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I Forge Iron

I made my first charcoal


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The first batch was by accident really. Last night, my son and I camped out in the front yard. We set up the tent and about 8:30 PM we started the fire with kiln-dried pine that I got from the mill where I work. At around 11:30, I decided to douse the fire and go to bed. After the first bucket of water, I noticed what looked like some nice charcoal. This morning, I shoveled it out, washed it off and set it aside. Promptly, I started another fire and burned down the remainder of my wood. It's not the most efficient way, I'm sure, but I have to get my hands on a barrel before I can do anything different.
Also, I would prefer to use hardwood, but since I am currently "cash challenged" with vacation next week, pine is free to me and there is plenty of it! Besides, hardwood goes into my woodstove to heat the house. ;)
Anyway, I'm so happy to be making some fuel for my forge that has been sitting idle for quite a while now.

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Great! I can't wait to fire some of it up myself. But I still have to finish my new forge (it's real close) and make more charcoal so it will be worth my time to even light it. Don't have enough yet to really get started forging.
BTW How small should I break up the charcoal?

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1st Law of Fregoe states : anything you can make for yourself is better than anything you can buy.

well anyway you get the idea. Ecart, soft wood i.e: pine ,is perfect for charcoal. burns to no ash and is like you stated there for the taking.
from twin oaks forge, google twinoaksforge.com for more info
The concept is simple. Start a fire under the container. Begin driving off the gases. Route these gases back under the container. Ignite the gases with the fire already burning under the container. Use these gases to drive of more gas and ignite without adding any other fuel to the fire. When the gas is all driven off the fire dies. Let everything cool off, open the container and you have charcoal.

I use pine charcoal. It burns hot and clean with virtually no ash. It also burns fast. I burn up a lot of charcoal when I am forging. I have tried hardwood charcoal in my forge but it seems to burn down to a lot of ash and small pieces restricting the air flow. I also have a hard time getting it to welding heat. Small blades such as knives were fine, but I could not seem to generate the heat I needed for the large hunks of steel I forge and weld.
i use so called waste wood from our local municipal dump. you might find a
railroad spike (keg) can along the tracks in your area. this is a great size for the charcoal container which sets inside of the big barrel.
hope this is good for you.
buzz

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making your own fuel is so cool.
this homemade charcoal :o also works great for the BBQ grill.:D
for hardwood charcoal try your local cabinet maker. if he burns wood your outta luck, unless he's your brother-in-law. LOL
also construction cutoffs are usually there for the asking. take a bag of your homemade BBQ charcoal to the crew and they will be glad you picked up the scrap woods.
buzz

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Thanks Monkeyboy. I'll check out Twin Oaks. There is a pallet mill pretty close by that we rely upon for our wood stove most of the time. I've considered getting hardwood from them for charcoal, but I think that pine will be fine for now.

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I sift the ashes from our woodstove and get a good gunnysack of charcoal every winter.

The japanese swords were traditionally smelted and forged with soft wood charcoal and some folks consider them to be OK so I guess it would work for you as well


We generally burn pin~on pine or salt cedar out here so all my charcoal is softwood as well.

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I make charcoal in our shed's woodstove which generally yields about half of a 55 gallon drum once it's smothered out. All the wood I use it from the farm's scrap pile which includes lots of spruce which makes really light softwood charcoal. You just go through more of it, but it will weld. For lighter stuff it isn't a big deal but you just need to keep a close eye on your fire and add more fuel and make sure the bottom of your fire doesn't burn out when you're working thicker stuff. And it does make it hard to finish anything when you go to a demo and they're using coal. On the brighter side, the kids love, what I like to call, the blacksmith sparklers you make!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, I got a 55 gallon drum set up today after work and I have a pile of pine on my front porch just waiting to go into the drum. But I never asked, how small should I break up the charcoal when I use it? Should it be about the same size as coal?

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interesting question since I have seen/used coal in my forge ranging from powder to cubes about 6" on a side.

In traditional japanese bladesmithing 1" cubes are used; me I pile it on and if it's too big I smack it with the poker when it's hot and it subdivides. If you are trying to weld you want the charcoal large enough that you don't burn it up too fast but small enough that you don't leave large air channels in the fire.

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I use wood chips in my forge, converting them to charcoal in the "chimney" now (my latest configuration). I have another brick on edge in the front now, so I can fill it up with wood chips. I'm using seasoned bull (Virginia) pine, 2-4" long, and various shapes and sizes of chunks. I'm not getting above orange heat, but at this point it doesn't bother me. As I get more experience I can probably solve that.

Good Luck!

3015.attach

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Just out of curiosity would cedar and pecan wood do? I ask because here recently we cur off limbs of our cedar tree and pecan limbs fell off the pecan trees. Also, sometime in the future we are going to cut down the cedar tree to make room for the maple we planted.

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I am surprised no one has thought of using the chips generated from those tree and brush trimmers that trim for the power companies etc, they chip all there trimmings and blow into a large container on a truck, should be rather easy to char those chips to make charcoal. And you should be able to have them dump a load at your location free of charge. They have to get rid of it somewhere you know.

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I am surprised no one has thought of using the chips generated from those tree and brush trimmers that trim for the power companies etc, they chip all there trimmings and blow into a large container on a truck, should be rather easy to char those chips to make charcoal. And you should be able to have them dump a load at your location free of charge. They have to get rid of it somewhere you know.
I've thought about using them but they're mostly green. Might work better if you had a place to let them dry first. ;)

Good Luck!
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So, am i right in assuming you can make a coal forge using charcoal, not only coke?
i got a smallish forge using gas, but if i could use charcoal i might just make one just out of simplicity, and well, traditionalism, heh.
Is there any specific type of charcoal or is there some trick to using it? can i just use the type i would buy at a hardware outlet?

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Thanks for the replies. It seems that to a certain extent that it is up to personal preference.
Mandoro, I don't know about charcoal, but one of the best smelling woods we've ever burned in our woodstove is pecan.
Evan, don't use briquets. You can get lump charcoal from Walmart or a hardware store and it would work fine. The advantage that I have over many is that the throw-aways from the planer mill where I work is considered trash and anyone can pick it up for free. But I had better get all that I can now because when the weather gets a bit colder, everyone will be grabbing up the wood for their fireplaces and woodstoves.

Oh and by the way, I burned down some wood today when I got home and got a pretty good yield for the amount of wood that I used, I think. Maybe I can burn more down tomorrow and Friday. Also, the new forge is very close to finished!!!!

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I use wood chips in my forge, converting them to charcoal in the "chimney" now (my latest configuration). I have another brick on edge in the front now, so I can fill it up with wood chips. I'm using seasoned bull (Virginia) pine, 2-4" long, and various shapes and sizes of chunks. I'm not getting above orange heat, but at this point it doesn't bother me. As I get more experience I can probably solve that.

Good Luck!


What you're doing works quite well but your scale is too small. I don't know what the bottom end threshold is but your set up is below it.

I've used the same technique many times with varying degrees of success. I was an exploration driller for the State of AK for 19 years. We drilled test holes for bridges, foundations, boat harbours, etc. etc. and spent a majority of our time in the bush.

Not being the kind of guy who enjoys knocking off a half rack of beer nightly I did a lot of reading and when weather permitted sitting around a camp fire poking it with sticks. We all spent a lot of time poking the camp fire with sticks. ;)

I started heating and beating found or damaged steel (drilling damages a LOT of steel. :o) After a while I started packing a RR track anvil I'd made up a couple pairs of tongs and some other minor tools.

Frequently I'd just use the coals in the campfire which is enough general forging. On other occasions we'd be on location long enough or there was something good enough I'd set up something a little more sophisticated.

The best field expedient forge I put together was the Resurrection River Forge. The Resurrection River runs from Exit Glacier to Resurrection Bay, just outside of Seward. The Google Earth satellite image isn't too good but it's okay.

Anyway, our project was finding and proving up quarry sites for the FHWA while we were drilling bridges on the Exit Glacier Rd. We'd set up camp on the sand bar between the river and the road and were planning on being there a couple months at least. That's most of an Alaskan summer.

The 64 quake petty well totalled Seward and there is a LOT of debris still to be found. The Resurrection River above the highway bridge for about 1/4 mile +/- is loaded with steel of all shapes and sizes.

While schlepping around after work one day I found a big axle laying in the river. When I say big I'm talking about 3 1/2"+ dia more than 4' long with a flange a good 12" around and 1 1/2" thick with 10 ea. 7/8" holes around the rim. The center of the flange over the axle shaft was only slightly domed with a flat spot in the center about 4" in dia. The first thing that popped into my mind when I saw it laying there near the river bank was. . . ANVIL! I figure it weighed around 170lbs. +/-.

I dragged the thing back to camp and started deciding where to put the smithy. It needed to be close enough I could pack the stuff I didn't want stolen to camp but far enough away it wouldn't interfere with peaceful camp life. THE place was out on the bar, just a little ways from the river where the wind always blows.

The near constant wind was one of the things that decided me on building a fairly large set up. That and the availability of salvage in the river of course. I spent quite a bit of time dragging pipe and rebar our of the river and hauling it back to the site.

The hack saw made useable lengths of it and I drove a bunch into the sand in a circle about 3' in dia and 3' high. These became the "frame" for the forge and I filled it with rocks and sand to make the forge body. As I was filling it I placed a 5' length of damaged casing in the forge. The top end stopped just below the top of the forge and the other ended a foot off the ground facing into the prevailing wind.

I filled in around the upper end of the casing with rocks I dug out of the roadside. NEVER put rocks out of a stream, lake, etc. in a fire, steam can make them explode!:( Above these I used a bunch of short cutoffs of rebar to make a fire grate. Then I plastered over the rocks and ends of the rebar with damp clay from up by the road.

I used pieces of sheet metal from the river (everything I didn't bring with me came out of the river ;)) to make a wind trap to funnel air into the pipe. This was my air blast; it was very consistent and easily controlled by blocking the wind trap as necessary.

The last touch was to drive a bunch of steel stakes around the top of the forge. This was my idea for containing the wood I was going to burn down into charcoal for forging. And NO it didn't work so well but I'll get to that in a minute.

The next thing I did was dig and drive the axle into the sand so the flange was at comfortable forging height. At that time I was mounting my anvils at knuckle height. I mount them a bit higher now but not quite wrist height.

Then I spent some time with the chainsaw and axe cutting and splitting birch and alder into small pieces for the fire. The first couple times I lit it up I was heating and bending rebar and the like for helpers, tong racks and such. It was during this phase I realized the cage of rebar wasn't going to work for containing the fire. It was like standing on the receiving end of a blowtorch! I mean seriously, try standing next to a fire that's about 2 1/2' tall, at waist height and driven by a steady 12-16mph wind. It'll make your hair smoke and NOT in the good way.

What I did then was hike back down to the river and fish a 15gl. barrel out of the bushes. I brought it back and chiseled the bottom out of it and a door about 8" sq. in the side near the top. I chiseled a smaller pass through on the far side as well and used the cutout to close it up.

I stood the 15 gl. barrel on top of the forge with the doors on the bottom and kept it filled it with split wood to burn down into charcoal. If I'd made the rock and sand forge a little wider I would've dragged a 55gl. drum out to make a heat shield as it was still like standing WAY too close to a barrel stove. It was bearable though so I used it as it was.

This set up worked like a charm, though it could've used a little tweeking it still cranked hot Hot HOT. It had no trouble making welding heat and hotter.

The axle made one of the best anvils I've ever used, it had tremendous depth of rebound and the bolt holes around the flange were excellent for bending. The horn was a bit awkward being vertical and directly under the flange like it was though.

Once I had the basic set up going, several days of packing, digging, bending, etc. I started working on tools and making fun stuff. Probably the worst part (even worse than the amount of wood it burned!) was working on sand. The sand was always shifting under me and I was always having to shovel it back and level it out. Throwing water on it regularly helped but sand is NOT something I recommend for a shop floor.

Anyway, burning wood in the "chimney" to make your charcoal works fine. It's really wasteful compared to a proper charcoal retort but it works just fine.

Frosty
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Thanks, Frosty! Good to hear from someone who has done this.

Several points I'll have to consider there. ;) I may have some questions... like would more chimney on this setup help? Or do I need more firebox too? As it is, if I put too many chips in the chimney I have to pump the bellows pretty hard to avoid thick smoke (gotta have the flame above to burn it off, and it has to stay pretty hot to keep that going). When pumping the bellows that hard, and the pieces of charcoal in the firebox get pretty burnt out it starts coming out the front in chunks as they get lighter. Lump charcoal does the same thing (plus it starts popping; probably moisture in it), so I've never gotten much heat from it either. I don't mind ash and little embers flying around but don't let the chunks land on you. :rolleyes:

I have considered (in a larger setup) actually putting a retort in the chimney. I guessing that would be a little more efficient, but would it make enough?

Thanks and Good Luck!

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Hey Frosty, I really enjoyed that account of your time on the Last Frontier. Very inspiring.

The 64 quake petty well totalled Seward and there is a LOT of debris still to be found.


A blacksmith can find a silver lining anywhere :cool:

Don
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Thanks, Frosty! Good to hear from someone who has done this.

Several points I'll have to consider there. ;) I may have some questions... like would more chimney on this setup help? Or do I need more firebox too? As it is, if I put too many chips in the chimney I have to pump the bellows pretty hard to avoid thick smoke (gotta have the flame above to burn it off, and it has to stay pretty hot to keep that going). When pumping the bellows that hard, and the pieces of charcoal in the firebox get pretty burnt out it starts coming out the front in chunks as they get lighter. Lump charcoal does the same thing (plus it starts popping; probably moisture in it), so I've never gotten much heat from it either. I don't mind ash and little embers flying around but don't let the chunks land on you. :rolleyes:

I have considered (in a larger setup) actually putting a retort in the chimney. I guessing that would be a little more efficient, but would it make enough?

Thanks and Good Luck!


Yeah, you pretty much have to keep the blast going and it needs to be larger than you're using.

About the smallest I've used was a hill furnace and it wasn't large enough to work very well. It was a trench about 8"w x 10"d x 4'l going up a fairly steep bank, maybe 65-70*. It drew okay but not really good enough. I should've dug it wider and deeper but we were only there a few days. The drill broke and we had to take it back.

You load the wood into the top of the trench and it settles as it burns forming a large bed of coals at the bottom. The trench acts like a side draft stack and draws air across the charcoal. If you have something to cover the trench and you make it large enough, say a couple feet wide and deep and six to ten long it'll melt iron for you.

These aren't efficient ways to heat iron. They work though and work well.

Frosty
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Hey Frosty, I really enjoyed that account of your time on the Last Frontier. Very inspiring.



A blacksmith can find a silver lining anywhere :cool:

Don


Yeah, every dark cloud has a coal fire under it. :rolleyes:

Frosty
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