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Pig Iron


I lost the post, but is the gentleman who had the list of books
about tsubas still out there with the listing?

You mentioned ‘‘Pig Iron’’, is that the same metal used by
foundries to make steel? My dictionary takes me around in
circles: pig iron iron cast into pigs (must be room for a pun
here) pig oblong mass of metal which has been poured
into a mould; mould for such a mass; swine and several more

I have made some tools that are basically for Japanese style
repousse. Several tools are used for inlay work but have yet to
try them on iron (panic).

An long ago teacher in Cerritos,California, Joe Girtner, used to
tell the class how he repaired tsubas.

Bill in Vista
2120 25 October1998


Bill - I am sorry for not responding sooner to your request for
pig iron My son recently married and we’ve been
playing host to a slew of visiting family and friends. I can
refer you to several books on tsuba and their crftsmanship. I
belong to the Northern California Japanese Sword Collectors
Society and they print monthly translations of rare books and
articles, in installments. Several of these discuss the kinds of
alloys used, techniques of inlay, design and patinas. Would you
prefer books of general or would you like me to xerox
some of this stuff? In answer to your question about pig iron:
pig iron is the general term for low carbon iron used in
turn-of-the-century jewellry making and in tsubas. The iron is
alloyed with as low as 0.5 to 1.5% carbon and is therefore quite
soft. The higher the carbon content the harder the iron and then
(along with a few other alloys like zink,nickel,etc.) it becomes
steel. It’s alot like the difference between brass and bronze.
Both of which are copper, but becoming brass when alloyed with
zink and bronze when alloyed with tin. Your standard, hardened
gravers and chisels will work well with pig iron. The biggest
handicap is finding the material. I’m forever on scrapmetal hunts
in old hardware stores, flea markets and antique shops. The most
notable character of pig iron is the ‘wood-grain’ texture you’ll
see at a break. You may want to call around some old
metal-working shops in your area to find a sample to experiment
with. Are you still in contact with your old teacher, Joe
Girtner? Maybe he could supply us with some metal.METALLLL!
That’s what we need, boy! Peace. Kim-Eric Lilot e-mail:



My english is so bad, but I have undrestood you said to Bill
that iron is alloyed with as low as 0.5 to 1.5 carbon and if the
iron is alloyed with higher that it becomes steel.

That isnt correct. Steel is an iron alloyed with carbon since
low carbon until 2% . Above 2% percent it called “Ferro Fundido”
(in portuguese). I dont know the name in english.

Sorry if I was unpolite but I’m metallurgical engineer and when
I’ve read your mail I thought better talk to you.

If you want to talk to me about that subject I will be free.

About the stell’s proprietities are correct. If the steel has
more carbon it is will be more hard and less ductil.

Best Regards,

Lamartine Barbosa
S=E3o Paulo, Brazil


Lamrtine is correct. I should have responded when the definition
of “Pig” iron was given - It was totaly incorrect. Pig Iron is
the crudest form of iron. It is the product produced in the
reduction of iron ore in a blast furnace with coke and a
limestone flux. Some of this iron may be poured into relatively
small molds as ingots called “pigs” These pigs are used to supply
iron foundries and are the material called cast iron. Most of the
iron producty from a blast furnace is removed as molten metal in
a large ladle or special rail car and transered to a secondary
furnace for carbon reduction further refining and alloying. This
furnace at one time would have been a Bessemer converter, an Open
hearth furnace, or Today a BOF (basic oxygen furnace). Pig iron
as produced with up to about 4.25% Carbon. Steel is a form of
iron where the carbon content is reduced generally to below 1
percent with .2 to .4 percent probably being the most widely
produced range. Othe elements are added to produce specific
properties. This a a great simplification- A more complete
explaination of Iron and Steel production and properties would
take a large book to cover even simply. One thing to remwmber
Iron is about the only solvent for carbon therfore never attempt
to cast a diamond in iron or steel if you expect to find the
diamond. Jesse


Hello Jesse, You almost have it, Pig Iron is so named because the
rows of sand cast iron blocks are made side by side and resemble
baby suckling pigs lined up against their mother. The Bessemer
converter takes this iron and ‘converts’ it into steel by blowing
air through the molten iron. This is the process that made Sir
Henry famous and rich. It is still in use. A BOF and a blast
furnace make pig iron as does an open hearth furnace however if
you are clever with a rod you can get wrought iron out of an open

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web site:

Vancouver, B.C. CANADA.


I’ll agree with your derivation of the term “Pig” Iron And the
use of the Bessemer Converter to make steel. You may find a
Bessemer in the third or fourth world But any new ones after the
early 50’s would be odd. The last open hearths were built in the
US in the early 50’s at Inland Steel in E.Chicago ,Indiana and
have been considered a mistake. The first BOF built in the states
was built and operating at about the same time in Detroit. The
process was developed in Austria I believe. The Bessemer
converter is a great air poluter. Wrought Iron was made in a
reverbatory furnace- on the small side as open hearths go. Real
wrought iron would be hard to come by today. The BOF furnace
uses hot metal and steel scrap to make steel. It is not used to
add carbon but to remove it. The purpose of the Bessemer is to
burn out carbon and other imourities. These furnaces are equipted
with environmental controls. The Cast Iron industry in the US and
I believe Canada is pretty dead except for very large foundries
due to environmnental control. In China particularly anything
seems to go which is the reason for all the low cost cast iron
products from there. Continental Europe and Japan rebuilt after
WW2 with BOF based mills. The US was slow to convert and The UK
even slower. Germany, Japan and Korea have taken over the market
for Structural steel and pipe ETC. THe US and the UK mmills I’m
sure were pretty well used after WW2 but undamaged. The German
and Japanese mills were heavily damaged at best. This the loser
had to rebuild and the winner didn’t and fell behind. Mini mills
using electric furnaces and steel scrap with no hot metal added
are a major source of steel today in the US and Canada.The last
major US mill was started in the early 60’s at Burns Harbor
Indiana. There have been many upgrades at other sites but most of
the old mills are gone with a lot with the sites cleared. Pure
Iron would be produced on a specialty basis in an electric
furnace probably with a vacuum remelt step. Jesse


Dear Jesse, Thank you for a most informative post. Is it true
that pure (elemental) iron doesn’t rust? Is there an accessible
source of elemental iron? One of my students uses horseshoe nails
as a source for (almost) pure iron. It fascinates many of us here
at the Design Centre. Any advice would be appreciated. Kind
regards, Rex from Oz


Pure iron is supposed to be much less susceptible to rust. I
don’t think you will find a commonly available source,but I’ll
check arround. Thomas Register is a good place to look. They have
a web site, but I don’t know the url offhand. Jesse


Don’t know about elemental iron being non-rusting, but horse
nails (at least the ones I’ve used) definately do rust. I’m
currently using MUSTAD brand, stamped with the double-w sign, for
making wire-wrapped and soldered horse-nail pendants. They rust,
especially when worn against the skin, albeit slowly. Having
said that, I must add that if they are worn away from skin they
rust VERY slowly.



I’ve located a source of pure iron from a local metallurgist.
Unfortunately it is only available (from this source) in a
granular form. Like a coarse sand. I have several ounzes and am
willing to part with some for shared So Alan…give
us a call. Kim-Eric Lilot at ‘the Saint’.tel: 415.771.2282