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I Forge Iron

Just a Grill of Dirt


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When our beloved propane grill finally died broke, I decided to take all the inspiration I'd gotten reading about the JABOD Mark III (thanks, Charles R. Stevens) and make Just a Grill of Dirt.

A JAGOD, if you will.

I had two goals:

  1. Spend as little money as possible
  2. Forge using charcoal 

I'll just admit now that I am way better at spending money than not spending money.

I scrounged up some thin firebrick I'd stashed and since I had to dig footings for some pier blocks, I rough-screened a couple of 5-gallon buckets of that dirt.


I put the grill in a level area always in the shade. I had to snip some of the sheet metal to get a length of pipe thru. The pipe isn't sched 40, but similar, with an ID of 1". I got it from my neighbor, who is a blacksmith and thinks I'm insane using charcoal (then he admits it's kind of neat, which is how our friendship usually goes---Me: "I have an idea!" Him: "You crazy. Can I try?")

I used the firebrick to build a little chamber for holding the charcoal and pipe, and then filled in with dirt.


I mixed a pound of powdered Lincoln fire clay I've had forever in with a bit of water for the are around the pipe, then added a little water to the rest of the dirt, screeded it, and compacted with a firebrick.


I think I have some first-rate dirtmanship going on here.

The next afternoon, I grabbed my bag of blacksmithing tools, a RR track anvil my neighbor gave me, a piece of mild steel I had smithed into the Worst Leaf Ever Made in the History of FireTM, and a bag of lump charcoal I bought at the store. Ok, yeah, I spent some money. But I already cheated on Goal #1 because I didn't think my blower plan would work. I had an old beekeeping smoker that uses a small bellows and I was tempted to try it as my air source just for fun. Then I realized that was taking the No Spending Money goal a bridge too far and got an Intex air mattress pump (a la the Mark III) that cost less than the bag of charcoal.

We spent almost twenty year heating houses with wood, so I know how to build a fire. That charcoal started glowing quickly and I realized maybe playing with fire on the hottest day of the year was again the mark the slightly insane. Oh, well. Once the coals were glowing, I slipped in the mild steel with the Worst Leaf Ever Made in the History of Fire. The leaf was so thin it got to temp really fast and I tapped it over into a loop with half a tap of my totally undressed Harbor Freight hammer.

Yes, I have to dress those hammers and I will---I even know how because there's a thread here with how to do it, which is awesome. But today I was just seeing if the JAGOD was a cromulent idea.

I quenched the end of the mild steel and slid the opposite end into the fire. Gave it some puffs with the Intex pump and when it was bright red, took it out and gave it two taps to bend into a little coal rake. Two taps. With a cheapo HF ball peen hammer. And I had a tool. I immediately put it to work raking the charcoal into a mountain for the next piece.

I also had a 12" length of cold roll steel my blacksmith neighbor had given me (he also gave me two pairs of tongs because he's a great guy and he treats me like the son he never had). He didn't tell me what kind of steel it was, but that I should try working with it for experience. (FYI, that's the fire rake I just made on the left. I am stupidly proud.)


I got it to temp and whaled on it and it hardly moved. Back into the fire. Whack whack whack. Hardly moved. Not at all like the mild steel. Back into the fire...

I managed to square up the end and draw a taper, but man, it took forever. I'm going to bet he gave me a piece of something he knew would teach me a lesson. IOW, I believe I was the object of a blacksmith version of a snipe hunt. High. Larious.

I used less than 1/4 of the bag of charcoal I bought. I'm already re-designing the JAGOD to make it easier to work with---probably more like a Japanese-style forge. I got a taste of smithing with charcoal, which I really liked. I need to dress those hammers, get my anvil at a better height (either lower the forge a la Tim Lively so I can sit or raise the anvil), and buy some mild steel stock I can practice making simple things with-----hooks, leaf key chains, etc. Build a charcoal retort because man oh man have I source material for charcoal. Then I'll focus on fire management and hammer control.

I want to say thanks to the knowledge and inspiration here and I wanted to give you all an opportunity to point and laugh.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go teach my neighbor a lesson.

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2 hours ago, Ohio said:

I think I have some first-rate dirtmanship going on here.

I have to agree with you on that. One thing (very minor) is to break up the big pieces of charcoal. I too love your writing style, makes reading a pleasure. Keep up the adventure and ya get even with your neighbor, without causing any harm.:)

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Welcome a board Ohio, glad to have you. I compliment your cromuloquatious authormanshipness. You already fit in here, do I even have to ask if you like puns? B)

Good dirtmanship but I'm thinking you made the fire pit a little too large. Oh well, too late to change now if it is.:o Breaking the charcoal into smaller pieces will consume the oxy more quickly and develop more heat. No, not more total BTUs nor particularly hotter but the better surface to volume ratio increases the combustion rate so the oxy is burned sooner, holds heat better and less ambient air can infiltrate to scale up your work. Basically you can build a smaller more efficient fire that's more effective, works better. 

Nice job on the fire rake. I like your neighbor, everybody needs an occasional curve ball to keep on their toes. Please let us know what you taught him and how. ;)

Frosty The Lucky.

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Thanks for the kind words, you all.

Yes, the charcoal was too big. I broke up the first few batches and then...didn't. I have something I can use as a screen and tomorrow when it's not seven billion degrees outside, I'll get a respirator and smallify the charcoal. I've been thinking about that as I design my charcoal retort----perhaps I can modify a cheapie wood chipper so I can go from retort to screen and into the chipper, where it gets chomped, and then into storage bins. Maybe not. For now I'll get out a machete and split the charcoal into bits.

And not to worry, Frosty, about changing things. It's a JAGOD---I can re-arrange to my fiendish little heart's content. I have some ball clay I mixed with some screened dirt and a little charcoal dust (I don't know why, I saw it on the internet and I had some, so whatever), added a little water and voila---I formed a little cup inside the fire coffin* I'd made with the brick. One of the reasons I liked the JABOD idea so much is that you can just shovel and shape as needed. Since I'm trying to figure out what will work for me, this is perfect.

I've now experienced three different types of forge. One was in a class when I made the World's Worst Leaf, which was natural gas, and one is my neighbor's, which is propane. The class forge was dragon breathy and loud. It worked and if that was my only choice, I'd be content with it. My neighbor's forge is quite clever---it's essentially a work table made with soft fire brick and has moveable burners. He builds a forge by stacking other fire brick in any configuration as needed for whatever he's working on. Right now the table is covered with junk. Love the guy, but honestly, "no one can see it" is not synonymous with,  "I cleaned up all my crap."

He did just tear apart and put back together a 220v welder he got for $40 off C-list. He texted me to come over so he could show it off and I have to admit, it's pretty formidable.

Anyway, the JAGOD let me try charcoal and I have to admit as neanderthal-y as it is, I found it pretty hypnotic. Of course, it was really hot and the peacefulness could have been sunstroke, but it was quiet and beautiful. Until I started hitting stuff with a hammer, but that's a different sort of beauty.


*Fire Coffin would be a great band name. I call it.

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Wood chipper THEN retort, running charcoal through a wood shipper would be a good way to coat the neighborhood downwind with  black dust. I HAVE had neighbors who deserved such but not the rest. 

I prefer a hatchet for enlittlizing charcoal without producing a lot of dust like smacking it with a hammer, etc. charcoal dust isn't very handy in a forge it wants to blow off as soon as it lights. Pretty sparkly fleas aren't my thing. 

Bituminous coal dust is a different thing, powdered and wet makes it coke up nicely, I save coal dust.

Your neighbor's forge is a classic "brick pile" forge, I have one I use when experimenting or I need a special. Being covered with junk is the definitive condition of any flat surface in a blacksmith's shop. Cleaning up all my crap is the job of the executor of my will.  Is his new welder shaped like a Tombstone and red? A good buzzbox is a desirable addition to any blacksmith's shop. 

Stick with me kid I'll get you up to speed. ;)

Don't be thinking a charcoal forge is somehow a lesser tool, it's not. Some of the finest smithing work is being done with a charcoal forge right now. Check out some videos of our 3rd. world brothers for an idea of what can be done with virtually any kind of fire. Dung is an ancient and still used forge fuel. No . . . foolin. 

Frosty The Lucky.


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Wood chipper then retort. Interesting. I can do that. Same with the hatcheting. 

Not a buzzbox. He has one of those. This is a MIG/TIG with a separate wirefeed. He spent $40 because he wanted the wirefeed but then he got the whole thing working.

I like the flexibility of the pile o'bricks forge a lot. Maybe at some point I'll try that.

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Nice work Ohio!

From the pictures, it looks like your tuyere is angled upward from the outside towards the inside. If that is the case, you may want to either make it level, or even angle it slightly downward. Having the air blowing up isn't the best for a charcoal forge -- it likes a side blast.

Have fun and be safe.

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You're right, Arthur210, gold star for you.

The tuyere was angled. I corrected when I moved the dirt around yesterday to make the fire pot smaller. I think I need to re-adjust the tuyere both in regards to keeping it level or even a bit of a downward pitch and it's height relative to the surface dirt. I'd like to see how the changes I made yesterday affects how the fire performs today, then probably I'll re-do again a few more times.

And I've decided, with credit card in hand, that Goal #1 (spend no money) does not apply to material. I have access to scrap, but I think I need to use known stock now to practice on. Naturally, I haven't any right now. So today I'll probably use a piece of mild steel flat bar from the scrap pile. I've ground and welded this material before so I'm confident there will be no fume-y surprises.

Fume-y surprises are like, the third-worst type of surprise.

But I'll be stopping by local steel supplier later today on our way to a party, which will make me the most interesting person at the shindig. Seriously. This celebration is in honor of a professor friend who has retired and I think it may be a very bowtied sort of evening. Not that there's anything wrong with bowties.

Crap. If I've insulted any bowtie people, please accept my apologies. It's just unlikely (though not impossible) that there will be people attending the party who like to play with fire and hitting things with hammers and I'm kinda into that. OTOH, if I accidentally start my bra on fire at the forge, well, then I really will be the most interesting person at the party. So, there's an upside.

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The wall to bank coals against realy helps manage your fire, and I find the 4”x8” trench efferent. 

As to charcoal size, I find that in use adding all but the largest chunks to the top of the fuel pile works well as the charcoal breaks down and you get the small pieces in the fire bowl and around the stock wile the large stuff is on top.




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A $40 multi process welder, SWEET. I have to get 220v to the shop before I start thinking of . . . lots of stuff. <sigh> I was interrupted by the TBI accident before I finished the shop. Old story.

You'll like working with known steel, minimal surprises that way. I teach with 3/8" sq. or 1/2" rnd. hot rolled, both are about the same volume per inch so it doesn't make a lot of difference to forging time. 3/8" has enough mass it doesn't cool off too quickly but it's heavy enough mistakes aren't permanent as quickly. 1/2" sq. is a little heavy to start with but not unreasonable and it makes good yard art like picnic type bottle holders, fire pokers, plant hangers, etc. 

Good to see you join in Charles, I can stop relying on my memory. Charles is our side blast forge Guru Ohio. I can go back to word games now. :)

Frosty The Lucky.

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Of course you're still learning Charles you aren't dead. I've been watching you develop the JABOD from your first suggestion that one would work. I used to tell people a pile of dirt on an old kitchen table makes a fine forge, the box is a huge improvement. 

Angling the air blast downwards a little is something that never occurred to me and I'm a pyrophile, I've been making forge hot fires in campfires for decades. It never occurred to to me note the blast angle that worked best. Talk about a head slapping moment! :wacko: 

Whatever the title, you're still out main side blast forge man. ;)

Frosty The Lucky.


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I'm with Frosty---Charles, you're JABOD is interesting and inspirational. It really made me re-think what I was hoping to get out of blacksmithing. I really want to make a joke here, but I'm instead going to thank you again for sharing what you're learning because I realized I was focused way too much on a London pattern anvil and propane forges and not on what I really want to do. And the experience with the JAGOD is really great. Instead of firing it up yesterday, I re-angled the tuyere to angle down a bit (thanks again, Arthur212). I'm going to try to fire it up today and see how these changes work. And I can do this because I paid attention to your JABOD example and kept my first attempt at forge building simple and adaptable.

I also have an update to the mystery steel/snipe hunt. I showed my neighbor the extremely terrible taper I had drawn at the very end of the piece he'd given me and said, "Dude, this ain't mild steel." He laughed. Then he said "I thought you might finally figure out that you need to make a punch."

Then I said some bad words, but I'm going on record as saying it is a great joke. First rate.

I have not yet had my revenge, but he knows I will.

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