A whitesmith is a metalworker who does finishing work on iron and steel such as filing, lathing, burnishing or polishing. The term also refers to a person who works with "white" or light-coloured metals, and is sometimes used as a synonym for tinsmith.
Whitesmithing developed as a speciality of blacksmithing in the 1700s, when extra time was given to filing and polishing certain products. During the following century the term was adopted to refer to those making reflective objects from tin-plated iron, workers who were also called tinplate workers or tinsmiths. In contrast to the iron-finishing whitesmiths, they worked not with cast and wrought iron, but with tin-coated sheet iron.
The principle manual skills of the whitesmith were in filing and turning (the use of lathes). Using cross-cut files the whitesmith could achive a flat, smooth finish on iron or steel products where the less skilled might only achive a convex effect. For very large items, the whitesmith might even file when red hot using a two-person operated float file.
This profession is also related to a bell hanger and locksmith as they perform much file work. In Great Britain this type of worker was affiliated with a union. The Amalgamated Society of Whitesmiths was founded in 1889. It was renamed the Amalgamated Society of Whitesmiths, Locksmiths, Bell-hangers, Domestic Engineers, Art Metal Workers and General Iron Fitters in 1891, the Amalgamated Society of Whitesmiths, Locksmiths, Bell-hangers, Domestic Engineers, Art Metal Workers and General Iron and Pipe Fitters in 1894, and the Amalgamated Society of Whitesmiths, Domestic Engineers and General Pipe Fitters in 1904. In 1908 it merged with the Amalgamated Society of Kitchen Range, Stove Grate, Gas Stove, Hot Water, Art Metal and other Smiths and Fitters connected with the above Trades, the Amalgamated Society of Kitchen Range, Hot Water and General Fitters and the Birmingham Society of Hot Water and Steam Engineers to form the National Union of Operative Heating and Domestic Engineers, Whitesmiths and General Iron Workers
James Watt employed a whitesmith in the 1760s when working on his experimental steam engine. The first cylinder was made by this whitesmith using hammered iron and solder. Although this technique proved insufficent, when this whitesmith died soon after Watt wrote to John Roebuck greatly lamenting the loss of his "white iron man".
With the industrial revolution, in the same way that many blacksmiths became specalised as farriers making horse shoes, so many whitesmiths became lorimers making spurs, stirrups, bridle bits and buckles.
- John Holland (1831). "VI". A treatise on the progressive improvement and present state of the manufactures in metal. II:Iron and Steel. Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green & Longman, and John Taylor. pp. 124–157.
- T. Webster and Mrs Parkes (1856). "VI(II)11:Smith's Work". The American family encyclopedia of useful knowledge. J.C.Derby. p. 65.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
- George Jacob Holyoake (1892). "Artizan life sixty years ago (1830)". Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life.
- Susan Hanway Scott (2012), "Whitesmithing", The Hunt Magazine, vol. Summer 2012
- Industrial Biography: Iron Workers and Toolmakers by Samuel Smiles. London: John Murray. 1863: quoted in Church and State Review. May 1. 1864. pp. 225
- Maurice Turner (1987), Post-medieval colonisation in the forests of Howland, Knaresborough and Pickering (PDF), University of Hull, pp. 116–189
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