Guide to Types of Smiths Throughout History 2021 [Updated]
Most smithing professions have existed since ancient times. Those skilled at working with their hands were extremely important to the survival of societies around the world, and the ability to work metal and other materials evolved to meet the needs of different communities and clients.
Today, a variety of smiths continue to fashion handmade, high quality finished products using the skills passed down through generations. The following are some common smithing occupations throughout history.
A blacksmith works with steel, wrought iron, and other metals to produce items like hardware, tools, utensils, household items, decorative items, sculptures, and more. Blacksmiths also traditionally served as farriers if a community was in need of horseshoeing services.
Blacksmiths use hammers, anvils, hot forges, and a range of tools (often made by the blacksmith) to complete their work.
A bladesmith utilizes a forge, anvil, hammer, and other tools similar to those used by blacksmiths to create knives, swords, and other blades. While much of their process is reminiscent of blacksmithing, bladesmiths rely on woodworking and leatherworking knowledge to make handles and sheaths for their blades.
Bladesmithing has existed in all major civilizations throughout history. While bladesmiths may be best known for crafting impressive and lethal swords and other weapons, they have historically, and in modern times, also specialized in the creation of multipurpose and kitchen knives.
A brownsmith works with copper and brass. The term coppersmith is often used interchangeably with brownsmith, and each of these are also referred to as redsmiths.
Brownsmiths craft a range of products like cookware, jewelry, decorative home items, hardware, sconces, and more.
Coinsmiths specialized in the creation of currency, usually out of gold or other precious metals. In ancient Greece and Rome, for example, coinsmiths were officially employed to mint money. Coinsmiths were also vital in the Middle Ages and colonial America as new currencies were established.
The more popular term for a brownsmith, a coppersmith works mainly with sheets of copper. Items crafted include cookware, light fixtures, jewelry, sculptures, range hoods, kettles, vases, frames, and other home-related items.
Since copper is a soft metal, it could be worked without heating, making coppersmithing a popular trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Less tools were required than for blacksmithing or bladesmithing, so setting up a coppersmithing business was generally feasible for a larger population of craftsmen.
A goldsmith uses gold and other precious metals to craft jewelry, serving ware, utensils, decorative items, and religious items. Jewelry making and silversmithing are closely related trades that share many of the same techniques.
While goldsmithing has been a lucrative trade since ancient times, the guilds created in the Middle Ages were especially wealthy and influential. Goldsmiths during this time period commonly worked as bankers and jewelers for the elite of society.
A gunsmith builds and repairs firearms. A newer category of the ‘smithing’ professions, gunsmithing guilds first formed in the 1400s and the profession gained popularity in the 18th and 19th century as gun designs improved.
Gunsmiths are employed in factories, independent stores, and armories and are responsible for completing a wide range of highly specialized tasks.
A locksmith designs and defeats locks. Locksmiths have traditionally been responsible for the design, creation, and repair of locks and keys. Today, many locksmiths are employed by individuals and institutions for whom they install security systems, replace lost keys, and help unlock devices.
A silversmith crafts items from silver and is compared to a goldsmith due to the similarity in the materials used and products created. Like coppersmithing, silversmithing is completed cold, as silver is malleable at room temperature.
While similar, silversmiths generally make a wider range of more affordable products than goldsmiths and silversmithing is not as closely related to jewelry making as goldsmithing is.
Items made by silversmiths both historically and in the present day include utensils, kettles, bowls, trays, and drinkware.
A swordsmith specializes in the creation of swords and is categorized more generally as a bladesmith. Swordsmiths around the world crafted swords according to the needs of rulers and their armies. Japan is well known for its swordsmithing artistry and continues to lead the industry.
A tinsmith crafts items using tin and other light metals. They work the metal cold by tracing patterns on sheets of tin, cutting, forming, riveting, and soldering. The tools used by tinsmiths are similar to those of coppersmiths because both metals are worked at room temperature.
Tinsmithing is another more recently developed smithing profession compared to others listed here. Beginning in the early 1600s and gaining popularity throughout the 1700s, tinsmithing peaked in the 1800s but continues to be practiced today.
Weaponsmithing is related to bladesmithing and swordsmithing, but weaponsmiths specialize in spears, axes, and flails in addition to knives and swords. Weaponsmithing is most commonly thought of in medieval and Viking contexts, when a range of lethal weapons were in high demand.
A whitesmith performs finishing work on light metals like tin, iron, and steel. Although used as a synonym for tinsmith, a whitesmith actually focuses on the finishing steps of the metalworking process such as filing, polishing, and lathing.