In a pre-industrial age the smith was at the heart of the community. In the villages he would produce and maintain all the tools needed to work the land as well as manufacture the nails, fittings and other everyday items that the community needed, while in the towns or attached to a castle he would do the same but would also produce weapons and armour, and operate under a more formal guild structure. This was highly skilled work, and everyone from lords to peasants needed them, so a set such as this from Valdemar reflects a key element in medieval society.
There are a lot of elements in this set, and the arrangement is not absolute, but essentially there are a number of small scenes here which between them show the life of a smithy. In the top row there is a craftsman working at a table making a mail suit. As each link in the mail was made and added by hand it is easy to see why mail was so expensive. Next to him is the most enormous turning wheel, which could be used for shaping items and also for sharpening tools etc. Row two shows another key task of the smith, that of shoeing horses. Horses were the main motive power in society after human labour, and could be expensive, so needed to be well looked after. Here the horse is clearly far more than a working animal as it is owned by a knight or man-at-arms who is holding it while the shoe is attached. The horse is burdened with a shield, a barrel and other luggage, so clearly this is an emergency task and is probably being done mid journey. From the pose and the photos of this set on Valdemar's own website, the smith is holding the horse's leg towards him, which would guarantee a nasty surprise if the horse kicked, which was quite possible. In fact the smith held the leg with the horse behind him, so any kick went nowhere painful (the smith's apron should be split to facilitate this).
The third row shows the forge with the bellows that would cause the fire to reach the required temperature. Next there is a youth – possibly the son of the smith or an apprentice – and then an array of tools that the smith might use or indeed manufacture. The bottom row shows the anvil and a couple of men working on a piece.
This is a good wide range of activities, and makes for a very busy set. The sculpting is excellent as always, and all the clothing looks accurate, which means the men wear ordinary peasant clothing with a simple apron. The forge however is a different story. It is pretty large - much larger than any country smiths could aspire to, and it is particularly finely built, which again seems very unlikely in most cases. Such a fine forge might perhaps have been found in the larger castles or a particularly well-endowed monastery, but is not typical of the medieval period, becoming more appropriate for the late 18th century or later. A typical medieval forge would have been largely outside, with a simple shelter to keep off the weather. As such there would have been no need for a flue as here, because the gases etc would have escaped naturally. Staying with the forge, the bellows supplied are completely inadequate for this size of furnace. They are simply hand bellows, and would not have been nearly enough to cause a furnace of this size to reach and maintain the required temperatures. The bellows should be much larger, and would have required a system of levels and pulleys to allow it to be worked by men or animals.
Another surprise element here is the grinding machine in the top row. It is enormous, and again far larger than any village or town smithy might want or need. This appears to be on an industrial scale, which begs the question of what is this smith making that would require so large a machine? Again, far from typical.
Even without the large-scale forge and grinder, there is plenty in this set that is of use for the medieval model-maker, and plenty of interest for the general enthusiast. One item notable by its absence however is a quenching trough, which was a necessaity in any smithy. Valdemar should remember that at this time smithying was a craft rather than an industry, and these impressively large pieces of engineering would be unlikely for several centuries. A more careful eye should also be kept on the scaling of the figures, which are seriously too tall for the average medieval European.