Blacksmiths use modern mechanical tools and other machinery to manufacture decorative and everyday items from metals such as steel, brass, iron, copper and bronze, e.g. architectural steel structures, crowbars and pickaxes.
They forge metal parts together, first heating the metal to soften it and then placing it on an anvil where it is hammered, bent, cut or pressed into the desired shape before it cools again. Traditional hand tools such as hammers, punches and tongs or anvils may be used, or power tools, such as power hammers, drills, grinders, air chisels and hydraulic presses. Sometimes engineering machinery such as pillar drills, centre lathes, milling machines and welding equipment is used.
Broken parts are rejoined by hammering them together. Blacksmiths often have to reheat objects to keep them workable while being shaped, repaired or finished. This process is used to sharpen metal or hand tools. Metal is tempered or hardened by heating to high temperatures and then cooling. Where necessary, 'finishings' are applied to the metal or product.
Some blacksmiths specialise in industrial work, making specialist tools, fire escapes or security grills, while others do artistic or architectural metalwork, such as decorative ironwork, wrought-iron gates, sculptures and furniture. Some blacksmiths, called farriers, repair horseshoes using ready-made or custom-designed shoes. Farriers usually travel to stables to shoe horses and thus have somewhat more work variety than blacksmiths.
Other aspects of the work include making and interpreting detailed drawings. Blacksmiths need to be able to estimate material requirements from the drawings. They are also responsible for preparing, lighting and using open hearth, gas or oil-fired furnaces.
They usually work in hot, noisy workshops. Metal fabricating shops may provide power tools and the latest welding equipment, while local, small shops might use older equipment and methods. Blacksmiths do a lot of standing either upright or stooped, over their work. Sometimes the work involves lifting heavy metal objects.
Schooling & School Subjects
Grade 9 Certificate
Some employers prefer higher qualifications
There are three ways to qualify as a registered artisan:
1. An apprenticeship is a fixed contract between company and apprentice, ranging in duration from between 18 months and 4 years. At the end of the contract, the apprentice writes a trade test leading to professional certification.
2. A learnership is a structured learning programme ranging from about a year to 3 years. A learnership comprises theoretical and practical training. Practical training is conducted on site (on the premises of the organisation). This has the advantage that the learner gets experience whilst training.
3. TVET (Technical Vocational Education and Training) Colleges offer theoretical training to prospective artisans via the new National Certificate Vocational (NCV). During this 3-year programme (levels 2 to 4), learners complete a school-leaving certificate (NCV) similar to the new National Senior Certificate (NSC) in schools. They are also exposed to a practical workshop component.
All learners are required to complete a practical internship under the supervision of an experienced artisan. As an alternative to doing the full qualification, a learner can apply to do a skills programme at a TVET College. Skills programmes are short practical hands-on courses.
For more information about qualifications and skills programmes, contact your nearest TVET College. TVET Colleges are accredited and funded by a SETA (Sector Education and Training Authority) such as MerSETA or ChietaSETA. They also receive bursary funding through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for the NCV programme.
MerSETA (Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services)
P O Box 6848
3 Metropolitan Park
Tel: (011) 544-1316 Fax: (011) 484-8620