Frequently Asked Questions: How did this thing work?
A fair number of the questions we get at Beckley Furnace concern the operation of the furnace — or of the entire Beckley Furnace complex. A major group of these are very practical ones; basically, people what to know just how this thing worked! Here are some of the questions and some answers:
So, how do you make iron, anyway?
Well, believe it or not, there are several ways to make iron! The one they used at Beckley Furnace is described in a separate post, called “how they made iron“. Have a look!
What is “slag”? It sounds icky.
Slag is a waste product from the iron (and steel) making processes, but it’s not particularly icky. We do have a whole lot of it at Beckley Furnace, and what to do with it has always been a little bit of a problem. Why not take at look at our post about slag and view the video we made.
What’s the gray thing in the shed up near the dam?
Well, one visitor has commented that it looks like a bomb, but it isn’t. Actually, it’s a turbine — a water-powered turbine — that provided the energy for the hot blast during the last decades of production at Beckley Furnace. Take a look at our post “What’s the gray thing?”
Are there missing pieces?
Is everything needed to actually make pig iron there at Beckley Furnace today? Well, the answer is an emphatic NO. Check out this post called “Missing Pieces” that will help you understand what else was needed.
How did the iron ore get into the furnace?
Well, the iron ore, and the charcoal, and the limestone all got into the furnace in the same way: they were dumped in from the top. Here’s a post that describes that process in a little more detail.
How did the water get from the dam to the turbine?
The short answer to this question is “through a penstock”. If you were looking for a slightly more informative answer than that, we’ve got a short post telling what we know (as well as what we do NOT know) about the penstock.
Salamander? Furnace bear? I thought this was a blast furnace, not a zoo!
Well, that’s what the people who worked here called these problems. Here’s a post that will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about both furnace bears and salamanders — and show you examples at Beckley Furnace.
People talk about the “charging wall” — what’s that?
Well, putting the iron ore, charcoal, and limestone into the furnace was referred to as “charging the furnace”. Take a look at our post about how the iron got into the furnace.
Was there always a turbine here at Beckley?
No there wasn’t. For the first years of Beckley Furnace the blast was powered by a water wheel — you can still see the wheel pit where it operated, up just below to the dam, near the turbine display. The turbine was more efficient in low water conditions in the summer, and it didn’t freeze up in the winter, so the water wheel was replaced. Then for the last decade or two that Beckley was operating they switched to a steam engine to power the blast. But for most of its productive life, Beckley Furnace was powered by a turbine.
Where was the water wheel located (when Beckley had a water wheel)?
You can see where it was for yourself! See the post that answers tells exactly where the water wheel was, and what kind of water wheel it was, too!