Shelby Iron Works

Shelby, Alabama




Posted: 03/18/2013  By: Daniel Valles

Charcoal is where wood has been reduced to almost pure carbon. During the smelting of iron ore, the charcoal, as it burns, removes oxygen from the ore.

Until about 1830, all iron made in the United States was produced through the use of charcoal. Shelby furnaces used charcoal throughout their history until the permanent shutdown in 1923.

Shelby Iron owned several thousands acres of timber land from which much of the wood for charcoal came. Many people in the Shelby area made their livings in the production of charcoal. Some landowners burned charcoal themselves or sold timber to other producers. Farmers and former iron workers supplemented their incomes by chopping wood. The company had permanent structures used for charcoal production. Some of these structures, called ovens or kilns, were located near the furnaces and some along the railroad that ran into the timber land.

In 1884, J.A. Edwards of Shelby Iron patented a portable charcoal oven. This was a conical cover made of sheet-iron. It could be raised and then lowered over wood stacked and ready for charring.

After the wood was cut, they were sawn into four-foot sections. Then stacked on end into a tight circular pattern some 45 feet in diameter. A second layer of four foot logs was then stacked on top of this, again, in the same tight pattern. Then the timber was covered with a layer of pine straw, and finally, a layer of dirt. The timber was then set fire at the bottom center by the use of kindling. Through the precise control of air from holes left around the perimeter of the mound, the wood was burned slowly, never allowed to flame. After about a week to ten days, the mound was opened and the finished charcoal raked out.