Zeba

The age old question, gas or coal

Recommended Posts

Now I am aware this has been asked many times and personally I am in favour of a coal forge but before I make my forge I was hoping for opinions from those more experienced.

My workshop is an a single car sixed garage next to the house and my only ventilation is having the doors open, I will be making mostly small pieces at first until I develop my skills to where I would feel more comfortable moving metal. since smoke would be an issue without a chimney I would be buying anthracite coal or coke for the fuel, which I know will have a learning curve due to the reputation of anthracite. Given the situation is a coal forge the better and safer choice or should I consider using gas?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Is it your belief that poisonous exhaust fumes can't hurt you if you can't see them?  If you don't have enough ventilation for one type of forge you don't have enough ventilation for other types of forges---save for induction forges.  Now sticking your forge outside to use it will mitigate that danger and not having visible smoke then can be a "don't bother the neighbors" issue. Building your forge into a wheeled cart can make it easier to move around.  However you then get more issues with a rare (where I live) meteorological  phenomenon called precipitation.

BTW have you thought of coke rather than anthracite?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Having smithed in a two-car garage using a coal forge with no hood or flue, I cannot recommend it. Even with (barely) sufficient ventilation with the door open and a fan running, you still get soot everywhere. If you're not able to install a chimney, I would recommend either a gas forge or putting the coal forge next to the door and running out a flue that can be set up and taken down for each forging session, thus:

30D8AFD7-5377-444C-9312-F813B46F7627.jpeg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I should have clarified it better, I plan on having it by the door where any harmful fumes would be much less of a worry, the lack of smoke is preferable due to not wanting to have any problems with it blowing across the house or the neighbors house. my initial idea is to have some wheels for easy movement yes and I have looked into coke but it seems more difficult and expensive to get in south wales compared to anthracite.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Find a cheap fuel that is available to you and build a forge to use that fuel. 

Anything you burn will create fumes and or smoke. A chimney gets the fumes and or smoke from the work area to somewhere else, outside for instance. You can eliminate most of the smoke with good fire maintenance. 

Induction forges produce some fumes. Flip a switch and it is on and ready to use. Flip the switch again and it is off. No wait time.

No matter what you use, good ventilation is a must.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please dont be unaware of the dangers. Fossil fuels can and do kill. Ive been in the heating industry for over 30 years and Im the third generation of heating engineers in my family and unfortuanelty have  seen fatal results of badly installed appliances. Forges are no differnt , whether gas or solid fuel. Please research the effects of fossil fuel exhaust gases. Even using a forge with an untested chimney is dangerous if you dont have the correct set up and draught. 

As a small test, position a table in the place where you intend to use your forge. Pop into Plumb centre or any plumbers merchants and buy a pack of smoke pellets ( used to test appliance flues). Light one in your garage and watch where the smoke goes, will give you a good indication of the dangers you will be putting yourself in, and members of your family. There is never a "less of a worry". Its either Right or Wrong.

Stay Safe.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I use a gas forge in my shop, the dirty side, it's 20' x 30' with 10' walls and  10' x 10' roll up doors on opposing ends along the main wind directions. I also have open gables on the shop. I have not had issues with CO; as I tell my students: "I don't close the roll up doors until the wind starts blowing over the anvils..."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My main concern is the safety, I have heard that gas forges give off more CO which is a key reason why I am leaning for a coal forge as well as it being simpler to build than a propane forge from what I have seen in my research.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know which type of forge produces more and it would depend a lot on how it was run. However the coal forge WARNS you and the gas forge sneaks up on you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

well I definitely wouldn't use either forge for prolonged periods of time in a garage with your doors and windows closed. I have farrier forge and a a charcoal forge for welding, Coal makes alot of C02 which has no smell or taste, propane usually has an additive so you can smell and taste the gas. The propane has definitely been easier to forge certain alloy steels.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Charcoal is another sneaky fuel. Usually several deaths a winter from people burning charcoal indoors.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Charcoal can also take a while to get going if youre building a fire the normal way... I use a small store bought propane torch to get a few coals going then use the air. every new batch has to heat up so there is a small amount of time loss there... plus you cant just turn it off like a propane forge when youre done, the coals have to cool down. 

which is ok you can put your work on the coals and let it cool that way. but it hasnt been location friendly.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well I can get a lump charcoal fire ready for forging faster than I can have my propane forge heated up to working temp.  I do have to monitor the charcoal fire, (hand crank blower), while I can light the forge and wander off gathering the tools needed for the project.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
15 hours ago, Irondragon Forge & Clay said:

Big difference in CO2 and CO. CO has no odor and will kill you quicker. I wouldn't use any forge in an enclosed shop for any length of time period.

the main difference is that CO has a higher binding affinity to hemoglobin and myoglobin in the blood and muscles. Neither gas has a color, or odor. CO2 is heavier than air and sinks and fills low pits, settles, CO tends to be lighter than air and accumulates in the top of structures... you know, where your breathing hole is. However it is more close to the average weight of 'air' and will mix more readily rather than have a separate layer.

 

To answer your question about which, I have worked with both, I am also fairly inexperienced. With that label on myself I prefer propane. I don't have to babysit the flame, stack and rake the coals, worry about clinkers, ash, less likely to overheat or burn steel, though a hotspot in solid fuel forges can be advantageous. 

 

Maybe add your own experience level into the equation and ask yourself do you want to spend more time tending a fire, or swinging a hammer. For me, with my lesser experience, it was the latter.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

All Fossil fuels produce CO, so choosing gas or coal doesnt give you a safer option. 

I get bulletins sent to me quite often regarding current standards. Heres a couple that may interest you in your plans.

SAFETY BULLETIN REGARDING CHARCOAL GRILL OVENS

There are potential dangers from barbecues and in particular, the fact that coals that appear to be dead can still emit dangerous carbon monoxide fumes.

The HSE have made us aware of two related incidents involving catering establishments where after cooking had finished for the day, unattended charcoal grill ovens caused a build-up of carbon monoxide which subsequently percolated into neighbouring premises and resulted in two cases of carbon monoxide poisoning.

This type of charcoal oven should ideally be flued directly to the outside via a purpose built chimney in accordance with Approved Document J of the Building Regulations. However, we are aware that in some cases, the grill is simply positioned beneath a commercial kitchen extractor as shown in the picture.

There are two major risks that need to be guarded against when using this arrangement:

  • Lack of proper maintenance can lead to blockage or failure of the extraction system – it is important to follow exactly the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule.
  • Because dangerous products of combustion (including CO) will still be emitted after cooking finishes for the day, the extraction system must be kept working for as long as is necessary to prevent a build-up of poisonous fumes.

The oven manufacturer’s instructions for installation, maintenance and use should always be carefully followed.

Heres a link to current solid fuel appliance guidlines, might be useful.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/cais26.pdf

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, any hydrocarbon fuel can and will produce CO.  However, high levels of CO are only produced when there is not enough oxygen for complete combustion.  CO2 is formed preferentially over CO in normal combustion by a wide margin. Recycled exhaust, blocked air intakes, or intentionally fuel rich mixtures will all increase CO production.  Banked coals would also be more likely to get less oxygen and produce more CO than fuel exposed to the open air. 

Glenn has suggested keeping a bucket of water near a solid fuel forge so you can scoop out any burning material and douse it at the end of a forging session.  That would give you the peace of mind that an unintentional fire would not occur and any lingering CO production would halt.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When using our coal forge, I rake the burning coals out of the fire pot and use a sprinkling can to extinguish the burning coal. This was taught to me in the early 80s and has worked well since, bonus it leaves coke to start the next fire with.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you all for the information, I think my first forge will be a simple JABOD forge to get me started without being to complex a build and I will certainly remember to keep the garage doors at all times since that is my only ventilation at the moment.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If that's all the ventilation you have then you might consider installing proper ventilation before generating dangerous fumes in the garage. 

About charcoal fires. I can't imagine having trouble lighting charcoal unless we're talking about briquettes. The thing to be aware of is how hard charcoal is to put out, it can lay buried in ashes for a couple days without going out. I've read in wood stove magazines where some fire districts hold the citizen liable for dumped ash being cold out for a couple few days. 

I highly recommend you not only forge outdoors till you have GOOD ventilation in the garage but store your forge outdoors for no less than 3 days before bringing it indoors. Cover it outdoors of course, water isn't good for them but NEVER allow an uncontrolled fire in the place you and yours sleep.

Frosty The Lucky.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, Frosty said:

If that's all the ventilation you have then you might consider installing proper ventilation before generating dangerous fumes in the garage. 

I can attest to that. If you've never smelled burning coal, it stinks it has a certain odor to it. You know you're inhaling a certain amount even outdoors. There's a saying for that. "If you can smell it, you're inhaling it." 

I would agree with frosty, use it outdoors until you can get proper ventilation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Frosty, IIRC the ancient Irish laws stated that you were responsible for a fire you had built for 3 days after it was "out".

I had a set of neighbors who burnt their porch by dumping a charcoal grill into the trash the day after they used it for cooking and storing the trash bag on their porch.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The one thing folks overlook when shutting down a solid fuel forge is the ash tube. It contains both hot embers from the fire and insulating ash that keeps those ashes hot.  The ash tube MUST be dumped at the of each forge session as part of the shut down process. 

Propane forges heat up the entire refractory and insulation of the forge. Turning off the gas just turns off the incoming heat, NOT the heat that is stored in the refractory or insulation. 

Play the what if game sometime. What if the dog knocks something over, and it falls on the forge and knocks the forge over. Or the cat wants to get warm and is drawn to the forge and it's warmth? If it is too warm and what can go wrong as the animal now rapidly departs the area? Add any vermin to the list, as well as their nest building abilities.

What about wind?  What about an outside weather conditions, or heavy weather, that can causes a reverse draft in a chimney. I have seen this happen in a wood stove and fortunately it only filled the house with smoke. 

These are only some of the things that can happen. It is also why I like solid fuel fires that when they are raked apart tend to die out. Then everything is placed into a 5 gallon bucket of water, fuel, ash, coke, clinker, and yes even the ash from the ash tube, everything under 2 inches of water, you can only then think the fire is out. Do not forget the hot iron on the work table, and the work table both of which can retain heat for a long time. At the end of a forge session is a good time to sweep up so there are no embers hiding in the dust. The dust goes into the bucket of water also, NOT into a trash can.

The bucket of water can later be dumped and any fuel, coke, etc can be separated out, dried, and reused.  If you want you can recycle the water to the next bucket.

By the way, when was the last time you checked your fire extinguisher? Did you check the smoke detectors? Are they fully functional and ready to use?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now