How to Convert Pig Iron Into Steel

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Turning pig iron to steel is modern alchemy.
Turning pig iron to steel is modern alchemy. (Image: blacksmith image by kuhar from Fotolia.com)

Pig iron is the basic building block of all ferrous metals. It is formed when iron ore is refined in a furnace in the presence of charcoal, limestone and air. It is the basic form of iron used to make decorative wrought iron items. When the pig iron is further refined and a minimum amount of carbon is added, the crystalline structure of the metal changes and steel is produced. Though possible to create at home, the majority of steel is made in enormous batches using heavy machinery.

Things You'll Need

  • Crucible
  • High temperature furnace
  • Pig iron
  • Carbon
  • Glass

Iron to Steel

Fill a crucible with pig iron and carbon. Carbon can be made from charcoal or charred organic material such as bone or wood. The final carbon content of the steel is nearly impossible to predetermine, but filling the crucible three-quarters full with steel and the rest carbon is a good start.

Cap the crucible with broken glass. The glass acts as a seal when it melts and prevents air from reacting with the molten metal thus ruining the chemical reaction needed to make steel.

Place the crucible in the furnace and raise the temperature above 2,786 degrees Fahrenheit, the melting point of iron.

Keep the crucible at temperature for one to three hours so the carbon and iron can combine to form steel.

Cool the crucible by allowing the forge to burn down and the heat to naturally radiate away. Once cool, remove the contents of the crucible, which should look like a dark sponge.

Break the contents, called a bloom, into pieces and sort them. If the reaction was successful there should be chunks of steel intermixed with pieces of slag and other impurities.

Tips & Warnings

  • Often, the bloom will be stuck to the crucible and the only way to remove it is by breaking the crucible as if it were a mold.
  • The process has a tremendous amount of variables and the production of steel is not always successful. Multiple trials may be needed to successfully produce steel at home.
  • The production of steel requires extremely intense heat. Proper safety equipment and respect is necessary to avoid injury.

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