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I Forge Iron

Fire Tools & Tending Coal Fire

Ron Hicks

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Hate to ask , I know this is a beginer ? but just started working with coal.
I have read about building the first fire & about making a cave.

I guess the kind of fire I want is a lose mound where I can silde the bar through the mound.

I build the fire ,the coal cokes and sticks in a big mass. I bust it up with a poker and mound it up. I pile wet coal on each side of the coke.

As the new coal cokes I bust it up and pull it in the middle and repalce with new coal.

Should I let the new coal flame up and burn or keep water put to it and no flame?

How should my poker/rake be made ?
I made one its good for clinkers but not much for a rake.

Also made a crude shovel

If you wouldnt mind I would like to see some fire tools
Thanks Ron

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People have personal habits and preferences on this subject but I'll share my thoughts.

Some of it depends on the coal quality. It sounds like yours will coke properly so that's a good start. In addition, if it has a lot of fines, then water is almost a necessity to get the fire right. If it's stoker size (buckshot up to golf balls with few fines) then you can burn it without adding water, but most coal cokes better with some moisture and it provides a degree of fuel conservation.

I start a fire with dry coke mixed with a bit of green coal over a ball of lit newspaper. Once that is going well, I add more dry coke on top so I get a fireball about 6-8 inches in diameter. At this point, the fire is going well so I can add green coal that I presoaked with water. Before starting, I typically fill a 5-gallon plastic bucket with coal and add a half gallon or so of water - it doesn't have to be exact. The wet coal only goes on the sides of the fire so there is a trough down the middle. The work is laid in the trough with some dry coke raked over the top. As the work is moved in and out and the fire burns down, I rap the sides of the fire with the edge of the shovel or poker. This ensures that burning coke is driven into the fire as it burns hollow (i.e., the already lit inside is pushed in - not fresh fuel). More wet coal is added to the outside and the cycle continues. If I'm not forging some weird shaped piece, this sequence will work all day long - or at least until a clinker builds up. The mound eventually gets to be 4-6 inches or so above the top of the firepot and there is about the same amount inside the pot under the work. This insures the work is completely surrounded with hot fuel, which is subsequently deep enough to burn off the excess oxygen.

I primarily use a poker to work the fire, which is shaped more like a rake on the working end, and a shovel to move coal. I also have a very small poker made from 1/4" round with a short bent tip - this is for pulling clinkers - and a small spoon for fluxing. These are the only tools I use when tending a coal fire.

Those are my 1000 words - I'll let someone else post a worthy picture...:-)

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"It sounds like yours will coke properly so that's a good start"

Im going to get some good coal but what I using isnt good coal.
Its some stuff I bought years ago - its chunks that looks like layers kind of like shale, has yellow gunk on it , some turns a funky birck red when it turns to coke, I clean out big clinkers about every 30 min. or cant get any heat, hard and heavy.

I think I have the cleaning part down mainly wanting to know about making the coke and keeping a big fire mound going.
Really want to see a good rake and shovel also.

When I do get some Good coal "hopefully a good amount" keep it in a pile outdoors OK? or maybe like a bin of some sort?

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I feel your pain. I've lived with substandard coal for years because it was cheap and plentiful at the time - so I bought several tons about 20 years ago. Well, I got what I paid for...however, you are in good coal country so it should be no problem to find quality stuff.

The only good thing about substandard fuel is that I got skilled at making it work over the years and I really appreciate good coal...

I'd post a pic but my camera is kaput right now. Maybe someone else can provide examples.

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First thing Ron - Don't be afraid to ask questions. It's the only way to learn.

On making fire I put 3 sheets of rolled up paper in the firepot, then I place a small handfull of smashed up 1X2 pine. I give it a whack on the anvil to bust up and it gets the arm warmed up. Place some old coke from the last fire on one side and light. Small air at first then more as it heats up. Throw on some green coal and start working on getting a cave formed.

Here are my most used fire tools - Small sheetmetal shovel, Grate poker for clearing grate holes during use (this one is made out of square stock and rake is round. This helps to identify by feel). The rake is used the most. round rod that is flattened and slightly bowed. Good for pushing and pulling fire around and keeping everything tidy.




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Last year at the Rusty May annual Hammer-in , at Loveland Colorado. There are two firm rules #1. We have no plan and we are sticking to it. #2 If you know teach, if you don't know learn. To make a long story short, I was starting out with green coal, I forgot my tinder, paper and matches, and I was having a stinker of a time getting a fire started.
All this was closely watched by a 6 year old grandson of one of the sponsors of the group. He looked like Huck Finn in his bibs and engineers hat. He was getting quite a kick out of my bumblling. He had enough;"Let me show you how WE DO IT", he said with hands on his hips.:rolleyes:

Under his Grandfathers bench was a coffee can with both ends cut out, he stuffed two sheets of news paper and a fist full of small sticks from the ground and placed it in the fire pot, lifting one corner of the can lit the paper from the bottom and started the blower and when the paper cought he began to fill the the can with the green coal. As the green smoke filled the tent, he backed off on the blower and blew on the smoke with his breath from above and a flame jumped up from the coal and burned the smoke, he then returned to the blower, removing the can the fire was in full roar. He then looked me straight.in the eye, "if you will save some coke for your next fire this will be a lot easier next time."

so now "that's how WE DO IT..;)

If you know teach if you don't know learn...


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I wanted to start up this old thread... To ask about building a cave of coal in the forge. Whats the purpose of soaking your coal in water??? Is this to help with forming a cave somehow?

What I've been doing is:

1. i light a few wads of newspaper under the chimney to heat it up and start a draw.

2. I scopp some hot coals out of the wood burning stove (which sits next to the forge) and put them in the pot.

3. I turn the blower on very slowly so the wook coals glow.

4. I sprinke some coke from the last burn over the wood coals and wait for them to take.

5. keep adding more and more coke until theres a good pile burning

6. then i add green coal as i need to to keep things going.

I've never tried to build a cave, but I've seen that done and wish I knew how...


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In most old books its called a Hollow Fire, just bank the wet coal over your heaped up coke fire and tamp down a bit and let the fire burn but not a full blast to form a stuck together mass over the fire. The principle is mainly for heat treating and welding, you can sitck your work piece in the hollow area under the roof and get very hot air from below and it also reflects back down off the top, just keep lightly sprinkling the roof with water to keep the outside cool and from burning thru.

Hope this helps

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It seems I am always in a hurry so bank my coal,coke on the inside fire up the torch,turn the blower on add a little torch and start raking it in. I will have a hot fire in just a few minutes. I made my rake out of 4 tines cut from an old garden rake. I made a handle and welded it to tines.

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One trick I learned from a smith about cavefires: the coke over the tuyer tends to burn up leaving you with a direct O2 path to your work. If you shovel in fresh coal you need to wait for it to coke if you are doing work that is sensitive to sulfur---knives for exp. So what you can do is to take the forge shovel and "violently" shove it in from the sides refreshing the bottom with coked coal, and lowering the cap a bit so you can add coal all around the outside of the cave and let it coke as you continue to use the fire.


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Cave Fire:
Until I figured out what was going on, the burning out of coke at the bottom of my fire was one of the major obstacles in my forge welding. Once I figured that out i went from 10 percent success to about 45 percent success...still need practice. As the bottom of the fire burns out I will use my shovel to "gently" compact the fire from the sides and back and then a couple good smacks on top to pack it down in. This pushes the outer coke into the center of the fire, the half-coked (is that even a word?) coal to where the outer coke was and leaves room for green coal on the outside. Then I use my poker to make an opening big enough for the work on the front of the fire. Works like a charm as long as your coal will coke up reasonably well.
-Aaron @ the SCF

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