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As one of the world’s oldest and most vital crafts, blacksmithing has an extensive tradition and remains one of the central pillars of many communities.
After all, strong, high-quality handmade tools, fixtures, fittings and signage requires the work of a skilled craftsperson.
However, one of the most curious aspects of smithing is the trade; why do we call skilled metal crafters blacksmiths?
The reason is due to the forging, drawing and bending that comes from hot metalwork, a job so specialised and associated with blacksmiths that many metalwork shops are simply called forges.
This causes on iron and steel a black coating of oxides known as fire-scale to form on the surface of the metal and often causes traditional metalwork’s signature black finish, which is often evened out and accentuated during the finishing process using bluing, oils and paints.
By contrast, a fine metalworker such as a jeweller or watchmaker is sometimes known as a whitesmith because they work with malleable materials that do not necessarily need to go through the forging process.
This half of the term has a fairly straightforward history, but smithing is more difficult to ascertain, given that there are several older words it could have been based on.
The most likely origin is from the Anglo-Saxon term “smithaz”, which translates to skilled worker, but it could also come from the Old English term “smythe”, which means “to strike”. Given the importance of hammering iron in the bending process, both origin points are possible.
This would make the full term translate to “skilled worker of hot iron” or “the act of striking hot iron”, but there are other potential origin points, particularly since “smith” has roots that can be traced back to ancient Greek.
The Greek word “smile” translates to knife and chisel, and as a result, the prefix “smi-” is used to describe cutting or working with sharp tools such as knives, swords and sickles.