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BlackSteve

North Georgia resources (new forum member)

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Hello all! Very excited to have found this website :)

I recently purchased my first home, in the Atlanta suburbs with an acre of woods sloping down to a stream out back, and immediately started fantasizing about what I could do with my first bit of land. Fast forward a few months, and I've cleared and leveled a spot where I'm telling friends I want to build a little bloomery and smelt some local ore.

Why? don't need a reason. But for the sake of the missus and other people who don't "get it", I'm saying that I want to demonstrate that it's possible, using only implements available to pre-1492 locals, to source ore and smelt it into tools more useful in some respect than polished stone tools. I expect to learn, along the way, some reasons why the pre-1492 locals never did get around to doing this, although my suspicion is that they only lacked whatever happy accidents got the ball rolling in the old world. I feel no particular need to do anything authentically, since we have no evidence of any hot metallurgy east of the Mississippi before the Europeans arrived... so using more advanced techniques is fine... but where practical (this is a hobby) and safe I'd prefer to stick to materials a local would have had access to. 

I think I need to:

  • make charcoal
  • find local ore that could be extracted with with stone or wood implements
  • construct a bloomery
  • construct tools for fussing with the bloomery (tongs, anvil, hammer, bellows, tuyeres, ?)
  • fire the bloomery, producing a bloom of questionable 
  • construct a forge for re-heating the bloom
  • fire the forge and beat the iron into some kind of useful shape (perhaps a pick, hammer, or other implement to make the next go easier)

Now, that's actually probably a bit too tall of a project, given that I've done exactly none of this before, so I'm already stepping down my expectations e.g. I want to make charcoal but I don't see the need to tend a collier's pit for 7 days straight so I'll be using some safer/faster if perhaps less efficient method. I also don't feel the need to prove that several of my friends have nothing better to do for several full weekends than work a bellows all day long for me (I already know this is true), nor that you can construct a bellows using only hides (we know this to be true), so an electric blower seems like a good concession to make.

Here are some of my questions:

- Where can I get local ore? I know NW Georgia and as far south as Red Top Mtn had historic low-purity mines, and Birmingham AL had some very rich hematite operations, but I don't know how to get my hands on it. The mines aren't active so I doubt it's for sale, and from what I can see nobody actually sells ore in less than hundreds-of-tons orders anyway. Can I walk off with rocks from public land, e.g. I think I saw another post on here mention finding ore-bearing rocks around the shore of Lake Allatoona? Is there some other source I'm not considering?

- How much ore should I be trying in a maiden attempt here? Too little would be frustrating for obvious reasons. Too much might make the process impractical (time or scale), or maybe reasons I haven't thought of (is it reasonable to break off a smaller hunk of the bloom to shape into a tool?).

- Is a 1:1 charcoal:ore ratio appropriate, and is that by weight or by volume?

- Any ideas on tuyere construction using primitive materials? Making terra cotta pipes with local clay sounds like a PITA but an option, but I'm not sure how I'd keep them from breaking in action. Should I give on this one?

- How much clear space do I need around the bloomery to be safe? Horizontal and vertical (the backyard is heavily wooded, I'd have to do a LOT of cutting to get a 100% clear path to the sky). Also, when I started my little clearing I dug down 4-6" below the eventual floor-height, pulling out all the roots and such for fear of a forge on the dirt above getting hot enough to make them smolder right through the dirt... My research on charcoal-making has me convinced they could smolder and start a fire a week later when they finally hit open air. Am I being safe enough?

- Recommended reading on bloomery / forge construction? I'm thinking square/round, angle and elevation of tuyeres, shape/size of mouth and should there be a depression so I can angle a slag-poker in there, so on.

- Tongs? I don't want to be unsafe just to prove a point, but having some way to handle the hot stuff seems like it would've been a major obstacle to bootstrapping a local metal industry, so I'd like to at least think about how that could be done without already having iron.

- What steps and resources am I leaving out?

- What safety am I forgetting?

Thanks!!

-Steve

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Steve, I think you are very ambitious and excited.   First off, you want to look at the numerous YOU TUBE vids of bloomer operations.   Second, how big a crew do you have to help you?  There are folks in your area that are interested in the same kinds of activities you want to engage in.  Contact Them!!!!!! That is the place to start.

Our ancestors did none of  what you are proposing solo.   The solo blacksmith didn't make an appearance until the twentieth century and even in the 21st large projects need more than one person.

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Steve, you might want to check out Alex Bealer Blacksmith guild at http://www.alexbealer.org/   We meet the third Saturday of each month.  Charcoal can be made in a steel barrel, a 55 gal one works best.  If I remember correctly:

  1. place a screen of heavy rod about 6 inches or so from the bottom.
  2. cut a hole in the side below the screen
  3. place a draft pipe from the screen to the top of the barrel. I'm pretty sure it should have some holes in it.
  4. align the pipe with a hole in the lid.
  5. fill the barrel with hard wood scraps
  6. Light a fire under the screen
  7. You can adjust the draft by blocking off the hole in the lid
  8. The charcoal is ready once the smoke becomes clear, not smokey

The whole idea of charcoal is to burn off most of the impurities and leave only the carbon from the wood. Of course if I have got any of this wrong, feel free to add to or correct these lines.

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I play with this occaisionally. I'm in north Georgia. I go to the Bealer group when I don't have to work. Hmmm....

I don't know about points north, but there's ore beds all over the cartersville area. S'where I get mine. Often ore wasn't mined if it was missing one of the crucial elements in the mid-1800s when it was mined here. Water, wood to make charcoal, or easy transportation.

Charcoal? Knock a bunch of small holes in a 55 gal drum and stand it on some rocks or cinderblocks. Light a fire in it. Throw in small chunks of seasoned hardwood til full-ish. Put the lid on and prop it up a couple of inches. Let burn an hour or so til the smoke changes color, and possibly lights on fire from wood gas. Drop the lid, and CAREFULLY lower it to the ground. It will be shooting flaming wood gas out the bottom, and the sides will be at a red heat. Place rocks on the lid to hold closed and push wet dirt around the edges to prevent air getting in. Let sit 24 hrs minimum. Open. If it catches fire again, close it. Make more than you think you need by a factor of um....a lot.

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Steve, I think you are very ambitious and excited.   First off, you want to look at the numerous YOU TUBE vids of bloomer operations.   Second, how big a crew do you have to help you?  There are folks in your area that are interested in the same kinds of activities you want to engage in.  Contact Them!!!!!! That is the place to start.

Our ancestors did none of  what you are proposing solo.   The solo blacksmith didn't make an appearance until the twentieth century and even in the 21st large projects need more than one person.

Thanks! The responses here already look like good leads for making connections. As for ancestors not doing it, that's actually the point... nobody in the eastern U.S. did metallurgy at all, even as a group, before Europeans arrived (and there's only a handful of possible examples in the Pacific Northwest which are inconclusive). That puts this continent at least 5,800 years behind Asia/Europe/Africa, which is GREAT fodder for changing the subject when someone asks me "so why again were you burning rocks all weekend?" :D

Steve, you might want to check out Alex Bealer Blacksmith guild at http://www.alexbealer.org/   We meet the third Saturday of each month.  Charcoal can be made in a steel barrel, a 55 gal one works best. 

I will definitely look into ABBG!!

As for charcoal, I watched some videos online using a 15gal drum inside of a 55gal drum (basically what Nobody Special described below, but on a smaller scale) and thought I'd go that way. Turns out 15gal drums are *really* hard to come by around here, but I found a guy at a machinist's shop who offered to craft a "charcoal maker" doohicky for me out of a 55gal + the pressure tank for an air compressor. I fired that over the weekend and let's just say it wasn't as effective as I hoped. I think the tank is way too far from the fuel to be properly heated; I ended up really cramming fuel in there and then hitting it with a leaf blower to get it really hot, and only then did I see volatiles coming out of the compressor tank (I made a short video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TW2ZBzOGa40).

I play with this occaisionally. I'm in north Georgia. I go to the Bealer group when I don't have to work. Hmmm....

I don't know about points north, but there's ore beds all over the cartersville area. S'where I get mine. Often ore wasn't mined if it was missing one of the crucial elements in the mid-1800s when it was mined here. Water, wood to make charcoal, or easy transportation.

Are those beds things I could get at? I mean, are they either publicly accessible (and legal to remove rocks from), or on private land that I could ask for access to?

Make more than you think you need by a factor of um....a lot.

No idea how much I need. No idea how much ore I want, so can't even guess how much charcoal :P

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Black steve,

 

I think the pressure tank need to be inside the 55 gal drum to be effective. bring a vent line off the top of the pressure tank and down to the bottom of it so that the wood gas that is generated burns and adds heat to the tank.  you should not need a leaf blower.

Russell 

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that was one we built for The Goliad Forge

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Welcome aboard Steve glad to have you. If you'll put your general location in the header you might be surprised how many of the IFI gang live within visiting distance.

Lots of the gang here do blooms, some probably wear bloomers even. IIRC the rule of thumb is 10:1 charcoal to iron but that may be the finished bloom not ore.

You need a crew, it's going to need to cook in the bloomery for quite a while and walking away to go to bed is NOT a good idea. You really don't want to be THAT guy. It can be hard to live down starting a forest fire and could require your total earnings from now on to pay damages.

Looks like you're getting responses form guys reasonably close but if you can't hook up or their ore is too far away, try contacting a local rock club. Even if they just look at you funny asking about iron ore they'll be able to put you in contact with people and materials. When on a road trip I like to pick up a copy of "The Roadside Geology" for whatever area I'm driving through and that state's "Atlas and Gazetteer". I grew up rock hounding, we used to spend weekends licking rocks.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Frosty. I was under the impression you still do lick rocks.

 

Definitely check out youtube for smelts, tatara (japanese) and bloomery(european)

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Frosty. I was under the impression you still do lick rocks.

 

Only the purty ones. B)

Frosty The Lucky.

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