irons in the fire

Does anyone know where the expression ‘too many irons in the fire’ comes from?

with thanks

Irons in the fire is an old blacksmith term.

If you had an iron in the fire, you were getting ready to make something.

The term today is used to mean, I have some plans or I am getting prepared.

I’ve never heard of “too many irons in the fire.” I suppose it could mean that you have too much going on and don’t know where to start, or something similar.

Or you could Google it.


Having dabbled with blacksmithing, I quickly learned that having too many irons in the fire will mean some of it burns, as you can’t just leave stuff in the forge “simmering” at the right temp, waiting for you to pick up later. That’s how I understand the saying, as well.

Interesting. That is really the only context in which I have heard that idiom. That, and the related “He has a lot of irons in the fire,” meaning that he is doing a lot, perhaps on the verge of doing too much.

Just so. The temperature of the heated portion of the forge is higher than the working temperature of the iron you’re using. You heat it up to the working temperature, then pound/bend/twist it to work towards the end goal. If you leave it there, it over heats, which can cause it to burn off material, or change the physical properties in an undesired way.

While most blacksmiths that know what they are doing will have a few irons in at a time, so as to minimize the downtime while they wait for the current work piece to reheat, it’s a balancing act. A smith that is demonstrating will have even less irons working than one who is just cranking out product. Demonstrating to the public can eat up time like nothing else on earth. (I’m an 18th century re-enactor, and nothing makes the day go faster than talking to a good crowd that takes the time to ask lots of questions… and very often, they either teach me something, or give me good questions to research when I’m at home.)