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Fuel for your fire


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Hey All,

 

I've been away from my home for a while and consequently have not been able to use my shop where I have a coal forge :( . I've been useing coke for the majority of the time while I've been up here in Marquette, MI attending college (thank god there are forges or I would go CRAZY!!! :wacko: ). Personally, I like the coal better because you don't need constant air on it and it kinda forms a little oven.

 

I just currious as to know what other people prefer.

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I guess I have to say that I use it all. Since I'm a farrier I carry a gas forge in the truck and use it some at home for blade work and other forging. I've always prefered coal though and I have a nice coal forge in the shop. Good coal is hard to get locally and having it shipped costs a fortune. Propane isn't cheap either. I recently started using charcoal and I'm sold on it. I have plenty of wood around here so I started making it myself too. Since I haven't had to buy wood I've been forging my butt off and it doesn't cost me a cent except for what it costs to run the electric blower. For a while ther I was spending a fortune on propane an coal. My charcoal making skills are improving and I haven't had any trouble keeping myself in charcoal. It seems to me that there are lots of advantages to using charcoal. It's clean, can be inexpensive and my friends don't have to worry about how they're going to get rid of their scrap wood. My brush pile has gone from being a problem and an eyesore to one of my most valued possessions. LOL.

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I've seen a number of different set-ups for fuel-oil furnaces, most common I think have been forges that run first on propane to get hot, with a blower, and then an oil drip set-up places fuel near the nozzle and it just ignites from the heat and intensified by the blower.

 

I made crucible furnaces specifically, blower and automotive type injector, electric fuel pump and regulator. A friend of mine used a common furnace burner for his, it worked fine.

I've not used fuel-oil for forges, although it's simple enough to do, I just used it for casting and crucible melts.

 

I'm pretty much back to charcoal now, and like Mike, I have a yard to clean-up... :) Have to take a few days every month or something like that to make the charcoal, and that time counts as fuel cost, but it looks to me at this point to be all-things-considered a better option than all-propane. I think what will likely happen in the future is that I'll increase the size of charcoal-making stuff over time and eventually make fuel maybe a couple of times a year. Maybe once. I think with stuff like that the larger the scale, the more efficient it becomes in some ways.

Great excuse for a party round the fire too. Take some of the sting out of the winter.

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I've seen a number of different set-ups for fuel-oil furnaces,  most common I think have been forges that run first on propane to get hot, with a blower, and then an oil drip set-up  places fuel near the nozzle and it just ignites from the heat and intensified by the blower.

 

I made crucible furnaces specifically,  blower and automotive type injector, electric fuel pump and regulator.  A friend of mine used a common furnace burner for his, it worked fine.

I've not used fuel-oil for forges, although it's simple enough to do, I just used it for casting and crucible melts.

 

I'm pretty much back to charcoal now, and like Mike, I have a yard to clean-up...  :)  Have to take a few days every month or something like that to make the charcoal, and that time counts as fuel cost, but it looks to me at this point to be all-things-considered a better option than all-propane. I think what will likely happen in the future is that I'll increase the size of charcoal-making stuff over time and eventually make fuel maybe a couple of times a year. Maybe once. I think with stuff like that the larger the scale, the more efficient it becomes in some ways.

Great excuse for a party round the fire too.  Take some of the sting out of the winter.

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Randal, could you tell me what kind of charcoal forge design you're using right now to tackle the larger blades? Is it more of a Tai Goo washtub-like thing or one of those traditional Japanese forges?

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Charcoal.

 

I've been able to get all the scrap white pine lumber I can handle locally. It's plenty hot, and free :excl:

 

getHot.jpg

 

I just get a fire started with old coals and stack fresh wood up in the top of the forge and cut the air for a while...instant charcoal. Pine burns quickly but the heat is very good. I add a few commercial briquettes for a longer burn.

 

Tracy

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Hey,

 

I've been wondering how you all have been making charcoal. I've only seen people use it but have never been able to find any to try (this may be due to lack of looking). Just curious.

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Hey,

 

I've been wondering how you all have been making charcoal.  I've only seen people use it but have never been able to find any to try (this may be due to lack of looking).  Just curious.

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I haven't been doing it that long myself so I'm no expert but here's how I do it.

 

I punched some holes in the bottom of a 55 gallon drum ($10 from Rural King). I set the drum on some rocks and pile earth around the bottom just leaving a few inches open. I start a fire in the drum and pile in my wood. when it's all burning good I lay a piece of sheet metal over the top leaving a coupler of inches open. I let it burn until it just about stops smoking. I might bang on the drum when the smoke thins to shuffle things around a bit and see if I get more smoke. Anyway when the smoking all but stops (meaning most of the water and junk is out of the wood and charcoal is starting to burn) I close off the top (by pushing the sheet metal all the way over the top) and plug the vent at the bottom with earth. Note that the sheet metal cover is not air tight. Once the drum is cool I just dump out the charcoal.

 

I've been messing with different ways of cutting and stacking the wood. Some burns work out better than others but when you're working with scrap that's all different kinds of wood and different sizes I don't know that you can ever be completely consistant.

 

Right now I'm using a regular coal forge with a store baught fire pot. It works ok but it's busy because you're always dumping in more charcoal though it's no busier than doing a good job of tending a coal fire. I think a deeper fire pot with the air comming in from the side would be better so I want to build one of those forgebeques which would also get me out of the shop and out under a nice shade tree.

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Forge I'm building now is sort-of based on ancient western-European design, which coincidentally is similar to Japanese-style as well, a side-blast tuyere set-up with a fairly large hearth, stacking fire-bricks around it will give all kinds of options for the size of the fire. About a 4 inch "pit" under the tuyere, and the "flat" of the hearth is just above the tuyere, so it makes it easy to keep steel in the fire just above the tuyere so there isn't a direct blast on your material. Pretty simple.

I would *like* to use teardrop bellows too, but since I have some space concerns I may, for the winter anyway, use a Japanese-style box-bellows, with a "T" in the air line and a couple of gate valves so if need be I can run a little blower as well, I'll be doing crucible melts in this forge, all of my carburising, and some reduction too (hence the pit under the tuyere), so the blower will be a modern convienience.

 

I use 55 gallon drums for charcoal too, with a pipe welded into the bottom that extends about 3/4 of the way up into the drum, and a lid with the locking strap... my present one is burnt out and I'll be picking up a couple of new ones shortly so I'll take some pics and show at least my one method.

I fill the barrels with whatever wood, the barrel is up on blocks about 20 inches of the ground. I pile wood all around and under the drum and burn that, once the fire gets going good you can see the volatiles come off the barrel-wood and it ignites adding to the fire, generally the next morning I open the barrel and get the charcoal. I like this method since the yeild from the wood in the barrel is very high, as opposed to firing in the barrel itsself, but it's all good.

Normally I'd spray the charcoal down with some water as I'm transferring it from the burn-barrels to the storage barrels just to make sure it's out, and for whatever reason when you do that it's less "sparky" in the forge.... could be my imagination too.... that happens sometimes...

:)

 

I think at this point I'm going to try and do three or four barrels at a time, good old barrels are just about the perfect modern method to make the stuff. Bigger fires attract more people with good beer too... a little extra labour and a party makes it all a lot less like work.

 

Charcoal comes with some issues you need to keep on top of though, best to have a metal container with a fairly snug fitting lid as your supply can near the forge, a spark gets charcoal going pretty easy, so you don't want your fuel cache burning your shop down after you go in for the night.

Charcoal also makes WAY MORE CO than a lot of fuel/set-ups, so if you are indoors, like I'll be, be aware of that and have a good method to vent the forge outside. If there is lots of charcoal left in the hearth after you get done for the day, don't put it back in your fuel bin, wet it all down good and leave it there, push it aside the next day and start a fire with fresh fuel and rake the old stuff on top of it. Just to be safe.

And it throws sparks sometimes, so figure on that and have the area of your forge set-up to take that into account.

 

Oh, and if your garbage containers stink, throw a scoopfull into the bottoms... it helps. :)

 

Nice thing about charcoal is that it's an easy fuel too, and it's the real "traditional" fuel of bladesmiths/blacksmiths, coal is a substitute. It's exceptionally good fuel for bladework, very friendly to steel, and as Tai has said in the past, it almost has self-fluxing properties and it's an absolute joy to use for projects that involve welding.

 

Oh, I use some screen to get the "fines" out of it when I'm getting it out of the burn barrels, and save that for the "pit" in the forge, as well as any things I need fine charcoal for, like carburising or crucible melts, colour-case-hardening, all that kinda stuff. Mix it with borax 50-50 for the welding flux... can't say there is any technical reason for it, and that might be more of that "imagination" I mentioned before, but in my head it makes the flux/welding go better.

 

Hopefully I'll get caught up enough this week that I can get the forge built the next, I'll take pics of that too if ya want. Tai's method using the washtub is great too, barbeque forges like charcoal... just about anything that'll hold the stuff and provides a method to throw some air in it will work fine, one of the beautys of charcoal, it ain't fussy on how you go about it.

Edited by RHGraham
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If I could only have one it would be wood. You can use it straight or make charcoal out of it, depending what the job at hand is. A mixture of wood and charcoal can be nice.

 

The problem with charcoal is that you can't turn it around and make it back into wood.

 

Wood is good! :)

 

... got wood?

 

FM1.jpg

Edited by Tai
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I have thought about wood as a posible fuel source while starting the coke fires up here at Northern Michigan University. Unfortunately, I don't have access to very much at my home in Maryland, and even if I wanted to try it, I wouldn't have a place to do it. My home forge is in a small shop building and would not be able to handle a fire the size of the one in the pic that Tai posted. :o The ultimate fire hazard. :P

 

I like where this is going and I want to hear more!!! :ylsuper:

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Lots of options, you can use wood-pellets and shelled corn too, fairly reasonable in fifty pound sacks, they both worked suprisingly well.

Been involved with horses on-and-off over the years, at one point I read about some cultures using dried dung for fuel in forges, so we spread some out in the sun and gave it a try... wow, talk about HOT, it actually was a killer fuel.... on more than one occasion I've opened the door on a wood stove and just used the fire in there, and that works just as good as anything, so straight up wood is entirely valid. Doesn't have to be a huge fire.

 

In MD, I'd take a look at shelled corn I think, or wood pellets.

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Tai... nice fire... fire good.... :D

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Hey Thanks Bro. :ylsuper:

 

I really think of wood and charcoal pretty much the same anymore. Charcoal is wood, pre-charred. I like what you were saying about charcoal.

Edited by Tai
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What I was saying involving wood was that I don't believe that I have the right space or type of forge for that kind of fire. My parents recently cut down a LARGE pine tree that was growing next to our house... so when I go home for Thanksgiving, I'm going to try to make some charcoal. That way they can use it to burn in their new wood stove and I can use it to try forging with. I think I'm going to try to get a big barrel to fire it in.

 

I know around my home there are many, many farms that grow corn. But I'm not too sure what shelled corn is. Could you please explain it? It sounds very interesting.

 

I also know that durring the western expansion, travelers used "buffalo chips" as fuel to cook their food. I'm sure any type of dried "waste" that is mostly grass or other plant matter molded into a shape would serve just as well as wood chips for forging.

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Bob;

 

Shelled corn is just corn kernals, off the cob, in bags. I would think you likely have somewhere in your area a place selling wood-stoves, pellet-stoves, stuff like that, I'd just go in and ask them about pellets and corn.... it's all the rage now with the fuel issues and stuff. Corn is usually cheaper, the pellets are simply sawdust pressed into little rabbit-turd sized pellets. Both come in bags, not insane-expensive, and both would work in a forge just fine.

 

basically, if it's solid and flammable, it generally can be used to forge with. Some better than other, of course, but fire is pretty much fire, if you can get it going, and put some air on it, it'll get hot. Gotta be imaginative sometimes, every area has some angle for fuel, different from the next... you could have a place nearby swamped with pallets perhaps....if so, they'll give you some, I garuntee it, just to get rid of them.... lotsa pre-manufactured home building outfits everywhere these days, if you have one handy, they often will let you take thier scrap-wood.

Watch for demo and reconstruction projects, ask for the contractor or foreman and just ask about the scraps, not always, but quite often they'll let you take scrapwood. Might even know where to get a barrel. Check for sawmills, sometimes they have great deals on slabwood and trim ends, they wanna make some money on it, but generally, go there direct and you cut out a lot of middle-man markup.

The dung thing gets a lot of laughs, but it is in fact a killer fuel, every bit as good as charcoal in all respects... so, if there is a big horse outfit nearby, seriously, ask them if you can bag some horse shit. Tell them what you do, and most likely you'll make sales of the deal too, especially if you can make bits and spurs and all that silly crap :0) When I decided to try it back in alberta, I was working on a big ranch, I told the guy in the horse barn what I was doing, he actually set up a can in the barn and would fork out the nice big round doo-doo balls and throw them in there for me, no big inconvienience for him, and he got a hunting knife out of the deal.

At worst, you might find a supply of wood or something, and have to trade a knife or two.

 

Cow dung is just as good.... but way more of a pain to "harvest".... sloppy damn things, cows are....

 

 

:D

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Randal: How would you go about lighting the corn? This sounds like a very interesting idea. I'm likeing all of this talk about free or real cheep fuel that works just as well.

 

 

Also: One thing that I've noticed from the post here is that nobody has said anything about gas forges. I know that many people use them because of all the questions about burners and such.

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... so when I go home for Thanksgiving, I'm going to try to make some charcoal.  That way they can use it to burn in their new wood stove and I can use it to try forging with.  I think I'm going to try to get a big barrel to fire it in.

32994[/snapback]

 

 

Bob, I think making charcoal to use for home heating would be a waste of potential heat. The gasses burning out of the wood are utilized in a wood burning stove and the smoke goes up the chimney. In an open forge, burning charcoal cuts out most of the flame and smoke and keeps the fire dept. from showing up. :D

 

I heard the buffalo chip fuel story also. At one time Ill bet that was a ready sourse of fuel on the plains. Makes ya look at large animals in a whole new light. I never imagined looking at an elephant and saying "Mmmm...FUEL!"

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Bob, I think making charcoal to use for home heating would be a waste of potential heat.

33095[/snapback]

 

 

The only problem with burning the wood strait, is that its pine. I don't think my parents would like to have the chimney catch fire :P other wise, I think that burning the wood strait would not be a problem :D

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