From Shop Floor Dust To Carbon Steel

[Chandler Dickinson] did his monthly sweep of the floor in his blacksmith’s shop when it occurred to him that all that metal dust had to go somewhere, didn’t it? So he did the only reasonable thing and made a crude foundry out of cinder blocks, melted his dirt in it, and examined what came out the other end.

His first step was to “pan” for steel. He rinsed all the dirt in a bucket of water and then ran a magnet at the bottom of the bucket. The material that stuck to the magnet, was ripe for reclaimation.

Next he spent a few hours charging a cinderblock foundry with coal and his iron dust. The cinderblocks cracked from the heat, but at the end he had a few very ugly brittle rocks that stuck to a magnet.

Of course there’s a solution to this non-homogenous steel. As every culture with crappy steel eventually discovered, you can get really good steel if you just fold it over and over again.  So he spend some time hammering one of his ugly rocks and folding it a bit. He didn’t get to two hundred folds, but it was enough to show that the resulting slag was indeed usable iron.

He did a deeper examination of the steel last week, going as far as to etch it, after discovering that the metal sparked completely differently when sanded on one side versus the other. It definitely needed work, but all seemed to have worked in the end.

15 thoughts on “From Shop Floor Dust To Carbon Steel

  1. I am by no means an expert, but have you thought about smelting the shop floor dust like they do in steel plants? Heating the dust in a caldron were the heavy iron settles to the bottom and the impurities float to the top. This way you can pour the pure iron into a mold to cool and the ingot can later be worked.

    1. He’s essentially making a cupola furnace here. When refining fine powdered ore at small scale, cupola’s are a bit more sensible. It also allows him to use the coke he already uses in his furnace.

      1. It’s not even that advanced. He’s not liquefying the steel, he’s making bloomery steel / iron. Very similar to the japanese tatara. He’s melting the slag and impurities away and the bits of iron / steel are sticking together well enough to forge weld into a billet.

  2. Hi,
    de-oxydising the iron-oxyde that form while forging (the skin peel of…) is well know, easier then getting iron from ore, but similar in process. The result a non homogenious, dirt polluted something. Refining it by re-welding is needed. This was done in history for almost 2000 years. The amazing thing to me: how did the smiths find out? Steel works so different from bronze, requires flux to keep the oxygen away, a hammer an anvil! The people back then developed these techniques and tools and here we are now a days: doing a diffusion weld in the fire (like for damascene steel) again being an art!

    O.k. primary smelts weld easier then the “contaminated steels” we find today, but still… It would be nice to hear how Chandler Dickinson smelt welded. Anything like historic ore or more like modern steel. Having done the fire welding he must have been forging damascene before. A newby would not get such a homogenious piece. My nod for doing so and sharing!


    1. zinc is a common element in a machine shop floor, at steel melting temps it vaporizes into a white smoke which is very toxic. anyone considering the same might want to consider caution of the smoke. I admit I might be more concerned with the pile of concrete blocks cracking turning into rubble and falling over. I’d say circle it with more blocks to be safer. nothing like it toppling on top of your leg with metal oozing out.
      with real iron ore furnaces they are massive and made with firebrick. reps from major steel companies say if they shut those furnaces down they need to rebuild it so its structurally safe, so they run them 24/7 even holidays. steel unions know so they have a edge against the companies

  3. I’ve been watching Chandler’s videos since he first started them a few years ago. I think it’s pretty cool that up until recently he was a software developer and now he’s making a pretty good go at turning his hobby into a full time thing. Encourages me to try new things from time to time even if the outcome isn’t great, it’s a learning experience.

  4. Iron production from ore just takes the right knowledge, the rest of the materials are either growing around you or under your feet, but it was only in the most recent 4000 years of modern humans’ 100,000 year history that this knowledge has been available. Imagine if people had have had those ideas 40,000 years ago, where would civilisation be at today?

    This is still by far the best video I have see on the subject (of old school, small scale, iron production),

  5. This reminds me of a show I saw where there was a company who would around and vacuum up jewellers workshops, and return any gold dust they found, along with anything else like precious stones or even lost jewellery. Everybody wins because the jeweller would gain money from the amount of material returned, plus the ‘cleaners’ got paid for their troubles. Goes to show that dust can be valuable!

  6. I work with a group of smiths that have all worked meteorite. The process of welding meteorite seems similar enough to be of use here. When first starting to consolidate the mass, the blows are first made toward the tongs from the tip. This keeps the mass from initially being overstruck by keeping it off the anvil.
    The next blows are all to form it into a rectangular shape (forging to square) as all irregular shapes tend to weakness. Avoid the temptation to try to consolidate at odd angles, the consolidation will catch them up. Still keeping all blows _very_ light. You should feel the mass consolidate, as yours did, and it will be ready to actually work. Non-welded internal inclusions will almost always occur, as you cannot get everything to weld when it is so inconsistent to start with.

    I hope this helps.
    -Redbeard the Grey

  7. Granted it was an experiment which chandler does a lot. He learned a lot and so did everybody. So it was a very productive and inspiring attempt. Until you try something out you will never discover new things.

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