9 Common Blacksmith Terms to Know

Common Blacksmith Terms - Brown County Forge

If you’re familiar with Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, you’ve come across blacksmith terms before.

The coyote is always scheming to drop an anvil on the roadrunner, but ends up getting flattened himself.

In this post, I’m going to lay out 9 common blacksmith terms to know.

1. Blacksmith Terms #1: The Anvil

Now that blacksmiths are a lot less common, our first introduction to anvils probably came from watching Looney Tunes.

It seems like some cartoon character was always getting turned into an accordion after being flattened by an ACME anvil.

For blacksmiths, the anvil is one of the most essential pieces of equipment.

It’s where all the work gets done.

All traditional anvils have a similar shape:

  • Horn – for bending hot metal
  • Face – the flat area where you do most of your work
  • Hardie – the square hole used for tools with square posts that fit into the anvil
  • Pritchel – the round hole used for punching holes and making holes wider through drifting
  • Neck – the center mass of the anvil
  • Feet – the base of the anvil

2. The Forge

Blacksmith's Forge - Brown County Forge

This blacksmith term can be confusing sometimes because it refers to two things:

  1. A forge is the blacksmith’s shop, the building where he or she works.
  2. The forge is also the contained fire that the blacksmith uses to heat up metal. (The above photo is of a propane forge in my shop.)

Brown County Forge refers to the blacksmith shop where I work.

Inside that blacksmith’s shop, there are a couple of forges I use to heat the steel I hammer on.

Forges can be coal, gas, charcoal, or wood-fired.

The two most common fuel types for forges are coal and propane.

Charcoal and wood are less common because they aren’t as efficient. Meaning they don’t get hot enough or they burn up too quickly.

3. Blacksmith’s Tongs

Tongs of all types are used to pick up things that are too hot for your bare hands.

Whether it’s a steak on the grill or steel from the forge, it’s the same idea.

Blacksmiths rely on tongs in two ways:

  1. To keep distance between their hands and hot metal.
  2. And to grip the hot metal securely while they hammer on it.

There are many, many different styles of tongs out there. Each type is suited to picking up and holding a particular size of steel.

Some tong types are more versatile than others, meaning they can be used for many different projects.

The type of tongs I use most often in the shop are V-Bit Bolt tongs. They have square jaws that make it easy to pick up round, square, and flat pieces of steel.

I use them for 98% of the things I make in the shop.

4. Blacksmith’s Hammers

Blacksmith's Hammer - Brown County Forge - Terran Marks

Blacksmith’s hammers are a little different from common claw hammers:

  • They weigh more: 2-3 pounds vs. 1-1.5 pounds.
  • They have a cross peen on the back rather than a claw for pulling nails.

You don’t need a cross peen hammer to hammer on steel, though.

As long as your hammer is at least 2 pounds and it’s manageable for you, you’re good to go.

Common phrase that we use today: To go at something “hammer and tongs” means to be fully committed and working hard.

5. Drawing Out

Drawing things out means to make them longer.

You’ve probably come across this term in everyday life if you’ve been frustrated that someone is drawing out a process that you think should already be finished.

That blacksmith term comes directly from blacksmithing.

To draw out a piece of metal, you:

6. Upsetting

If drawing out makes things longer, upsetting is the opposite: it makes things shorter and often thicker.

You upset steel to make corners and to bulk up pieces that are too skinny.

7. Hardening and Tempering

Tempering Steel - Brown County Forge

Hardening and tempering are the two components of heat treating.

First you harden. Then you temper. Always in that order.

If you only harden your steel, it will be very tough, but also very brittle.

To make it useful you need to temper it to relieve some of that brittleness.

You’ve heard the phrase “to lose your temper.”

This comes from blacksmithing.

If you lose your temper, you’ve probably gotten your piece of steel hotter than you meant to. You’ve lost control.

The same is true when we lose our tempers. We’ve lost control.

If you’ve ever been in one of my classes, you’re familiar with a couple types of tempering:

  1. The soft back draw temper which is what we do in class.
  2. The oven tempering process – something you can do at home.

8. Losing Your Heat

As blacksmiths we need the metal to be nice and hot to be able to work it effectively.

If you lose your heat that means the metal has gotten too cold – usually around cherry red in color.

When you’re first starting out this can feel kinda stressful, but it doesn’t need to be.

If you lose your heat, you just put the steel back in the forge and heat it again.

There’s never a rush in blacksmithing. If you’re rushing, there’s something wrong.

9. Quenching

Quenching is an essential part of the blacksmithing process.

Contrary to movies and TV shows, you don’t quench everything that comes out of the forge once you’re done hammering.

Quenching is a controlled, intentional cooling of the metal to get a specific result each time.

When you quench a knife, you mean to harden it so it’s nice and tough. This is the first half of the heat treating (hardening and tempering) process.

If you quench part of a hook to make a bend, you won’t necessarily want to leave it hardened. So you will heat it back up to reverse the quenching process.

What do you use to quench?

The quenching liquid that we use will vary depending on the project:

  • For fast localized quenching, we use water. This is common when you’re making hooks and other decorative items.
  • In knife making, we use oil. Motor oil is common, but I prefer vegetable oil. It’s a good, inexpensive quenching oil. It also smells a lot better than burning motor oil.

9 Common Blacksmith Terms

Common Blacksmith Terms - Brown County Forge

The world of blacksmithing is full of blacksmith terms, but there’s just a handful to get you started.

From the anvil to basic tools to quenching, there’s a lot to get into.

If you’d like to keep learning more, check back on this blog regularly for new posts!

You can also send me questions at the shop email address:


Thanks for reading!

How to Become a Blacksmith

How to Become a Blacksmith - Brown County Forge

Have you ever wondered about how to become a blacksmith?

In this post, we’ll talk about what it was like “back then” and compare it to what it’s like now.

How to Become a Blacksmith “Back Then”

If we were living 150 years ago, you could become a blacksmith’s apprentice before turning 10 years-old.

The blacksmith would likely be just down the street in your small town so you would know him or your parents would.

Your job as an apprentice would involve these daily tasks:

  • Keeping the shop organized and clean.
  • Starting the forge fire and operating the bellows.
  • Fetching water.
  • Shoveling coal.
  • Learning the trade through simple, repetitive projects like making nails.

Your decision to become a blacksmith wouldn’t necessarily have been yours to make and you wouldn’t necessarily love it.

But you would be in it for the long haul as most trades relied on the apprenticeship to journeyman to master path.

How to Become a Blacksmith Now

The process for becoming a blacksmith is quite a bit different in the 21st Century.

The demand for blacksmiths is drastically lower due to our advancements in machine technology.

What was once made by a blacksmith can more quickly and more precisely be made by a machine.

The one exception: Shoeing horses still requires a human blacksmith. There are no robot farriers. For this reason, becoming a farrier is one of your best bets for a steady income as a blacksmith.

Farrier Work

To become a farrier or horseshoer, it’s recommended that you do formal training.

There are multiple farrier schools across the country that specialize in getting people up to speed with horseshoeing.

Here’s a good resource for Farrier Schools:

U.S. Farrier Schools

Let’s look at one school to get an idea of time commitment and cost.

The Arkansas Horseshoeing School offers:

  • 8-Week Course: $6,900
  • 12-Week Course: $7,900
  • 16-Week Course: $8,900
  • 24-Week Course: $15,900

Comparing costs for a college degree from the University of Arkansas, you’re looking at $35,280 (in-state) $92,672 (out of state).

The benefits of going to horseshoeing school are spending a lot less money and walking away with the training you need to start earning money after a few weeks versus a few years.

Maybe you’re not interested in doing farrier work, though.

If you’re looking at traditional blacksmithing, knife making, etc. we’ll talk about those next.

Traditional Blacksmith Work

Becoming a successful, professional blacksmith in the traditional sense is much harder than farrier work.

Since these skills aren’t in demand, you need to spend a lot of time networking, marketing, and finding a specialty within blacksmithing to focus on.

To get a broad base of blacksmithing skills, there are classes and blacksmith schools in almost every U.S. state.

The Blacksmith School Map is a good resource for finding what classes are available near you.

Personal Story:

I learned how to forge at a school in western North Carolina called The John C. Campbell Folk School.

I was fortunate to be accepted into one of their 9-week Work/Study programs that allowed me to:

  • Enroll in three weeks of blacksmithing classes at no charge.
  • Live on their campus for free.

In exchange, I worked with other work/study students to keep the grounds and garden in good shape and welcome regular students each week.

My only expenses while I was there involved class materials costs. Thankfully, steel is relatively cheap and they have a large scrap bin that can be used for experimenting.

I was taught by extremely talented professional blacksmiths in each of my three classes and came away with a great foundation to get started on my own.

How to Become a Blacksmith in 3 Steps

  1. Find a school or classes near you that teach the skills you want to learn.
  2. If you can’t afford the tuition, they often offer financial assistance.
  3. Absorb as much information as you can while you’re there. Ask questions. Most blacksmiths are happy to share their knowledge.

After taking the time to learn from people with experience, you’ll be in a better position to get started.

At that point, you might begin your research into where to buy forges, anvils, hammers, and tongs.

If you’re already there, you might find these articles helpful:

Where to Buy Anvils

Where to Buy Forges

Buying Hammers

I’m Here to Help!

If you have any questions, please feel free to send me an email.