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Obtaining wrought iron


Carlos Lara

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I've been looking into getting into making traditional style Japanese koshirae, but I've been having trouble finding wrought iron! Local scrapyards don't really have any, and I've been to thrift stores as well. In June there will be a flea market that I hope I'll be able to get some old railway spikes (but I'll buy anything that looks wrought just in case!). Barring that I found a smith in Ireland that might send some through etsy. I gave it a try, haven't heard back from him after a week or so. Do you guys have any ideas where I can get some, or are any of you willing to do some tailgate sales? If all else fails, I might try to build a backyard puddling furnace, but I'd rather not have to get into that!

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I have quite a bit, chain, structural pieces, wagon tires.  It's mostly a matter of where you are. shipping is the killer.

 

g

"The worst day smithing is better than the best day working for someone else."

 

I said that.

 

If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

- - -G. K. Chesterton

 

So, just for the record: the fact that it does work still should not be taken as definitive proof that you are not crazy.

 

Grant Sarver

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Shipping from the US to Canada is ridiculously expensive, just so you know.  If you're near old farms, look for rotted old horse or ox wagons.  Almost all the metal on those is decent wrought iron, except for the axle hubs (called skeins, made from cast iron) and the seat springs, which, if you're lucky, are shear steel.  Most other horse-drawn farm equipment is a mix of cast iron and steel.  

Wagon tire iron is usually pretty gnarly stuff, but the rest is medium-to-well refined.

Big chain, if wrought, is usually really clean.

Building tie rods are also usually clean, but can surprise you.

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Well, the smith from Etsy came through, and I got it in the mail, 1.2 kilos of it. Looks pretty good! I'll post pictures when I have time. They are actually in Australia. That should keep me busy for now, though still waiting to hear back from Geoff. 

 

With consideration of shipping though, it could get pretty expensive if I keep this up! So I am actually looking into building an oxidizing/reverberatory furnace so I can try puddling cast iron in my backyard. I bought some diatomaceous earth (insect repellent at the hardware store), already had the iron oxide, and I can always get some charcoal. Plan is to build a miniature puddling-style forge for the back yard with fire bricks, welded steel supports, and black clay (coloured with iron oxide) in the critical spots. I'm going to try to propane light it at first, but I'll build a capacity for charcoal into it just in case. I'll post my progress with the experiment as it progresses!

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Helpful hint, here:  Try a simple finery forge before going to the trouble of building a puddling furnace.  You don't have the large volume of slag you need to run a puddling furnace.

 

A finery forge is pretty much the hearth-style forge that people are using to make steel in the Bloomers and Buttons subforum, except you're trying to do the reverse, i.e. turn high carbon iron into low carbon iron.  For that you will need to run it oxidizing, with the air blast directly on the iron as it melts.  You'll need slag for this as well, but you can use silica sand to provide that.  This does require charcoal, and a lot of it.  Not as much as if you were trying to make a steel bloom from wrought, though.  Start with the regular seven-brick hearth, but put the air blast about 3 to 5 cm from the floor, entering dead level.  Chop  your charcoal into 2.5cm cubes.  Turn on the blast, get a good bed of coals going all across the forge, then add more charcoal until it's about half full.  Keep the blast moderate to medium-high.  When all the charcoal is uniformly white hot, add a handful of silica sand and then start melting your cast iron directly in front of the tuyere.  Add a little more sand, say until you've added about equal to the weight of the cast iron you're adding. Now comes the fun part: Once all your iron starts melting, stir it into the sand. As it starts forming the puck in the bottom of the forge, keep turning it into the blast and watch the sparks as the carbon burns off.  It's sort of like puddling, except in an open fire.  You don't want it liquid at this point, but try to keep it pasty.  As it decarburizes more fully it will get stiffer and stiffer, and it will have voids and pockets of molten sand that has absorbed some iron and become slag.  This is your bloom.  Keep that moving in the fire, adding charcoal as needed to maintain a white heat, until it's pretty much stopped sparking like high carbon.  If you're working alone, a five pound/2Kg bloom is about the biggest you can handle; try for a 1kg or smaller until you get the hang of it.  Once it's fully decarburized, lift it out, still at a white heat, and gently forge it into a pancake with a large hammer.  This will consolidate the bloom back into a solid lump.  Don't hit it hard until it's solid.  You'll feel it go from spongy to hard.  When it cools below yellow, put it back in the forge and bring it back to a white heat with the blast turned way down from what you used to melt it, then remove and keep hammering it into a hockey puck-sized chunk.  Then, take that puck and gently forge it into a bar.  Add sand as flux if it starts falling apart. When you have several of these bars, you can start welding them up into larger bars, always drawing in the same direction.  This will set up the classic stringy structure of the wrought iron.  The more you do this stacking and welding, the more refined the iron will get.  

 

Sound easy?  ;)  It's a lot of very hard work, but it's the way it was done between around 1450 and 1780 in western Europe, and it's still easier than puddling unless you have large equipment.  Puddling really increased the rate of production, but it relies on those economies of scale.  You need five to ten times by weight of slag to cast iron, and you have to keep the furnace white hot for long periods.  I'm also pretty sure you wouldn't get good results trying to puddle using propane.  

 

Finery forges are much easier and don't demand large scale production to be useful.  Most small ( two to ten tons per tap) blast furnaces supported two to four finery forges for wrought iron bar production, depending on how much of their cast iron was hollow wares versus pig for sale or trade.  They also universally used water-powered trip hammers of 200-700 pound falling weight to consolidate the bloom and draw it into barstock.  It's possible to do it by hand, especially with a team of strikers, but it takes a lot of time.

 

This is a long-winded way of saying it's generally easier to find wrought than to make it from cast or steel.  

 

After you consider the work it takes, check ebay or etsy Canada for anchor chain.  Or call these guys, the links in the bottom right photo are nice: https://www.piecesofship.com/pageShipSalvageAnchorsPropellers.html  Pretty sure those are wrought.  The dogbone in the middle of this type of stud chain link is cast, don't try to forge those.  They fall out when you cut and straighten the iron anyway.  These guys have good wrought chain, but no price listed... https://marinesalvageantiques.com/product/ship-anchor-chains/  These chains are the source of the wrought iron Japanese toolmakers use.  

 

I'm crazy enough that I enjoy the process of making iron.  It's not the most economical way to get the stuff by a factor of at least ten, though... :lol:

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Thanks Alan. That does sound easier. I had hoped that as long as I had an environment that was oxidizing it would still decarburize the cast! The diatomaceous earth is basically silica sand, apparently. I wonder if I could use a blowdryer or some other type of blower to move the air instead of bellows? I'll go through the bloomery forum to figure out how to build it. 

 

Thanks for the leads on the anchor chain. I'll look into it and see if it's cheaper than getting the bars from my supplier in Australia! That might just keep me in business for long enough I don't have to worry about decarburizing, though I'm still fascinated with the process!

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Sorry I didn't get back to you, this just slipped out of my head.  I messaged you just now.

 

Geoff

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"The worst day smithing is better than the best day working for someone else."

 

I said that.

 

If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

- - -G. K. Chesterton

 

So, just for the record: the fact that it does work still should not be taken as definitive proof that you are not crazy.

 

Grant Sarver

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I've found a source for boom chain, local to me.  I'm going to check it out on Sunday.  Will keep folks apprised.

 

g

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"The worst day smithing is better than the best day working for someone else."

 

I said that.

 

If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

- - -G. K. Chesterton

 

So, just for the record: the fact that it does work still should not be taken as definitive proof that you are not crazy.

 

Grant Sarver

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I have a source for wrought chain, if people are looking for wrought.  It's PNW log boom chain, and there is quite a bit of it at the place right now,  And there is this, I want it, I just can't figure out how to move it.  It's got to weigh #500, maybe more.

 

No description available.

 

There are also a bunch of anchors  and other things.  I'm willing to facilitate for a modest fee.

 

Geoff

 

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"The worst day smithing is better than the best day working for someone else."

 

I said that.

 

If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

- - -G. K. Chesterton

 

So, just for the record: the fact that it does work still should not be taken as definitive proof that you are not crazy.

 

Grant Sarver

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Y'know, at least half the smiths I know have a Subaru key on their chain, myself included.  Well, I have the valet key, got tired of either locking the doors or setting off the alarm every time I squat down in the shop. 

 

And speaking of chain, Wow! :blink:

 

If I didn't have a sizable stash of wrought myself I'd be asking you about this place, looks like a seriously cool scrapyard!

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Thing is, it's not a scrapyard, per se, it's an "antique" store.  Three rooms full of stuff.  Right now there are a ton of dividers and calipers, and probably 100 wooden planes.  Everything from smalls to furniture.  Today we got the chain, including a single link that has been torch cut that weighs 50lbs, 2 vintage bocce balls (lignum vitae I believe) a nice hammered copper candle holder, and some industrial outdoor lamp shades.  Great place .

 

g

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"The worst day smithing is better than the best day working for someone else."

 

I said that.

 

If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

- - -G. K. Chesterton

 

So, just for the record: the fact that it does work still should not be taken as definitive proof that you are not crazy.

 

Grant Sarver

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Funny thing is that still for me wrought iron and antique steel is more easy to obtain then modern. There's an antiques store a few streets away where I can get 17th century wall anchors and fence material, as well as late 19th/early 20th century leaf springs, and cheaper per kg then modern steel. I've even found a piece of wrought iron wall anchor in my street, which I have no idea how it got there (probably from a renovation project). I've got plenty at home, more enough for the rest of my life at my current very slow production rate :)  

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Jeroen Zuiderwijk

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/barbarianmetalworking

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Jeroen, I'm jealous! It's definitely not that easy here! I tried the links Alan gave me for the nautical chain, but neither of them ship to Canada! Here's a picture of the wrought I got from Australia:

 

52899660486_52c9ff9384_b.jpg

 

Looks good! But at $18.50 US per pound, that's pretty expensive. Still probably cheaper than trying to decarburize my own! I'm grateful to Geoff for looking into getting some for me at a more reasonable price!

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  • 3 weeks later...

I got some agricultural silo tortion rods years ago, from a neighbor farmer demolishing and 'upgrading' his facility.  They turned out to be loosly refined wrought iron. This was an upright, cylidrical silo made from vertical strips of concrete strapped together like a barrel with the wrought-iron bands.

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