespread. Custom iron doors, door handles, knockers, and decorations evoke neoclassical styles that stretch all the way back to ancient Greece.
Iron also has advantages over other metals. For example, bronze which is made from copper and tin can be very expensive because copper and tin are not found in certain areas. Iron ore, on the other hand, is nearly ubiquitous. Smelting the ore is fairly simple. Because of its widespread nature and the ease of extraction, iron is very easy to make pure and very affordable. Also, it is a very hard and durable metal. With minimal care to protect from rust, it should last for centuries.