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I have a brake drum forage that made about 1-1/2 years ago, I I did a little work with it using homade charcoal as fuel and then got busy with other things. I am getting ready to get serious (somewhat) and do some work. I do not have a source for coal, but an endless supply of oak and hickory to make charcoal from. I wanted to get some thoughts on using charcoal vs coal. I am not working and have very limited cash to spend.
Thanks.

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I started forging with charcoal, and I like it a lot. It'll do anything you want a forge fire to do, including welding. Charcoal-making is pretty labor intensive, messy, and somewhat smokey, which may or may not be a problem for you. (It goes better if your wood is broken down to relatively small, uniform cross-sections before you char it.) Charcoal fires also need to be somewhat deeper than coal fires, generally, in order to get the best possible heat without excessive scaling. That could be a problem with some brake drum forges. And the radiant heat from a charcoal fire tends to be more unpleasant than what you get from a coal fire. But charcoal is a great fuel, and just about ideal for someone with more time than money.

Note that, as Thomas P will tell you, it's possible to use charcoal without actually pre-charring your wood. You can get a wood fire going, and producing charcoal, while you're working in the forge. You can then transfer burning charcoal directly from the wood fire to your forge. It may not be the most efficient method -- sounds like efficiency isn't a big concern for you -- and I'm sure it's possible to outrun your charcoal supply if you're too aggressive with the blower. You also have the issue of the smoke and heat from the wood fire, which may or may not be a problem. But it can work.

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I also use home made charcoal made from 2 X ? material.
Yesterday I easily heated a large cat track pin to cut in half to make a hammer.
Only problems is in charcoal the piece drops toward the bottom of the pot quicker but all you need to do is grap it and reposition when you add more charcoal.
Speaking of adding charcoal you need to add every heat because BTU is the same # for # so it takes a lot more volume of charcoal as compared to heavier coal.
5 gal coal might mean 30 gal of charcoal
I use a large fire pot but when doing smaller stock block part of the pot with 2 half fire brick
I would have a couple of brick in a break drum forge to control the burn and to get a deeper bed of coals

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Well since coal didn't start to be used by smiths till high to late medieval times all the viking pattern welded blades were made with charcoal fueled forges. Charcoal is probably *still* the most common forge fuel used the world over as it can be made most anywhere while good coal is a pain to find and transport. The high level traditionally made japanese swords are still forged with charcoal.

What seems to be the problem?

The charcoal forge tends to have a deeper and narrower firepot and the blast rate is lowered. Charcoal and coal have close to the same BTU content *by* *pound*; but charcoal is much less dense than coal and so a lot more volume goes through the forge to get the same number of pounds.

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I love charcoal. With a raised half-dome tuyere the ash just settles down around it and never blocks the air. You can forge all day without ever having to deal with clinker. And if you build up an 'oven' of firebrick around the firepot you can minimize the amount of charcoal you burn.

If I could buy lump charcoal at a similar price/pound that I get coal then I'd almost never use coal again.

Somewhere on the web is a video of a guy using a twin-55gal-drum charcoal maker. Looks similar to this rig.
http://www.twinoaksforge.com/BLADSMITHING/barrel2.JPG
Looks like a slick setup. I'll see if I can find the video.

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