From competition shows to period pieces, the art of forging metal by hand has found a modern audience, and the traditional antique blacksmith tools that were used in the process have hardly changed over the past few hundred years. Mostly found in collections around the world, though sometimes used by modern smiths, antique blacksmith tools are a moderately expensive and increasingly popular collectible of one of the many trades that was nearly killed by industrialization.
Blacksmithing: From Ancient Art to a Modern Revival
For thousands of years, humans have been using the metal ore of the natural world to create tools to better equip themselves for the hardships of life on Earth. As society evolved, blacksmithing techniques continued to develop and, over time, refined into the colonial forges of yesteryear. However, these basic tools, that've been most recently featured in the hit tv show Forged in Fire have remained much the same for hundreds of years. Thus, not only can you collect antique blacksmithing tools, but you can also use them in modern hand forging.
Common Antique Blacksmith Tools
The number of tools that blacksmiths use has increased with each passing century as the trade itself advanced and the tasks that needed to complete around the community grew more complex. Often, blacksmiths would forge their own tools or make specialty tools that a customer might need with their own hands, meaning that not all of these historic tools have a sense of uniformity in their shapes, sizes, and molecular compositions.
Because of this regional specificity and individual smith's own creations, a majority of these old tools aren't branded or have long since lost their branding information. So, brands aren't necessarily something that has a huge impact on collectability or usefulness.
The main arsenal of a blacksmith's forge that you can expect to find online, in museums, and in living history reenactments includes a few integral tools which continue to serve artisan blacksmiths today.
Anvils are absolutely one of the major tools central to all of the work that smiths complete. Not only does the anvil provide a solid place for blacksmiths to strike and shape their hot metal against, but they also have designated spaces to hold tools that need to be near while forming these new creations. Older anvils made prior to the mass-production of steel were typically made out of cast iron and more likely to degrade with every use. Soon, steel plates were cast over these iron anvils to strengthen them, and eventually anvils were made entirely out of steel.
It's not too hard to imagine how hot the metal that comes out of the forges can be, and any sensible blacksmith knows that the only safe way to extricate the fiery material is with a pair of tongs. Granted, there're innumerable types of tongs out there, ranging from duck bill tongs and their very flat, elongated openings to pick up tongs, and many talented blacksmiths went on to forge their own custom tongs to their specifications.
If you've ever seen a fireplace in an animated film from the early 20th century, then you've probably unknowingly witnessed a bellow doing its job. The bellow resembles an accordion with its folded compartment that's held together with what looks like an oversized planchet. There's a little spout at the very tip of the triangular planchet, and when the bellow is stretched to its highest width and then pressed down, the air will blow out towards the flames of a growing fire and help stoke it to higher temperatures. Blacksmiths used bellows in the forge before fans and more advanced technology had been invented.
The hammer and the anvil are what most people envision when they think of a historic blacksmith. Even the fantasy genre is fond of displaying the dedicated blacksmith, hammering out a misshapen piece of steel into a beautiful sword for the main character to take into battle. Without the hammer, such as the sledge hammer, ball pein, and others, the blacksmith would be hard pressed to accomplish any of their tasks. Hammers come in a variety of sizes and types, and they were often simplistically designed with function at the forefront.
Of course, there's a myriad of tools from past blacksmithing operations that you can find, but these are a few that are a bit more uncommon:
- Chisels - A tool that might not immediately come to mind is the chisel. Chisels are frequently used to chip away at whatever project the blacksmith's working on to better craft the subject.
- Molds - A great way to think of molds is thinking of the small musket ball molds from The Patriot. Molds are filled with molten metal, which cools and hardens into the interior shape.
- Files - Files look exactly like large nail files, except made out of metal and would do a number on your nail beds. These files are used in just the same way as most of the other tools are--to better shape and form a blacksmith's products.
Value of Antique Blacksmithing Tools
Aside from anvils, antique blacksmithing tools aren't worth a ton of money. Typically, an average piece can be worth $10-$50, with rare and unique pieces rising up to around $100. Given that there are actually a lot of blacksmith tools from the 19th and 20th centuries out there, and that modern blacksmithing tools are by far more productive for contemporary blacksmiths to use, there's just not a big enough demand for these antiques for them to be worth hundreds of dollars.
That being said, the same isn't true for anvils. Anvils seem to be the unique outlier of the old blacksmithing tools bunch. There's a larger market--due in large part to the fact that they really withstand the test of time and can be continuously used today--and you can find older examples of these items than you can of others from the blacksmith's tool belt. Thus, these anvils can cost anywhere between the $50-$5,000 depending on when it was made, what it was made out of, and how heavy it is.
For example, these are the prices that a variety of antique tools from the blacksmith's workshop recently came to auction with:
- 19th century trio of double spouted smelting ladles - Sold for $19.54
- Antique 5lb tapered point and round head sledgehammer - Sold for $45
- Antique 21" hand-powered fire bellow - Listed for $69.94
- 19th century anvil on the original wooden base - Sold for $2,375
- 17th century French anvil with base - Sold for $4,875
Best Places to Find an Antique Blacksmith's Tools
While these old tools aren't particularly rare, especially in the western world, there isn't a specialized location where you can find them for sale at. While it's always a great idea to check your local antique stores for these common tools, you'll have an easier time looking for them online. Currently, the best places to browse through are:
- Anvil Fire - Anvil Fire is an online retailer that hosts an array of resources related to blacksmithing, as well as a large collection of antique, vintage, and modern tools for sale. You can find a number of tools for sale from the early Victorian and late interwar period available on their website.
- Lot-Art - According to their website, Lot-Art is a fine art and collectibles auction, an investment search engine focused on creating a global marketplace for specialty items. Look through their inventory of estate and auction lots and discover their rotating collection of antique tools and sundry.
- Jim Bode Tools - A leading retailer in the antique tools space, Jim Bode Tools is led by a collector and craftsman and offers high-quality antique tools for interested buyers; browse through the website's listings of tool categories such as hammers and see what blacksmithing tools catch your eye.
- Anvils4Sale - If you're looking for antique anvils in particular, then Anvils4Sale is a great place to visit. An online retailer specializing in antique and German anvils, you can find a small selection of anvils for sale with a ton of detail about their style, construction, and purposes in their listings. However, interested buyers can't purchase through the site directly and have to contact the owners via phone or email to broker the purchase.
- eBay - Ebay does have a large inventory of blacksmithing tools available; however, it's difficult to confirm that these tools are antique and not just modern replicas, so you want to be careful about who you're buying from and what their reviews say.
- Etsy - You'll find the same situation with Etsy as you will with eBay; what you sacrifice in historical accuracy in the listings you make up for in the number of tools at your disposal.
- 1st Dibs - 1st Dibs won't let you down when it comes to more valuable antique blacksmithing tools. They tend to have smaller inventories of more expensive antiques, so they're a great place to head to if you're interested in something special.
Hammer Out Which Blacksmith Tools You Want First
Antique blacksmithing tools are one of the most versatile collectibles out there. You can display them with ease or you can put them to work in whatever way you see fit. With no two tools alike, you can set your tools out to complete whatever job suits your fancy.