I attended the Iron Casting conference at Johnson Atelier last year and
a team of Japanese folks were making steel using the tatara method.
This is a direct process that yields forgeable iron and steel in one
step. What they were demonstrating was a scaled down version of a much
larger furnace operation that had been used in Japan for like 1000 years
for producing sword quality steel (Tame Hagane). Anyway, I think there
is a picture of the miniature furnace on one of theses sites. If i
remember correctly it requires about 100 lbs of charcoal, 80 lbs of high
quality ore (magnetite in this case) and yields about 15-20 lbs of metal
in a process cycle lasting about 10 hours. It is possible and practical
for a small team to accomplish but it takes a LOT of knowledge, careful
preparation, and absolute attention to what is going on. There is Proff.
at Southern Illinois U. Edwardsville that has been to Japan, worked with
these guys and has done it on campus.
Good luck, hope you know what you are getting into.