Putting the Iron into the Iron Age
Over at St Fagans National History Museum, blacksmith Andrew Murphy and Celtic Village interpreter Ian Daniel, helped by Heulwen Thomas, set out to produce an iron object from ore. Can they really get the sword from the stone (or even a small pocket knife?)
Ian takes up the story:
Saturday: With the threat of rain looming, we started early to make the most of a dry spell; hoping the weather would remain kind we started on the base of the blomery. The day before, we had moved all of the tools and the great bellows to the village so we could concentrate on the construction.
The building took most of the day, using a mud, hay and sand mix over a lightly-woven greenwood frame. By four o'clock, we had completed the structure, and lit a fire inside to speed the drying process; for the rest of the day, we fed the fire and hoped that it wouldn't rain too heavily in the night
Sunday: The day of the smelt, and today we had some extra help from Hywel, Phillip and Craig, all of them museum assistants. The weather promised to be much better, which helped the outer wall of the bloomery to dry naturally. After lighting the fire, we got to work breaking up the heamatite ore into smaller pieces; all of us shared the job, with one person always working the bellows.
Soon it was time to add the charcoal, then we built up the iron ore and charcoal in layers until it was full. Then it was mainly bellows work, and patching up the bloomery walls as they began to crack, which funnily enough, is a good sign!
After four hours of bellows work, Andy checked the base of the bloomery by opening up the entrance of the tapping arch to see if any slag had formed, and tapped it to see if it had become molten. Soon, we extracted some of the slag and a large bloom of glowing iron, which we cooled in water
After it cooled down, we examined it, and there seemed to be a strong possibility that we had produced Iron - I must admit, it was a very proud moment for me to have taken part in this, and everyone seemed pleased at the result.
When it had cooled enough, we were able to show it to the visitors, whose interest had been growing throughout the day. Many of them came back more than once to see our progress, which was nice.
So all in all, a very successful day!