Ironsmiths occupy an important yet ambiguous position in many African societies. They are both revered and feared, because they wield social power which arises from their access to occult knowledge, not only of metallurgy but of healing, divination, circumcision and peacemaking. In some societies smiths enjoy high status and are the wealthiest people. In others they are feared, covertly maligned, and blamed for societal misfortunes. In still others the smiths' position is often marginal except when they are needed to intercede on their society's behalf to solve natural or cultural predicaments. The forge or smithy plays a central role in the community as tool-making centre, a place of refuge from violence, of purification, and for healing. This article examines the social context of iron forging among the ironsmiths of the Kenya coast, focusing on the role of iron forging in the coastal economy, the forge, the smiths' life cycle, the institution of apprenticeship, the ritual and technical power of smiths, the role of women in the smiths' community, and the future of iron forging on the coast. It is argued that, while coastal smiths are marginal and despised, they hold important ritual and spiritual powers in coastal society. The article concludes that a detailed understanding of the traditional crafts historically practised on the coast can do much to illuminate the complex history of coastal society.