The village smith in most human and halfling settlements is a crude craftsman, working iron with hammer and tongs, and keeping two or three apprentices to pump the bellows. The smiths in large arsenals and royal armories might employ more smiths to hammer metal, or they might use animals to pump the bellows instead of employing apprentices, but the fundamental principles are no different from those used by the village farrier, cooper, or blacksmith. A dwarven forge is significantly different from a human forge. More than just a workplace, the dwarven clan forge is also a telinom — a sacred area. In addition, the dwarves’ forges rely not only on hammers and muscle power but also on the natural strength of water and wind. In fact, the dwarven forge-priests are fond of describing all ironwork as a fusion of the four elements: water, earth, air, and fire.
The Elements Edit
The most obvious use of water in a smithy is in the quenching process, when a smith slakes the hot metal by plunging it into cold water. But there is another, less obvious, use of water in the service of the forge. Just as human millers use water wheels to grind grain, most dwarven smiths construct waterwheels to power their forges. They harness this power in several obvious ways at the forge, but the influence of the waterwheel is felt in all but the smallest dwarven communities. The waterwheel provides three great advantages for the dwarven forge: it keeps the bellows pumping, it hammers out the rough forms of wrought iron, and it turns lathes to make rounded metal bars. In all three cases, an overshot wheel is the preferred form of power. An overshot wheel is simply a waterwheel that takes water from a trough into buckets on the wheel; the weight of the buckets drives the wheel down (see the adjacent diagram). A successful overshot wheel requires a fall of at least 10 feet. Some blacksmiths prefer to use pitchback wheels, which send the water into an overshot wheel in reverse; pitchback wheels require a slightly smaller fall than overshot wheels, usually 8 to 10 feet or so. In cases where the fall of water isn’t large enough for an overshot or pitch-back wheel, an undershot or even a horizontal waterwheel can be used. Undershot wheels are vertical like overshot wheels but are powered by paddles in the stream rather than by buckets of water; they require a small fall of a foot or so. Horizontal wheels provide even less power than undershot wheels, as they simply float and rotate gently in the current. No fall is required. To lift the hammer, the wheel is part of a triphammer mechanism The wheel’s peg presses down on the end of the triphammer, lifting the heavy iron head.
Of course, the waterwheel that drives a triphammer can just as easily be attached to a lathe or the forge’s bellows. To turn a lathe, the waterwheel could be used directly, but this process results in a very slow lathe—too slow for the pace of dwarven metalworkers. To speed it up, a series of toothed gears are applied to the rotation from the waterwheel’s axle. The metal cylinders that a lathe turns out can provide the raw workstock for everything from chains to ballista bolts. To pump bellows, the dwarven waterwheel has a peg that lifts the bellows, opening it and filling it with air. A weight on top of the bellows then compresses them on the down-stroke, forcing air through the coal used to fire the forge. A proper set of bellows is crucial to reaching the highest possible temperature for working difficult metals like iron, platinum, and mithril. Slightly different bellows can also force air into the deepest dwarven halls. Either way, the bellows provide the breath of life to both the dwarves and their smithy.
Fire and Earth Edit
In addition to water power, dwarves use a wide range of both simple and sophisticated smithing tools. The most important tools in any forge are the anvil, tongs, hammers, mandrels, chisels, brushes, hardies, punches, fullers, flatters, an apron, and a swage block. Hammers, chisels, and hardies are made in two varieties to deal with the differing properties and shapes of hot and cold metal. All the basic forms of the tools mentioned here are shown in the diagram below, but many of these tools, especially tongs and hammers, come in a wide range of specialized types as well. Finally, every smithy contains fire tools, such as pokers, shovels, rakes, a watering can, and a slice (resembling a spatula, a slice is used to lift and move fuel around hot metal). Equipping a complete workshop can cost hundreds or even thousands of gold pieces. The anvil is graded by its weight rather than size, with a general-purpose anvil usually weighing about 100 to 200 Ibs. Jeweler’s anvils may weigh as little as 50 Ibs., and anvils for heavy work could weigh as much as 800 Ibs. The pointed end of an anvil is called the beak or horn; it is used to bend iron bars and sheets without breaking them. The top surface is called the face and is used for hammering and for cutting. The far end of the anvil is called the heel or tail; it usually contains two holes, one to hold a hardie, and one called the pritchel hole that serves as a recess for metal to fall through when a punch is being employed. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the hammer that rings during ironworking: it’s the anvil. All dwarven smiths prefer an anvil that rings to one that clunks or clanks, and an anvil that produces a sweeter tone will command a higher price. No one likes to work metal with noise when they can work metal to music; a large dwarven settlement sometimes rings with an entire chorus of anvils. The mandrel, also called a smith’s cone, is used to size rings correctly and to make them truly circular. Dwarven mandrels generally have a long groove that allow the tongs free play when putting a ring into place. Mandrels vary in size from a foot high and 20 Ibs. for an armorer’s mandrels used for making chain and ring mail to a 100-lb. mandrel of four feet in height for general use. A swage is a tool used to create identical curves for rings, round bars, and other cylinders. A swage block is used to create identical cups and bowls and to form flat iron into graceful curves matched to exact sizes. The latter weigh anywhere from 100-700 Ibs. As you can imagine, relocating a smithy is an adventure in itself, requiring block and tackle and at least two oxen for moving even a small shop. The hammers are used for most of the basic blacksmithing techniques, including thinning, cutting, bending, and upsetting (tapping the end of a piece of iron, thus thickening the bar). Hardies provide the cutting edge when a hammer provides the force for cutting metal; sates (or sets) perform the same function as a hardie but cut from above rather than below. Flatters do what you’d expect from the name; they flatten a bar or lump of iron into a sheet of metal suitable for making a breastplate, a shield, a plate, or helmet. Fullers are hammer-like tools used before flatters in the process of turning bars to sheets. Those interested in how blacksmiths use these tools to sculpt sheet iron, bars, wire, blades, armor, tools, horseshoes, and so forth will find that most good public libraries have a volume on practical blacksmithing and metalworking.
The parts of a dwarven ironworks are simply a means to an end: creating sheet metal, wire, nails, tools, horseshoes, and other goods. To measure the effectiveness of any ironworks can be measured in game terms using the smithy unit (SU). Each smithy unit is the equivalent of a single village smith and two apprentices working all their metal by hand.3 Some player characters might wish to build ironworks of their own or might desire to sell an ironworks that they have captured from brigands or humanoids. Building this elaborate a forge requires both the engineering proficiency and one of the smithing proficiencies (armorer, blacksmith, or weaponsmith), and the task could take as long as a year.
Typical Forge Edit
A typical forge’s layout is with the temple and forge grouped closely together near a water source. The forge areas are as far as possible from the living quarters, because of the smithy’s heat, noise, and smoke. Dwarves under attack always make their last stand in the forge, fully supported by priestly firepower and their faith. In this respect the forge resembles a castle’s keep among humans; when everything else collapses, it is where the dwarves gather strength and regroup in the face of an attack. The forge is run by the master smith. This title is sometimes passed down from generation to generation, but more often it is decided by merit. Custom on this matter varies from clan to clan. Other titles in the forge’s hierarchy include (in descending order) the journeyman smith, the apprentice, the stoker, the smelter, the miner, and the gate warden (who oversees the transport of the miner’s ore and coal into the forge). The master smith is responsible for producing the flow of trade goods that are the enclave’s economic lifeline. Without these valuables to barter for grain, produce, and wool, the dwarves would soon be reduced to eating only what they could hunt or gather from the wilds. The trade goods coming from a typical forge include jewelry, cut gems, intaglio, sturdy farming tools, cutlery, nails, kitchen pots and other implements, chains, weapons, armor, and so on. Each dwarven hold generally specializes in the metals that it can smelt in nearby mineworks.
High Holidays Edit
Dwarven enclaves open their forges to visitors twice each year, during the dwarven High Holidays. During these days, any peaceful visitor is received with open arms, something as rare among dwarves as forest fires among the elves. On the High Holidays, the gates are left open, all dwarves wear their best finery, whether armor or embroidered tunic, and the forge lies quiet and still, tended only by a young dwarf who keeps the embers glowing. The Closing of the Forge and the Kindling of the Hearth are ceremonies conducted with great ceremony by the highest-ranking priest of Moradin at the start and end of the festival. The feasting of the High Holidays begins with the midday meal; until then, everyone is busy preparing food, gifts, finery, and embellishments. With the sound of a single bell or a strike of the great gate with a hammer, the festival’s beginning is announced. Clan elders judge competitions in hammer-throwing, cooking, brewing, smithwork, tapestries, and song, and the victors are given small rings or bracers as a token of the honor they have won. Even nondwarves may enter these competitions, though the dwarves aren’t above a little bias toward the local favorites. Tales tell that, at one such yearly competition, an elven smith arrived at the gates of Hammerkeep, seeking shelter among his people’s ancient rivals and claiming to be lost in the wooded slopes of the high peaks (and thus we know it is a legend, for surely no elf was ever lost in a forest). The elf was taken in and fed, and he chose to show some of his fine elven chain, with links as small and delicate as jeweler’s work. It was the product of five years’ labor, and the links were finer than a spider’s web—but they withstood the hardest blows from a judge’s testing warhammer. The dwarves stood in shocked silence when the master smith judged the elf the victor. The judge—a dwarf named Ulfgar—was banished from the clan, but he left the next day with the elven smith and wandered with him for years. Some stories say that Ulfgar learned the art of hammer chants from the elven smith and that they forged the first Singing Hammer together; other stories claim that just the reverse happened, and a single line of elven smiths still passes on the dwarven secrets from father to son. Could there be hammer chants or similar forging songs among the elves? Certainly the dwarves deny it, and the elves merely smile at the question . . . though they don’t deny the truth of the story. At the end of the festival, visitors are shown to the gate; small stone guest houses outside the enclave lie a short stumble away. The great doors creak shut at sunset, and the enclave returns to its noisy work, deep beneath the mountain’s heart.
Hammer Chants Edit
Though the blacksmith’s tools are similar to those humans use, the sacred side of the dwarven forge is readily apparent to even a casual visitor: dwarves are very noisy when they work. The songs they sing are songs of praise for the keeper of the first forge, lusty work songs, or even incantations in the Old High Church Dwarvish that only the priests fully understand. The chants keep the rhythm steady when a team of smiths is using multiple hammers on a single piece of iron. When combined with the chant of a dwarven priest or master smith, the hammer chants used every day at the forge are themselves magical. In fact, blacksmiths are often double as bards among the dwarves.