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Introduction to the archaeometallurgy of iron
Donald B. Wagner

A Danish blacksmith

Translation of the Danish texts in the film

The blacksmith

The blacksmith and the village farmers were bound together by agreements that assured the smith a definite income. From the Middle Ages onward, the smith’s daily work included shoeing horses and outfitting wagons.

Today (1955) there are very few smiths left who use the old methods, with hand-powered bellows, turning lathe, and drill-brace, and can make nails and ring a wagon-wheel.

Early in the morning – before dawn in the winter – the smith fires up in the forge. He lights a clump of straw.  When it is burning he rakes small coal together around it while the journeyman works the bellows.

Before factory-made horseshoes came on the market the smith made the shoes himself from flat bar iron.

On each side of the horseshoe he uses a fullering chisel to make a groove in which the nail holes will later be punched. The grooves hide the nail-heads.

While the iron is still hot he ‘fore-punches’ holes with a marking hammer, then punches through with a gouge dipped in herring brine.

When the shoe is properly formed he hammers out a toeplate [toe caulk?].

Here comes a farmer to have his horse shod.

After the worn-out shoe has been broken off, the hoof is pared with a butteris and smoothed with a rasp.  The frog was formerly cleaned with a hoof-pick, but today with a curved paring knife.

After the shoe has been nailed on, the nails are clinched down and the tips are nipped off.

The horse’s hoof is lifted onto the ‘dog’, where the nail-ends are ‘tidied’ with a ‘tidying iron’, and the shoeing is complete.

When a wagon-wheel is to be ringed, rivet-holes are punched in both ends of a measured strip of iron.

The rim is fastened to the strip with a loop and bolt. Then the smith and the journeyman roll the iron around the wheel.

The open ring is hammered evenly all the way around until the rivet holes meet, after which the ring ends are riveted together.

The riveted part of the ring is heated up and welded with heavy hammer blows.

The smith measures the outside of the wheel and the inside of the ring in order to determine how much the ring must expand when it is heated. He uses an old-fashioned measuring wheel and chalk marks.

The ring is weighed  before weighing because the price is determined by the weight.

When the smith comes with the heated ring his wife stands ready with the ‘wheel disc’ [?? wheel oar? ship?] to guide the wheel.

After the hot ring has been squeezed around the wheel rim with the help of tongs, the shrinking can be done in either of two ways. Either the wheel is thrown whole into the ditch …

… or it is turned at the surface of the water, so that it cools gradually.

The cooled ring is attached to the wheel rim with spikes after the smith has bored holes in the ring and the rim with his hand-turned drill press. The drill is lubricated with milk.

Before there were motor-driven lathes, a hand-driven lathe was used to turn the wheel axle.

Nails were made in olden times from thin round bar stock, pointed on the anvil.

The sharp nail is cut halfway through on the anvil chisel, then broken off in a die called the ‘spike iron’, in which the nail head is hammered out. He ‘strikes the head on the nail’.

All cutting implements were sharpened on the great sandstone, turned by the journeyman.

The few master blacksmiths still to be found in the countryside are characterized by their dignity and responsibility, while their powerful humor is shown by the pipe-smoking journeyman.

This film was made in September 1955 in the workshop of Frants Helt in the village of Hejnerup, Tureby (https://www.google.dk/maps/place/4682+Hejnerup/).


This film was made by Aage Rothenborg in September 1955 in the workshop of Frants Helt in the village of Hejnerup, Tureby. Frants Helt took over the workshop from his father in 1915.

I have taken the film from a DVD produced by the Ethnological Film Archive of the Danish National Museum, ‘Film fra Nationalmuseets Etnologiske Filmarkiv: Enestående dokumentarfilm om dansk håndværk, 3: Metal’, 2004.

Last edited by DBW 2 March 2023