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I Forge Iron

Part Time Collier

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Well, I guess this applies to me now.

My boys and I (3 and 5) made our first batch of charcoal in a drum last weekend. It's completely within everyone's reach. Even if you prefer coal or gas for your forge, you can use your results to smoke your ribs with.

Pics here


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Velly interesting. I've been told many times to get a good fire going in a drum. Chuck in the rest of your wood till it reaches the top. Get it burning well and turn the drum upside down to seal off the whole thing. It never works :cry: But, this seems to work fine.

Am I right in assuming that some sort of gas is coming out of the drum that fuels the fire underneath. What is it, why does charcoal burn if this gas stuff is lost to the fire below the drum.

Read between the lines here to find that I'm not asking on behalf of those that might be a little shy and are reluctant to ask for clarification from the teacher. I'm asking because from experience I've found I haven't got a clue about making charcoal.

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For sure there's a complex chemical procedure that is going on in that barrel, but I'm not able to explain all that.

Basically, you're trying to drive off everything but the carbon (the water, the sap, the organics). This can be done with heat very easily.

As we all know, heated carbon (coal, charcoal) makes a pretty darn good fire, so in order to not make AND burn your charcoal at the same time, you remove from the carbon the thing it really needs to burn....oxygen.

This is the reason for the sealed up barrel, to prevent the oxygen from getting to that carbon that would just love to mix together and burn.

Some do just build a fire in a barrel and then fill it with wood and then seal it up, but there's little control that way.

I used a retort design that feeds the gasses from the wood down into the fire. Just because we're trying to drive those gasses off, doesn't mean we can't use them on the way out. They happen to be flamable, so why not use them to reduce the amount of wood you need to burn?

As others have pointed out there's no fear of flashback at all because there's no air getting to the fuel in that sealed drum. NOW, here's what happened to us.

We had "cooked" the charcoal, and had taken the barrel off the fire to let it cool. Being the impatient type, and wanting my buddies to see the final product (I think they were skeptical, aren't we all), we pulled the top off to take a look.

So here I have this very much heated drum of what is now almost pure carbon, and what do I in effect give it, but all the oxygen it could want. What do you suppose happened? It flared up into a 55 gallon grill. Had I left it alone, it would have continued to burn until my whole batch of charcoal was nothing but ash. That would have been hours later, but it would have happened all by itself.

Of course, not wanting to ruin the fruits of our labor, we slapped the lid back on (limiting again, the oxygen, and thus the ability to burn) and let it cool down all the way.

long winded story, but a very fun excercise. Of course I'm not supposed to have open fires within the city, but that's what the bricks were for. I alerted my neighbors, and they were excited for me to try.

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Here is a picture of how to make a big batch of charcoal during our annualy hammer-in, in september here in Sweden near by my shop
We allso have the workshopp open this days so people can se us work in the shopp, and allso people can testing theire skills with the Beche 500Kg hammer.



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Here in the Ozarks, we still have the remnants of the charcoal making industry. The kilns in this area look like concrete Quonset huts with large steel doors on the end. Several truck loads of cordwood, mostly oak and hickory, are loaded into the kiln and set on fire. The doors are closed and sealed with mud. There is a small vent in the top of the kiln to let the gas escape. The fire will burn for several days and take several days to cool. Several years ago, during a particularly dry summer, a trucker was hauling a load of fresh charcoal from a kiln to a briquet factory. The load hadn't completely cooled yet. When the trucker took off, the load caught fire, spewing burning charcoal and starting fires along a 10 mile stretch of country backroads.


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Coal was the english term for charcoal in medieval and later times what we think of as coal nowdays was always called "rock coal, earth coal or sea coal" and was not used for smithing until the high middle ages and even than charcoal was the preferred fuel until charcoal became too expensive.

Language is a tricky thing and while the words may be the same what the mean can change quite a lot!


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