A Newsletter of the White River Valley Museum

April 2001

Blacksmith Tools
Blacksmith As Innovator

by Dr. Tina Brewster Wray, Curator of Collections


He designed and made new tools
for special jobs, tools that
had no names -- were never
duplicated by factories.

Tool illustractions from
The Village Blacksmith
written and illustrated by
Aldren A. Watson

In the late 19th century, the blacksmith's work included a wide variety of tasks -- ranging from shoeing horses to forging new household and farm implements and mending broken ones. These tasks required numerous specialized tools, including many hand tools that were designed and made by the blacksmith himself.

One of the most important blacksmith tools was the anvil, upon which the heavy work of hammering and shaping the hot iron was done. Two holes were cut into the heel, or back end of the anvil -- the square hardy hole, which was used to hold the shanks of various smaller tools used to cut and shape metal, and the round pritchel hole, which was used for punching holes through the hot metal. The flat face was the main hammering surface, while the cone-shaped horn was used for making bends and curves.


Two other anvil-like devices that smiths used were the swage block and the mandrel. A swage block has an assortment of cutouts around its edges and a variety of holes through its body. It was used for shaping curved and hollow articles to exact sizes. The mandrel is a cast iron cone used in making perfectly circular rings.

Swage Block & Mandrel

Of the various hand tools used by blacksmiths, tongs are one of the most fundamentals -- and variable. Tongs are an extension of the smith's hand, and are used for removing the red-hot pieces of metal from the fire, and holding them securely while they are being worked. Much variation is found in the shape of the jaws and lips of the tongs, which are adapted to grip different shapes and surfaces. For example, there are straight-lipped tongs for holding flat metal, tongs with curved lips to hold round bars, and others made specifically to hold horseshoes.

The blacksmith's tools discussed here, and many others, can be seen in the museum's blacksmith shop exhibit. Most of these belonged to an early settler in the White River Valley, Gottlieb Traeger.

Gottlieb Traeger 1842-1916

Gottlieb Traeger was born in Germany, and immigrated to America in 1867. In 1875 he acquired property near what is now 15th St. SE, Auburn, and began clearing the land and subsistence farming. A blacksmith by trade, Mr. Traeger set up a blacksmith shop to supplement the family income. During the Hops Craze of the 1880s and 1890s, Mr. Traeger became on of the larger hop growers in the area. With this new prosperity he gradually gave up commercial blacksmithing. Due to the ravages of the hop louse and decline in hop prices in 1890s, the Traegers (like most of the farmers in the area) changed their emphasis to dairying. In later years they also grew berries and fruit. After Gottlieb Traeger's death his wife and son continued to run the farm. The last of the farm was sold in 1962 to be cut up for residential sites.


Dr. Tina Brewster Wray