Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Making iron the hard way

Last weekend some friends of mine in the Dark Ages Re-creation Company (DARC) did something rather spectacular -- they smelted iron from ore using techniques common to northern Europe before the 12th century. The fuel was commercial charcoal pounded small by hand; the ore was rock ore from an abandoned American mine of the 18th century; the furnace was built on the spot out of clay and hay, and the fire was stoked by hand, using a bellows built to resemble what few pictures we have of such things at an early period.

It was a pretty dramatic experiment, since the DARC smelters had a number of problems with the bellows and airfeed, and at one point there was quite a bit of pessimism about the outcome. Without exactly the right temperature, they thought that they might end up with only cast iron (for which medieval Europeans had no use) instead of something closer to steel.

In the end it was a great success. They didn't get as much good metal as they hoped to -- 1.5 kilograms rather than 4.5 -- but what they did produce was so hard that it may indeed be a steel suitable for weapons or tools.

And they did it all with no use of electric power -- just human strength multiplied by the bellows!

It was quite a dramatic demonstration of "experimental archaeology." The DARC crew are not academics, but they probably know as much about early European iron smelting as anyone else anywhere.

If you want to know more, see this and this.


Blogger Another Damned Medievalist said...

That is really neat! My kind of re-enactment!

3:30 PM  

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