Will W.

Storing large amounts of charcoal

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Hello everybody.

I've finally figured out how to make good charcoal with my recently built retort, and I typically just make it as I need it. My operation is over the fire pit I have out back, and it works a treat. But I got thinking, winter time, I'm not going to be able to make any charcoal, the fire pit is usually a few feet under snow. So in the fall, I planned on making a whole bunch (few hundred pounds probably) to hold me over until spring. But I don't quite know how I can store that much of it. Beat idea I have so far is either in trash cans, which I would have to buy (I'm cheap) or in black construction bags, the heavy duty ones, less chance of tearing than a regular trash bag. Just curious if anybody has any ideas for how I can store a whole lot of charcoal, preferably in the least amount of space as possible. I would love to hear anything you guys have. 

Thanks in advance. 

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Trash cans or contractor-grade trash bags would be my suggestion. Charcoal is fairly light, so you can use a bigger bag than you would if you were storing coal. 

The main thing is: KEEP IT DRY.

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This could be a multiple problem. Charcoal is light weight so it would require a much larger space for storage, than say coal. Storage should be out of the elements and hopefully in a dry location, off the ground so it would not draw dampness. Several pallets on the ground to act as a floor and side walls, then cover well. If you have a shed etc, even better.

The larger issue would be moving it when needed at the forge. Pre-packaged in usable quantities would be nice. Bags, barrels, drums, containers, etc, something you could lift and carry or get a dolly under.

Next would be trying to critter proud your system from mice, cats, snakes. vermin, etc. You do not want to bring in a container of charcoal and a mouse nest full of mice into the shop. A snake you can handle, but mice go everywhere before you can catch them.

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I make mine in 10gal drums with a clip lid, gas holes in the bottom of the sides, and store it in the drum it's made in, less handling that way. The more you handle it the more fines you get.

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What is the availability of plastic 55 gallon drums your way.  They are for sale on craigslist all the time down here. Be careful what was originally shipped in them though!

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Turbo

Mine is made in a 55 gal drum, but winter is ~5 months out of the year around here (sometimes less, if we're lucky), so I'll be needing a lot more than what I can put in there. 

Glenn

I'm hoping to keep it inside the shop somewhere and haul it out to the smithy in a few 5 gal buckets when needed. Concrete floor, so out of the elements solved. Problem is, theres a lot of stuff in the shop, so im trying to minimize wasted space storing charcoal. Critter proofing I had not considered. The mice do make the shop their home every winter, even though I give them clear instructions that I've already evicted them! Lol. Thanks for the food for thought.

Thomas

They're around. Usually not up for sale too often. There's a guy I know who sells barrels and drums, but I'm not positive that they come with sealable lids, and he charges quite a penny for just one, let alone the 10 I would probably need. 

Irondragon

Thanks for the tip. I wouldn't think mice would want charcoal. Seems like poor nest material to me, but what do I know, I'm not a mouse. 

 

Seems like plastic drums or trash cans may be my best route. I'll have to do some price checking. Winter is a long way off, thankfully, so I have some time to plan I suppose. I wonder how heavy a trash can full of charcoal is. Maybe i could stack them to save space? Idk.

Thanks for responding everybody. 

 

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You don't need sealable lids, a piece of plywood that will cover the top and a brick will work if it's inside.

What I do is to have my raised firepit near the forge and I make a nice wood fire in it and move coals over to the forge as needed with my special shaker shovel I made.

Shoot when I was doing the smithing at a "Little town of Bethlehem" demo a local church held in December I had trouble keeping the rest of the cast away from the raised firepit and *warmth* one cold night.

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True. I suppose that could work as a lid. But now I wonder if I have any plywood out in the shop...

Interesting, about moving the coals over to the forge. You were able to keep a good supply in the actual forge? It burns up fast, transporting it would be a full time job, let alone forging too! Lol. 

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1: I do NOT use an electric blower with charcoal, that saves a ton of it!

2: When I use charcoal I tweak my forge to have a deep slot firebox and so only charcoal that is actively heating the workpiece is burning. Many forges are burning a lot of charcoal that is nowhere near the workpiece.

3: burning the right sized wood can help balance the coals production/coals removal

4: for a demo I do not work as fast as when home and at home I have all the charcoal saved from cleaning out our woodstove that heats our house during the winter once the sun goes down...

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You can resize the charcoal to the proper size you use at the forge. This will reduce the space required some.

You can screen out the fines and keep the fines in a separate container. Reduce and screen charcoal outside NOT in the shop. 

Package in containers that are a suitable size and volume for the forging you will be doing. If you only use 5 gallon at a time, then look for 5 gallon buckets. Do not look at the containers as being throw away containers, reuse them when you make another run of charcoal.

 

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Thomas

I use a system similar to yours. Hand crank blower that I made (really want to build bellows eventually) and I have several grates for what size fire I need. If I'm making nails or chain, I don't need my entire 12" round firepot to be forging temp. But if I'm making an ax, different story. 

Glenn

I made the mistake of screening fines indoors ONCE! I don't know why I didn't realize that was a bad idea, but I was cleaning black dust off of everything for a week.

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Save that fine charcoal dust; it's one of the ingredients for Alaska flux.

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38 minutes ago, JHCC said:

Save that fine charcoal dust; it's one of the ingredients for Alaska flux.

I tried looking up some info on Alaska flux, and pulled up very little. But what I did find stated it was anhydrous borax and charcoal powder (or any other source of carbon, graphite for example) with some people saying boric acid as well. Is that correct? I like the idea of the extra carbon lowering the required temperature for welding, even if it is by a small amount. 

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31 minutes ago, Will W. said:

I tried looking up some info on Alaska flux, and pulled up very little. But what I did find stated it was anhydrous borax and charcoal powder (or any other source of carbon, graphite for example) with some people saying boric acid as well. Is that correct? I like the idea of the extra carbon lowering the required temperature for welding, even if it is by a small amount. 

The original post from IFI member teenylittlemetalguy with the formula for Alaska flux is here. Some discussion ensued in the comments following.

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If you have friends/family/neighbors with cats, have them save the kitty litter buckets for you. Square-ish, around 5 gallon size, with lids and stack nicely. Could be a good, low priced solution for a cheap thrifty blacksmith.

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31 minutes ago, JME1149 said:

If you have friends/family/neighbors with cats, have them save the kitty litter buckets for you. Square-ish, around 5 gallon size, with lids and stack nicely. Could be a good, low priced solution for a cheap thrifty blacksmith.

Do NOT, however, use one as a slack tub. One red-hot punching slug goes flying the wrong way, and the whole tub drains onto the shop floor.

Don't ask me how I know this.

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Hopefully everyone working with larger blades knows to put a weighted wooden bottom protector in the quench tank to protect both it and the point of a dropped blade!

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My problem with making charcoal is the "bonfire around several barrels full of wood" method means winter is my charcoal making season.

I am doing some serious research though into building a hopper for my charcoal modeled after an old timber ore bin. Current plan is a 3 cubic yard elevated top loading bin with a gravity fed chute on the bottom.

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Thank you JHCC.

I have a 5 gal barrel of water I use to cool mild steel and that's about it. Reading about how some members high carbon blades have spontaneously become airborne while hot and finding their way perfectly into the water tub has made me cover it however lol. 

8 hours ago, JME1149 said:

If you have friends/family/neighbors with cats, have them save the kitty litter buckets for you. Square-ish, around 5 gallon size, with lids and stack nicely. Could be a good, low priced solution for a cheap thrifty blacksmith.

This is a good idea. Thanks for the tip.

And yes... Thrifty... Let's call it thrifty...

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11 hours ago, Will W. said:

And yes... Thrifty... Let's call it thrifty...

Or frugal. Frugal works. 

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28 minutes ago, JHCC said:

Or frugal. Frugal works. 

I should put that on the sign on the front of my smithy. "The Frugal Blacksmith" has a nice ring to it. 

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Better change it to "A Frugal Blacksmith"  as there are a bunch of them around 

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1 hour ago, ThomasPowers said:

Better change it to "A Frugal Blacksmith"  as there are a bunch of them around 

Or "Another Frugal Blacksmith".

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