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New to smithing, a blade is in my future


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Hey everyone,

 

I'm just starting out smithing. While I am not yet a bladesmith, I am about to attempt a knife for chopping charcoal. Crazy, huh?

 

I've made my own small charcoal forge and just finished my first set of tongs. Right now I am buying lump charcoal (cowboy brand) and using a hatchet to size it.

 

I have two newbie questions:

Are there many bladesmiths here who predominantly use charcoal to forge?

 

Is there a traditional (any tradition) pattern for a knife that is used to chop charcoal?

 

Taylor, near Jeddo TX

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Hey Taylor: 

 

Charcoal has been used to forge in many traditions. There are others on the forum who know more than me on this topic, but Asian cultures, like Japan, who had limited coal deposits, developed charcoal forges long ago. While I am not a coal/charcoal forger, I understand that charcoal is cleaner burning than coal, and therefore makes welding a bit easier.

 

Most bladesmiths use propane forges today in my experience. They are simple, easy to build, and nearly every corner gas station sells the fuel to burn them. They are also clean burning, and you can easily see what's happening to the steel in the forge (because it's not buried beneath a pile of coals). It's much cheaper to run a propane forge  vs. buying charcoal, but I suppose if you were making your own charcoal you'd just have to weigh the time cost.

 

Anyway, this craft is not one for pure rationalists. If forging with charcoal strikes you as important, then do it, even if it's not as efficient as propane. The romance of this craft is far more important than many of us like to admit. 

 

YMMV, and welcome to the quest.

 

Dave

 

 

 

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When I began forging I built a Lively style forge and used charcoal. On the positive side it works very well. On the negative side, it takes a lot of charcoal! When making charcoal one tip is to start with wood the same size. I just used my hammer to break big chunks. I don’t know of a traditional knife used for the task. I switched to propane so I could spend more time hammering steel and less time managing the fire. That said, I am building a coal forge to use for larger non-knife forging.

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I have 16 hours on this forge, and consequently, 16 hours of total blacksmithing experience. Still early days.

20200908_160451.jpg20200908_164319.jpg 

 

3/4 inch tuyere. IFB firepot 4" wide, 4" deep, 8" long. DC motor air supply. I usually spend about 2 hours at the forge and consume perhaps 1/5th a bag of lump charcoal. I haven't standardized my charcoal handling and storage, so that number is not set in stone. $16 bucks for 15lbs. of lump charcoal from box store. 

 

I started with local clay fire pot, but soon realized it wouldn't last long. I'm positive I could make a propane forge. I have experience with refractories and burners. I just wanted a challenge, and as I'm still exploring whether I am into blacksmithing, I wanted to make something simple, changeable, and inexpensive. If this becomes an obsession, charcoal making will be next on the list.

 

That tong blank heating up is now a working pair of tongs that ,as luck would have it, will hold the stock I plan on using to forge out a charcoal cutting blade. I think this forge is suited to bladesmithing now that I have done some further reading into things.

 

Thanks y'all. Looking forward to the interactions.

 

Taylor

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Nice!  If you've gotten that far on your own, you'll go far with outside help. B)  That's a sort of hybrid Japanese/Iron Age Norse forge setup, so a stout thick knife from either culture would work as a charcoal chopper.  I use whatever's handy (axe, hatchet, seax, random piece of flat bar), but I know Dan O'Conner ( a fellow Texan of yours, and a serious follower of Japanese techniques) made a sort of thick heavy vegetable knife to chop charcoal with.  About 14" overall with a square tip.  No idea if that's traditional in the Japanese style or if it's just what worked for him.  

 

I only use charcoal to smelt or to work with home-smelted steels and iron up to the point that they are fully consolidated and refined enough to switch to coal or gas.  If you can make your own in large quantity it's a great fuel, if you have to buy it it gets expensive fast.  Dan makes his own, and has a thread about it pinned around here somewhere.  Also check out Dave at http://islandblacksmith.ca/process/.  I forget what he uses to chop the charcoal.  But it's fun to try to find it.

 

Edit:  He uses the same thing Dan does.  Check it out: 

 

 

And welcome to the madness!  

 

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Charcoal is very traditional like was said. Also, it can run cheaper, a lot of charcoal users will get a good bed of coals, and then stack wood on top. It'll burn down and release all the volatiles, and becomes clean burning coals. Look at the Whitlox wood-burning forge.

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Thanks for the encouragement and the information, guys. I will be taking better notes at the forge, but my best guess right now is I am burning through about $3 of charcoal an hour on that forge. Of course I can not do near the work in an hour that an experienced bladesmith can do, but I'll get there.

 

I have researched the Whitlox and I might make my version of this idea down the road.

 

 

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my propane forge costs about $1 an hour and i could probably make a smaller one that would be more efficient, however small forges seem to be trickier to get right without just having a big hot spot. i used charcoal briefly and i had a lot of trouble with it, but i would still like a good setup because there are some things you cant do in a small or medium forge like making axes or straightening weird shaped springs.

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I'd tell ya to stick with the solid fuel forge if you can.  There is no limit on what a coal/coke (or charcoal) forge can make.

 

I was taught with coal, but use propane as I don't have a dedicated work space for that kind of set up. I use a coal forge any time I've got one available.  With good fire tending, a solid fuel forge is very versatile.  Propane on the other hand I struggle with. Mostly as I'm not making knifes very often. The strange sized things I tend to make usually don't like to fit into a propane set up. And it very much limits the size of the axes you might want to make unless you cut the side out of it. 

 

Don't worry about the cost, just have fun.  Just set some money aside for fuel each week.  BTW, your tong nib and boss look well forged.

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I started out with coal and the only real problems I had was temp control. But that was because of my air pump set up. If you set it up right, keep the coal around your fire pit properly damped down and add just enough coal as you need, you can do pretty much anything. I use propane now with an Atlas forge and like it because its easier to heat treat without knocking the coal fire apart.

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Thanks Daniel. I've been using those tongs already. Started the second set of tongs. The charcoal forge I have is working great, though the fire pot is a bit narrow for making all my beginning tooling. I had to be creative when making my first hold fast. It was larger than my trough could accommodate laying flat. Tooling up for my first blade has taught me quite a lot. Hope it makes the blade a success.

 

Brian, I've not had great luck watering down the charcoal fire. For one, I don't think I'm needing it with such a narrow trough. What gets me is the spitting and excessive fire fleas of moist fuel. I'm no longer going to use the leftover charcoal from previous fires for this very reason. They spark up terribly when I use them at the start. Perhaps once the fire gets established that won't be a problem.

 

Thanks for all the help and encouragement. Smash, make flat.

 

Taylor

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You don't damp down charcoal, only coal! It keeps the fire contained in the fire bowl and also helps to force out some impurities as it heats up. Charcoal isn't damped down at all. It is wood that has had the majority of impurities, or volatile elements already burned out. Control in a charcoal forge is just adding fuel as needed, with a bit on top to act as a bit of insulation and ready fuel.

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Thanks Brian, for the confirmation. I have read about sprinkling coal, but wouldn't you know it, someone on another list suggested I do it with my charcoal. I was skeptical then. I'm positive now: Excessive moisture in a charcoal fire, bad. Now, I have come across in my research that in the Japanese side-draft forges, the bottom is lined with charcoal chips and moistened as an insulation barrier for the bottom of the forge. I may have to try that.

 

Taylor

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