P-tale-MWIFO-art - 8/26/96
"Making Wrought Iron from Ore: A Pennsic XXIIII Tale" by Wilelm the Smith.
This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: powers at skink.cis.ohio-state.edu (william thomas powers)
Subject: Re: PENNSIC: Don't just stand there; Do Something!
Date: 15 Jul 1996 21:40:17 -0400
Organization: The Ohio State University, Department of Computer and Information Science
I am posting a few stories of things we did last year--hopefully as
wilelm the smith
Making Wrought Iron from Ore: A Pennsic XXIIII Tale
Section the first: "The Prepertario"
It was Pennsic XXIIII and it was hot; but sometimes a smith's gotta do
what a smith's gotta do and no smith will take notice of a little heat
until some passerby remarks that they seem to be on fire. And heat or
no heat we had planned to smelt wrought iron from ore using the direct
process and we were going to do it!
The basic requirements for smelting ore are Fuel, Furnace, Ore and Air.
We had the last two covered since my campmates had, of course, brought
iron ore--(from an abandoned Civil War era mine; *no*no* the local post
period one not the english post period one...); didn't your group bring
ore too? And with 2-3 forges in camp we had plenty of Air handling equipment.
That left the Fuel and the Furnace. Now throughout the medieval and
renaissance periods Wrought Iron was smelted using charcoal as a fuel,
(first commercial use of coke was by Abraham Darby at Coalbrookdale
over 100 years after our period). In fact the term coal and collier
used to refer to charcoal specifically and you used terms like "sea coal"
or "earth coal" to refer the rock variety. Unfortunately an iron furnace
uses quite a bit of charcoal--check out the laws enacted to regulate the
number of iron forges--(term used for a smeltery in period) to prevent
deforestation in period times! Also briquets just don't work. Luckily we
knew of a collier who lived close enough that we could hitch up the wain
in the morning and return by early afternoon with a load of *real* charcoal.
So with the lady of my household driving the team with her baby and a friend
in front and me bumping along in back we traveled to the colliery and
bought 3,0,24 hundredweights of coal (360 pounds) and admired the old
ironwork at the colliery. Then with a stop or two to nurse the child we
returned to Pennsic with me lounging on stacks of 40 pound sacks full
of sharp cornered charcoal chunks. It wasn't comfortable but it was
Having spent most of the day cooled by the breezes of a wain with the
horses well whipped up; I was giving some thought of doing some pattern
welding--a hot task well suited to reducing me to the level of abject misery
experienced by those staked out on the Serengetti plain. But it was not to
be; we were still lacking the furnace for our iron smelting and so I was
pressed into the clay gang and sent to labour in the lowlands, (in the
creek actually) where the location of "the good clay vein" was a closely
guarded secret--so closely guarded that we spend quite a bit of time
finding it all over again everytime we want to use it.
Now two years ago when we had last done an iron run, the creek had been low
and we pulled a cart through it to the clay area. This year the creek was
high taunting us with its wealth as it meandered along the hot parched
Pennsic lands and the cart was no longer; but we did have a wain to carry the
clay up the hill and a large bucket to carry the loads of clay to the wain.
So we started slogging through the muddy water having great fun finding
the hidden holes and tree limbs as we searched for the elusive
"good clay" along the banks of the creek. Finally we found it! In a bank
overgrown with bushes, about a foot under water, right below a camp!
Our band of sturdy, but derranged, desperados numbered but four; my houselord,
a large smith on loan from the Royal camp, his lady and myself. We quickly
assigned roles. One person stood on the bushes holding them back from the
workface, while the other two groveled in the mud with their hands digging
out clay, their noses just inches from the muddy water. The lady managed the
collection bucket. When the bucket was full it was walked back to the wain
dumped and returned and all non-managerial jobs rotated. It is said that
unless you are the lead dog, the view is always the same and I guess our
bucketteer grew bored for as I was groveling for clay I was surprised by
a sort of tidal bore of cold muddy water assaulting my nether regions.
With a cry not a bit like "Mine Goat is Hummell!" I tried to levitate
and found to my dismay that I had not achieved enlightenment. Turning
I saw a highly amused lady---now I was always told not to throw mud at
ladies and especially not at ladies dressed in white with a burly smith
quite a bit larger than myself as their guardian; so with much grumbling
I returned to work and plotted my revenge.
During all of this, the people who were camped on the shore were in a state
of confusion as to who these bedlamites brawling in the brook were and
what should be done with them. Finally they asked what were doing.
Always ready to be helpful we explained that we were "sapping their bank
and did XXX remember to bring the waterproof fuse?"; "No, really we are
collecting mud for the interkingdom mudslinging contest." "Actually it is for
mud wrestling at YYY's party----be sure to come and enter!" Having finally
produced an explanation they looked likely to believe we left well enough
alone and left it at that.
Having filled the bucket one last time, (and having suffered several more
"waterings"); we started back toward the wain, the bucket and crew in the
fore. Suddenly a there was a freak occurrence of water and terrain and a large
wave seemed to engulf the lady from behind, much to the amusement of the
other workers....be that as it may we shared the back end of the wain with
the clay and had a lively debate on which of the passer-by we passed by
could profit from the sudden arrival of a handful of lovely high grade
clay. (what was most amusing was the folk in clean dry *nice* garb who
asked to share our conveyance without noticing that we were soaking wet,
covered with mud and sitting with several hundred pounds of wet clay---
too much sun probably...). Arriving back at camp the clay was dumped
in the traditional clay location and we proceeded on toward clean water,
clean clothes, and a core temperature quite a bit higher than we had been
experiencing. Meanwhile the furnace crew chopped straw, mixed it with the
clay and built a fine furnace.
Continued in Part the twoth: Pennsic Tales---What hath we Wrought Iron(?)
wilelm the smith
Making Wrought Iron from Ore; A Pennsic XXIIII Tale
"What Hath We Wrought Iron(?)"
being Section the Twoth "Add Finitum"
It was Pennsic XXIIII and it was hot; during the quiet hours, 11am to 7pm,
you could hear fighters out on the serengetti spontaneously combust. But
to a blacksmith heat is a tool used to change things, we were studiously
using it to turn gatoraide from a foul concoction into a quite nice tiple
for the most part. Be that as it may we proceeded with our plans to
make Wrought Iron from Ore, (low-tech).
Having lingered in the ritual ablutions required by all those who
participate in the mysterious rites of the Clay Fetchers Guild, (the sinister
lefts can only be hinted at). I returned to camp to find the furnace base
already in place and the clay/straw mixture being allowed to dry a bit
before the tower was built on it. It being a wonderful Pennsic for resting
we decided to rest awhile.
The next day I was constrained by other tasks to leave camp until later
in the day. Upon my return I was amazed by the squat clay and straw edifice
rearing up fully four feet in the center of our camp, its stalwart sides
inscribed with many a strange and mysterious inscription, such as: The
Friends of Weyland Society and others of like import and might. Since
this was a "flame powered device" and we were trying to fulfill the
letter of the Pennsic Laws, a screw cap had been carefully inset into the
top rim of the furnace! (we also had about 1 fire extinguisher per
camp member including several ABC ones of moderate size. Unlike Benvenuto
Cellini we were not willing to trade our habitation for a good pour)
In the furnace a slow fire glowed-speeding its change from a soft mass of
clay and straw into the hard furnace that would resist thousands of degrees
and safely contain the glowing semi-liquid mass of ore and slag we hoped
to create. Taking over the furnace sitting I carefully clayed over the
side door and filled in the cracks where the tueyre would be. I also
added my name and fingerprints to the others destined for immortality.
As the furnace dried out we built the fire up and started adding charcoal
to the flames. When our ironmaster saw that the clay inside the furnace
was starting to glow she made the fateful decision "Let's go for it".
The blower's long vent tube was quickly thrust into the tueyre and clayed
in place. A bench previously made in camp from scrap wood, its legs turned
on the spring pole lathe was positioned closeby and the first of the
blower gang started cranking the blower with a steady regular rhythm.
The blower would be cranked constantly now until the run was over.
With considerable foresight we had imported an expert to examine our
ore and decide if it needed roasting. Unfortunately the answer was yes;
so out came the cans and the ore was cycled through a warming can set on
top of the furnace and then into the roasting can on one of the forges
where it would be heated until it glowed a dull red. Then it would be added
to the furnace, the ironmaster carefully adding layers of charcoal and ore.
When the roasting can was empty it was refilled from the warming can and
the warming can from the ore bucket. Night had fallen but we had plenty of
light from the swirling blue flames that danced over the furnace showing
that a reducing atmosphere was present and hopefully our dull brown dirt
was being changed into bright metal.
The ore still had some surprises for us though; as it heated in the roaster
it would sometimes pop with a report like that of a firecracker and the lid
would resound with the impact of the shards making us jump.
As we settled into a routine the traditional iron-making rites were
done. We cooked sausages over our wonder-cooker---"40 degF to 2000 degF in
30 seconds" One exploded off the "Pennsic XX memorial brat fork" and fell
into the fiery furnace. With great presence of mind our ironmaster fished
it out of the fiery furnace, brushed of the glowing bits and passed it
around for consumption--not bad, hardly crunchy at all!
Still more time passed the blower making a constant background noise
punctuated by the solid thuds of the punkin pole being thrust into
the top of the furnace to make sure that the charge settled evenly
and to set the sparks soaring into air above the fire. Now was when
we serenaded the furnace with polish, german and spanish songs, followed
by a spirited rendition of "The Shooting of Dan's Guru" by a peer
who will remain nameless as long as those weekly cheques don't bounce....
For a while our camp was graced with the presence of a person on vigil
taking out some quiet time and cranking the blower. Charcoal-Ore-Charcoal,
Charcoal-Ore-Charcoal, cranking of the blower, thuds of the punking pole,
flames and sparks dancing higher and lower--on, on into the night.
Finally our ironmaster stopped adding ore and we ran on just adding charcoal
and then, still cranking the blower, letting the fire burn down. When it
was about 1/2 of the way down the furnace the command came, "stop cranking".
The run was over. Now the furnace would be allowed to slowly cool and
in the morning we would gather round to fish out a bloom if we were lucky
and try to figure out what went wrong if we were not.
Now if you believe that, I have the location of a vein of magic pennsic
clay I can sell you. Its been handed down through our campsite for *years*
and if word leaks out that I am offering to you for the low price of
1995 hundred dollars in easy weekly payments.........
As soon as *we* cooled down a bit, made the pilgrimage to the facilities,
replenished our fluids and basically allowed the furnace temperature to
drop below that needed to solidify a bloom, we were yanking the tueyre out
and trying to fish out likely chunks of slag/bloom. The furnace was still
glowing inside and the heat it threw out would make a small dome tent on the
serengetti at mid-afternoon look positively like the nord Nordmark winter.
Tongs and forge rakes flashed; the welding gauntlets were called for and the
punkin pole was wielded once again as piece after piece was pried from the
walls or raked from the glowing coals left in the furnace to the tune of
shouts and chortles of the iron crew. The best, (most likely), were
carefully set aside for closer examination in the morning and the rest was
raked inside a fire brick wall. At last, having ensured the safety of the
camp while we slept, we stumbled to our beds while visions of wrought iron
danced in our heads.
Morning gradually insuinated itself into our shaded camp and started chipping
away at my all too short slumbers. However when I staggered into the
fire-zone of the camp, dragging my right arm behind me, (guess who was
on the blower-team last night!), the ironmaster was there before me,
hunkered down and grading the results of the run. Several nice pieces
had already been hit on the hand crank grinder and showed bright metal
under their slaggy coat. We had succeeded! Starting with brown "dirt"
we had smelted wrought iron using the direct process and a furnace that
would not have looked out of place in many archeological digs of early
And so with the happy iron makers slumped around the furnace looking
at each other and grinning insanely we take our leave of this storied
(cue in song--"This iron and no other was made by ourselves, we'd
pawn our own plasma to.....").
BTW the next step is to reheat the blooms to welding temperature and
consolidate them by gentle hammering to drive out most of the slag.
Folding and welding repeatedly will refine the wrought iron until it
is ready to use in the blacksmiths forge. My plans are to do a blister
steel run using some wrought and forge a pattern welded knife from
blister steel and "homemade" iron. It won't be a fancy blade, just
something an early smith might carry as a use knife.
wilelm the smith who tries to make something every pennsic, (niello, brat
fork--story to come, penannular brooches, cast bronze medallion, pattern
welded billets, bodkin points--where I learned I could forge sitting down,
and try to teach a skill to someone to help "pay" for all those who have
taken time to teach me.)