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Title: Ysbryd y Mwynwyr - Spirit of the Miners
Ystrad EinionCwm YstwythChimney, Taliesin

Tools/Ore Dressing


One of the reasons that the metal mining landscape of mid Wales differs from that of Cornwall for instance, is the remoteness of the terrain. The cost of shipping coal to mid-Wales and then redistributing the fuel to the many remote mine sites made the installation of fuel-hungry steam engines and their gloriously high engine houses and chimneys - as seen in Cornwall and other areas – uneconomical.
Steam engines were employed at some sites such as Cwmsymlog, Talybont, Llancynfelin and Frongoch but most Ceredigion mines were not deep enough to warrant the investment at the time and relied on the one thing Ceredigion had in abundance – Water.

As the use and need for metals increased the technology used to retrieve the metal ores also changed, although the basic tools developed during the early years of mining – fire, water, hammers and muscle power – were still used until relatively late times.

Hammer Stone

• Fire was the main tool in the early miners toolbox. The process of firesetting involved building a fire against the rockface, heating the face to a suitable temperature and then quenching the rockface with cold water, cracking the rock into manageable pieces. Crude hand tools, bones, deer antlers, primitive iron tools, and stone hammers, known locally as “mauls” would then be used to break up the large pieces of rock and ore.

Coffin Level

• Later, specialised tools such as the miners pick - with a point on one end and a hammer on the other - would develop; these were not only used for ore getting but the driving of early levels. These early levels are now known as “Coffin Levels” due to their shape, being shaped to fit the human body and thus reducing the effort needed for driving by only removing the minimum of rock.

Drilio gyda llaw

• A major advancement came in the 1690s when gunpowder was introduced into mining, although the hand driving of levels was to persist long after - as it was often cheaper to buy labour than powder. To use the powder, holes were “drilled” by hand with teams of men on hammers and a drill turner. The holes were then filled with powder, fused, capped with clay and lit. The burning powder forcibly expanded in the drilled hole splitting the rock.

• Ore and Rock was moved about by means of barrows and as mining developed, levels were fitted with rails to allow material to be removed in trucks. Ore was raised to the surface or moved to higher levels by means of winzes, winches and kibbles, ore bearing rock going to the mill, waste rock being tipped down the hillside to form the spoil heaps that we see today.

• As mining became more complex the support roles of the blacksmith and carpenter became more vital and in time each mine would have its own smithy. Wood being the main construction material used on and in the mines also had its own specialist workers – those that had skills in timbering shafts or erecting mine headframes for instance.

• Later times the larger mines such as Talybont and Cwmystwyth saw the use of rock drills driven either by water, air or electricity.

Ore Dressing

Process of sieving ore

• Metallic ores were shipped from a mine as concentrates; therefore they have to be separated from the gangue (waste) rock on site.
• The process involved crushing and sizing the extracted material to fine particles, and then (because of the higher specific gravity of the metallic particles) the lighter rock particles can separated from the heavier ore by a current or pulse of water. Jiggers, buddles, and in later times shaking tables have all used this principle.
• The process would be a gravity-assisted procedure, with the initial crushing of the rock as it came out of the mine being done at the top of the site.
• Large pieces would be broken with sledgehammers on a metal grill that would only pass material of a size suitable to feed through the crusher.
• A crusher would usually consist of two rollers, which had to be securely anchored to prevent it being torn from its mountings. If driven by a waterwheel it would be mounted in the masonry of the wheel-pit.

A Buddle

• The broken and crushed ore would then be reduced even further using either stamps or rollers. Waterwheel driven stamps were common in England, however in central Wales rollers were more common.
• Lead ore being relatively heavy, it was quite easy to separate from the waste rock. This was utilised by the ingenious “Self Acting Dressing Machinery” produced by George Greens Cambrian Foundry in Aberystwyth during the nineteenth century. Not only used locally at the Talybont Mine and the Rhoswydol Mine near Machynlleth, this device saw service throughout Britain as far as the Greenside Mine in the Lake District and Killhope in the north Pennines.

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