Iron Casting in Guangdong, ca. 1899

Description of the operation of an iron foundry, probably somewhere near Guangzhou (Canton), in 1899, reproduced from an anonymous article in American Manufacturer, 1899, 64: 125, where it is quoted from ‘The Celestial Empire of November 21’.

At Huangkiao we witnessed the operations of a Chinese iron foundry. The furnace was very simple in construction, being made of clay in three sections. The lowermost was what might be called the crucible, and was the receptacle for the molten metal, being about a cubic foot [28 litres] in capacity. The middle section was a ring of the same diameter as the lower section, and about eight inches [20 cm] in height. In this was a hole to receive the blast pipe, the blast being supplied by a native ‘box’ bellowsa of the usual type. The upper section was another ring about a foot [30 cm] high. I was not fortunate enough to see the putting together of the furnace; when I saw it, the operation was begun, and a man was piling on the last of the charge - scrap cast iron and coke. One man was then pumping the blast; I waited till I saw the yellow flame begin to show above the piled up iron, which gradually sank down as that below melted. By and by two men pumped the blast. As the process went on, a still stronger blast was needed, so a third man helped at the bellows, and the pumping grew fast and furious, while one workman, wearing an old broad-brimmed straw hat to protect his head and face from the shower of sparks, stirred the glowing mass with an iron rod. In due time the melting was finished, the molten iron having fallen through to the bottom section of the furnace. The blast was stopped, the bellows disconnected, and the upper and middle sections of the furnace taken off and laid aside. The surface of the molten iron being skimmed of its slag, it was well covered with rice husk ashes. This protected the face of the man who next had to handle it from the intense heat that would otherwise have radiated from the molten iron. This man's duty was to clasp the crucible in his arms, literally hugging it to himself, and to fill the molds arranged around. In this he was assisted by a woman, who raked back the ashes where the iron was to run out. On this occasion plowshares were the result of the operation, the one charge being sufficient to cast about 20. Almost immediately following this man was another, who took the molds apart and removed their contents. No sooner were the molds empty, than the workmen set about repairing their inner surface with a black paste, ready for another casting. Upon inquiry I was told that about 50 catties [30 kg] of iron and 20 catties [12 kg] of fuel constituted one charge for the furnace, and that four meltings were effected in a day's work.

a Feng xiang 風箱 or double-action piston bellows: see SCC, vol. 4, part 2 , pp. 136ff.

This page is a supplementary text for Cast Iron in China and Europe.