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Issues with my washtub forge


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Hi everyone.

I followed some instructions to make Tim Lively's washtub forge. It only sort of worked though, and because I followed the instructions as closely as I could I think the problem is my technique. The rebar I am using becomes a dull red, rather than orange or yellow. It's extremely hard to move and I maybe get two to three hits out of it before it gets cold. I also notice that while the portion near the pipe is glowing, the coals on the top aren't very hot.

Some things I have tried so far:

  • Leaving the steel in longer (Up to 5 minutes)
  • Turning the crank as fast as I can
  • Turning the crank at a moderate pace, only as fast as it takes to hear some roaring.
  • Tamping down the charcoal to make sure its compact
  • Putting the rebar near the top
  • Putting the rebar right where the charcoal is glowing
  • Raising up the walls so that I can have more charcoal at once.

I also noticed that I missed a step, which was that the holes are supposed to be 1/4", not 1/8". I increased them just now. I haven't tried to use it since then.

Here are some Pictures of my forge. I do not normally put a brick on top, I just put it to provide a shadow. The coals were glowing when I took a picture but even with the shadow you can't see it. I am using a Zomax hand blower and Lump Charcoal.

Lastly, I have done some basic blacksmithing at my university, but we used a gas forge (which also scared the xxxx out of me). I do not have any prior experience using charcoal or any other solid fuel, but I already know that I prefer it because it is much more pleasant to work around - also I like the antiquity associated with it.

Thanks! Let me know if you need more info.

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In order to get solid fuel to burn you need air.  My suggestion would be to pull the pipe out of the forge and replace it with a 3/4 or 1 inch pipe with an open end (side blast forge).  Put the end of the new pipe 4-5 inches into the forge.

Fuel does not make the fire hot, air makes the fire hot.  Make the fuel twice as deep as you have it now.  Start the fire and only use as much air as you need to get the fuel to the heat you want.  If you are throwing sparks like a volcano, you have too much air.  Once the fire is established, you just need a gentle amount of air to keep it burning up to temperature.

Look for a fire ball in the fire about the size of a soft ball or larger and put the metal into the fire ball about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way up the fire ball.  You should have 2-3 or so inches of unburned fuel over the height of the metal.  

If all this works, then you can go back to the holes in the pipe and adjust the size of the holes to get the amount of fire you want.

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I've been considering building one of the "washtub" forges myself.  But I find your comment about the gas forge scaring the dickens out of you interesting.  What about the gas forge scared you?

Good suggestions Glenn.  I'll keep that in mind if I ever get around to making one of those solid fuel forges myself.

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My suggestion converts the long forge into a side blast forge for testing proposes.  It runs a test on the air, fuel, depth of fuel, heat output etc.  Once you have a standard to go by, change ONLY ONE thing and see how it affects the performance of the forge.  Keep notes so you can refer back to them.

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The TL washtub forge has a long proven in history for knifemaking.  If it is not working right: it was not built right or used right.  The size of the air holes and depth of the fire are two fat rabbits when looking for fixes.

The NeoTribal metalsmith known as BogIron

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I just tested the forge after increasing the hole size. Works perfectly. Problem solved, it seems!

1 hour ago, Chris C said:

I've been considering building one of the "washtub" forges myself.  But I find your comment about the gas forge scaring the dickens out of you interesting.  What about the gas forge scared you?

Good suggestions Glenn.  I'll keep that in mind if I ever get around to making one of those solid fuel forges myself.

The gas forge is huge and it's poorly lit. It's SUPER loud when it's on, and it was so hot you couldn't even stand near it. I got burned once and it was SO painful (and my hand smelled like cooked meat. I'm very lucky it didn't scar).

The part that made me wary of gas was the fact that after using it I would feel dizzy, nauseous, and sleepy. I'm pretty sure it's not the metal I used I asked if it was safe to blacksmith with, and the teacher (who knows what he's doing) said yes. It might have been because it was in a confined space but we have amazing ventilation so I doubt that. Nobody else got sick besides me, so I'm blaming it on my MCS. 

Whatever it is, I haven't felt the same thing working with charcoal.

Now that I have a working washtub forge, I would definitely recommend it. I almost would think you don't need a washtub at all - the refractory adobe that I made is very strong and could probably sit there by itself. You certainly don't need to buy a big fancy one like I did.

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They had the same problem with a propane forge at the  University; nobody wanted to use it because of the flamethrower effect.  I asked them if the regulator was correctly adjusted and they said it was because the line on the knob aligned with the line on the base. I turned it 3 complete turns DOWN and with the line on the knob aligned with the line on the base of the regulator I then adjusted the air supply till I got a good burn and the forge was usable.  Problem was people adjusting it who didn't know anything about propane forges...

Does sound like you have a bit more CO sensitivity than some folks---that can be a lifesaver!

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Welcome aboard Lotus, glad to have you. If you'll put your general location in the header you  might be surprised how many members live within visiting distance. Every hour you spend with an experienced smith equals maybe days of trying to figure it out yourself.

Just because a college instructor SAYS a forge is safe does NOT mean it is. Sounds like you got a taste of CO poisoning. It effects everybody differently, getting an early warning is actually pretty lucky. CO builds up in your system and takes something like 80 times as long to flush our of your blood than it does to collect. CO replaces O2 in your hemoglobin so you suffer hypoxia. It can be fatal and all too often is. 

If the college is still using that forge you might ask the local FD to run a CO test, they have the instrumentation to do it accurately and have some weight in getting it straightened out.

Frosty The Lucky.

 

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The symptoms you described are typical for carbon monoxide poisoning.  If the burner is adjusted to produce a reducing flame it will generate quite a bit of CO. There's portable CO detectors you could bring with you to the smithy. Kidde is one manufacturer right off the top of my head. 

I'm glad to see another person using a washtub or jabod. Another thing I've learned is that breaking the charcoal into approximately one to one and a half inch pieces helps a lot. Good luck, be safe, and remember it's supposed to be fun. 

Pnut

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