Blacksmiths A blacksmith is an individual who heats metal, specifically iron and steel, and then utilizes tools in order to form the metal into the desired shape. Blacksmiths are often called upon to make wrought iron items, grills, railings, light fixtures, furniture, tools, decorations, cooking utensils, horseshoes, and weapons. Forging refers to the process of heating metal and shaping it with the use of a hammer. In addition to forging, blacksmiths are also called upon to weld and finish metals. Because blacksmiths are often responsible for working with very hot objects, they have to be constantly cautious when it comes to heat and fire. Traditionally, blacksmiths worked out of a forge, a chamber kept an extremely high temperature through the burning of propane, natural gas, coal, or charcoal. Additionally, contemporary blacksmiths may use a blowtorch to heat specific areas of the metal being forged.
Asbestos and Blacksmithing Because of its ability to resist heat and fire, asbestos was commonly used to fireproof forges and protect those that worked around them. Insulation made of asbestos was often used between the wall and the forge in order to protect the wall area from fire and heat. Asbestos tiles were also used in order to protect the area should a hot object fall on the floor. It was also common to use asbestos as a means of covering the forging metal in order to expedite the process. It would also allow for the rest of the room to remain cooler and prevent sparks. Lastly, clothing and gloves that were worn by blacksmiths also often contained asbestos in order to protect the individual’s body from heat and sparks. Because of the extensive use of the substance, it was common for blacksmiths to be exposed to small asbestos fibers that had become airborne due to flaking. When the flaking occurred, the pieces were able to be inhaled, potentially leading to conditions such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, or lung cancer. Asbestos was also able to attach to the clothing or hair of the blacksmith and be transported to the individual’s home where the family may fall victim to second-hand asbestos exposure. Once the material is inhaled, it asks as an irritant to the lungs and causes scarring leading to potential cancer in the future.