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Beginner Smith Question

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Hi Everyone,

I just started smithing and have some questions. I built a basic break-drum forge with a section of 3" chimney pipe, elbow, and 2 speed, cool air hairdryer for a blower. It has worked great so far, but I want to improve on it. I have been using natural, hardwood charcoal to fire it, but yesterday I got some coal to try out.
Now, I live in a university town, and the university has its own power plant, which is coal fired (Southeast Ohio, so coal from West Virginia). A friend who also smiths told me that the plant uses "low grade coal," but I didn't ask what that meant.
Anyway, this morning I fired up the forge with said coal. Using small kindling I got a fire going, turned on the blower, and introduced the coal. Well, it gave off a powerful, thick yellow smoke. (I'm pretty sure my lungs are scared from the experience.) I thought to myself, if I press on maybe the fire will get cleaner. So, I let the blower go for another 10-15 minutes. It never burned any cleaner. Giving up, I dumped the fire pot out. I noticed that the coal got soft very fast, and gave off a thick tar-esque residue. Is this bad coal, or am I doing something wrong? Is there a secret to getting the coal burning with out smoke, is that possible, or does only charcoal burn with minimal smoke? I do mostly blade and small tool smithing at the moment, so can I keep using charcoal because it seems to get hot enough. Any help would be great.
Also, like I said I live in Southeast Ohio, and I looking for a 100-150 lbs anvil. Right now I'm using a section of RR track, which is ok, but the curve in the track makes it hard to keep things straight. So, if anyone lives down this way and knows about a reasonably priced anvil, please please please let me know.

Best to you all,

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High sulphur-powerplant must have very good scrubbers already treating burn residue. When you hear the folks here talk about "seams" e.g. Pocahontas, they are directing toward low sulphur coal with minimal inclusions. Coke is "refined"- waste components are driven out to try to get a very clean burning "coal."mike

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Hello Leo, from across the river between Parkersburg and Charleston. Welcome to IFI.

Now about the coal you are using: sounds like coal to me!:D Once the fire is going and the coals have formed a nice bed low in the fire, poke a hole in the middle to allow the fire to break through. This will allow the volatiles that are burning off to be consumed more readily and the smoke will clear up pretty quickly. I have thick smoke every time I fire up the forge. This is typical with coal. Generally the smoke will clear up once the bulk of the volatiles have rolled out and the coal has "coked" up.

Here's some reading about starting a coal fire:
BP0048 How to Build a Coal Fire

and another:BP0037 How to Build a Coal Fire

and lastly: BP0036 How to build a Coal Fire

These will be helpful in explaining what's happening with the fire.

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Welcome to IForgeIron.

Charcoal will do anything that coal will do. It takes more volume and creates more radiant heat than coal.

Metallurgical grade coal is what you need to find. Power plants don't use it, generally. Because it comes from WV does not make it good coal. There are some Coal suppliers in your area that have a good grade to use.

Coal will smoke a lot, like green wood does, until it drives off the volatiles in it. It then is coke and doesn't smoke very much at all, but probably more than charcoal. Low grades of coal may be used up before the volatiles are gone.

Thomas Powers and His magical aquisition powers were honed to a fine art in Ohio. Do a search for him on this subject and you will have a hard time believing all the marvalous deals he found in your backyard.

Good Hammering

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Thanks so much for all of the helpful information guys. I'll do as you instructed and trying working with this stuff (in an even more ventilated location).

On a side note, I was walking around an antique mall this afternoon and came across a Fisher anvil. The guy was selling it for $279, and I was able to talk him down to $200. This is my first anvil! I mentioned in the previous post that I've been using a chunk of RR track.

I'm guessing that this Fisher weighs between 250-300 lbs. The horn is scared from what looks like cut marks. I figure that I can grind those out. The face is not bowed or chipped. The sides of the face are pretty close to 90 degrees on all sides; however, there is one spot that has a chip missing about the size of my thumbnail. Otherwise in good shape. I'll post some pictures later tonight.

Anyone have suggestions for cleaning this ol' girl up?


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My first blacksmithing experience was at a museum, and I had to dig up coal that had been left from WW2 (for an old army power plant). It was horrible acrid stuff but I didn't know better till a curator got be a few bags of good stuff. Makes all the difference. Coal will always be a bit stinky, but low grade coal is just plain bad news, and I think lungs take enough from good coal I wouldn't mess with bad coal anymore.

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I have a big ole Fisher and they are good quiet anvils. They are cast iron with a steel face so don't expect it to ring because it won't. Someone will tell that because it doesn't ring that it is cracked but it isn't. I quit using coal because my HOA complained about the smell even after I got the volatiles burned off so at some point you may want to consider a gas fired forge so go to Zoeller Forge and see what he has to offer you like the simple forge and the coffee can forge.

Edited by Bentiron1946
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Welcome to IFI, $200 for 200-250lb anvil that is in good shape is a great deal, less than a dollar a pound, and at an antique shop at that, congradulations! there are a lot of folks on here that have Fisher's and seem to like them, I personaly have never used one but have heard a lot of good about them.


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Great score Leo!

I probably wouldn't do anything to "clean" it up till you've used it some with a couple caveats:

First, the chip in the edge doesn't have any loose parts, those I'd grind out and radius the edge.

Second, I would only dress the horn if the cuts are bad enough to mark the work.

Once you've been at this a while and have a better idea of what's needed and what you want, cleaning up the anvil will be less risky. (for the anvil)

Welcome aboard.


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