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Mark  Emig

What lengths have you gone to to scavenge free wrought iron?

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First off- let's qualify that it must be LEGAL scavenging :)

So, I had some friends up this weekend (one of whom is a member here) and we went kayaking on the Hudson river to do some eagle watching. As we pass by one of the old barges (which I was hoping he didn't spot), he see the barge and makes a beeline for it-ooh! wrought iron pins abound! 3/4 rod a couple feet long! Bobbing around in a kayak trying to pull iron out of wood with great difficulty. Meanwhile his girlfriend is just shaking her head, and you could read the thoughts. Oh boy, just what have I gotten myself into with this guy.

So, post your scavenging tales here-added points for throwing your clothes away to fit iron in your suitcase!

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I've gone to some lengths to negotiate for scrap wrought that I sometimes see rusting away in a pile in some out of the way place (from whence it will no doubt eventually be stolen anyway), but have always been met with failure, usually due to the brute ignorance of the owner of said scrap.

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we have big silos here, sometimes they are wrapped with 3/4 in round wrought, I have asked many times, recieved little, get most of mine at auctions.

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Unfortunately, my region is wrought-poor and I have to rely on buying it from online. The few times that I do run across it is in wagon tires, and they go for a premium because they are "antique". Ran across one house, a country mansion from the mid 1800s, that must have had a hundred tires leaning against the trees surrounding the main house. Try as I might to get just one, the owners just wouldn't part with them because they "were integral in telling the story of this old plantation." Never mind the fact that the only story they were telling was how oxidation effects ferrous objects when left exposed to the elements!

Some of them were almost six inches wide and most of them were half an inch thick.

It was a sad day for me.

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Pretty wrought poor here too..In the mountains the old timers used sleds instead of wagons so wagon rim is pretty rare around here..We end up buying all of ours online..If you do find a wagon rim is sold as an antique anyway..

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Just down the road from where I live the barn was torn down for timber salvage. The farm was sold to a cash cropping operation and the barn was an old dairy operation (pre 1920). what wasn't salvaged was dragged down field and burned. I had permission to hunt and shoot groundhogs on the crop farmer's land so I took my .22 with me and while there checked the ashes. In 30 minutes I turned up 6 sets of WI door hinges, all hand forged, and about 5 lb.s on large (8 inch) WI spikes and larger (4 inch) nails. I do however know where there are multiple wagon and buggy rims around the area. Just don't have the room to store them if I bring them home.

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First off- let's qualify that it must be LEGAL scavenging :)

So, I had some friends up this weekend (one of whom is a member here) and we went kayaking on the Hudson river to do some eagle watching. As we pass by one of the old barges (which I was hoping he didn't spot), he see the barge and makes a beeline for it-ooh! wrought iron pins abound! 3/4 rod a couple feet long! Bobbing around in a kayak trying to pull iron out of wood with great difficulty. Meanwhile his girlfriend is just shaking her head, and you could read the thoughts. Oh boy, just what have I gotten myself into with this guy.

So, post your scavenging tales here-added points for throwing your clothes away to fit iron in your suitcase!
Funny thing was you had more Iron in your boat than mine. Great week end by the way.

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I installed a trailer hitch on a minivan in trade for a wagon tire. It is a big one 6 inches wide by 1/2 inch thick. The installation was not easy, I had to use a hole saw to make access holes in the frame to instal the bolts, I broke 2 or three mandrels before I was done. Would have been easier to weld it on

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In the book EARLY AMERICAN IRONWARE by Kauffman c1966 the author describes smiths taking pigs of cast iron and sticking the in the forge while they work. As the cast achieves semi-plasticity it oozes down to the bed of the forge to relump but with a much lower lower carbon content. Just wondering if anyone had worked this way?
When I think how many cast iron window weights I can get my hands on for free, I get slightly giddy. Also, I realize this would not be a terribly efficient process but if it increased our supply of wrought it might be worth it.
Also, if this were to work, would it also work just to throw a heap of cast around the edge of a large brush/bonfire and let it do the same thing?

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Brush/bonfire wouldn't work and I doubt you would get much luck trying to fine with your forge fire---probably spend more in time and money than it would cost to just buy it from the sellers!---including shipping...

One issue is that you are trying to decarburize the cast iron and most of the forge fire where it's hot enough is reducing not oxidizing. You also lose material in oxidation and in a coal fire pick up sulfur which makes the resultant hot short. Most of the puddling methods separated the cast iron and the fuel using reverberatory furnaces
to help lessen sulfur transfer to the metal. Earlier methods---like the Walloon method used real charcoal instead of coal/coke and so didn't have that problem.

I am all for you trying the experiment however; just beware that the resultant material may cost more than silver...
How about putting some cast iron in a crucible and using the propane forge as a puddling furnace? Just remember to wear proper PPE as you will be staring into the furnace a LOT and so eye damage is more of a problem than in just forging.

Also Kelly (whose experiments predated Bessemer's) used refractory lined barrels to do his experiments with making cast iron into steel, so a fairly small scale run should be possible though hideously dangerous as it's a quite exothermic process and molten cast iron does not play well with others.

As for WI collection: I have braved the rattle snakes to pull out the 1/2" dia WI bracing rods from a rotted out and collapsed wooden RR car now a low pile of rubble in the desert.

I once pulled a large wagon tyre out of a dumpster down the alley from my house in inner city Columbus OH---a local florist had used it in a window display and when they were done they trashed it. I have been given a wagon tyre at the trash transfer place (I'm rural so we have to take our trash to a place that consolidates it and hauls it to the dump). The guy who runs it lets me go through the metal pile there. I also have bought a buggy tyre for US$5 from the scrap yard next door.

What I have found is the plain metal tyres sell cheaper than if *any* wood is left associated with them at all.
(I also look for the hub bands as they are often Wi too and a nice size for projects.)

As wagon tyre was a common source of metal for other projects "back in the day" I look for short pieces that have been re-worked into something else---they sell at scrap rate often as they are just bits of "iron" in the junk pile.

Once our church was helping a lady move as her 1880's adobe house was scheduled to be bulldozed, while loading up my pickup I noticed that the disused above ground cistern was being held together by 1" diameter rods and got permission to scrounge them (before iron went so high) 115' of good quality wrought iron! They were installed after the cistern cracked in the 1906 Quakes here in Socorro. Even after 100 years being exposed to the elements I was able to back the nuts off the threaded ends of the rods with a regular adjustable wrench and no penetrating oil!

And of course there is my tale of buying the WI water tank from the old Ohio Penitentiary when they tore it down 3/16" and 5/16" WI plate---the WI cell bars they wanted way too much for as "decorator items" but the water tower I bought at scrap rate.

As for transporting it home; back in the 1970's I once carried a 90 pound carry on onto the airplane as they weighed suitcases but not carryons! I had run across the ruins of an old cabin around 9000' in the Rockies on Vacation and asked the Ranch owner if I could have some of the scrap from the pile nearby...

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I went to meet with a client about a job for a renovation there was window grates they had just taken off the building yes I climbed in the dumpster and put them in the back of my truck.

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A lot of folk out here used to go for the Old West look by putting an old wagon wheel on each side of the drive way to their house half buried in dirt. Well after a few years the termites, sun and rot have done their work and all that is left is the tire so I would go up to the door and ask for it and would usually get it after I would tell them I was a blacksmith and would put it to good use. Sometimes they were just happy to get it gone, that was the best, sometimes a $5 bill would get it but that was as high as I would go, I would then give them my name and number and usually withing six months I'd get a call to come and get it for free. I gave my last two tires to Harold and a long, long tie rod that was maybe 5/8" diameter. If I see a tire in a trash pile I'd still struggle to get it out of the pile rather than see it go to the land fill, that'd be a waste of a rare product.

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Brush/bonfire wouldn't work and I doubt you would get much luck trying to fine with your forge fire---probably spend more in time and money than it would cost....


Why noy bonfires? I believe the temp would be there and here on the border of Mo and Ks, we get plenty of wind to increase the oxygen content. The book didn't have a detailed description of the process so I really am in the dark.

Also is the hammering required in the decarburization process? I was thinking of just making a pile of irons in the center of the fire and letting it go and retrieving the iron afterwards

Thanks for he feedback!

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Why noy bonfires? I believe the temp would be there and here on the border of Mo and Ks, we get plenty of wind to increase the oxygen content. The book didn't have a detailed description of the process so I really am in the dark.

Also is the hammering required in the decarburization process? I was thinking of just making a pile of irons in the center of the fire and letting it go and retrieving the iron afterwards

Thanks for he feedback!
Don't you think that if it were possible to refine cast iron into wrought iron in a bonfire people would have done that in the past and skipped the whole process of building large expensive furnaces and training professionals to run them.

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Thanks Tim---you put it nicely

and about that Carry-on; I was in my 20's and a whole lot dumber about my back back then

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Well not trying to be rude but I can't say thanks. I am on this site to learn. Not just to be told this is what you can and can't do. I ask questions hoping someone will be kind enough to share their experience and their learning but also explain why it didn't work out. An explanation of why might have helped me learn more about oxydizing fires or how much carbon is pulled out of cable if I am trying to weld it into cable damascus. If you dont have the time to fully answer my question, I understand but I would problably learn more by going ahead and doing it even if my results will be a charred spot on the ground and a piece of cast that is half the size it was before.

Again I am not trying to be rude. I appreciate the guys who share and keep me from injuring myself but thanks anyway... I guess.

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I think Tim's answer was rather telling myself: if it was possible to do it in a cheap and easier way; would not they have done so considering all the various hard, difficult and expensive ways they tried?

But if you have the time and resources go wild with experimentation! Back before the internet I tried to forge weld thin high grade cast iron to wrought iron plates as that was one suggestion on how early steels may have been made.

Quite exciting as the cast iron was liquid at forge welding temps for WI and *splashed* when hammered on. Soaking at temp to allow for carbon migration in a piled format would have worked better in my opinion. I have made blister steel from wrought using my propane forge and even taken it too far and got it to cast iron carbon percentages.

And no most bonfires do not sustain high enough temps in an oxidizing way---you can see examples of cast iron slumping in hot fires; but none was able to be reheated and forged back to shape in my personal experience.

However it comes to mind that both in India and China they used to decarburize the surface of cast iron items to make a steel surface layer. IIRC "Metal Technology in Medieval India" mentioned this---I'll check my copy tonight.

You may want to research how they did it; but note they didn't decarb it enough to be able to forge the item afterwards just to give it a steel shell over the cast iron core.

Also window weights are usually about the poorest cast iron alloys you can find, lots of trash in them as they were often the clean up pour at the end of the day. Trying to find a high grade cast iron like bathtubs or radiators where thin sheets had to withstand pressure and hold water/steam might be a better choice to experiment with. Beware of high lead enamel on bathtubs or paint on radiators!

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I have not scavenged any but there is an old stamp mill on the Yahoola creek here in Dahlonega. The iron has a pretty wood grain pattern and is in 20 foot rods about an inch and a half. There must be at least a ton and a half of it. For my actual scavenging, I dig through the recycle bin at the machine shops to get odd shaped scraps.

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Well, I think it's time to rent a tug, build a barge and go to the ships graveyard and get what seems to be a veritable treasure trove.

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"an old stamp mill on the Yahoola creek here in Dahlonega. "

There's only two people in the world that know how to pronounce the name of that town. Those that live there, and those that have lived there!

If you need any help salvaging that wrought iron, hoss, give a holler. I'll be over directly!!

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