Nick

Switching from coal to charcoal

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Coal has become my personal unobtanium.  The two coal suppliers closer than 200 miles won't sell to individuals (I'm going to try them one more time just in case), I don't have a truck to go down to Green Bay, and even if I did or could borrow one the coal's not great and gas isn't cheap.  Having it shipped is not an option due to price, either.  I'm scraping the bottom of the bin.

 

Charcoal I can at least get locally.  The cheapest I've found so far is $14 for a 20 pound bag.  I'm not sure if it will actually be cheaper in the long run than even having coal shipped, but I need something right now, as a stop gap if nothing else.  I've got a couple commissions I'm working on and I've been trying to figure the best way to get more coal with no luck.  At least this will give experience with another fuel and something to work with while I continue to look for coal nearby.

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Cheaper to make charcoal. If you can't, have you considered burning corn? (Played with it a little, but my wife gets ticked when I steal her feed for the animals....)

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Similar situation for me though I was using blacksmith coke before.  There's information on using charcoal in the forum, my research here and my experience has been to turn the air down considerably and putting firebrick around the firepot so I can pile it up deeper.  I've been burning & smothering wood in a 55 gallon drum until I can build a retort.

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Thomas, I am in the UP.  I've talked with some other smiths, most around here use gas or coke.  I have thought about getting together and ordering, if several of us order as a group we may be able to go through Reiss or Upper Lakes in Gladstone (which is close). 

 

If I decide I like charcoal I'll think about making it.  It wouldn't be a problem here, I live out in the middle of the woods. 

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Nick - your commissions should have included shipped in purchases of coal to do the job. The joys of business

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Yes, I guess I haven't been including enough for fuel.  <_<  I also spent more time than I should have trying to find it closer than Green Bay. 

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Charcoal is really a stop-gap only for modern smithing.

I am unable to offer very much advice on the topic, but if I personally couldn't get gas or coke/coal, I would start doing serious research into oil or other liquid (atomized liquid?) forges.

They are and have been standard in industry for years, often on quite a small scale.

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I recently switched from coal to coke made for blacksmiths. I like it a lot better and sold off most of my coal supply. I'm in Traverse City, MI, and I had one ton shipped in, shipping included = $709

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Dan,

 

 Please define "Stop-gap".

 

I use charcoal made from my retort almost exclusively. I still use coal but can do anything I want with charcoal. 

Yes I am a hobby blacksmith but my forge is lit several times a week.  

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I have worked with charcoal, bituminous and anthracite.  I use charcoal for start up or for forge welding as I feel it burns the hottest.  The sparks that jump have burned into my skin on occassion.  I use anthracite mostly to be a good neighbor for smoke reasons.  Do any hardware/feed and grain stores carry anthracite stove coal?  The ones around here have it in stove, nut and I think rice size.  How about stove shops that sell coal stoves as a possible source or can direct you to one?   

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Folk have been forging with charcoal about 10 times as long as coal, it has a few issues but it does an excellent job. Were I you I'd check out the coke. Even using green coal techniques you're still forging with coke. forge coke is less dense, making it easier to light and keep burning and is also known as breeze.

 

If I could get it for less than stupid expensive shipping costs, I'd love to give commercial coke a try. Our club doesn't have enough members to make a quantity buy practical. For the most part we're burning propane and using oxy fuel torches for localized heat.

 

Frosty The Lucky.

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Dan,

 

 Please define "Stop-gap".

 

I use charcoal made from my retort almost exclusively. I still use coal but can do anything I want with charcoal. 

Yes I am a hobby blacksmith but my forge is lit several times a week.  

 

Mark, charcoal is fine, but it is expensive (or time consuming to make), burns away quickly, and is easily disrupted due to being very light.

I occasionally use it myself, but it really isn't a first choice for serious smithing.

 

 forge coke is less dense, making it easier to light and keep burning and is also known as breeze.

 

 

Forge coke is actually a good deal harder to light and keep burning than coal. It requires a decent blower. It is not quite the same coke you get from burning coal in your forge. 

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I often forge with coke and charcoal mixed together as I find it has a slightly less oxidising effect.

 on its own charcoal is so incredibly expensive and consumed so fast, it is however quite nice to forge in when you get used to it.

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I have worked with charcoal, bituminous and anthracite.  I use charcoal for start up or for forge welding as I feel it burns the hottest.  The sparks that jump have burned into my skin on occassion.  I use anthracite mostly to be a good neighbor for smoke reasons.  Do any hardware/feed and grain stores carry anthracite stove coal?  The ones around here have it in stove, nut and I think rice size.  How about stove shops that sell coal stoves as a possible source or can direct you to one?   

 

I've tried all the feed and stove stores in the area, wood heat is very popular here but not coal at all.  I guess because of location it's just not economical to ship here (mostly isolated by the Great Lakes, rural, and not on the way to anywhere). 

 

I have found a slightly better deal on coal from IL, shipping is still high but it may be enough to have both, we'll see.  Still have to go to Upper Lakes but we only have one car so it'll have to wait until next week I think.

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charcoal is so incredibly expensive.

That's because you blokes cut down all your trees building those great big bloody ships of the line :-)  Charcoal, while more then coal, is still doable for smiths in America.  Tom Latane is one of several smiths I know who use nothing but charcoal.  He uses it because he feels it's easier on the iron.  I should add, most of those that do use charcoal are forging on the smaller scale, more fine detail work that lets them use smaller fires.

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Coal has become my personal unobtanium.  The two coal suppliers closer than 200 miles won't sell to individuals (I'm going to try them one more time just in case), I don't have a truck to go down to Green Bay, and even if I did or could borrow one the coal's not great and gas isn't cheap.  Having it shipped is not an option due to price, either.  I'm scraping the bottom of the bin.

 

 

 

Define "individual". A lot of suppliers don't want the hassle of dealing with people who want "tiny" quantities of materials. I see it all the time with bulk construction supplies like sand and stone. 5 little bags of pea gravel will cost me more than a ton of similar stone. Down side is unless you have a small truck, most places really don't want to deliver less than maybe 3ton if they have a small truck, and 9 ton if it's a bigger truck.

 

 

If the problem is the places just don't want to sell in tiny quantities, maybe you can locate a small contractor with a dump truck to pick up a ton or two, if you have the room for it. Option 2 might be to rent a small dump trailer if you have a vehicle that can tow it. Or possibly a Uhaul pickup. I've been thinking long and hard about either a small 1 ton dump or a small dump trailer specifically for small bulk loads of various sand and stone as well as possibly coal the next time I need it. 1 ton in the bed of the pickup is a pain to deal with since I have to pull my cap and then can't use the truck for other things until I get it emptied.

 

Guy I know has a few of those metal wire and plastic bins, "pallets" that he gets loaded with coal for his shop. I'd love to find 2 or 3 because they look perfect for stacking on the trailer and getting them loaded with bulk materials like coal or sand. That would take care of both my storage issues as well as having to unload it all by hand.

 

 

A ton of coal isn't really all that much volume. 3 to 4 55 gallon drums works out to roughly a ton of coal. ( bituminous is about .63 cf yd per ton)

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And there is the method of getting friendly with folks who work at such a place as industrial accidents involving a pickup and a front end loader have been known to occur, especially when brown pop, OUT OF WORKING HOURS, has been involved.  Some places are not allowed to sell in small lots; but will sometimes make an exception for a lunchtime pickup

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I agree. Several of the big quarry's around here won't load a small 1 ton dump. Even 450/550 11' to 14' landscaper bodies are frowned upon. They want a full sized Mack 6 wheeler or larger truck. When you are loading something with a "small" loader that has an 8 to 12 yd bucket and weighs 80K empty, it's a bit hard to dump a small enough load in a pickup. Especially when the bucket is just about the same size as the whole truck.

 

My boss once took our 10K trailer to go get some extra stone when his truck was down for repairs. It's amazing how small 4 ton of stone looks. My boss questioned the loader when he loaded the trailer. Guy had a scale on the loader and it was pretty darn close to what it scaled at the scale house when he pulled up. I shudder to think how much actual weight some of these guys are hauling when they load their own trailers on job sites. Ive seen plenty of guys break a spring or damage a truck because they overloaded it. Many places won't let you off the lot if you are overweight for liability reason.

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260 miles, though Traverse City is closer than Flint (the last load of coal I got at Streat Fuel because I was in Saginaw visiting family).

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Thomas, I am in the UP.  I've talked with some other smiths, most around here use gas or coke.  I have thought about getting together and ordering, if several of us order as a group we may be able to go through Reiss or Upper Lakes in Gladstone (which is close). 

 

If I decide I like charcoal I'll think about making it.  It wouldn't be a problem here, I live out in the middle of the woods. 

 

Lots of stuff to consider.  The main consideration, I guess, would be the chronic shortage of coal/coke.  I would not expect the Rapa Nui to use charcoal. But if you live out in the middle of the woods, you probably won't regret the experience of using and having charcoal on hand, even if you find that you prefer coal/coke (if you can get it! :()

Naturally, the forge/hearth you use will affect the performance of the different fuels.  I know next to nothing about this.  My current forge is experimental. post-49427-0-46848500-1387065895_thumb.j It has run exclusively on charcoal up to now, I actually use it to make the charcoal I forge with.

 

Others on this forum have pointed out that a deeper "coal" bed and slightly less air flow will give results comparable to "coke" I get that bed by recycling my ash to (Dry tamp press) form a deep "V" trough.  (Seems to be a cheap and workable Refractory This trough serves two functions:  It focuses the Heat zone and economizes the fuel consumption (My Observation). As shown in the next images, it gets hot enough to fire a marginal bloom from yard ore. post-49427-0-28113100-1387067335_thumb.j post-49427-0-23876400-1387067201_thumb.j post-49427-0-95261500-1387067236_thumb.j

 

In a shallow hearth, stack firebricks to get depth, if required.

 

If I had nothing but wood and mud, and had to have charcoal right away, I'd rifle stack some wood, cover it with mud, and fire it off. I would love to build a retort, which is a superior process. Plenty of "how to's" to choose from.

 

W...pedia doesn't list my or your area as a black locust habitat, but it grows here.  It's claimed to have the same heat value as anthracite.  Have yet to test it myself. 

 

Good Luck,

Robert

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Charcoal is really a stop-gap only for modern smithing.


Utter codswollop.

Charcoal was used long before coal was, and in many places around the world it is still used exclusively.

There seems to be a huge prejudice against charcoal on this forum, but I for one am a big fan.

The issue seems to be these "fire flies" - the ONLY reason these are being experienced is because you're using cheap and probably imported charcoal.
The fire flies are a result of using exotic hard woods to make charcoal. You can immediately tell the difference just looking at the charcoal as it has a very hard, shiny appearance.
Woods like mahogany are used to make charcoal in places like Africa etc etc and produce very poor quality charcoal.

Conversely if you make it from pine or woods like oak or hazel, you get a superior product. I simply don't get fire flies at all in my charcoal, which these days is mostly made from pine.

The cons of charcoal:
Yes you do indeed need more of it because it burns quite quickly. Pine burns the fastest, oak much more slowly and burns hotter but it is harder to get.
Expensive. I can buy it for £1 a kilo. Which isn't cheap. But on the other hand you should consider how much effort goes into making it.
It's a pain to make, time consuming and makes a LOT of smoke in the process.


Pros:

It burns much much cleaner, so much so that I often don't bother putting up the chimney on the forge as there is so little smoke. Compare that to a day with coal where you get a sore throat from breathing the fumes all day. (My forge is outside)

I can do anything in a charcoal fire that you can do in a coal fire. Don't listen to the ridiculous statements people make that it doesn't burn as hot. Simply not true. You do need to pile up the charcoal to insulate the fire though.

It's green. This seems to be a taboo subject on here but it has to be said. Charcoal is effectively renewable. Which in this day and age should really be taken into consideration.

It can also be free to make (minus time) if you have a source of broken pallets or scrap wood. I can get as much as I can carry from my local scrap yard.

Andy

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I dunno, Andy. I've never seen anyone do serious smithing with charcoal except youtube videos of japanese sword makers (and they are using mountains!). As I believe I've said, it's an interesting and rewarding fuel to use, and one I have used a lot, but it has vey serious limitations. I like to work mild steel at almost a dripping heat, which is just not possible using charcoal. Welding anything over about 16mm is also going to be a problem just from the sheer volume of fuel you will need. And doing anything resembling a production run becomes a problem because the charcoal gets pushed about, and the heat dissipates while the charcoal that you don't want to be on fire burns merrily away. "Fire flies" have nothing to do with it. 

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