An ironworks or iron works is a building or site where iron is smelted and where heavy iron and steel products are made. The term is both singular and plural, i.e. the singular of ironworks is ironworks.

Ironworks succeed bloomeries when blast furnaces replaced former methods. An integrated ironworks in the 19th century usually included one or more blast furnaces and a number of puddling furnaces or a foundry with or without other kinds of ironworks. After the invention of the Bessemer process, converters became widespread, and the appellation steelworks replaced ironworks.

The processes carried at ironworks are usually described as ferrous metallurgy, but the term siderurgy is also occasionally used. This is derived from the Greek words sideros - iron and ergon or ergos - work. This is an unusual term in English, and it is best regarded as an anglicisation of a term used in French, Spanish, and other Romance languages.

Varieties of ironworks

Primary ironmaking

Ironworks is used as an omnibus term covering works undertaking one or more iron-producing processes.[1] Such processes or species of ironworks where they were undertaken include the following:

  • Blast furnaces — which made pig iron (or sometimes finished cast iron goods) from iron ore;
  • Bloomeries — where bar iron was produced from iron ore by direct reduction;
  • Electrolytic smelting — Employs a chromium/iron anode that can survive a 2,850 °F (1,570 °C) to produce decarbonized iron and 2/3 of a ton of industrial-quality oxygen per ton of iron. A thin film of metal oxide forms on the anode in the intense heat. The oxide forms a protective layer that prevents excess consumption of the base metal.[2]
  • Finery forges — which fined pig iron to produce bar iron, using charcoal as fuel in a finery (hearth) and coal or charcoal in a chafery (hearth);
  • Foundries — where pig iron was remelted in an air furnace or in a foundry cupola to produce cast iron goods;
  • Potting and stamping forges with melting fineries using the first process in which bar iron was made from pig iron with mineral coal or coke, without the use of charcoal;
  • Puddling furnaces — a later process for the same purpose, again with coke as fuel. It was usually necessary for there to be a preliminary refining process in a coke refinery (also called running out furnace). After puddling, the puddled ball needed shingling and then to be drawn out into bar iron in a rolling mill.

Modern steelmaking

From the 1850s, pig iron might be partly decarburised to produce mild steel using one of the following:[3]

The mills operating converters of any type are better called steelworks, ironworks referring to former processes, like puddling.

Further processing

After bar iron had been produced in a finery forge or in the forge train of a rolling mill, it might undergo further processes in one of the following:

  • A slitting mill - which cut a flat bar into rod iron suitable for making into nails.
  • A tinplate works - where rolling mills made sheets of iron (later of steel), which were coated with tin.
  • A plating forge with a tilt hammer, a lighter hammer with a rapid stroke rate, enabling the production of thinner iron, suitable for the manufacture of knives, other cutlery, and so on.
  • A cementation furnace might be used to convert the bar iron (if it was pure enough) into blister steel by the cementation process, either as an end in itself or as the raw material for crucible steel.


Most of these processes did not produce finished goods. Further processes were often manual, including

In the context of the iron industry, the term manufacture is best reserved for this final stage.

Notable ironworks

The notable ironworks of the world are described here by country. See above for the largest producers and the notable ironworks in the alphabetical order.


South Africa


United States of America





The largest Japanese steel companies' main works are as follows:




Czech Republic


Great Britain





  1. Hayman, Richard (2005). Ironmaking: History and Archaeology of the British Iron Industry. History Press.
  2. 9 May 2013 (2013-05-09). "A new iron age?". The Why Files. Retrieved 2014-02-06.
  3. Ghosh, Ahindra; Chatterjee, Amit (2008). Ironmaking and Steelmaking: Theory and Practice. Prentice-Hall of India.
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