An interesting illustration of a forge.
Here's an interesting illustration from De Re Metallicus by Agricola.
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I find this interesting on several points.

First: it illustrates the multi-tasking typically found in the medieval arms making environment. We see a man working at a forge in the background, with two individuals hammering on a rough iron bloom in the center. Finally there is the figure in the foreground working at a form of trip hammer. The commonly held image of the medieval smith is that of a single man working alone in his smithy, manufacturing weapons alone from start to finish. This woodcut is an effective illustration of the industrial capacity of the medieval arms making community. Many who look down their noses at modern "production" arms may do well to consider that most european arms were indeed "production" back in the day.

Second: The figure working at the trip hammer is interesting because of the equipment being used. This illustrates that while electricity was not used as a power source, many forms of equipment were utilized to speed production and the medieval smithy was not as crude a place as common myth would have us believe.
The trip hammer was probably hooked up to a water wheel. Northern Europe is a well watered place and there's a lot of water mills that were used there.
If you look at blacksmith's tools, you quickly discover that a lot them require more than two hands to use properly. Any shop had to have several people in it. Even just using a punch is a lot easier with two people, and I don't see why any who had a choice would work alone.

What is going on at the forge? If you look below the fire, there is something marked with a 'C', it looks like something is pouring out of that brick casement.
My guess is that it is essentially an effort at depicting the ash dump. As the coal burns and gets shifted around, coal dust and clinker (a low grade glass that results from the sand and other impurities in the coal being heated) tends to sift to the bottom (not the clinker so much, as it can have a tendancy to form into clumps that you have to fish out with a poker). As a result, forges need to have some kind of ash gate or dump at the bottom of the fire pot. Generally you want this to be someting that can be closed, as that helps direct your air flow into the fire, saving heat and effort.

The only other possibility that I can think of is that maybe it is water coming out of the same place. I know some smiths will pour water on the end of thier material if they only want a small portion to be heated. That could result in water running out of the bottom of the forge. Personally, I think it is much easier to just rework your fire a little bit if you want that kind of limited heating, but everybody has their own little tricks that work best for them.

Thanks for the post, Patrick. That paints a very enlightening picture!
According to a translation of the text, the iron master is smelting high-grade iron ore here, and the liquid-looking stuff is slag from the slag vent.

"In this sensible way, iron is melted out and a mass weighing two or three centumpondia may be made, providing the iron ore was rich. When this is done the master opens the slag-vent with the tapping-bar, and when all has run out he allows the iron mass to cool. Afterward he and his assistant stir the iron with the bar, and then in order to chip off the slags which had until then adhered to it, and to condense and flatten it, they take it down from the furnace to the floor, and beat it with large wooden mallets having slender handles five feet long. Thereupon it is immediately placed on the anvil, and repeatedly beaten by the large iron hammer that is raised by the cams of an axle turned by a water-wheel."

But it is certianly correct that early metal work was an industrial, production affair, with specialized workers and power tools! Traditional Japanese smelters also use long-handled wooden mallets on their fresh steel to consolidate the bloom, seems to be the way to do it.

De Re Metallica is a great read, if you're into obscure, outdated technology -
I like the fact that the figure in the back is wearing his hood as a mask to cover his mouth and nose.

Workplace safety isn't new :-9
What is this illustration dated?
Bryce Felperin wrote:
The trip hammer was probably hooked up to a water wheel. Northern Europe is a well watered place and there's a lot of water mills that were used there.


I have had my first course in forging in a still extant XVI century forge in Bienno, Northern italy (brescian area).

All the trip hammers are powered by water, even the fan system was actually operated by force of falling water: a duct traps a little waterfall, a sort of forced conduit, to a stone residing at the bottom of the conduit: this produces compressed air that is channeled to the masonry forge by a tube system.

Still in well working conditions.

The cutting shears also are operated by water force through a shaft and a cam.

They can cut a 3 mm thick sheet of wrought iron.
Another one from the same source.

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Here we see a large bellows in the background, with another trip hammer in the foreground as well as the use of running water.
Jeff Pringle wrote:

Just to mention it: It is a picture from the 16. century and thus does not show a medieval (in itself spanning several hundred years) forge.

But of course the working conditions are comparable. You always need someone to lend you an additional pair of hands and you will also have specialists for different projects.

In addition to the picture of the bellows:
This specific form was still used one hundred years ago (and in our case is still used), as you can see in our museum forge.
Look at the bellows in the background:
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I had just restored the one in the foreground; thats why the picture was taken. ;)

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