Ep #92 Lee Sauder “Smelting = Art and Science”

Lee began blacksmithing in 1973 at the age of 12, when he began his apprenticeship to Larry Mann. He has been a member of the Artist-Blacksmiths Association of North America since 1974.  He is best known in the blacksmith community for his research and knowledge of smelting or bloomery.  He takes rocks that contain iron ore and melts them into a bloom of iron, then he forges the bloom into sculptures.  In the episode, he talks about the qualities and benefits of working with bloom iron, and how it forge welds like a dream!  He has been an ABANA member since 1974 and he reminisces about the early conferences in those days in our interview.

bloom nails-and-barbwire tamama-ii

What We Talked About

  • Lee has been blacksmithing for about 40 years, he started when he was 12! After school, he would hang out with a couple of blacksmiths in town, Larry Mann and Peter O’Shaunessy. During his summers in college he worked and learned from Ken Barnes in Maine.
  • Lee has been a member of ABANA since 1974 and went to the early ABANA conferences when the total attendee count would be 100 people. He remembers watching Francis Whitaker and Albert Paley demonstrating efficient processes working with large stock.
  • To keep him interested in his craft he took up smelting in 1998. His curiosity of how people got iron in pre-industrial times led him to research the history of smelting.
  • The first time he tried to smelt iron from iron ore, it took him and his friend twelve times over a course of 9 months to be successful. A few things they learned over those 9 months was how to make good charcoal, how to make different kinds of furnaces and air supply’s, and how to identify good iron ore from the earth.
  • Lee’s knowledge and expertise in smelting has offered opportunities to travel around the world lecturing and teaching about smelting. One of his trips took him to Sudan (UCL Qatar) to study with colleagues from the University of London on how the ancient civilization, the Kushites, made iron through smelting.  The archaeologists are researching and studying the remains of a large iron production.  Here’s the documentary about the archaeology project, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPU8Uwa-jBQ
  • Lee teaches one to two smelting classes a year in the US, you can visit his website for the latest scheduled classes.
  • Lee mentions a few online resources about the smelting craft:
    • He has published many shop report articles about his smelting findings on his website
    • There is FB page called Iron Smelters of the World to see what people are doing with it around the world.
    • A smelting forum on the Bladesmith’s forum called Bloomers and buttons.
    • The Historical Metallurgy Society in England will soon publish their back journals online
    • A book called American Iron 1607 – 1900 by Robert Gordan


Guest Links


A Big Thank You to today’s sponsor, ABANA, www.abana.org 

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