Iron Smelting in India by Unknown

1851

In many parts of India iron is made in a very simple way, which has probably been followed for centuries without much change. The iron-worker builds a little furnace of clay, in the form of a tower which is narrower at the top than at the bottom. This tower is only four or five feet high, so that it is after all no bigger than the towers and castles which children build in the sand; but its builder makes good use of it, small though it is. The top of it is open, and at the bottom there are one or two openings in the side, through which the iron-maker can blow the air of a pair of bellows. These bellows are goat-skin bags, which have been made by sewing up whole skins. A hollow bamboo is fitted into the end of each bag, in order to form the pipes of the bellows and there is also another opening in each bag which may be closed very quickly by the man who blows the bellows. He works the bellows by pressing upon the goat-skin bags with his feet, so as to drive out the air through the pipe which is fixed in the end of each bag. He works two bags at one time, pressing first upon one and then upon the other. While he is pressing one bag, he raises the other, which is empty, and allows it to fill again through the hole which has been left in it for that purpose. In this way he contrives to have one bag filling with air, while he is squeezing the air out of the other.

Iron-Smelting in India

Iron-Smelting in India

The smelter, before he can make iron, must have iron ore and fuel, as well as furnace and bellows. The ore he has already dug from the ground and arranged in a little heap near his furnace. It is usually a rather dark-coloured stone, or a soft, red earth. The fuel is charcoal, which the smelter makes by burning wood in a heap more or less covered with earth, in such a way that the wood chars rather than burns away.

A very hot fire is needed to change the stony or earthy iron-ore into iron, or rather to burn out the iron which lies in the ore, and the clay furnace and the bellows are employed for the purpose of maintaining this hot fire. The smelter lights the fire inside the bottom of his furnace, and the tower acts as a sort of chimney. The pipes of the goat-skin bellows are joined on to clay pipes which pass into the bottom of the furnace, and lead the draught of air from the bags into the fire. The bellows-pipes themselves cannot be put into the furnace, because they would take fire.

When the smelter has got his fire well aglow, he places upon it a layer of charcoal, and above that a thin layer of iron-ore. On the top of these he puts another layer of charcoal and another of ore, and thus he goes on loading his furnace until he thinks that he has filled it sufficiently full. Then he works away at his bellows for three or four hours.

At the end of this time the charcoal and much of the ore are burned away, and there is not much left but glowing embers in the bottom of the furnace. The smelter breaks a hole through the furnace, and, poking with his tongs into the ashes, draws out a little red-hot ball of iron, scarcely as large as a cricket ball, which has been formed from the ore, partly by the heat of the fire, and partly by the help of the red-hot charcoal which has acted chemically upon the ore. This little ball of iron is well hammered, in order to knock out any ashes which may have lodged in it, and it is then ready to be worked up into an implement, or to be made into steel for a sword-blade or some other weapon.