The VERY BEST way to get questions answered is to get into a group that does what you want to do. There are over 60 "clubs" around the USA and Canada organized primarily to educate folks about blacksmithing. ABANA, the Artist Blacksmith Association of North America at
has a list of the whereabouts of most of them. These clubs have various meeting schedules and conferences. The members range from "never lit a fire" to real professionals. Many have education programs. All of them welcome and look forward to meeting new members. Many of the members have been upgrading their equipment and therefore have things to sell, trade, etc.. Many of the groups also have newsletters containing "how-to" articles. For instance, our group, The Guild of Metalsmiths, has an index of about 750 how-to articles from our newsletter! So, to the folks who are new to blacksmithing: Find your closest ABANA affiliate, check out their website if they have one, and join the group. Get to a few meetings and introduce yourself. Tell folks about your interests and go from there.
Finally, when you are asking for "where to" information tell us in general where you live like "west central Wisconsin" (me). Who knows--- you may live a mile from me or some other person who can help.
I have a question, how does coal and charcoal compare?
I was given a 5 gallon bucket of 3/16" square hunks of charcoal the other day. The water-softener-outfits have tons of it to get rid of. :)
Could fine charcoal like that be used for forging? My plan is to make some steel from iron sand and I don't want sulfer in it. If or when I get around to forge-welding my plan is to use propane for the same reason.
I belong to two clubs that sell it to members. The Badger Blacksmiths in west central Wisconsin has coal in Glenwood City. The Guild of Metalsmiths has coal in Ramsey, MN (northern suburb of Mpls). The coal is very good blacksmithing coal. The price is about $4.00 per 5 gallon pail. Sorry that I cant' find the exact price. The Guild of Metalsmiths buys a 26 ton load about once a year. The Badger club gets a ton or two at a time from the Guild.
As long as the charcoal is wood charcoal that is "natural" (not briquetted), it oughta work. I have never tried pieces as small as you mention, but it would be interesting to try. I know several blacksmiths who use charcoal exclusively. They buy it in 20 to 50 pound bags. As far as using it to make iron, the 3/16" chunks may be on the smallish side. The furnaca may clog. We use 1/2" to 1" "cubes" and some bigger stuff. For forging, you tend to go through a lot more volume of charcoal than coal, so be prepared to keep shovelling. Also, you can't really control the size of your fire as well as with coal. I have seen forge welding done with charcoal, but it takes more skill than with coal.
Re: forge welding with propane to avoid sulphur (I think that's what you meant): Be careful when choosing a propane forge for forge welding. I have seen several dissapointed folks who built a propane forge and then it wouldn't reach forge welding temperatures or if it did, the atmoshpere was too oxidizing for a good weld. If you use "blacksmith coal" you WILL have a low sulphur coal and no problems with forge welding.
For making steel from iron sand: I hope you have a lot of real good friends because this process takes a lot of work, good choreography and more than a little luck. If you haven't already done so, go to
On the difference of coal and charcoal. Having used both I find I use about the same mass for both but coal is a bit denser so I use less volumn of coal. That means more fire tending with charcoal than coal. Coal produces more and more noxious smoke than charcoal. All in all I prefer charcoal if I can get it. Cheap and easy to make so if you have a source of wood (preferable not treated). A 5 gallon bucket I found to be worth around 2 hours work. At 3/16" you will have trouble with air flow. I find anything below about 1/2" gives me problems with air flow. Restricted air flow means a smaller, colder fire. I'm goint to test some modifications to my homemade forge which may help with that. But that will have to wait for consistantly nice weather. (I have a "fair weather forge"). What have you got for a forge or have you yet?
As far a pr> > One question, Do you know of a good (read cheap) source for
I've done that. It was fun. We got about 2 pounds of iron out of that run. I think I got about 5-6 pounds of black sand for that run. After that I picked up about 1/2 ton of crushed magnetite powder. (snip) Todd (only a furnace monkey on those runs)
Some torches is the important point here, I think. I've tried making the Reil burner and had less than great luck. Forced air burners should be a no-brainer - you just need to push enough fuel and air to get the heat you want. No secret that I'm impressed as all hell with T-Rex burners and those come in a variety of sizes. If you plan to do forge welding you either need a big burner or more of them. I'm inclined to say multiple burners just 'cause you can spread them around your forge chamber better. Depends on the size of the chamber. Note that Ron Reil builds his forges at least a couple of burners. From the pictures I saw it looks like there is a burner every few inches along the length so you'd be pushing a lot of fuel. I've been using a single T-Rex (3/4 inch) for hammer work and heat treat. I can hit >1900 F. without trying too hard in a chamber about
8 in. Diameter by 24 inches long. I plan to add another torch so there will be one about 6 inches from each end and I'm betting I'll be able to melt steel if I wanted to. What happens if you simply melt down black sand in a crucible?
No reason it won't work if you supply air. I would expect to go through a lot of it though.
Kind of decided I wasn't going to test that theory in my neiborhood...
You mentioned you were planning to study the Japanese method. You'll need plenty of room and a big ass bonfire. Then there is the ground prep. Read a description of it once - don't actually know anything. The old world primitive methods look more practical. Kind of an earthen chiminy thing. Like to try it myself some day. How much room you got where you live Alvin? Seems to me I've read about smelting parties in your neck of the desert.
I found a rock next to the tracks and brought it home. Looks like a cross between a rock and slag and figured it was iron. No magnetic responce though. Not sure what it is and thought I'd toss it in the forge one of these days and see what happened.
On the subject of charcoal - I saw a web site that showed how to build a really cool charcoal making furnace. Basically 50 gallon drum in a brick enclosure. There is an exhaust port on the top side (barrel mounted sideways) that is piped around under the barrel with holes along the pipe under the barrel. You fill the barrel with all the wood you can stuff in there. The theory is you start a wood fire under the barrel and once the inside gets hot enough the wood starts emitting flammable gas which pumps out the exhaust pipe to the underside and burns like a gas stove burner to keep heating the wood after the starter fire burns down. So its self sustaining and self regulating at some point. Once all the wood is good charcoal the flammable gasses stop coming out and the heat source goes out on its own. Looked really cool.
Pete & sheri wrote in news: firstname.lastname@example.org:
Thanks 'again' Pete, I was looking on google (our friend) and found where I asked you the very same question last year...I think senility sets in quietly for sure!...
As for charcoal use in the forge, I entend to build a charcoal making set up my self somewhere in the 50 gal. drum range, I much prefer the stuff for forging but as was said before, it does take a lot more charcoal than coal.. I am used to using anything that will burn really, as I don't forge weld much and I make no blades except for plain ones out of car spings etc. I have heard though that the use of charcoal in good blades is a no-no due to the carbon content in the charcoal...I can't say one way or the other. I do know that I am tired as all hell of buying propane for the 'Whisper Daddy' and getting so little work for so much gas...I would say a 100 pound cyl. would not last long trying to forge weld, three burners at 10 pounds PSI is a lot of gas!.. granpaw
Could you explain? It sounds like a water bottling factory which uses activated charcoal. If this is so, I'd want to know if the used charcoal has a higher than usual content of heavy metals and other nasties which were removed from the water.
A water bottling outfit will have a carbon filter, before the water softener, before the reverse osmosis unit, all to protect the "RO membrane". :)
Ask them if they've added anything to the charcoal. :) They will know. They sometimes do too. Cu and Zn are the two they add around here sometimes. Cu is bad if very much of it ends up in the steel.
Forging wouldn't matter I guess, since they claim boron from the borax doesn't get in the steel enough to matter. Or so it's said.
Whatever is in the water that gets caught by the filter should be ok unless the carbon ends up with Cu in it from copper water lines. Don't know nothin' about that yet. The carbon filter grabs on to the chlorine real well is the only one I'm sure of.
The plan is to make some iron and get it tested right away to find out if my iron-sand-source is high in Mn or other stuff (P, S, Cu) that would interfere with a high quality, high carbon steel.
A water-softener is nothing more than a filter, but is a reactive filter in that its media "zeolite" actracts Ca and Mg carbonates. It don't hold much before it's full tho. ;) So a "brine wash" cleans it out good as new, after every so many gallons of water used.
That's just silly, IMHO. The coke that you make from coal in order to forge with coal is also essentially pure carbon. Major difference is that charcoal (actual, not briquets, which are mostly coal dust) is less dense, and has no clinker type impurities.
There's a gentleman name of Tai Goo lives and teaches knifemaking outside of Tuscon. He's into "Neo Tribal" techniques of knife making and I'm thinking he does some smelting - not positive on that though... I know his knife making impresses the hell out of me and he's got a great down to basics approach to what he does. Reported to be an easy guy to talk to too.
That would be good... It's definately not a river rock. The surface is all bubbly looking with lots of holes in it. The bottom side of it is slick and kind of shiney and has reddish stain to it but the whole is charcoal grey and heavier than you expect when reaching for it. If it's not man made then its got to be some kind of lava rock. Doesn't appear to be a fragment of a larger piece either.