How Iron & Steel Work Current Affairs Notes | EduRev

Current Affairs : How Iron & Steel Work Current Affairs Notes | EduRev

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How Iron & Steel Work
by Marshall Brain
If you had to pick a few technologies that have had a tremendous 
effect on modern society, the refining of iron and steel would have 
to be somewhere near the top of the list. Iron and steel show up in 
a huge array of modern products. Cars, tractors, bridges, trains 
(and their rails), tools, skyscrapers, guns, ships -- even the 
common steel can -- all depend on iron and steel to make them 
strong and inexpensive. Iron is so important that primitive societies 
are measured by the point at which they learn how to refine iron 
and enter the iron age! 
Have you ever wondered how people refine iron and steel? You 
probably have heard of iron ore, but how is it that you extract a 
metal from a rock? In this edition of HowStuffWorks, you'll learn all 
about iron and steel. 
The Advantages of Iron
Iron is an incredibly useful substance for several reasons: 
http://science.howstuffworks.com/iron.htm/printable (1 of 7)2/4/2003 1:41:39 AM
Page 2


Howstuffworks "How Iron & Steel Work"
  
 
 
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Main > Science > Engineering 
Click here to go back to the normal view!
How Iron & Steel Work
by Marshall Brain
If you had to pick a few technologies that have had a tremendous 
effect on modern society, the refining of iron and steel would have 
to be somewhere near the top of the list. Iron and steel show up in 
a huge array of modern products. Cars, tractors, bridges, trains 
(and their rails), tools, skyscrapers, guns, ships -- even the 
common steel can -- all depend on iron and steel to make them 
strong and inexpensive. Iron is so important that primitive societies 
are measured by the point at which they learn how to refine iron 
and enter the iron age! 
Have you ever wondered how people refine iron and steel? You 
probably have heard of iron ore, but how is it that you extract a 
metal from a rock? In this edition of HowStuffWorks, you'll learn all 
about iron and steel. 
The Advantages of Iron
Iron is an incredibly useful substance for several reasons: 
http://science.howstuffworks.com/iron.htm/printable (1 of 7)2/4/2003 1:41:39 AM
Howstuffworks "How Iron & Steel Work"
?     Relatively speaking, and especially when compared to wood or copper, iron is extremely 
strong. 
?     By heating it, iron is relatively easy to bend and shape using simple tools. 
?     Unlike wood, iron can handle heat, so you can build things like engines from it. 
?     Unlike most substances, you can magnetize iron, making it useful in the creation of electric 
motors and generators. 
?     Iron is plentiful -- 5 percent of the Earth's crust is iron, and in some areas it concentrates in 
ores that contain as much as 70 percent iron. 
?     It is relatively easy to refine iron using simple tools. 
"The Blacksmith," by Jefferson David Chalfant
When you compare iron and steel with something like aluminum, you can see why it was so 
important historically. To refine aluminum, you must have access to huge amounts of electricity. To 
shape aluminum, you must either cast it or extrude it. Iron is much easier to deal with. Iron has been 
useful to man for thousands of years, while aluminum really did not exist in any meaningful way until 
the 20th century. (Fun fact: The 10-inch-high pyramid at the tip of the Washington Monument is made 
of aluminum rather than gold, because gold was less valuable than aluminum in 1884!) 
An object like the flintlock rifle would be impossible to create without iron. Fortunately, iron can be 
created relatively easily with tools that were available to primitive societies. There will likely come a 
day when we become so technologically advanced that iron is completely replaced by aluminum, 
plastics and things like carbon and glass fibers. But right now, the economic equation gives 
inexpensive iron and steel a huge advantage over these much more expensive alternatives. 
http://science.howstuffworks.com/iron.htm/printable (2 of 7)2/4/2003 1:41:39 AM
Page 3


Howstuffworks "How Iron & Steel Work"
  
 
 
  Computer Stuff 
   
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Main > Science > Engineering 
Click here to go back to the normal view!
How Iron & Steel Work
by Marshall Brain
If you had to pick a few technologies that have had a tremendous 
effect on modern society, the refining of iron and steel would have 
to be somewhere near the top of the list. Iron and steel show up in 
a huge array of modern products. Cars, tractors, bridges, trains 
(and their rails), tools, skyscrapers, guns, ships -- even the 
common steel can -- all depend on iron and steel to make them 
strong and inexpensive. Iron is so important that primitive societies 
are measured by the point at which they learn how to refine iron 
and enter the iron age! 
Have you ever wondered how people refine iron and steel? You 
probably have heard of iron ore, but how is it that you extract a 
metal from a rock? In this edition of HowStuffWorks, you'll learn all 
about iron and steel. 
The Advantages of Iron
Iron is an incredibly useful substance for several reasons: 
http://science.howstuffworks.com/iron.htm/printable (1 of 7)2/4/2003 1:41:39 AM
Howstuffworks "How Iron & Steel Work"
?     Relatively speaking, and especially when compared to wood or copper, iron is extremely 
strong. 
?     By heating it, iron is relatively easy to bend and shape using simple tools. 
?     Unlike wood, iron can handle heat, so you can build things like engines from it. 
?     Unlike most substances, you can magnetize iron, making it useful in the creation of electric 
motors and generators. 
?     Iron is plentiful -- 5 percent of the Earth's crust is iron, and in some areas it concentrates in 
ores that contain as much as 70 percent iron. 
?     It is relatively easy to refine iron using simple tools. 
"The Blacksmith," by Jefferson David Chalfant
When you compare iron and steel with something like aluminum, you can see why it was so 
important historically. To refine aluminum, you must have access to huge amounts of electricity. To 
shape aluminum, you must either cast it or extrude it. Iron is much easier to deal with. Iron has been 
useful to man for thousands of years, while aluminum really did not exist in any meaningful way until 
the 20th century. (Fun fact: The 10-inch-high pyramid at the tip of the Washington Monument is made 
of aluminum rather than gold, because gold was less valuable than aluminum in 1884!) 
An object like the flintlock rifle would be impossible to create without iron. Fortunately, iron can be 
created relatively easily with tools that were available to primitive societies. There will likely come a 
day when we become so technologically advanced that iron is completely replaced by aluminum, 
plastics and things like carbon and glass fibers. But right now, the economic equation gives 
inexpensive iron and steel a huge advantage over these much more expensive alternatives. 
http://science.howstuffworks.com/iron.htm/printable (2 of 7)2/4/2003 1:41:39 AM
Howstuffworks "How Iron & Steel Work"
The only real problem with iron and steel is rust. But you can control rust with paint, galvanizing, 
chrome plating or sacrificial anodes. 
Iron Ore
To make iron, you start with iron ore. Iron ore is simply rock that happens to contain a high 
concentration of iron. 
Photo courtesy USGS
Hematite, a common iron ore
One thing that gave certain countries an edge between the 15th and 20th centuries was the 
availability of iron ore deposits. For example, England, the United States, France, Germany, Spain 
and Russia all have good iron ore deposits. When you think of the historical importance of all of these 
countries, you can see the correlation! 
Common iron ores include: 
?     Hematite - Fe
2
O
3
 - 70 percent iron 
?     Magnetite - Fe
3
O
4
 - 72 percent iron 
?     Limonite - Fe
2
O
3
 + H
2
O - 50 percent to 66 percent iron 
?     Siderite - FeCO
3
 - 48 percent iron 
Usually, you find these minerals mixed into rocks containing silica. 
http://science.howstuffworks.com/iron.htm/printable (3 of 7)2/4/2003 1:41:39 AM
Page 4


Howstuffworks "How Iron & Steel Work"
  
 
 
  Computer Stuff 
   
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  Home Stuff 
   
   Stuffo 
   
  Health Stuff 
   
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  People Stuff 
   
 
Main > Science > Engineering 
Click here to go back to the normal view!
How Iron & Steel Work
by Marshall Brain
If you had to pick a few technologies that have had a tremendous 
effect on modern society, the refining of iron and steel would have 
to be somewhere near the top of the list. Iron and steel show up in 
a huge array of modern products. Cars, tractors, bridges, trains 
(and their rails), tools, skyscrapers, guns, ships -- even the 
common steel can -- all depend on iron and steel to make them 
strong and inexpensive. Iron is so important that primitive societies 
are measured by the point at which they learn how to refine iron 
and enter the iron age! 
Have you ever wondered how people refine iron and steel? You 
probably have heard of iron ore, but how is it that you extract a 
metal from a rock? In this edition of HowStuffWorks, you'll learn all 
about iron and steel. 
The Advantages of Iron
Iron is an incredibly useful substance for several reasons: 
http://science.howstuffworks.com/iron.htm/printable (1 of 7)2/4/2003 1:41:39 AM
Howstuffworks "How Iron & Steel Work"
?     Relatively speaking, and especially when compared to wood or copper, iron is extremely 
strong. 
?     By heating it, iron is relatively easy to bend and shape using simple tools. 
?     Unlike wood, iron can handle heat, so you can build things like engines from it. 
?     Unlike most substances, you can magnetize iron, making it useful in the creation of electric 
motors and generators. 
?     Iron is plentiful -- 5 percent of the Earth's crust is iron, and in some areas it concentrates in 
ores that contain as much as 70 percent iron. 
?     It is relatively easy to refine iron using simple tools. 
"The Blacksmith," by Jefferson David Chalfant
When you compare iron and steel with something like aluminum, you can see why it was so 
important historically. To refine aluminum, you must have access to huge amounts of electricity. To 
shape aluminum, you must either cast it or extrude it. Iron is much easier to deal with. Iron has been 
useful to man for thousands of years, while aluminum really did not exist in any meaningful way until 
the 20th century. (Fun fact: The 10-inch-high pyramid at the tip of the Washington Monument is made 
of aluminum rather than gold, because gold was less valuable than aluminum in 1884!) 
An object like the flintlock rifle would be impossible to create without iron. Fortunately, iron can be 
created relatively easily with tools that were available to primitive societies. There will likely come a 
day when we become so technologically advanced that iron is completely replaced by aluminum, 
plastics and things like carbon and glass fibers. But right now, the economic equation gives 
inexpensive iron and steel a huge advantage over these much more expensive alternatives. 
http://science.howstuffworks.com/iron.htm/printable (2 of 7)2/4/2003 1:41:39 AM
Howstuffworks "How Iron & Steel Work"
The only real problem with iron and steel is rust. But you can control rust with paint, galvanizing, 
chrome plating or sacrificial anodes. 
Iron Ore
To make iron, you start with iron ore. Iron ore is simply rock that happens to contain a high 
concentration of iron. 
Photo courtesy USGS
Hematite, a common iron ore
One thing that gave certain countries an edge between the 15th and 20th centuries was the 
availability of iron ore deposits. For example, England, the United States, France, Germany, Spain 
and Russia all have good iron ore deposits. When you think of the historical importance of all of these 
countries, you can see the correlation! 
Common iron ores include: 
?     Hematite - Fe
2
O
3
 - 70 percent iron 
?     Magnetite - Fe
3
O
4
 - 72 percent iron 
?     Limonite - Fe
2
O
3
 + H
2
O - 50 percent to 66 percent iron 
?     Siderite - FeCO
3
 - 48 percent iron 
Usually, you find these minerals mixed into rocks containing silica. 
http://science.howstuffworks.com/iron.htm/printable (3 of 7)2/4/2003 1:41:39 AM
Howstuffworks "How Iron & Steel Work"
Creating Iron
You can see in the previous section that all of the iron ores contain iron combined with oxygen. To 
make iron from iron ore, you need to eliminate the oxygen to create pure iron. 
The most primitive facility used to refine iron from iron ore is called a bloomery. In a bloomery, you 
burn charcoal with iron ore and a good supply of oxygen (provided by a bellows or blower). Charcoal 
is essentially pure carbon. The carbon combines with oxygen to create carbon dioxide and carbon 
monoxide (releasing lots of heat in the process). Carbon and carbon monoxide combine with the 
oxygen in the iron ore and carry it away, leaving iron metal. 
Gold!
Fool's gold, that is... 
Pyrite, FeS
2
The iron sulfide pyrite was often 
mistaken for gold ore because 
of its yellowish coloring. 
In a bloomery, the fire does not get hot enough to melt the iron 
completely, so you are left with a spongy mass containing iron and 
silicates from the ore (the bloom). By heating and hammering the 
bloom, the glassy silicates mix into the iron metal to create wrought 
iron. Wrought iron is tough and easy to work, making it perfect for 
creating tools in a blacksmith shop. 
The more advanced way to smelt iron is in a blast furnace (see this 
extremely nice blast furnace animation). A blast furnace is charged 
with iron ore, charcoal or coke (coke is charcoal made from coal) 
and limestone (CaCO3). Huge quantities of air blast in at the bottom 
of the furnace. The calcium in the limestone combines with the 
http://science.howstuffworks.com/iron.htm/printable (4 of 7)2/4/2003 1:41:39 AM
Page 5


Howstuffworks "How Iron & Steel Work"
  
 
 
  Computer Stuff 
   
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  Science Stuff   
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   Stuffo 
   
  Health Stuff 
   
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Main > Science > Engineering 
Click here to go back to the normal view!
How Iron & Steel Work
by Marshall Brain
If you had to pick a few technologies that have had a tremendous 
effect on modern society, the refining of iron and steel would have 
to be somewhere near the top of the list. Iron and steel show up in 
a huge array of modern products. Cars, tractors, bridges, trains 
(and their rails), tools, skyscrapers, guns, ships -- even the 
common steel can -- all depend on iron and steel to make them 
strong and inexpensive. Iron is so important that primitive societies 
are measured by the point at which they learn how to refine iron 
and enter the iron age! 
Have you ever wondered how people refine iron and steel? You 
probably have heard of iron ore, but how is it that you extract a 
metal from a rock? In this edition of HowStuffWorks, you'll learn all 
about iron and steel. 
The Advantages of Iron
Iron is an incredibly useful substance for several reasons: 
http://science.howstuffworks.com/iron.htm/printable (1 of 7)2/4/2003 1:41:39 AM
Howstuffworks "How Iron & Steel Work"
?     Relatively speaking, and especially when compared to wood or copper, iron is extremely 
strong. 
?     By heating it, iron is relatively easy to bend and shape using simple tools. 
?     Unlike wood, iron can handle heat, so you can build things like engines from it. 
?     Unlike most substances, you can magnetize iron, making it useful in the creation of electric 
motors and generators. 
?     Iron is plentiful -- 5 percent of the Earth's crust is iron, and in some areas it concentrates in 
ores that contain as much as 70 percent iron. 
?     It is relatively easy to refine iron using simple tools. 
"The Blacksmith," by Jefferson David Chalfant
When you compare iron and steel with something like aluminum, you can see why it was so 
important historically. To refine aluminum, you must have access to huge amounts of electricity. To 
shape aluminum, you must either cast it or extrude it. Iron is much easier to deal with. Iron has been 
useful to man for thousands of years, while aluminum really did not exist in any meaningful way until 
the 20th century. (Fun fact: The 10-inch-high pyramid at the tip of the Washington Monument is made 
of aluminum rather than gold, because gold was less valuable than aluminum in 1884!) 
An object like the flintlock rifle would be impossible to create without iron. Fortunately, iron can be 
created relatively easily with tools that were available to primitive societies. There will likely come a 
day when we become so technologically advanced that iron is completely replaced by aluminum, 
plastics and things like carbon and glass fibers. But right now, the economic equation gives 
inexpensive iron and steel a huge advantage over these much more expensive alternatives. 
http://science.howstuffworks.com/iron.htm/printable (2 of 7)2/4/2003 1:41:39 AM
Howstuffworks "How Iron & Steel Work"
The only real problem with iron and steel is rust. But you can control rust with paint, galvanizing, 
chrome plating or sacrificial anodes. 
Iron Ore
To make iron, you start with iron ore. Iron ore is simply rock that happens to contain a high 
concentration of iron. 
Photo courtesy USGS
Hematite, a common iron ore
One thing that gave certain countries an edge between the 15th and 20th centuries was the 
availability of iron ore deposits. For example, England, the United States, France, Germany, Spain 
and Russia all have good iron ore deposits. When you think of the historical importance of all of these 
countries, you can see the correlation! 
Common iron ores include: 
?     Hematite - Fe
2
O
3
 - 70 percent iron 
?     Magnetite - Fe
3
O
4
 - 72 percent iron 
?     Limonite - Fe
2
O
3
 + H
2
O - 50 percent to 66 percent iron 
?     Siderite - FeCO
3
 - 48 percent iron 
Usually, you find these minerals mixed into rocks containing silica. 
http://science.howstuffworks.com/iron.htm/printable (3 of 7)2/4/2003 1:41:39 AM
Howstuffworks "How Iron & Steel Work"
Creating Iron
You can see in the previous section that all of the iron ores contain iron combined with oxygen. To 
make iron from iron ore, you need to eliminate the oxygen to create pure iron. 
The most primitive facility used to refine iron from iron ore is called a bloomery. In a bloomery, you 
burn charcoal with iron ore and a good supply of oxygen (provided by a bellows or blower). Charcoal 
is essentially pure carbon. The carbon combines with oxygen to create carbon dioxide and carbon 
monoxide (releasing lots of heat in the process). Carbon and carbon monoxide combine with the 
oxygen in the iron ore and carry it away, leaving iron metal. 
Gold!
Fool's gold, that is... 
Pyrite, FeS
2
The iron sulfide pyrite was often 
mistaken for gold ore because 
of its yellowish coloring. 
In a bloomery, the fire does not get hot enough to melt the iron 
completely, so you are left with a spongy mass containing iron and 
silicates from the ore (the bloom). By heating and hammering the 
bloom, the glassy silicates mix into the iron metal to create wrought 
iron. Wrought iron is tough and easy to work, making it perfect for 
creating tools in a blacksmith shop. 
The more advanced way to smelt iron is in a blast furnace (see this 
extremely nice blast furnace animation). A blast furnace is charged 
with iron ore, charcoal or coke (coke is charcoal made from coal) 
and limestone (CaCO3). Huge quantities of air blast in at the bottom 
of the furnace. The calcium in the limestone combines with the 
http://science.howstuffworks.com/iron.htm/printable (4 of 7)2/4/2003 1:41:39 AM
Howstuffworks "How Iron & Steel Work"
silicates to form slag. At the bottom of the blast furnace, liquid iron 
collects along with a layer of slag on top. Periodically, you let the liquid iron flow out and cool. 
The liquid iron typically flows into a channel and indentations in a bed of sand. Once it cools, this 
metal is known as pig iron. 
To create a ton of pig iron, you start with 2 tons of ore, 1 ton of coke and half-ton of limestone. The 
fire consumes 5 tons of air. The temperature reaches almost 3000 degrees F (about 1600 degrees C) 
at the core of the blast furnace! 
Pig iron contains 4 percent to 5 percent carbon and is so hard and brittle that it is almost useless. 
You do one of two things with pig iron: 
?     You melt it, mix it with slag and hammer it to eliminate most of the carbon (down to 0.3 
percent) and create wrought iron. Wrought iron is the stuff a blacksmith works with to create 
tools, horseshoes and so on. When you heat wrought iron, it is malleable, bendable, weldable 
and very easy to work with. 
?     You create steel. 
Creating Steel
Steel is iron that has most of the impurities removed. Steel also has a consistent concentration of 
carbon throughout (0.5 percent to 1.5 percent). Impurities like silica, phosphorous and sulfur weaken 
steel tremendously, so they must be eliminated. The advantage of steel over iron is greatly improved 
http://science.howstuffworks.com/iron.htm/printable (5 of 7)2/4/2003 1:41:39 AM
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