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Ulster American Folk Park

Forge

Old World, building 4

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Hammer and tongs

For centuries the blacksmith was a revered figure in villages and towns across the globe, for without his skill, very little could be achieved as he made the tools and parts that others needed to work.

The forge was often a meeting place. People gathered at it and exchanged gossip while they waited for their horses to be shod or their tools to be repaired.

It is easy to imagine how the darkness of the blacksmith’s forge and the mysterious heat and light of the furnace drew people to it. In many places the blacksmith’s art was viewed as semi-magical – like an alchemist creating things of beauty and value from base elements.

The layout of the forge is simple with the hearth against the gable wall away from the door and large hand-operated bellows providing the draught for the fire. The fire heats the iron, the iron becomes soft and the blacksmith hammers the red hot metal into shape on the anvil. He can even join two pieces of iron if the temperature is correct.

The heat is intense and the labour backbreaking so the blacksmith needed to be exceptionally hardy and strong. He would spend most of the day hammering iron with a heavy hammer on his anvil.

The wooden block below the anvil helps absorb the impact of the hammer. Under the hearth is a water trough in which the smith cools his irons. There is a tradition that water in the trough cures warts.

This forge is typical of those once found throughout rural Ulster. In the 1851 census there were 684 blacksmiths working in County Tyrone.

Outside the forge stands the hooping plate on which the blacksmith hammers iron tyres on to wooden wheels. He heats up the iron tyres to expand them and then they cool and tighten on the wheel. This keeps the wooden wheel together.