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I Forge Iron

Controlling charcoal sparks?


DHarris

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I’ve found it to be much easier and more reliable to use a couple of pieces of lump charcoal to get a coke fire going, but the sparks are terrible. Any way of using charcoal to start the fire without all the sparks?

It is a pretty show at dusk, but I get burns on my hands and wrists from them, plus a few going down my shirt. 

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The way I start a coke fire and I know this is pretty elaborate is to build a little "log cabin" of kindling, sometimes on some newspaper, put a handfull of coal inside it, some more newspaper on top, build a roof of coke over it, and add a bit of charcoal starter fluid to the whole thing.  I leave a trench to light it from the bottom.  The theory is the paper starts the wood, the wood starts the coal, and the coal starts the coke.  As the fire burns up and gaps start to appear in the roof I add pts of coke into the gaps.  It is elaborate but I seldom have a fire that does not start the coke.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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I use a couple pieces of wood scraps as well, and use shavings left over from woodworking to ignite the scraps. just a couple of stick maybe 15-20 cm long is enough to get the fire going.

~Jobtiel

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I do a bit of a combo of the above. I have a little rivet forge so if your pot is bigger then adjust accordingly. I keep a basket of stuff to shred next to the shredder - if it hasn't been shredded yet then I grab 3 or 4 sheets on my way out. If there's nothing in that basket (or I forget) then I use junk mail that I collect and store in the shed. Anyway - 3 or 4 sheets of paper - each crumpled into a tight-ish ball. You're not looking to shoot it out of a straw but you should be able to toss it a few feet. Then I toss a light handful of small wood kindling on top - usually rearrange a bit to kind of teepee but not always, lol. The wood kindling is roughly the width/length of my middle finger - maybe a titch longer and sometimes thinner. (shrug) It's not an exact science, lol.

Then just light the paper. The paper catches the wood and once the flame is good and going then I add a bit of coke (or coal if I don't have coke) and keep mounding more every time the flame gets big again. 

Sometimes I get impatient and just shove a load of coal into the paper/wood fire and crank like my life depends on it. More smoke that way but less fiddling - not sure if it's really any faster though since I have to crank so much, lol

 

If you want to continue using charcoal as your starter and just want advice for keeping the sparks down, then I'd find an old grease spatter screen and just let that lay there until the sparking dies down. Not sure how well it would hold up to the heat but laying on top isn't as hot as inside the forging fire temps.

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i use a bit of lump charcoal as well. I have found that a good layer of coke on top of it reduces the fleas. Works kind of like JHCC's suggestion with hardware cloth. A good forge hood will also suck those fleas up into it and away from you. It also looks as if you use way more charcoal than i do. Just a small handful soaked in lighter fluid, enough to get a few embers going is all i use. I use a small bowl to put a bit of lighter fluid on the charcoal, i have kind of an aversion to putting flammable liquids directly in my forge. I know it would provably be alright but i will ere on the side of safety. When i say a bit of fluid i mean a small bit, not enough for it to be dripping off just enough to get the charcoal burning. 

 

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 I may be going old school, but it seems lately I have been starting my forges and wood stove with flint and steel. I make my strikers, char cloth and charcoal and add coal and coke as the time is right. It doesn't take much longer than the propane torch on charcoal method for me.......     life is good            Dave

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I also start my coke fire with charcoal. A half full charcoal chimney takes about 10 minutes to glowing, time to clean out the firepot. Dump the red hot charcoal in and pack the coke/coal around it, then just very light air from the blower. Gate mostly or all the way closed. The air gate on my forge has a 1/2 hole drilled in it. The coke on top keeps most of the sparks down till the coke is burning.   Forged for years with charcoal and the sparks are an issue. It's worse with mesquite charcoal and all of the hardwoods will spark some. I've read that softwood charcoal is very low spark and even tried a bit of softwood-chunks-in-pierced-paint-can-on-the-camp-stove small scale retort but never really got anywhere with that.

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When using bituminous, I used to put a few bits of coke from the previous fire on the bottom, followed by tightly crumpled newspaper. Over the top of that I would build a “cabin” out of kindling which had been boiled in wax. Around the outside I would place green coal and leftover coke. Once that was lit, I would slowly put on green coal but by bit. 
 

For a while I really liked the ritual, but now I just have to get the fire going as quickly as possible. I get maybe an hour or hour and a half a few days after work. I just have to get the fire going as fast as possible. Newspaper,a few pieces of charcoal, a little slosh of weed eater fuel. Lights easily and fast. 
 

This evening I tried putting the hairdryer on the lowest setting, that seemed to do the trick. Still sparked, but much less. Thanks

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I've never needed to use anything but  4 or 5 sheets of newspaper wadded up with a tail on the bottom and a big crown at the top. A thrifty nickel was always perfect! Think mushroom shape. Light the tail/stem, put it in your firepot stem down, place coke over the top and give it air. The crown keeps the coke at the top and out of your firepot, allowing the paper to burn and do its job. It's literally as quick as lighting a torch and adjusting your gauges. There is very little smoke and zero sparks. When the stem burns, the flames are forced upward and outward to the edges of the mushroom cap, then up into the outer edge of the coke. By the time the paper is consumed, your fire is ready to go. 

I never put green coal into my forge fire. This is what causes smoke and a dirty fire. Blacksmith coal should be coked around the upper edge  of your firepot, then moved into the firepot to be used as your heat source. Its a continual process of fire management. "Storage" Coal around the outside of your forge, green coal close to the edge but still on the forge perimeter burns and becomes coke. Move the coke into your fire pot and cover your iron with it. Move the storage coal closer to the firepot so it can start to burn and becomes "green coal". Clinker and ash go out the bottom. Add more "storage" coal to the outside of the green coal to keep the cycle going. 

There is no reason to put coke at the bottom of your firepot when starting a fire, then newspaper on the top. Coke needs direct flame to burn, so all it does is block your air supply until the coke on the top is burning and the paper is consumed and out of the way.

Perhaps I'm wrong but it seems that there are folks here who believe that when you use coking coal, you burn this in your firepot mixed with the produced coke. Totally wrong. You want nothing but coke in your firepot, other than your very first fire when you have no coke... Any coal in your firepot creates a dirty fire, smoke, and puts the impurities in the coal directly against your iron and will negatively effect all your work. When it becomes coke, these impurities are removed and the actual coke is pretty darn'd clean, particularly sulfur. I suspect that the green smoke sometimes seen when we produce coke is sulfur and other unwanted stuff burning off.

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I have two actual blowers. The first one is a Champion #40 that I bought when I first started. The second is a Canedy Otto Western Chief I bought a year ago at the auction they have at our annual conference. Both work fine, but I’ve just never hooked them up. I probably will soon, because my latest hair dryer is showing signs it is going to fail soon. I’ve gone through 4 or 5, but they are cheap at thrift stores. I never built any sort of valve or damper. The low setting was ok for normal forging and the high was ok for when I wanted to weld something. Reaching down to the switch was/is a pain, but to turn it on and off I mounted a switch to the bottom of my forge table. 
 

It wasn’t until I began using charcoal to light the coke that I noticed I really have little control over how much air I am putting in the fire. What I want is an electric blower, but I never see them for sale. (Probably because TwistedHollow finds all of those for sale in Oklahoma and buys them. :D)

As for flammable liquids, I would never use straight gasoline. Or rather not again. I tried mixing diesel with gasoline, but never could get the right mix. I may as well have been trying to light water. The gas/oil mix for seemed to be perfect and I already had it around for the weed eater. It seems to light and the flame spreads slowly. Much slower than lighter fluid one might use in a charcoal grill. 

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On 11/19/2022 at 7:22 PM, BillyBones said:

A couple years back i read that in Japan the smiths would take a small piece of metal and start hammering on it cold until the friction of hammering it got the metal hot enough to get an ember started.

En you are also warmed up as well. Seems like a winwin

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DHarris, for electronic blowers, you could check with a local heating and ventilation company. The combustion air blowers for furnaces work pretty well, and are often in perfect shape on furnaces that are removed for upgrades or replacement. That’s what I’m using and it works well with a cheap speed controller. You just have to get creative with your air connections.

Keep it fun,

David

 

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