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Oil-fired tilting furnace

How-to books take mystery out of pouring iron

Steve Chastain of Jacksonville, Fla., explains the process of casting molten iron, bronze and aluminum with these two slim volumes.

Is one or both of these unusual books, Iron Melting Cupola Furnaces for the Small Foundry and Build an Oil-fired Tilting Furnace, for you? That pretty well depends on how you answer these important questions:

Do you have rather extensive shop experience and/or are you ‘handy’ and mechanically inclined?

Is your shop fairly well equipped?

Do you have a need to fabricate or cast items to complete a restoration or restorations for which no such parts are now available?

If you answer ‘yes’ to all of the above, you will want to read on:

The author of these two volumes, Steven D. Chastain, is a university mechanical engineering student – and I’ll bet he’s making straight ‘A’ grades. It’s obvious that he effectively melds theory and hands-on follow-through. You’re probably going to relate well with him, too, if his stated philosophy is any measure: ‘I love bringing old engines and machines back to life. I like producing castings and fabrications in my home shop to make the ‘impossible’ project both affordable and viable.’

Build An Oil-Fired Tilting Furnace contains all you need to know about the subject and construction plans for an oil or propane furnace with a 50-pound capacity of aluminum. The author says you can use it to melt as much as 100 pounds of aluminum an hour.

Iron Melting Cupola Furnaces for the Small Foundry shows you how to make a cupola that will produce 35 to 55 pounds of iron every 8 to 12 minutes.

Each of the books provides theory as well as various simple, necessary equations with examples, charts, tables and drawings. Of course, there also are black-and-white photographs that show not only the finished furnace but also other equipment you’ll find essential to build.

Here are a few examples of how the books are organized: In Iron Melting…, Chastain points out the need for a centrifugal fan and devotes a chapter to producing one. First, air supply and blower definitions are given in great detail. This is followed by how to build a pitot tube and manometer (instruments for testing pressure) to test your equipment.

Next, he gives direction on how to calculate airflow and pulley sizes, and potential hazards are discussed – if a 10-inch fan came apart, the blades would have a force of 350 pounds and a speed of 170 miles an hour! Then, and only then, does the book lead you into how to construct the fan.

Through both books, the drawings are first rate – what you’d expect from a trained engineer, and each section includes close-up photographs of each part that you have to make so you can see how it looks.

Of course, you can successfully melt without ever doing a solitary calculation; the author even advises the reader not to be intimidated by the math descriptions supplied. They’re in the books so that if you want to build different-sized units, you’ll have all the ‘tools’ available.

The book also suggests resisting the temptation to build a large cupola until you gain some experience. But, even the smaller ones, when operated properly, will melt 660 pounds of iron in an hour. Oh, yes, and Chastain points out that this amount of production also will require approximately 2 tons of sand.

As an aid to everyone with the itch to build a furnace, both books provide an up-to-date list of suppliers. Iron Melting… gives an almost two-page bibliography, too.

Use these books as an aid to build your own furnace or furnaces and maybe you’ll get the same feeling that the author expresses: ‘When you can make your own parts, you’re no longer limited by ‘what you can buy.’ You’re limited only by your own creativity and imagination. You have a sense of freedom when you can design, cast and build any piece of equipment you can dream up.’ FC

–  Iron Melting Cupola Furnaces for the Small Foundry and Oil-Fired Tilting Furnace were written, illustrated and published by Steven D. Chastain. Iron Melting Cupola Furnaces, published in 2000; ISBN 0-9702203-0-8, 128 pages, 8 1/2 by 10-inch paperback, $19.95 + $2.18 (s/h). Oil-Fired Tilting Furnace, published in 2002, ISBN 0-9702203-1-6, 192 pages, 8 1/2 by 10-inch paperback, $19.95 + $2.18 (s/h). Both books are available from the author at 2925 Mandarin Meadows, Jacksonville, FL 32223; e-mail: or

– Chester Peterson Jr. is a full-time writer and photographer. He has 10 nonfiction books published, including seven ‘tractor’ books.

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