Perhaps our readers would like to know what were the first words Susan
Richardson uttered after she found her tongue.

“The first thing I’ll do, when I get up to-morrow morning, shall be to
spin some linen yarn as fine as I can spin it, scour and bleach it the
best I know how, weave it, and if I don’t make Tom Breslaw as handsome a
pair of linen shirts as any man in this state ever had to his back, it
will be because I can’t.”

The children all had to take a turn at the stone-hammer. Rob could
strike with it, but could not swing it over his head; besides being
younger, he was much less muscular than Clem, who was very large of his
age. Sue could lift it to the height of her shoulders, Sally but a few
inches. They now began to carry the iron to the shop. Clem and Rob took
each an end of the churn-drill, but the girls insisted on taking hold in
the middle, and entirely monopolized the conveyance of the drills,
wedges, and smaller things, notwithstanding the boys told them they
should think it would look a great deal better for them to go into the
house and help their mother get supper. All the satisfaction they got
was, “It’s nothing to you; mam said we might.”

The first work William Richardson did in the shop was with the remnants
of the kitchen shovel and tongs he had bought to repair his wife’s
tongs, and cutting a piece off the old crane, he repaired the andirons.

Sitting on the anvil, he now looked over the iron and steel spread in
imposing array by the children over the shop, as a militia captain makes
his company take open order on muster-day for the sake of show,
reflecting in what way he should make the most of his treasures, when
Clem, who had been examining the drills with great interest, striking
one upon the other, and listening to the clear, sharp ring thus
produced, so different from the dull sound emitted by the iron, said,–

“Father, what is steel?”

The parent, occupied with his reflections, neither heard nor heeded the

“Who don’t know that, Clem?” replied Robert. “It’s what makes father’s
axe and draw-shave cut: iron won’t cut.”

“I guess I know that as well as you do. But what makes steel cut any
more’n iron? It looks just like it.”

“‘Cause it’s steel.”

“You know a great deal about it–don’t you?”

“What is it, boys?” said the father, rousing up.

“What is steel, father?”

“It’s made out of iron refined and hardened, so as to give it temper.”

“What do they do to it?”

“I don’t know; it’s done in England.”

“Will the temper stay there forever?”

“Yes; you can draw it most all out if you heat it, but if you put it in
cold water it will come back again.”

“What makes you, when you want to burn the handle out of your axe, put
wet cloths all over the edge of it?”

“Because I don’t want to heat the steel and start the temper.”

“What if you did? couldn’t you put it into cold water and make it come

“Perhaps I shouldn’t get the same temper: if the axe cuts well, I prefer
to let well enough alone; if I spoiled it, I should have to go clear to
the village to get John Drew to temper it over.”

“But, father, I seed you take and put the new broad axe in the fire with
no cloth on it, nor nothing, and heat it real hot, so when I spit on it
it sissed.”

“Yes, my son; but I didn’t do that to take the handle out, but to draw
the temper. It was so high tempered it broke, and I couldn’t do
anything with it; so I thought, as it was of no use as it was, I might
as well try to draw down the temper, and if I got too much out, it would
only be going to Drew after all. Do you understand now, my son?”

“Yes, father; but I heard you tell mother you meant to try to temper an

“I mean to try, dear. That’s what I got the iron and steel for.”

“Won’t you spoil it?”

“I expect I shall, a good many, before I learn.”

“Father, I want to see you learn. Can I see you spoil the axes?”

“Yes, child, I shall want you to help me.”

“Think you can learn, father?”

“I guess so.”

“Then I can learn too. Perhaps there’s a man in the steel what lives
there and makes it cut.”

“If there is, he must have a pretty warm berth sometimes.”

“Father, when you learn and I learn, can I make me a hatchet?”

“And me too?” said Robert.

“Yes, I guess so.”

Now we intend as briefly as possible to answer Clem’s first question. It
would be very ridiculous, if a good-looking, nice-feeling boy in the
high school, being asked what made his knife cut, should have to stick
his thumb in his mouth, look like a dunce, and say, “I don’t know.”

We must begin with and say a few things in relation to iron, from which
steel is made.

The iron ore is put into the furnace, a layer of iron ore and another of
coal, together with lime, either in the shape of oyster-shells or stone
lime. It is there melted and run into large junks called _pigs_. The
lime causes all the flint, sand, and earthy matters to melt and separate
from the iron, which, being heaviest, drops to the bottom of the
furnace, while the slag, that is lighter; floats on top, and is taken
off. This is _cast_ iron; you see pigs of it piled up on the wharves in
seaports, the outside incrusted with the sand in which it was run, and
looking as rough, some of it, as the cinders of a smith’s forge. It is
highly charged with carbon, coarse, hard, and brittle; can neither be
filed, welded, nor worked, under the hammer; is more or less filled with
slag and other impurities, and fit only, when melted again and purified,
to be cast into pots, pans, stoves, wheels, and various articles. It is
now melted two or three times more, and slightly hammered, to beat off
some of the slag. Then it is made red hot, and put under steam-hammers.
In old times it was hammered by water power, or by men with sledges.
This is done in order to take out the carbon, that renders it hard and

Probably by this time you wish to know what carbon is, to extract which
from the iron has cost so much labor. Should I give you the definition
of the books, you would probably want that definition defined.

Many boys have seen a diamond: that is carbon in a solid form: pit coal
is solid carbon mixed with sulphur, phosphoros, and other elements.
Charcoal is solid carbon in a nearly pure state. Carbon has so strong an
affinity for oxygen, that when any of the substances that contain it are
burned, they give up their carbon, that instantly mingles with the
oxygen of the air.

Thus, when iron is heated, its pores are opened, the carbon on the
outside is carried away by the air, and more is liberated from within,
to pass off in the same way; the object of the frequent meltings and the
hammering is to expose new surfaces to contact with the oxygen of the
air, and get rid of the carbon, just as the farmer turns his hay, and
brings new surfaces to the sun, to dry off the dew.

As the result of this we have wrought iron, soft, tough, of close and
fibrous, instead of a crystalline or granular texture, that may be made
red hot and quenched in water without hardening or becoming brittle; may
be welded, split, punched, made into wheel-tires, hoes, shovels, axes,
hammers, pitchforks, knives, or razors. But there is one grand defect in
this iron, although it is so tractable that it may be worked under the
hammer into a thousand different shapes at the will of the smith; may be
drawn into wire so fine as to be woven in a loom or made into a watch
spring that weighs only the tenth of a grain, and rolled into leaves as
thin as paper, insomuch that a pound of raw iron costing a cent affords
steel sufficient for seventy thousand watches, worth one hundred and
seventy-five thousand dollars. It is, however, too soft to form a
cutting edge that will stand. Make a pitchfork of it, it is harder work
to stick it into the hay than it is to pitch the hay, as we know from
experience; an axe, it will take all your strength to cut through the
bark, and you must grind it every hour; a razor, you can shave but once,
and then with tears of agony. Make a hammer of it, and it batters up
forthwith; a punch, it bends; a drill, at the first stroke of the sledge
it turns.

What next?

Troughs are made of fire-brick, from eight to sixteen feet in length,
and two or three feet in depth. The troughs are placed in a furnace, and
on the bottom of each of them a mixture of powdered charcoal, ashes, and
salt. Bars of wrought iron are laid upon this mixture half an inch
apart, to the amount, perhaps, of twelve tons, and covered with
charcoal; then another layer of iron and more charcoal, till the trough
is full. The top is covered with cement that has been used before, and
damp sand. The fire is then made in such a manner that the heat passes
all around the troughs, and is kept up from six to ten days, according
to the size of the bars and the purposes for which the contents of the
troughs are wanted.

The heat of the furnace opens the pores of the iron, and sets free the
carbon contained in the charcoal; and as the cement prevents it from
escaping and uniting with the oxygen of the air, it enters the pores of
the iron and impregnates it. The fire is now suffered to die out, and
the metal is taken from the troughs. It is no longer iron, but steel. We
now have that which is the “king of metals,” and by the aid of which the
skilful mechanic can do what would once have been thought miraculous.

The surface of this material is covered with blisters, hence it is
called blistered steel. It resounds when struck. Iron once bent remains
so; but steel is so elastic that it may be bent to an angle of
forty-five degrees, and will spring back to its original position. It is
said that Andrew of Ferrara manufactured swords so elastic, that the
point of the blade would bend to touch the hilt, and spring back again
uninjured. The quality of steel depends upon the quality of the iron
from which it is made. The English have carried the art to great
perfection, nevertheless are obliged to import the iron from which their
razor-steel is made from Sweden. This blistered steel is the kind that
lay upon the floor of William Richardson’s shop, and in the possession
of which he so exulted.

Now you have an article that gives to the axe its temper, the fork its
point, the mainspring of the watch its elasticity, and to all tools an
enduring edge that may be so attempered as to pierce the hardest rocks
and crush the hardest stones; that may be welded to iron, and thus
economized. Do you think it strange that Will Richardson rejoiced at the
acquisition in his circumstances, or reflected long and seriously in
respect to the manner in which he should use his treasures to the best

And now, perhaps, some thoughtful boy may say,–

“Why be at so great expense of labor and material to take carbon from
iron, and then set right at work to put it back again?”

Because there is too much in the cast iron, and so it is all taken out,
and just the right amount put in.

“Why not, then, when decarbonizing the cast iron, leave just enough in,
and save the labor of three processes?”

This has been attempted, but the results have not given satisfaction. It
is not so easy to ascertain when the right amount is left in as when it
is put in. The latter can be determined very accurately by means of
try-bars, the ends of which are left protruding from the troughs. When,
upon drawing one of them out, it is found to be blistered, the process
is done. Although blistered steel be so superior to iron, it has
imperfections, that impair the quality of edge tools manufactured from
it–the result of imperfections in the iron of which it is made. At
times there will be differences even in the same bar; one portion will
be softer than another, or there will be flaws and shelly places.

When the steel made from such iron is wrought into a tool and ground,
the edge is uneven, serrated, softer in one place than another. This
amounts to a fatal defect in those articles where great and uniform
hardness is required, as in screw-taps, wire-drawers, plates, dies, and
stamps for coining and engraving. It is evident, as the carbon is
introduced from the surface, that there will be less in the middle than
at the outside of the bars; thus the steel is not of a uniform
character. In order to obviate this, the bars of steel are made into a
fagot heated in a great forge, welded together with a hammer worked by
machinery, and drawn into bars, which closes up all the fissures and
renders it tough and compact. It is now called shear steel, because
shears for dressing cloth were made of it, and it will take a better
polish than blistered steel. But the process is not yet completed. Bars
of blistered steel that have been the most highly charged with carbon,
and are therefore the hardest, are broken into short pieces,–those
being put together that are of a like hardness,–and placed in pots of
fire-clay, about thirty pounds in a pot, with covers fitting perfectly
tight. The pots are placed in a furnace, and the steel in them melted,
when it is poured into cast iron moulds, and made into ingots. These are
under a tilt-hammer drawn into bars of all sizes. This is cast steel,
and it is evident, must be of uniform quality and hardness. This process
was discovered in 1750, by a citizen of Sheffield, and for many years
kept a secret. It is of this steel that the best tools, swords, knives,
and instruments of all kinds are manufactured. But not even shear steel
was within the reach of most of the smiths at the date of our story,
very little being imported, save in the form of tools.

There is another property pertaining to steel. When heated to a white
heat or cherry red, according to its quality, and quenched in water, it
becomes hard as glass, and very brittle. The higher the temperature, and
the more suddenly it is cooled, the harder and more brittle it becomes.
It is this quality that renders steel the “king of metals,” and has
given to the smith power over all material substances. Even the diamond
is forced to yield the palm, for recently steel has been tempered to
take its place in cutting glass.

The result of William’s reflections was, that, in order to draw and work
the large iron now in his possession, he must have better tools and a
heavy sledge, as he could upon occasion get one of his neighbors to
strike for him. John Bradford lived nearest: he knew that John would be
glad to accommodate him, and take his pay in blacksmith work; besides,
by employing the same person all the time, that individual would acquire
facility, and learn to strike fair.

Commencing with the churn-drill, he cut it off just below the great bulb
in the middle, “upset” the end by striking it endwise upon the anvil,
and by the aid of Clem, with his stone-hammer, formed it into something
like the proper shape for the face end of a sledge. He then partially
formed the “pean,” or top portion, that in a smith’s sledge is
wedge-shaped. He wished to punch the hole for the handle before cutting
off the rest of the drill, in order to hold it by that part, as he had
no tongs that were large enough. To make this hole in so thick a piece
needed, he thought, a steel punch, or at least a steel-pointed one. The
material was at hand in that part of the drill he had just cut off, only
wanting to be pointed.

There was more length than was either necessary or convenient; but he
resolved to point first, and shorten it afterwards. Ignorant of the
nature of steel, or the degree of heat it will endure, he supposed, as
it was very hard, it should be made all the hotter, blew up the fire,
and treated it just as he would a piece of wrought iron. The drill had
been imported from England,–as were nearly all the tools in that
day,–was pointed with the best of double shear steel, and hardened all
that it would bear. The result was, that the moment he struck it with
his hammer, it crumbled and fell to pieces, like so much brick, till, as
there was but about four inches of the steel, nothing remained except
the iron to which it had been welded.

Richardson stood looking at the fragments in utter despair. To lose that
steel was almost like losing a limb; but it was gone past redemption. It
had cost him something to learn that steel will not bear so much heat as
iron. Afraid to meddle with the other end of the drill, he resolved,
since it needed very little alteration, to take off the corners and
square the end on the grindstone; but it proved so hard that he soon
gave up the attempt, and felt that he must run the risk.

“I’ll try it,” he said; “no doubt John Drew spoiled plenty of steel when
he was apprentice, and had a master at his back, to boot.”

Well aware that the other steel was burned, he watched it narrowly, put
on plenty of sand, and before it was white hot, worked it without

All he knew in regard to tempering was, that steel becomes hard by being
quenched in water while red hot, and if plunged in water after that
period, less so; while if suffered to cool of itself, it is not so much
harder than iron. He was ignorant of a fact most important to a smith,
and by the knowledge of which he is enabled to produce any degree of
temper he pleases, after practice and experience of the different
qualities of the various kinds of steel; to wit, that the gradations
from extreme hardness to extreme softness are denoted by the different
colors it assumes while cooling.

Trying with a file the punch that had now cooled on the forge, he found
that it was quite soft, and supposed it needed hardening. Heating it as
hot as he dared, he plunged it in water, held it there till cold, and
then twisted a withe around it for a handle.

He now took a welding heat on his iron, that it might punch the more
easily, and set Robert to hold it, while Clem held the punch. So much
time was occupied in placing the iron and punch, and instructing the
boys how to hold both, that it had cooled, and become harder to punch;
nevertheless, he resolved to try it, and lifting the great beetle,
struck with all his might upon the punch. At the second blow it broke in
two, as short as a pipe-stem.

Clem, who had followed every motion, seeing the blank look of his
father, began to cry; while Rob ran to tell his mother.

“Jackass that I was,” he said, “to make that punch so hard. Didn’t I
know that I could punch hot iron with an iron punch, and have done it?”

Finding that there was still a little steel left, he put it in the fire
again, let it cool to a black heat before he quenched it, then punched
his hole, and finished the sledge. By patient perseverance, and after
many ineffectual attempts, he succeeded in learning to weld steel to
iron, and made himself several pairs of tongs of different shapes and
sizes, also flat punches of files, but of low temper, also chisels. He
did not dare to make them hard, as he did the punch; so he let them
become almost cold before quenching.

He shod Montague’s horse, making all the nails and two new shoes; but he
was all day about it, and had nothing better to pare the hoof than a
jack-knife. No matter for that–the thing once done, and done right:
facility is the result of practice.