Medieval Monday: Smelting Iron Ore

My second book, Ancient Voices, is set in a small mountain village called Minhaven—a place full of miners and blacksmiths.  Naturally I had to do some research, to figure out what mining techniques were used back then, and how iron ore dug from the ground was transformed into something that could be used to make things like tools, knives, and swords.

hotslagOne process I had particular trouble envisioning was the smelting process. The simplest and most common furnaces used in the Middle Ages were called bloomeries, and they were typically built out of stone or clay.  Iron ore was placed in through the top, along with a lot of charcoal for fuel, and kept burning for hours.  Very high temperatures had to be maintained for the process to work.  Air could be fed into the bloomery with a hand bellows.  Sometimes limestone or oyster shells were added into the mix as well, so that they would combine with the impurities in the ore.  The end result would be a brittle slag that could be separated from the iron, which could then be hammered into submission by a blacksmith.

I found a couple of great videos that show how the smelting process works.  The first is replicating Edwardian era techniques, which were relatively unchanged from the Middle Ages.  It gives a great demonstration in only about 5 minutes.

For those of you wanting more, this video is more authentic medieval, and shows the entire process, but is considerably longer (about 22 minutes).  Definitely worth the time if you are interested in the topic.  Both videos are very well done. Enjoy!

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3 thoughts on “Medieval Monday: Smelting Iron Ore

  1. David Wiley says:

    Excellent post about an interesting topic. I can’t wait to get a chance to watch these videos. I’ve always been fascinated with blacksmithing and would love to someday get a chance to smelt some ore and forge a sword and shield.

    Liked by 1 person

    • weavingword says:

      That would be really fascinating to watch. Have you ever joined SCA events? There are people in that group who make their own weapons, chainmail, etc. If it was made in the middle ages, someone in the SCA is re-making it now using period methods and materials when possible.

      Like

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