Something to think about...

...the dignity and importance of the smith's art is at once apparent. While others besides him use hammers, it is to the smith that they all must go for their hammers.

-Richardson

Friday, December 21, 2007

Bloomery iron

Wrought iron has kind of a legendary status as the authentic smithing material, and for any smith who feels some connection with his or her historic roots -- and how many of us don't? -- there's bound to be some attraction to working with the stuff. What could be more satisfying than taking what is essentially dirt and turning it into the raw material of your craft? What's more, the woodgrain-like structure of wrought, which is caused by silica inclusions, can be very visually appealing. I've also read, though I haven't personally confirmed it, that there are things you can do with wrought that simply aren't possible with modern steel.

The problem is where to get the stuff. While wrought iroon was the primary ferrous metal for millennia, it was very labor intenstive to make. It's much simpler to make mild steel by modern industrial methods, so wrought iron has gone the way of the dodo -- almost. Generally, if you want wrought you have two choices: harvest it from an antique source -- there's lots of it still lying around - or make your own.

I've done the former, and I have a stash of wrought that will probably last me some time at the pace I work. But I have to admit that the latter approach appeals to me, too, and I'm almost certain to try it sooner or later. And when I do I'll be relying heavily on the work of the guys at the Rockbridge Bloomery, who as far as I know are the only people in the world today who're smelting wrought iron for commercial sale, using the same basic techniques that have been in use for thousands of years. I could tell you how bloomery iron is made, but then I've never actually done it. They have, and they tell you all about it on their site. So if you want to learn how it's done -- and maybe even give it a whirl yourself -- go take a look!

Once you have some wrought, you can make your own blister steel or crucible steel. I've experimented just a little with blister steel, and crucible steel is in my future. But those are subjects for future posts.

3 comments:

Todd: said...

Fascinating stuff! I didn't know it was still being made for sale like that. I look forward to reading about it at the link you posted. I've heard good things about blister steel, and I like the pattern that shows when it is etched. I'm with you on doing some smelting...fun to dream about when the future permits.

E said...

I may be wrong, not being a native speaker, but I thought wrought iron was a specific form of decarburised pig iron. In other words it is made by a twostep indirect process, while bloomery iron is made by a direct reduction solid state process...
Erlend

Dracon Bladesmith said...
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