If you’re a newcomer to blacksmithing, you may be learning the differences between types of metals and how to acquire them. Steel is a unique substance in the metalworking field because it doesn’t occur in nature. Instead, we must forge steel from other materials, such as iron ore or scrap metals. If you’re curious to learn more about the steelmaking industry, keep reading to learn the main steps of the process for turning raw iron into steel. We’ll delve into the materials needed for steelmaking, the equipment involved, and the overall steel production process.
Materials Needed To Make Steel
The steelmaking process starts with a variety of raw materials. Steel is an alloy and isn’t naturally found as an ore, meaning it must be crafted from a combination of other metals and materials. Steel is made primarily from iron ore, oxygen, and other minerals, including fuel materials that come from coal. In fact, the three main components needed to craft steel are iron ore, coal, and scrap steel. After the mining process of iron ore and metallurgical coal, these materials are shipped off to an industrial plant with the right equipment for steelmaking.
Equipment Involved in Steelmaking
Depending on the method used for steelmaking, there is also a variety of equipment involved during the transition from iron to steel. One of the most common methods of forming steel is to use an oxygen furnace, also called a blasting furnace. Some industrial plants also utilize an electric arc furnace for the electric arc method of recycling existing steel. However, this method uses minimal raw materials, so for the purposes of focusing on the transition of iron to steel, we’ll be digging into the blasting furnace method.
The Steel Formation Process
Once the facility obtains the raw materials and has all the equipment needed, the process of converting iron ore to steel can begin. Explore the details of each step of the basic oxygen steelmaking process below.
Raw Materials Form Liquid Iron
First, steelworkers start by melting down the iron ore to form a molten liquid iron mixture. The temperature inside the furnace must reach over 1700 degrees Celsius in order to melt down the iron ore. A small amount of flux, commonly limestone, is also present in the mixture to help remove impurities during the melting process. High-pressure oxygen is blown into the furnace to react with the elements and melt down the ore to such hot temperatures. This process forms CO and CO2. Meanwhile, the flux removes impurities before the next element is added.
Adding Steel Scrap
At this point, workers may add recycled steel scrap to the molten iron mixture. Some of the carbon present in the scrap steel and iron ore will be converted into CO and CO2, which helps transform the pig iron into steel. Thanks to the pressurized oxygen heating and transforming the mixture, the flux also reacts with various impurities and removes them. From here, the flux can be drained, which leaves behind the desired liquid steel. Some steel may go through additional processes to strengthen it or change its makeup, sometimes adding additional elements to create steel alloys.
Forming and Finishing Steel
You might be wondering how molten steel goes from a burning hot liquid to a solid sheet of steel. The forming and casting processes are responsible for turning molten steel into a solid product. The molten steel enters a large, industrial funnel, which feeds the mixture into a mold for forming. Many steel manufacturers create sheet steel products, so the molds take the form of a large sheet of steel, where it can be cast and sent off for cutting and finishing.
Steel Casting Methods
Whether you create steel with the oxygen furnace method or an electric arc furnace, the steel casting methods stay the same. A continuous casting machine transforms hot or cold steel into plates, sheets, coils, and more. There are three main types of casting machines and methods: hot strip mills, hot rolling, and cold rolling steel. The method applied to the steel will depend on the purpose of the metal. For example, the cold rolling process is typically reserved for steel products that require precise dimensions, such as steel for car parts, motor components, and even steel beverage cans.
Steel Finishing Steps
Once the steel is cast and molded, it emerges from hot or cold rolling for the finishing touches. Manufacturers might size and cut steel into smaller sheets. It may also go through perfecting phases such as annealing or galvanizing to further prepare it for sale or shipment. Some manufacturers also add organic coatings to steel to give it the chrome-like finish that we associate with many steel products in stores and on the market. Common examples of steel products that you might find on the market include everything from food packaging to appliances. Steel is also a common building material for bridges, skyscrapers, and more.
Can You Make Steel at Home?
Even if you don’t work in a large-scale industrial plant with access to blasting furnaces, you can still make steel at home. Many small-scale blacksmiths can make crucible steel right out of their own workshops. In fact, before the 14th century when steelmaking was commercialized, crucible forging was a common ancient steelmaking process. The DIY steelmaking process at home borrows similar techniques and concepts from the commercial version, such as using iron ore or scrap steel, combining it with a flux material, and introducing oxygen to the mix. All you need is a crucible, forge, and temperatures hot enough to melt down pig iron. The commercial techniques of steelmaking can help you learn more about the chemical makeup of iron to steel and how to create your own.
Raw iron goes through many changes to become the steel products that you can find on store shelves. Now that you know more about the process of turning raw iron into steel, are you curious about applying these techniques to your own metalworking? If you’re interested in crafting your own crucible steel at home, browse our selection of graphite crucibles for sale here at Cast Master Elite. You’ll find all the tools and equipment you need for setting up an iron ore melting forge.