Making iron

Iron ore is melted in a blast furnace. This is called smelting. Getty Images

Iron ore is melted in a blast furnace. This is called smelting. Getty Images

Rock containing iron ore is dug out of the earth in open cut mines. The rock is crushed and the iron ore removed.

The iron ore is then put into a special furnace called a blast furnace.  Charcoal, made from coal, and limestone are put into the furnace with the iron ore and air is blasted into it. It gets very hot! The iron ore melts and the liquid iron runs out and cools. This process is called smelting. The cooled iron is called 'pig iron'. 

The 'pig iron' is used to make wrought iron for garden furniture, some tools and horseshoes.

Steel is made from pig iron.

In a different kind of furnace that works very fast, (modern ones run on electricity), the pig iron is melted and some kinds of stuff that are part of the pig iron, called silica, phosphorous (say foss-for-us) and sulphur (say sull-fer) are removed. If silica, phosphorous and sulphur are left in they make the steel weak. The liquid steel cools as bars or rods which are later rolled and flattened into sheets for building ships, machinery and cans, or made into steel girders for building skyscrapers and bridges.

Steel is very strong and is used more than any other metal.

The spire of the Chrylser Building in New York is made of stainless steel. It was built in 1930. © Getty Images

The spire of the Chrylser Building in New York is made of stainless steel. It was built in 1930. © Getty Images

Stainless steel

A special kind of steel is stainless steel. Stainless steel doesn't stain easily and won't rust. It is used in kitchens, to make pots and pans and cutlery. It is also used on the outside of buildings. Bridges are built of it and it is used to build trains, cars and aeroplanes. Surgical instruments are also made with stainless steel. Stainless can be recycles to make new steel.

You can watch a video about how stainless steel is made here.

Recycling steel

Steel is used to make cans. The steel is covered with a layer of tin and then shaped into a cylinder or can shape © Getty Images

Steel is used to make cans. The steel is covered with a layer of tin and then shaped into a cylinder or can shape © Getty Images

  • Recycling steel is good for the environment
  • New steel cans can be made from from recycled steel material. It uses much less energy than producing them from raw materials. This reduces greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere.
  • Recycling steel means that it won't end up in land fill. 
  • So the raw material used to produce new steel is saved. 

How to recycle steel

All types of steel can be recycled, including food tins, bottle tops, paint cans, aerosols and scrap metal. Place cans in your recycling bin or take them to a recycling depot.

History

The Iron Age was a prehistoric time about 4000 years ago when tools and weapons were first made from iron. 

Dark green leafy green vegetables contain iron. Getty Images

Dark green leafy green vegetables contain iron. Getty Images

Our body needs iron

Iron is a mineral used to transport oxygen to all parts of the body. It helps make red blood cells and helps the body fight diseases.

We get iron from the foods we eat. Foods high in iron include fish, liver, sunflower seeds, nuts, beef, lamb, beans, whole grains, dark leafy greens (spinach), dark chocolate, and tofu.