Jump to content

Iron Country and Catalan Forges


Scott A. Roush
 Share

Recommended Posts

Over Memorial Day weekend I went up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for a few days of hanging out on the beaches of Lake Superior and to do some exploring. I also went for some black sand collecting but never found any deep enough windrows for collecting (I'm trying again at another location this coming weekend closer to my house).

 

Anyway... The area I went to was the 'hot bed' of iron mining throughout the mid 1800s to the early 1900s (until the good stuff ran out)and there are lots of museums and other historic sites to check out if you are into the history of iron. It's a beautiful, rugged place with lots of exposed ancient bedrock laid down when the land mass was closer to the equator and covered in shallow tropical sea. It is a 'gold mine' for rock collectors and geologists. There is even a place where you can see stromatolites along the road!

 

Our first stop was a water fall that also happened to be the location of an early blast furnace.

 

IMG_2420.jpg

 

IMG_2429.jpg

 

Couldn't resist photographing some Northwoods 'shamrocks' ... actually wood sorrel.

 

IMG_2443.jpg

 

IMG_2445.jpg

 

IMG_2446.jpg

 

IMG_2447.jpg

 

There apparently was not anything left of the original blast furnace site...

 

 

We also took a boat ride along the Superior coast line to see the famous 'Pictured Rocks'.. ancient sandstone deposits showing a myriad of colors due to seepage of iron, copper and other minerals. I liked this tree surviving on an outcrop with it's one root supplying it's needs.

 

IMG_2456.jpg

 

We then went to the location (near Marquette) of a partly restored blast furnace on a beach. The pathway leading to the site was made with slag from the furnace:

 

IMG_2463.jpg

 

I loved seeing this thing! All of a sudden I felt like I was in Europe:

 

IMG_2466.jpg

 

IMG_2467.jpg

 

Here you can see the big chunks of limestone that were brought in as flux:

 

IMG_2491.jpg

 

The beach was loaded with whole ore, partially reduced ore, scrap pig iron and iron nails:

 

IMG_2486.jpg

 

I badly wanted to saw these off and look at the corrosion resistance of this stuff... Phosphoric???:

 

IMG_2487.jpg

 

IMG_2530.jpg

 

MORE COMING

Edited by Scott A. Roush
Link to comment
Share on other sites

At the first blast furnace site I read a reference to how the cast iron made at the furnace was delivered to a 'forge' on the Carp River to be made into various tools,etc. I thought they perhaps really meant a 'refinery' to be cast into implements. But later I saw mention of the Iron Industry Museum which had a 'Catalan Forge' located on the Carp River for producing bloomery iron. This was exciting because I was under the impression that the only iron making that took place up here was cast iron. It was close so we went there.

 

I was a little skeptical at first because this is one of the first signs in the museum... saying 'Catalan Forge' but showing a blast furnace (sorry for the poor picture quality):

 

IMG_2551.jpg

 

And then this which are all apparently pig iron:

 

IMG_2555.jpg

 

But finally I came to the exhibit showing the actual archaeological work:

 

IMG_2559.jpg

 

IMG_2560.jpg

 

IMG_2562.jpg

 

Look at this bloom!

 

IMG_2564.jpg

 

IMG_2565.jpg

 

IMG_2566.jpg

 

The one question I had is what they were doing with the pig iron that was being shipped from the local blast furnace... were they casting, decarburizing? No mention of this... but I'm waiting for the research paper that was published on this site.

 

Anyway... I thought this was an exciting find.

 

(Alan..If you check this out.. please let me know how this 'Catalan' compares to the ones in the Appalachians)

Edited by Scott A. Roush
Link to comment
Share on other sites

How cool is that ? Thanks a lot for sharing those pictures...

Potentially, a government is the most dangerous threat to man's rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great trip, Scott. I love the picture of the sole standing tree atop the stone.

 

I think that the name "Catalan Furnace" was "extended" to many different types of furnaces which may not look much like the originals from Catalonia.

 

There seems to be so much interest in the forum on smelting, refining, carburizing, decarburizing and all the techniques related to the production of steel in the past that I would like to suggest that a gathering could be organized where different furnaces or methods can be demonstrated as well as talks and generally a sharing of knowledge can be had.

Edited by Jesus Hernandez

Enjoy life!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would love to Jesus... And I hope to contribute my own bit with some the stuff I'm working on in terms of a back-water method that I haven't heard anybody talking about. If things go well today with it.. I will post something tomorrow.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the cool pictures, Scott!

 

Unfortunately it's hard to compare those sites to Appalachian "Catalan" bloomeries for the simple reason that none have been excavated. :( The literature tells us that most of these operations were located far from any roads, usually up a hollow in the mountains where there was just enough water to run the blowers a few months of the year, and that the workers only made iron when they needed it.

 

The larger blast furnace sites are very much like the one you visited, but down here we call that forge thingy a finery or chafery fire. Hot blast wasn't used much down here, at least not until well after the Civil War, by which time the iron industry had moved out of the mountains and into the interior low plateau region. They used up all the easy brown ore and magnetite, and went to the hematite beds further west and switched to coke furnaces at the same time.

 

Those blast furnace ruins are a thing of beauty and mystery when you come across one standing in the woods, for sure. B)

 

Robert likes the stonework on the south wall.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So Alan.. Are you saying the thing that they are calling a 'Catalan forge' is more similar to what you call a finery or chafery? What exactly was being done with those? The fact that cast iron was being sent to this place makes me curious....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Exactly. A finery/chafery fire is just a big deep forge in which you decarb cast iron pig in a bath of slag under a good blast drectly on the iron. A true Catalan forge is a smelter, a no-stack smelter to be specific. A very deep pile of charcoal, more or less. B) Not too different from an Oroshigane forge, except you do use ore rather than scraps.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Doug, the Tannehill furnace is a blast furnace for making pig iron. Back in the day there were three of those and five finery forges, as well as a casting house and a big blacksmith shop. The current furnace was rebuilt and put in blast for the bicentennial in 1976, documented in Foxfire 5. There's a lot of literature about the place available, including an archaeological investigation, but they use the real name of the place: Roup's Valley Ironworks. ;)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hmmm, Scott, that's right on the way when I'm driving out to your place for the hammer in. Thanks for posting pics, I'm gonna have to stop in along the way.

 

There seems to be so much interest in the forum on smelting, refining, carburizing, decarburizing and all the techniques related to the production of steel in the past that I would like to suggest that a gathering could be organized where different furnaces or methods can be demonstrated as well as talks and generally a sharing of knowledge can be had.

 

This would be an awesome idea Jesus! I'd defintatly be interested in it.

 

Zeb

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So that big bloom in the picture above... could that be a lump of decarbed cast iron then? I'm starting to think that this 'bloomery' was indeed a cast iron refinery then...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great thread! Excellent pics from Scott and then how convenient to have an archaeologist-craftsman on board to assist with the narration! B)

 

Jesus, I love the idea of a multi-modal metal-making gathering :blink: It'd be tamahagane meets tannehill meets Al-Biruni meets Ulfbehrt et al!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm glad you find it interesting Garret...

 

And Zeb... hopefully you can take your time and enjoy the trip...

 

Also.. I was just looking into the 'American Bloomery Process' referenced above... and there are several like this:

 

Egleston, T., " The American Bloomery Process for making Iron Direct from the Ore". Transactions of the American Institute of Mining Engineers,VIII (1880),pp.515- 550. Valuable contemporary account.

 

So it looks like it was going on at least....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So that big bloom in the picture above... could that be a lump of decarbed cast iron then? I'm starting to think that this 'bloomery' was indeed a cast iron refinery then...

 

Yes, and yes. The trick here is that the sponge iron is always called a "bloom" no matter how it got that way. You can start from ore or you can start from cast, once it's a lump-o-sponge and slag, it's a bloom. B)

 

I highly recommend going down to the pinned bloomers and buttons section and downloading the Overman book on ironmaking from 1852. Once you've got that, search it for the term "catalan." You'll be very happy. ;)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

 

I highly recommend going down to the pinned bloomers and buttons section and downloading the Overman book on ironmaking from 1852. Once you've got that, search it for the term "catalan." You'll be very happy. ;)

 

Alan,

Wow that is a good link to iron making. I find John Percy's books valuable as well, thanks

Jan

 

http://books.google.com/books?id=MFEwAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=john+percy&hl=en&sa=X&ei=bz7GT9nFMcmC2wXtv4jbAQ&ved=0CEUQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=john%20percy&f=false

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Over Memorial Day weekend I went up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for a few days of hanging out on the beaches of Lake Superior and to do some exploring. I also went for some black sand collecting but never found any deep enough windrows for collecting (I'm trying again at another location this coming weekend closer to my house).

 

Anyway... The area I went to was the 'hot bed' of iron mining throughout the mid 1800s to the early 1900s (until the good stuff ran out)and there are lots of museums and other historic sites to check out if you are into the history of iron. It's a beautiful, rugged place with lots of exposed ancient bedrock laid down when the land mass was closer to the equator and covered in shallow tropical sea. It is a 'gold mine' for rock collectors and geologists. There is even a place where you can see stromatolites along the road!

 

Our first stop was a water fall that also happened to be the location of an early blast furnace.

[

/quote]

 

Scott,

This is a great topic, thank you for covering it so well. I have been to Saugus and Tannehill but now it seems Michigan is on my tourist map as well. The ranger at Saugus pointed out that the large waterwheel running the rolling operation actually puts out only about 14 HP.

About 15 years ago a security guard gave me open access to the last blast furnace site here in the SF Bay area..I wandered the place in a dream state for quite a while.

Jan

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...