The are many benefits to reducing ones carbon footprint and becoming
more eco-friendly. I would like to do everything I can to be as close
to the ideal as possible.
My thoughts are that charcoal might be a better way to go about this,
especially if from local, well maintained sources. However I have also
seen that charcoal is seen by many blacksmiths to be the poor relative
Is this a path that anybody else has trodden?
and cons. I would have to say that a gas forge would probably be the
best in terms of carbon emissions, but gas is far from perfect when
you talk environment. Not to mention that each of the fuels has it's
benefits in terms of workability, temperature, etc. which I will leave
for more seasoned smiths to hammer out here (no pun intended).
Maybe there's room for a discussion on making a solar forge on here?
That's about the only way I could see making a forge with a minimum of
I would guess that charcoal, made locally and used locally, was the
most friedly to the environment. A renewable resource with negligable
transport or infrastructure costs.
Everything you have discussed so far emits CO2.
Use solar energy to make hydrogen, then burn the Hydrogen for forging.
You waste a lot of energy just burning the wood to make charcoal and
you send a lot of pyroligneous acid into the air anyway.
When trees die, they oxidize slowly, so if you oxidize them rapidly
(burn the wood)it's about the same thing. Why not just plant a lot more
trees than you use and let it go at that?
Use charcoal if you want, but it takes a lot more fooling around than
coal does and is harder to make a real hot fire with.
I suspect that the egological cost of materials for a solar furnace,
such as the one we saw in France some years ago, would far outweigh any
environmental damage you could do in a lifetime, and, of course, you
can't forge on a cloudy day.
Steve Pointer wrote:
From a fire stand point the biggest difference between coal and charcoal is
that charcoal fires need to be feed more frequently and need less air. From
an ecological view both coal and gas put carbon (and other things) back into
the cycle that have been locked out of the cycle for a looong time. As for
getting a hot fire with charcoal that is a matter of tweeking the forge.
The problem with solar is that it cost a lot of money to set up, and
money still runs the planet. Also every component in the manufacture of
the solar power generator comes either directly from petrochemical
industry or uses carbon emitting products in their manufacture.
I live in a very sunny country, and you'd think solar would be the way
to go, but at the moment it's a rich man's toy.
The discussion here is that we go nuclear, and there is a strong
environmental case for doing so, especially with the carbon emission debate.
I've always thought it would be great to have a solar furnace, but from
what I understand they are huge.
Charcoal from the odd days forging should not impact the environment,
coal would also make minimal impact from a single user. Gas is fairly
clean, and I've heard mapp gas is the cleanest (but try getting large
quantities of the stuff cheaply).
Personally I use propane, because it is readily available to me, good
coal is hard to get, and we mine it!!! I used to use charcoal, as did
our ancestors, but it takes a lot of sweat to get to welding
temperatures with charcoal.
Just an opinion ;-)
Ever stop to think about what coal is?
As I understand it, either way you're burning the product of a plant.
Here's a poser for you- is it better for you to cut down living wood
that is taking in CO2 and respiring Oxygen, or to burn the remnants of
ancient conifers that are no longer doing anything? When you consider
the question of releasing locked carbon, does it enter your mind that
every living thing on Earth is primarily carbon and water based? For
that matter, in the long run, will switching your old carbon filiment
light bulbs out (which contain tin and glass) for compact flourescents
help us out much when the landfills and routes to those landfills (as
the fragile bulbs smash apart in the back end of the garbage truck)
end up full of mercury?
While I understand your concern, please try not to jump on the eco-nut
bandwagon. There are a lot of ideas being bandied about these days
that don't actually make any sense. If you're going to be concerned,
try to be concerned about things that actually make a real difference,
like making sure no one is dumping hazardous waste where it can get
into your drinking water, or dumping hazardous ideas into your head,
where they can get into the environment later as hot air.
I know that you are just trying to be a concerned citizen, and I
applaud you for that- but most of the things we're hearing lately are
not only mis-informed, but seem to be actively anti-human. Science is
the study of facts, not a democratic process based on the gut feelings
of the majority. Weather changes every day- some years it's hotter,
some years it's colder. No matter which direction it swings on any
given day, your blacksmithing habits will not make a gnat's fart worth
My vote, if I haven't turned you off entirely- and I know that
ecological questions have become a religious debate at this point-
would be for propane or coal. The pros of propane are that it's
fairly clean and readily availible, but it's too hot (for me) to use
in the summer, and a small tank can freeze up on you pretty quickly.
The pros of coal are that it's cooler in the summer when the heat goes
up the flue instead of blowing out at you, and you can make the fire
whatever size you need- the downside being that you need to find coal,
which may be very easy or very difficult, depending on your location.
You also need to spend more time tending the fire, though that is not
a really difficult chore.
The one argument that made sense to me was atmosphere change.
Science pretty much agrees that ages ago when coal was forming, there
was a lot more CO2 and other carbon forms in the atmosphere. The tons
and tons of coal in the ground, the petroleum oils, the natural gases
all captured immense amounts of carbon. Enough carbon was bound into
solid forms to change the atmosphere.
There are a few people maintaining a sustainable forest. I read in
the Draft Horse Journal where one family has been nurturing a woods in
the Pacific Northwest for a couple of generations now. They harvest
mature trees, manage diseased or damaged trees, etc., and make a fair
living. And the woods remains a pretty healthy, stable, and viable
habitat and natural resource. Working with someone like that, or a
tree service, or local lumber mill, you should be able to pick up
trimmings or even damaged tree section for little or no effort or
cost. There are numbers of ways to turn wood into charcoal, some more
efficient than others. Being part of the 'current' cycle, using
damaged or mature trees, there would be slight impact on the CO2
cycle. Except, of course, that part of the carbon from those trees
might have gone into the soil, and then into longer term bindings.
But don't forget soot! Soot is high quality carbon. The portion of
soot that doesn't get incorporated into your steel, or embedded in
your lungs and skin, will add to the dirt around your smithy. And
return to the natural cycle.
This might sound nice. But keep in mind that there are various
products emitted into the atmosphere in the course of making
charcoal. The h2o (water) removed from the wood is mostly OK, but
there are other things that will dissolve into the water as fast as
the water forms. There are some caustic and nasty portions generated
when making charcoal. One technique for making charcoal regenerates
heat by burning off the volatiles from when you start cooking the
wood. This helps to reduce some of the compounds, though probably not
Using good quality coal, mostly carbon with few impurities or
inclusions (and low sulfur!), most of the conversion products were
dispersed millions of years ago. With charcoal the byproducts are
generated today, and will take hours to months to degenerate to the
point they no longer affect anything. This same argument also applies
to other fossil fuels, petroleum and natural gases.
The coal the average blacksmith burns could not begin to compare to
the thousands of tons burned by utilities. Just look at a coal train
roll by some time - 20 to 80 car loads at a time, often daily runs.
I haven't seen anyone discuss electric forges. Hydroelectric
generated electricity, along with wind and solar, would have the lease
eco-footprint. Otherwise I am sure there is literature on how much
co2 a tree captures, and you could plant a tree or three each year to
compensate for the carbon you consume in your forge. Who knows? In
10-15 years your forge might be ringing beneath a spreading Oak tree!
Polytechforum.com is a website by engineers for engineers. It is not affiliated with any of manufacturers or vendors discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.