Making Iron the hard historical way…

This little movie has fascinated me ever since finding it a couple of years ago.

It’s about recreating historical methods of iron production as used in the Netherlands from te iron age until the middle ages.

Last July I’ve had the privilege to work along with some members of this group, at an event of Archaeological Center “Huis van Hilde” in Castricum. In three days, we made and fired a cob oven, like in the movie, but alongside of three other teams.

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Making cob by treading the loam and straw

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Making the base of the oven

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Drying (photo shamelessly stolen from the HVH twitter feed)

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Hammers and bellows

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Firing the oven (Photo HVH)

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Showing materials and results (photo also HVH)

To keep in style, we worked in historical clothes. And believe it or not, at 35°C in the shade, and with ovens that reach a 1200+ degrees, thick woolen clothes are comfortable. Especially when you’ve got to open up that burning oven to release the bloom.

It is a fascinating process to work on. How you can use simple materials (clay, straw, sand, charcoal) to make something that produces iron. And although it seems crude, inefficient and unsophisticated (especially when compared to the modern iron factories), this is how most iron was produced up until the 19th century. Archaeologists estimate that Dutch iron production in the viking age must have been hundreds of tons, that was traded all over Europe.

For me as a woodworker, iron is a magical material; no grain, plastic and moldable, almost plastic like clay. It demands a completely different approach to work with.

I’ve learned a lot from working with this group. Being compiled of an archaeologist, metal restorers, blacksmiths, and people with lots of experience, amount of knowledge they have between them is gigantic. It’s very inspiring to work with them, all open to share their knowledge in a combination of love for the process and passion for the material.

If you want to see this process for yourself. The group is working at the Viking Festival in Eindhoven in June (Whitsun) and at the Iron Symposium in October (also in Eindhoven). More info to follow in due time.

This event was organized by Jaap Hoogendoorn of “Springlevend Verleden”, who does a lot of these (often international) productions and living history events. Always a blast to work with him. Check out his website (Dutch).

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1 Response to Making Iron the hard historical way…

  1. James Louder says:

    What a great post–thanks so much! It brings back memories of our family’s visit, more than twenty years ago, to the Viking archaeological site of L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. There one of the points of interest is the remains of a smithy where Leif Erikson’s men smelted bog-iron from the area’s peaty ground.

    Liked by 1 person

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