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A finery forge is a hearth used to fine (i.e., produce) wrought iron, through the decarburization of the pig iron produced by blast furnaces. Finery forges were used as early as 3rd century BC, based on archaeological evidence found at a site in Tieshengguo, China. The finery forge process was replaced by puddling process and the roller mill, both developed by Henry Cort in 1783-4, but not becoming widespread until after 1800.
A finery forge was used to make wrought iron at least by the 3rd century BC in ancient China, based on the earliest archaeological specimens of cast and pig iron fined into wrought iron and steel found at the early Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) site at Tieshengguo. Pigott speculates that the finery forge existed in the previous Warring States period (403–221 BC), because of the wrought iron items from China dating to that period and there is no documented evidence of the bloomery ever being used in China. The fining process involved liquifying cast iron in a fining hearth and removing carbon from the molten cast iron through oxidation. Wagner writes that in addition to the Han Dynasty hearths believed to be fining hearths, there is also pictoral evidence of the fining hearth from a Shandong tomb mural dated 1st to 2nd century AD, as well as a hint of written evidence in the 4th century AD Daoist text Taiping Jing.
In Europe, the finery forge process began to be replaced from the late 18th century by others, of which puddling was the most successful, though some continued in use through the mid-19th century. The new methods used mineral fuel (coal or coke), and freed the iron industry from its dependence on wood to make charcoal.
There were several types of finery forges.
In Swedish Uppland north of Stockholm and certain adjacent provinces, another kind known as the Walloon forge was used, mainly for the production of a particularly pure kind of iron known as oregrounds iron, which was exported to England to make blister steel. Its purity depended on the use of ore from the Dannemora mine. The Walloon forge was virtually the only kind used in Great Britain.
The forge had two kinds of hearths, the finery and the chafery.
In the finery, a workman known as the "finer" remelted pig iron so as to oxidise the carbon (and silicon). This produced a lump of iron (with some slag) known as a bloom. This was consolidated using a water-powered hammer (see trip hammer) and returned to the finery.
The next stages were undertaken by the "hammerman", who in some iron-making areas such as South Yorkshire was also known as the "stringsmith", heating his iron in a string-furnace. Because the bloom is highly porous, and its open spaces are full of slag, the hammerman's or stringsmith's tasks were to beat the heated bloom with a hammer to drive the molten slag out of it, and then to draw the bloom out into a bar to produce what was known as bar iron. In order to do this, he had to reheat the iron, for which he used the chafery. The fuel in the finery had to be charcoal, because impurities in any mineral fuel would affect the quality of the iron.
- Pigott, Vincent C. (1999). The Archaeometallurgy of the Asian Old World. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. ISBN 0-924171-34-0, p. 186-187.
- Ayres, Robert (1989). "Technological Transformations and Long Waves" (PDF). p. 12.
- Wagner, Donald B. (2001). The State and the Iron Industry in Han China. Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies Publishing. ISBN 87-87062-83-6.), pp. 80–83.
- H. Schubert, History of British Iron and Steel Industry c.450 BC to AD 1775 (1957), 272–291.
- A. den Ouden, "The Production of Wrought Iron in Finery Hearths", Historical Metallurgy 15(2) (1981), 63–87 and 16(1) (1982), 29–33.
- K-G. Hildebrand, Swedish Iron in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: Export Industry Before Industrialization (Stockholm 1992).
- P. King, 'The Cartel in Oregrounds Iron: Trading in the Raw Material for Steel During the 18th century", Journal of Industrial History 6 (2003), 25–48.
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