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I Forge Iron

Observations about lump charcoal

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I followed this link from another forum; Lump Charcoal ratings

I first used the Cowboy brand, my brother uses it down south for his barbeque.
I found that it heats very hot, but burns very quickly! So I went to a couple local stores looking for brands list on the comparison chart for the longest hottest burning lump in my area. I found Meijer had the Frontier brand. So I bought 5 bags. The pieces are very large, too large. LOTS of ash, it looked like it was snowing! Couldn't get a good heat in the forge, the pieces were too big to concentrate the heat. So we put our last bag of Cowboy in.

By sprinkling a little water on the top of freshly added lump, it slowed the burn down a lot. Not only that but it created a beehive fire as well. I burned the first piece I had in there due to the fire being so hot so quick. Cowboy brand pieces are just the right size, start very easy, and with some water added to the top, burns for a good amoount of time. By adding the water, we burned one bag in the time we would have burned three without water. And got a hotter fire to boot.

I learned about adding water to a coal fire from Backyard Blacksmithing, and thought of trying it on the lump charcoal fire to make it last longer. It worked great!

Cowboy brand is hot, small manageable pieces, burns long (with sprinkled water), actually I soak the top layer with a single hole in the bottom of a soup can on a handle, is $7.50 for 10 pounds, is readily available in most areas. Cowboy brand is also available from Kmart as another name. They use lumber cut-offs from flooring. And when its time to cook lunch, shut off the blowwer and add your steak!


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I use lump charcoal when woking w/ high carbon steel.I have a regular coal fire in the forge.
I have 1/2 a 100lb dumb bell(let the laughter die down); put the char in a pot and after 5-10 hammer curls .I got powder, that I can then put on top of my steel.
Cover w/a steel plate;( to keep the fleas down). I may not be doing anything for the steel ,but it keeps my left arm buff. :D

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  • 3 weeks later...

Utter newbie here...

Just fired up my very first forge the other day using Royal Oak. As Jeff pointed out with that other brand, most of the pieces were pretty large. Hard to keep a localized heat over my stock. Found that dumping it into a 10 gal bucket and smashing it up a bit with a 8lbs sledge seems to work pretty good to reduce it to a good size.

I tripped over watering down charcoal while trying to bank the fire for a bit. I was worried that it'd break down the lump charcoal, but all it did was wash some of the ash to the bottom of my firepot. Was able to bring it back up to a decent forging heat with just a little extra blast.

Lots of sparks from the Royal Oak though. I'll keep my eye out for Cowboy and see if it works any better.

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I use coke in my main forge (mostly a cost thing), but I get through the best part of a thousand Kilos of charcoal each year between demos and teaching groups with archaeological setups. I can't comment on the different brands of charcoal on offer, what with me being in the UK, but maybe some points of interest for those that make their own?

I don't have the time to make enough to supply my needs so I have it made for me. Imported charcoal would be cheaper but it is often in large lumps (BBQ fuel afterall) and is always exotic woods. The Exotic woods are often hard, inexpertly converted (leaving brown ends and over cooked bits) and can come from dubious sources such as mangrove swamps. The charcoal I have made is from domestic (UK) trees, though there are occasionally bits of imported varieties if the collier is clearing gardens and parks (normally its stuff like rhododendron, London plain, etc).

I like using single species, just to see how they work and to find any quirks, but I've yet to find any woods that are unworkable. I've found that the softer woods burn faster but still produce as much usable heat as the harder woods and some woods hold together better than others in the fire (not always correlating to whether they are hard or soft woods). Oak burns well and nicely hot, but does produce a lot of sparks (not fun to stand next to!) and more clinker than I've ever had with other species. Sweet chestnut refuses to burn well and though it does work ok to forge in, it breaks up into non-burning granules in the fire that just smother it. Both oak and sweet chestnut also have a tendency to break up in the bag, creating a lot of dust at the end. Currently I'm using mostly hazel from an over stood coppice; it is very hard and the pieces hold together well in transit as well as in the fire, but are still easily broken if needs be (the only troble with round wood such as coppice is that it tends to roll off the top of the fire!). Earlier this year and much of last I was mostly using birch as that is what was to hand, it was great but did produce a little more ash than say hazel, beech or sycamore.

Ideally I like lumps no larger than golf ball sized, but no smaller than marbles. Too large and the fire is too open and you get hot rather than the steel, but big bits can be broken up. too small and either the bits blow out of the fire (causing a serious hazrad and leaving a void in the heart of the forge) or they smother the fire depending on species and condition.

The condition of the burn makes a huge difference, at least as much as the species and size of piece. If the wood has been incompletely converted to charcoal then it produces more smoke and flames, it also requires more air to get it hot (until you can feed the brown ends into the already hot edges of the forge, here they convert like using raw wood). If the wood is over cooked it is even worse; the charcoal breaks up easily (in bag and forge) and the granuals refuse to burn well leaving a load of dross to be cleared out of the forge regularly. Ideally the charcoal should be glossy black with a glassy tinkle to it, but not flakey or ashy in appearance.

just my 2p worth :)

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