Iron furnace - bush-style bloomery
Smeltmills were water-powered mills used to smelt lead or other metals.
The older method of smelting lead on wind-blown bole hills began to be superseded by artificially-blown smelters. The first such furnace was built by Burchard Kranich at Makeney, Derbyshire in 1554, but produced less good lead than the older bole hill. William Humfrey (the Queen's assay master), and a leading shareholder in the Company of Mineral and Battery Works introduced the ore hearth from the Mendips about 1577. This was initially blown by a foot-blast, but was soon developed into a water-powered smelt mill at Beauchief (now a suburb of Sheffield).
A typical smelt mill had an orehearth and a slaghearth, the latter being used to reprocess slags from the orehearth in order to recover further lead from the slag
A Bole hill (also spelt Bail hill) was a place where lead was formerly smelted in the open air.
The bole was usually situated at or near the top of a hill where the wind was strong. Totley Bole Hill on the western fringes of Sheffield consisted of a long low wall with two shorter walls at right angles to it at each end. At the base of a bole 20-foot (6.1 m) long were laid great trees called blocks. On these were laid blackwork, partly smelted ore about half a yard thick. Then came ten or twelve trees called shankards. On top of these three or four courses of fire trees were laid with fresh ore. This was ignited and burnt for about 48 hours. This smelted lead, which ran down channels provided for the purpose and was cast into sows of about 11 hundredweight. A single firing produced 16 fothers of lead (about 18 tons) from 160 loads of ore (about 40 tons) and 30 tons of wood. Much of the ore was left incompletely smelted having become blackwork. Some of this was smelted in a foot-pump blown furnace, but some was left to be used when the bole was next fired.
Bole smelting was replaced by smelting in smeltmills in the late 16th century. That was in turn replaced by smelting in cupolas, a variety of reverberatory furnace in the 18th century.
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A bloomery is a type of furnace once widely used for smelting iron from 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 slag called 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.
A bloomery consists of a pit or chimney with heat-resistant walls made of earth, clay, or stone. Near the bottom, one or more pipes (made of clay or metal) enter through the side walls. These pipes, called tuyères, allow air to enter the furnace, either by natural draught, or forced with bellows or 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 ore is broken into small pieces and usually 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, it can also 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 ore and additional charcoal are introduced through the top, in a roughly one to one ratio. Inside the furnace, carbon monoxide from 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, it required a low carbon content. The temperature and ratio of charcoal to iron ore must be carefully controlled to keep the iron from absorbing too much carbon and thus becoming unforgeable. Cast iron occurs when the iron melts and absorbs 2% to 4% carbon. Because the bloomery is self-fluxing the addition of limestone is not required to form a slag.
The small particles of iron produced in this way fall to the bottom of the furnace, where they combine with molten slag, often consisting of fayalite, a compound of silicon, oxygen and iron mixed with other impurities from the ore. The mixed iron and slag cool to form a spongy mass referred to as the bloom. 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 (worked), and the resulting iron, with reduced amounts of slag is called wrought iron or bar iron. It is also possible to produce blooms coated in steel by manipulating the charge of and air flow to the bloomery.
Early European bloomeries were relatively small, smelting less than 1 kg of iron with each firing. Medieval Europe saw the construction of progressively larger bloomeries, with a capacity of about 15 kg on average. 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 levelled off with the demise of the bloomery.
As a bloomery's size is increased, the iron ore is exposed to burning charcoal for a longer time. When combined with the strong air blast required to penetrate the large ore and charcoal stack, this may cause part of the iron to melt and become saturated with carbon in the process, producing unforgeable pig iron which requires oxidation to be reduced into cast iron, steel, and iron. This pig iron was considered a waste product detracting from the largest bloomeries' yield, and it is not until the 14th century that early blast furnaces, identical in construction but dedicated to the production of molten iron, were recognized.