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Help me with my charcoal forging questions


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Hey, not sure if this topic is well placed, but I'm sure the moderators will find it a proper home if not.

I have now worked with my charcoal steel wheel forge for several sessions and I now know enough to have some specific questions regarding fire management.

If you would like to see pictures of the forge, it should be in this post.

Quick stats are side blast with a 1 inch steel pipe for true iron. Fire pot is IFB and measures roughly 4.5 inches wide and 8 inches long. Tuyere sits only 0.5 inches from the bottom of the fire pot. I use a controller and old hairdryer motor for forced air.

I have read all the relevant postings on charcoal forges, JABODs, etc, so I have some familiarity with the issues. That is not to say that I rightly remember any of it, though. Keep me honest, please. 

Here are my first questions:

  • If I am able to see scale forming while the iron is still in the fire or immediately when I remove it from the coals, does that mean that my fire is somehow too oxidizing? I understand now that during my first forging session, I was not heating the steel up enough and I never saw scale forming until at the anvil.
  • If the answer to the previous question is "yes", should I mound charcoal higher and cover any windows into the fire's heart?
  • Should I have fire spikes exiting my charcoal mound each and every heat? I was playing around with the air this last forging session and I was trying 50% instead of my previous 30 to 35%. I seemed to get nice hot heats, more quickly than previously.

I have many more, but they might be answered once folks chime in with their thought to these. It is hard during Covid 19 to go look at someone forging with charcoal, so I am left trying to find videos that show a clear fire and asking questions.

 

Taylor, near Jeddo TX

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If scale is forming IN the fire then no it's not "SOMEHOW" oxidizing. It IS oxidizing, you have it placed too near the blast. You spend too much time playing with your speed control. It isn't a forge problem, it's a you problem. Spend more time managing the fire and forging and this will stop being an issue.  

Of COURSE steel forms scale when you remove it from the fire! Good grief man how many times do we have to say that? Ambient air, the stuff you're breathing contains approx 29% oxygen so exposing HOT iron to it will cause rapid oxidization. 

Fire spikes? You need to stop looking for some pat answer to basic issues and spend more time learning to manage your fire.  What makes you think someone can tell you something like, 37.5% coverage and all your problems will go away. Seriously? 

Frankly your steel wheel forge is a non-starter for most any kind of forge. I can't imagine making a side blast forge that deep unless I filled it to  maybe 2" from the top. The most useful thing semi wheels are good for is as cable anchors though an auto rim works just fine and you don't need such a big hole. Dig a hole below frost line and drop the wheel in with a single V shaped bar welded from the under side across the hub hole. Attach your chain to it and bury the rim compacting every 6" as you go. One on three sides of your jib boom crane snugged up with turn buckles and you can lift your float plane out of the lake to change to skis without a quiver.

So, if you want far fewer headaches, lose the wheel and make or buy a SHALLOW wooden box or a steel table. Follow Charles really SIMPLE EASY TO FOLLOW plans. 

On a last note being able to precisely control how much air your hair drier puts out means absolutely nothing, zippo if you don't know when to turn the darned thing off. You spent a lot of time making a control circuit for something you don't know how to operate. If you buy a hand pump mattress inflator you'll learn good fire management much more quickly. 

Sorry for the rant but you're looking in the wrong place, it's not a forge problem once you get away from the rim. Even then a good smith could make it work, it'd just take lots of dirt to make it into a workable BOTTOM blast forge.

Frosty The Lucky.

 

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Rant all you want, Frosty. If it makes you feel better, I'm happy to oblige.

I think it is great that the forum wants to help folks who have very little knowledge or skill improve quickly. However, some might want to dial back the condescension. It is never helpful and unless some history exists between the parties is never about the topic at hand. Might I suggest that those who are feeling a rant coming on wait until something helpful comes to mind.

Though an English major I am, an ignoramus am I not. I'm familiar with the varied transformations of Iron in the presence of oxygen and blah blah blah.

At any rate, thanks for the assessment that I am placing the steel too near the blast. My firepot dimensions are very near those suggested in the JABOD threads, so I am at a loss as to how much further from the blast I can get things.

How much time do I spend playing with my speed control again? Of course it's a me problem. I'm new at this. Ditto on fire management. 

The only answers I'm looking for are helpful answers. I make no assumptions here. I hope that others are not.

The light truck steel wheel forge is doing just fine actually. The name is Taylor, not Frankly, btw. ;) Of course the dimensions of the wheel are on the linked thread. Wait just a second! Didn't you say it wasn't a forge problem? Now I'm confused.

I prefer bupkis to zippo. I don't smoke. I also didn't make a control circuit. I bought it and plugged it in. Took 5 minutes. I place steel in charcoal. I turn on air. I wait for nice bright orange to dull yellow. I turn off air. I pull out steel. I forge. I return steel to charcoal. I add fresh charcoal to top of fire (sometimes). I turn on air. I repeat. Am I missing something here? Are you selling mattress pumps? :)

Since we are not in a hurry here, if anyone else on the forum needs me to clarify my newbie jargon e.g. "fire spikes" let me know and I will reply. I have no idea of what I don't know yet.

All I want to do is get better.

 

Taylor, near Jeddo TX

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I think "fire spikes" may be what we call fire fleas, the sparks that come out of the fire like a sparkler, usually because of too strong of an air blast. It is my experience that folks who are new to a charcoal forge use way too much air (myself included). Hold your hand in front of your mouth and gently blow on it. If your blower is putting out more air than that at the tuyere opening, it's too much air.

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8 minutes ago, Irondragon ForgeClay Works said:

I think "fire spikes" may be what we call fire fleas,

Yeah, maybe. I just got tired of the same questions over and over while ignoring previous advice. Expecting help to make a bad design work just get's old. I should've just let it be, my bad.

Frosty The Lucky.

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5 hours ago, Irondragon ForgeClay Works said:

I think "fire spikes" may be what we call fire fleas, the sparks that come out of the fire 

Hey Irondragon. No. I was not referring to fire fleas, but I can see how it sounded. As it stands I have very little fire fleas at all in any of my forging sessions because I did my homework. Yea, forum! However, i did see a small increase today.

I was referring to the straight flames that exit the charcoal pile when the blower is on. These "spikes" are different from the whispy flames that come from the pile at much lighter air flow, and different yet still from the lazy, almost invisible ones when the fire is at rest.

I was wondering if I was driving in too much air. The stock seemed to get hot just fine with the new air setting, i.e. not cooling off.

Thanks for the suggestion.

Taylor

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Hey Dennis,

No forge problem, a me problem. 

I have been incrementally testing air settings, forging at least two hours on each one and last session was 50% of my maximum output. This was the first time I noticed scaling in the fire and thought perhaps excessive air. The steel did not burn.

The three fire rakes, two pokers, one set of tong blanks, and several hooks I have already made indicate to me that the forge works. I could be wrong, what do I know?

Do you forge with charcoal and do you have good strong straight flames coming from your fire when the blower is on?

Thanks for the confirmation.

Taylor

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Change only one thing at a time while you work with fire maintenance and air.  Finding the working size of the fire ball and the sweet spot of the fire, for the fuel you are using, is important.  It is a variable related to the amount of air and blast of the air you put into the fire.

Having tried a steel vehicle wheel as a forge, in several configurations.  It can work but you have to fight with it.   Experience using forges can be applied to make a wheel forge work, but it was enough to convince me there were better ways to make a forge, including the JABOD.  

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The best way to deal with such issues is to get someone who knows what they are doing to go over your setup in person.  Hard to do in lockdown though.

How much air to use has so many factors in it; it's hard to evaluate remotely.  Just like the amount of air to work 1/4" sq stock is quite different than that required for forge welding 1" x 1"  x 6"  billets. Size of the fuel makes a difference too; especially in getting a neutral to reducing zone.  I like a fairly low fairly even "layer" of flame on top of the fuel stack for "active" forging.  Of course I use a hand crank blower of bellows and so have less air totally as it's a punctuated blase.

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Glenn, sound scientific method to be sure. Thanks for the reminder.

I'm currently only working on blower speed. I am holding off on changing the tuyere height for later, AFTER I have slagged the IFB that is holding the tuyere. I'm starting to think that the amount of oxidation I was seeing was normal. I am repeating another forging session with my last air setting just to see. I'm also going to see if I can burn a piece of mild steel in the fire just so I know what that looks like and how long it will take in my forge. Empirical evidence is king.

I'm not exactly sure why the shape of the box matters -- quadrilateral or circular -- as long as the parameters for a good charcoal fire are met. They both hold dirt, sideblast tuyere, and fuel. I think the only limitation this first forge of mine has is its 17 inch usable interior diameter. I will not be able to expand the fire pot much more than another brick wide (from 4" x 8" to 8" x 8" x 8") but from what I have read on IFI bigger pot is not always better.

Can you tell me what you mean so I can better understand?

I appreciate your input.

 

Taylor

2 hours ago, ThomasPowers said:

... I like a fairly low fairly even "layer" of flame on top of the fuel stack for "active" forging.  Of course I use a hand crank blower of bellows and so have less air totally as it's a punctuated blase.

Thanks for the info on what you do. I'll keep that in mind as I forge my next two hours. Wish I could get pictures to show flames better.

I'll be visiting places once the 19 has been tamed. Hopefully I can find a charcoal blacksmith close by who works with it regularly. That will be a big help.

 

Taylor

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On 9/8/2020 at 8:02 AM, wirerabbit said:

Hey Dennis,

No forge problem, a me problem. 

Sorry I use coke instead so my requirements are different.

Mainly I made that comment because several people have commented that the wheel forge is a bad starting point and so on, but from what I could see in your linked thread, you have basically built a JABOD forge, then later you put in firebricks instead to shape the firepit. Still seems to me like it has got the normal shape I have observed others make.

So what does it matter what the container is, a semi wheel or a 55 gallon drum or a wooden box? The important bits AFAIK are the shape & dimensions of the firepit, the location of the tuyere and the amount of air.

Edited by Mod30
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Hey Dennis, Thanks for the help anyway. I was hoping for a full-time charcoal blacksmith to chime in. A clarification: The steel wheel is 17.5 inches in diameter and about 7 inches deep on the side that I filled for my forge. It is a much smaller rim than a semi truck wheel.

I've pretty much determined that I was seeing problems where none existed. Last three forging sessions have highlighted that to me. I've yet to hear from a full-time charcoal blacksmith, but I can't argue with results. Finished my latest project in quick order, using much less charcoal than I did my very first forging session. 

I've found the sweet spot for quantity of air and now plan to alter tuyere location to see if I can improve the location of the fire's heart etc. I seem to be just above it (1" maybe?) when I lay my metal level with the hearth.

In addition, I am finding that a large amount of charcoal above my work piece is not needed for the lower heats and the small stock that I am currently using.  At most I have perhaps two inches above the hearth which is about 6 total inches of charcoal from center of tuyere to top of mound. At the end of my firings I stop putting charcoal on top and focus on bending out coil stock. I wiggle it down into the heart, and it is bright orange in no time. I'll keep an eye on things and see if I am introducing problems with this lower mound.

Looks like I will be figuring this out on my own, which is just fine because I have been told that I'm a pretty xxxx xxxxxxx. I'll post back here with further information and questions.

happy hammering,

Taylor

 

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On 9/15/2020 at 1:26 PM, wirerabbit said:

I was hoping for a full-time charcoal blacksmith to chime in.

You've argued with every blacksmith having extensive experience burning charcoal who has told you that wheel is a BAD charcoal forge.  Why would any more chime in? 

Look, I'm not taking shots at you but you keep looking for something that just isn't there. Good words from an experienced blacksmith for a truck wheel charcoal forge. Sure, ANYTHING can be MADE to work. But should it?

Frosty The Lucky.

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