A bloomery is a type of
furnaceonce widely used for smelting ironfrom its oxides. The bloomery was the earliest form of smelter capable of smelting iron. A bloomery's product is a porous mass of iron and slagcalled a "bloom". This mix of slag and iron in the bloom is termed " sponge iron", which is usually consolidated (shingled) and further forged into wrought iron. The bloomery has now largely been superseded by the blast furnace, which produces pig iron.
tructure and process
A bloomery consists of a pit or
chimneywith heat-resistant walls made of earth, clay, or stone. Near the bottom, one or more clay pipes enter through the side walls. These pipes, called tuyères, allow air to enter the furnace, either by natural draft, forced with bellowsor a trompe. An opening at the bottom of the bloomery may be used to remove the bloom, or the bloomery can be tipped over and the bloom removed from the top.
The first step taken before the bloomery can be used is the preparation of the
charcoaland the iron ore. The charcoal is produced by heating wood to produce the nearly pure carbon fuel needed for the refining process. The ore is broken into small pieces and "roasted" in a fire to remove any moisture in the ore. Any large impurities in the ore can be crushed and removed. Since slag from previous blooms may have a high iron content, slag from previous blooms can be broken up and recycled into the bloomery with the new ore.
In operation, the bloomery is preheated by burning charcoal, and once hot,
iron oreand additional charcoal are introduced through the top, in a roughly one to one ratio. Inside the furnace, carbon monoxidefrom the incomplete combustion of the charcoal reduces the iron oxides in the ore to metallic iron, without melting the ore; this allows the bloomery to operate at lower temperatures than the melting temperature of the ore. As the desired product of a bloomery is iron which is easily forgeable, nearly pure, and with a low carboncontent, the temperature and ratio of charcoal to iron ore must be carefully controlled to keep the iron from absorbing too much carbon and thus become unforgeable. Limestonecan also be added to the charge (about 10% of the ore weight) as a flux, to remove impurities.
The small particles of iron produced in this way fall to the bottom of the furnace and become welded together to form a spongy mass of the bloom. The bottom of the furnace also fills with molten slag, often consisting of
fayalite, a compound of silicon, oxygen and iron mixed with other impurities from the ore. Because the bloom is highly porous, and its open spaces are full of slag, the bloom must later be reheated and beaten with a hammer to drive the molten slag out of it. Iron treated this way is said to be "wrought", and the resulting nearly pure iron " wrought iron".
Iron appears to have been smelted in the west as early as 3000 BC, but bronze smiths, not being familiar with iron, did not put it to use until much later. In the west, iron began to be used around 1200 BC, presumably as a replacement for bronze, which was becoming harder to come by due to shortages in
The onset of the
Iron Agein most parts of the world coincides with the first widespread use of the bloomery. While earlier examples of iron are found, their high nickelcontent indicates that this is meteoric iron. Other early samples of iron may have been produced by accidental introduction of iron ore in bronzesmelting operations. Chinahas long been considered the exception: by 5th century BC, metalworkers in the southern state of Wuhad invented the blast furnace, and the means to both cast iron and to decarburize the carbon-rich pig ironproduced in a blast furnace to a low-carbon, wrought iron-like material. It was thought that the Chinese skipped the bloomery process completely, starting with the blast furnace and the finery forgeto get wrought iron. Recent evidence, however, shows that bloomeries were used earlier in China, migrating in from the west as early as 800 BC, before being supplanted by the locally developed blast furnace.
Early bloomeries were relatively small, smelting less than 1 kg of iron with each firing. Medieval Europe saw the construction of progressively larger bloomeries, leveling off at around 15 kg on average, though exceptions did exist. The use of
waterwheels to power the bellows allowed the bloomery to become larger and hotter; European average bloom sizes quickly rose to 300 kg, where they leveled off through the demise of the bloomery. Water powered bellows and larger bloomeries also increased the heat to the point where the iron could melt; this was not considered desirable because it allowed carbon to diffuse into the molten iron, producing unworkable pig iron. Molten iron was not desirable until the advent of the blast furnace.
Englandand Wales, despite the arrival of the blast furnace in the Wealdin about 1491, bloomery forges (probably using water-power for a hammer as well as the bellows) were operating in the west Midland region beyond 1580. In Furnessand Cumberland, they operated into the early 17th century and the last one in England (near Garstang) did not close until about 1770.H. R. Schubert, History of the British Iron and Steel Industry (1957). R. F. Tylecote, History of Metallurgy (1991).] It survived in Spainand southern Franceas CatalanForges to the mid 19th century, in Austriaas the "stuckofen" to 1775. In Adirondacks, New York, new bloomeries using the hot blasttechnique were built in the 19th century.Gordon C. Pollard, 'Experimentation in 19th century bloomery production: evidence from the Adirondacks of New York' Historical Metallurgy 32(1) (1998), 33-40.]
* [http://www.ironsmelting.net/ Technology and archaeology of the earliest iron smelting and smithing]
* [http://iron.wlu.edu/Bloomery_Iron.htm Rockbridge bloomery]
* [http://www.wealdeniron.org.uk/Expt/index.htm WIRG experimental bloomery]
* [http://www.davistownmuseum.org/toolPreBlastFurnace.html Precursors of the blast furnace]
* [http://www.unc.edu/courses/rometech/public/content/mines_and_iron/Roger_Smith/roger/BLOOM4.htm Roger Smith's article on bloomery construction]
* [http://science.howstuffworks.com/iron3.htm How Stuff Works]
* [http://iron.wlu.edu/ The Smelter's Art Experimental Iron Production at The Rockbridge Bloomery]
* [http://www.staff.hum.ku.dk/dbwagner/EARFE/EARFE.html Early use of iron in China]
* [http://www.cat-science.com/admin/articles/pdf_990102/7_The_Catalan.pdf The Catalan process for the direct production of malleable iron and its spread to Europe and the Americas PDF]
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.