The work of a puddler.
The basic product of early ironmaking was 'pig iron'.
Pig iron was brittle in quality due to impurities and the nature of its molecular structure and had to be converted into ' wrought iron ' by re-heating and beating with heavy hammers to impart the strength and tensile qualities required for more robust use.An improved method of achieving this was ' puddling ' - the iron was heated in a reverberatory furnace which was normally top heated, the heat source not being in direct contact with the metal thus reducing contamination. In charge of this furnace was the ' Puddler ', a highly skilled and dangerous occupation which required physical strength, stamina and sustained concentration.
Extracts from "The Iron Puddler" by J.J.Davies
"So those early iron workers learned to puddle forge iron and make it into wrought iron which is tough and leathery and can not be broken by a blow. None of us ever went to school and learned the chemistry of it from books. We learned the trick by doing it, standing with our faces in the scorching heat while our hands puddled the metal in its glaring bath.
After melting down the pig-iron as quickly as possible, which took me thirty minutes, there was a pause in which I had time to wipe the back of my hand on the dryest part of my clothing (if any spot was still dry) and with my sweat cap wipe the sweat and soot out of my eyes.
For the next seven minutes I "thickened the heat up" by adding iron oxide to the bath. This was in the form of roll scale.
The furnace continued in full blast till that was melted. The liquid metal in the hearth is called slag. The iron oxide is put in it to make it more basic for the chemical reaction that is to take place.
Adding the roll scale had cooled the charge, and it was thick like hoecake batter. I now thoroughly mixed it with a rabble which is like a long iron hoe.
"ON THE BOIL"For twenty-five minutes while the boil goes on I stir it constantly with my long iron rabble. A cook stirring gravy to keep it from scorching in the skillet is done in two minutes and backs off blinking, sweating and choking, having finished the hardest job of getting dinner. But my hardest job lasts not two minutes but the better part of half an hour.
"IRON PUDDLING"Little spikes of pure iron like frost spars glow white-hot and stick out of the churning slag.
"COMING TO NATURE"The charge which I have been kneading in my furnace has now "come to nature," the stringy sponge of pure iron is separating from the slag.
"EXTRACTING"The balls are rolled up into three resting places, one in the fire-bridge corner, one in the flue-bridge corner, and one in the jam, all ready for the puddler to draw them.
"EXTRACTING THE BLOOMS"One at a time the balls are drawn out on to a buggy and wheeled swiftly to the squeezer. This machine squeezes out the slag which flows down like the glowing lava running out of a volcano. The motion of the squeezer is like the circular motion you use in rolling a bread pill between the palms and squeezing the water out of it.