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ciladog

A firebox in a firebox

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Last week I took a three day course at Peter’s Valley with Randy McDaniel on forge welding. What I can say up front is that Randy is a very good teacher with a great sense of humor and what he did for me is remove all the taboos surrounding forge welding. We had a great three day class.

I’m not going to write a tutorial on forge welding but one of the things that Randy drilled into our heads was fire management. If you ever have a chance to take a class with him, take it. Forge welding became as mundane as cooking eggs for breakfast. We mastered all kinds of forge welds, six layer fagot welds, scarf welds, loop welds, L-welds, T-welds, basket welds, knob welds and by the end if the class, we could weld anything to anything.

I’m not going to give you the ‘secrets’ about fire management, you should buy Randy’s book (A Blacksmithing Primer) if you want to know that but I will share what I did to my forge as a result of the course.

I have a fire box that is pretty much standard at 11” X 8” and I made an insert that cuts the box volume in half. That gives me more control of the fire and uses about half the coal.

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that is a great principle I do the same thing with water mop down the sides and make a good hive. I make my forges so welding up a smaller pot is a great idea. thanks for sharing

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Thanks for posting your pics. All advice and experience is always appreciated by many. I hadn't been to Peters Valley since I was a teenager. (early 70's)

Mark <º))><

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I did a similar thing. My firepot is approx. 22" by 8". I only use the front 8" in lenght to forge. I have the back section of air holes blocked by a plate and buried it under coal.

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I am glad that you learned to weld and to manage a fire. There is so much to be learned that the learning never ends.

I don't understand why you would want to reduce the fire pit volume for welding. The size of the fire and the intensity of the heat are controlled by the volume of air entering the fire, wetting around the fire, and moving fresh coke into the fire. It seems that you will have to be continually rebuilding your fire because reducing the size of the duck-nest reduces the amount of coke that can be made while heating your work. How am I wrong?

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I am glad that you learned to weld and to manage a fire. There is so much to be learned that the learning never ends.

I don't understand why you would want to reduce the fire pit volume for welding. The size of the fire and the intensity of the heat are controlled by the volume of air entering the fire, wetting around the fire, and moving fresh coke into the fire. It seems that you will have to be continually rebuilding your fire because reducing the size of the duck-nest reduces the amount of coke that can be made while heating your work. How am I wrong?

Tomhw,

During the class I found that the portion of the fire I was using was long and narrow. We would bank coal high on the right and left with a valley down the middle. The coal was converting to coke at the edges of the valley but we needed to use the water can to keep the fire from spreading under the banked coal. It’s pretty standard fire management practice.

Randy pointed out that most clinker breakers are a three sided pyramid and in a usual position, one flat side is facing up. If you think about it that means that the other two sides are directing the blast air out to the sides instead of towards the middle of the fire. We tied the breakers with wire so the flat side was facing down and a point facing up. That made a difference in keeping the fire from spreading out and made a very hot spot right in the middle of the firepot.

I tried turning my clinker breaker around and found that while it worked, it also permitted a lot of coke to fall through the sides. So I decided to narrow the fire box and use the breaker as it was originally.

Since I’m working on top of the firebox (not in it) there is plenty of coal to coke conversion on the edges of the fire. The narrowed box fills with white hot coke and the banked coal on the left and right still converts nicely to coke. I just rake the coke into the box to keep it full and there is still plenty to rake over the work. And since the fire can’t spread under the banked coal there is no more need for the water can. One more advantage I found is that the clinker is much easier to find and clean out.

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"I’m not going to give you the ‘secrets’ about fire management, you should buy Randy’s book (A Blacksmithing Primer) if you want to know that but I will share what I did to my forge as a result of the course."


There really is not much of any 'secrets' to fire management. Folks have been smithing for a number of thousands of years now and there are some pretty general and effective ways of heating metal and controlling a coal forge. I have this book and think highly of it. I am sure the writer of the book is a knowledgeable smith, and in no say am I doubting his skill.

I am just sad that people keep putting forth the idea of 'Secret Trade Skills'. As if what craftsmen and artisans do is some magic thing for only the worthy or select. Any hand skill can be learned by anyone that is willing to work hard and practice said skill. I have been extremely lucky to work with some amazing artisans and can only hope to have more opportunity's in the future. I hope I can pass down any knowledge I learn one day!

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I agree with you that there really aren’t any ‘secrets’ to good fire management just good experience. But the guy wrote a very good book and is trying to make a living like the rest of us. Just didn’t want to steal his thunder. His book does point out some interesting ideas about fire management that I haven’t heard before and they are effective.

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I have found that for me that a deep fire makes welding easier. If cutting your fire box size down works for you, then go for it! Anything that make the work easier is the name of the game, and has been since the beginning of smithing.

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I agree with that, Drewed: theory be damned! What works is true. I just wanted to see what the idea was. Fire management is an endless, practical, endevor.

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Your post makes me wonder why there can't be a proprietary, narrow firepot on the market. It could be used by people who work on hardware and other smallish items. My first firepot in the early 1960's was a Buffalo, no longer made. But it had a clinker breaker (sometimes called a tuyere valve or tuyere ball) that had a rectangular hole through the middle of it. The breaker was oval shaped, not triangular as the current ones are. I've made a couple of replacement breakers out of large axles with the hole punched through. The hole has a slight taper and tends to center the fire. It measures 1¼" x ½" at the top and is slightly larger on the bottom.

One idea is to use a length of rod or square stock with a weight on one end and weld the unweighted end to the far side, pivot of the breaker. This will hold the breaker in the proper position by gravity.

http://www.turleyforge.com Granddaddy of Blacksmith Schools

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