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Building a Castle: Blacksmiths

We have already looked at master masons earlier in this series. Another vital craftsman was the blacksmith. 

Blacksmith at Guédelon

He too was a free man. His forge would have been in the castle bailey during war and in the local village during peacetime. He would have been in the centre of the building site during castle building. He made hinges and locks of course but his most important function was making and maintaining all the tools.

When working the abrasive sandstone, a stonemason could wear out an entire set of tools in a single day! Each craftsman had two sets of tools so he could keep working. Near the forge was a set of wooden pigeonholes, one for each craftsman to leave the tools that needed sharpening or mending.

Iron was difficult to produce so no piece of iron was ever thrown away, but reworked into something else. Even small pieces could be made into nails. The blacksmiths knew by the colour of the metal when it was ready to be worked on.

  • At 270°C (520°F) the metal is scarlet and ready to begin to be worked.
  • At 750°C (1,380°F) the metal is cherry red and ready to be tempered by plunging it into oil or water to rapidly cool it.
  • At 1,200-1,300°C (2,190-2,370°F) the metal turns pale yellow to white hot and is ready to be welded into shape.
Decorative hinges at Aigen Parish Church

When making a heavy door for the keep, for example, the blacksmiths would make more than just hinges and locks. The door would be decorated with strapwork bent into a design. This strengthened the door but was also another opportunity to demonstrate the wealth and status of the lord.

[adapted from The Medieval Castle Haynes Manual by Charles Phillips]

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at