Newbie Coal question.

Greetings all,
I have just discovered this group, hope to be able to do more than ask silly questions, but here goes the first.
What grade of coal should I use in a "Duck Bed" forge? Hope I have the name correct, that is what my Dad and uncle call it. The forge is approximately 20" around, 3-4" deep with a hand turned blower in the center. I will be using it to heat 1/2"-3/4" square steel bars to give them a hammered look, similar to wrought iron. I have approximately 10 of these to do, I don't think I will need to get them all the way to red/white hot. I was thinking a bright orange would be sufficient for the hammer marks to "take" without throwing a shoulder out beating on them. :) I would be open to any suggestions/cautions the group might have for this project. The end result will hopefully be a fireplace screen for my parents house, just hope we can get it done by Christmas.
Thanks in advance for your help in this matter, Jim C Roberts
PS anyone here live in the Chattanooga, Tn area know where I could purchase the coal? JR
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The coal you need is generally called "blacksmith coal", also called metalurgical grade coal. Medium or Low volatile bituminous, but not the High. The coal that steam engine guys use will often work. You need coal that WILL coke. You want low ash, low sulphur. Don't use any of the anthracites or any of the subbituminous coals. Tennessee is listed in Mark's Handbook as having mines that produce Medium and High volatile bituminous coal. It appears that the best blacksmithing coals come from Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Arkansas. If you find a coal yard and tell them you want the equivalent of Pochanatas #3 ( a bed in West Virginia) they will know. You want your coal to be of a size no bigger than about 3/4" chunks. I like to to have some fines (coarse dust), since I think it adds to the ability to coke up, but many folks don't want any fines at all. Our Club, The Guild of Metalsmiths, buys 25 ton loads of coal about once a year for our own members. It generally comes from the east. Go to the ABANA website and find the affiliate closest to you. Contact them. They may have coal. If not, they will know where to get it. Join the club.
Alternately, go the the Centaur Forge website and buy it in 50 pound bags.
Re: your project: An orange heat sounds fine. Just keep a close eye on the fire so you don't burn the steel. Be prepared to have to straighten the bars after texturing.
For other blacksmiths who might read this: Just this week I was leafing through my 1979 copy of "Mark's Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers" and I found about 50 pages devoted to coal. I never knew that "blacksmith coal" had the highest btu rating of them all. I always assumed that anthracite had more and bituminous had less. No, no, no. It's the low volatile bitumious that is on the top of the heap, heat-wise, so to speak.
"The lyfe so short the craft so long to lerne" Have fun, Pete Stanaitis
Jim Roberts wrote:

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Pete,
Thanks for the information, I will check out the ABANA website as you suggested.
One more newbie question, how do I light the coal? Build a small wood fire? Charcoal lighter? The person who I am borrowing the forge from may know, just want to make sure I do.
Thanks again, Jim C Roberts
Thanks also to Bob at Warner knife for replying via e-mail

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Very simple. Dampen all the coal with a sprinkler can. Clear out the center of he firepot over the tuyere (where the air blast comes up). Place some twisted crumpled newspaper over the tuyere. Lay some thin splinters of wood over the paper in a little teepee shape. Lay some larger pieces of wood (say the size of pencils) over that. Bank the damp coal in around the edges of this pile. Light the paper and start the blower very low. Once the wood starts to catch you start burying it with the coal, until you have a pocket of heated wood coals surrounded by coal. The heat will start to coke out the coal so get ready for lots of smoke. Once the heat gets the coal burning it will start to burn out the impurities. Sprinkle more water around the edges of the fire. Keep the air blast going until you have your forge going well, then idle down to enough air to keep it from dying.
God I miss coal forges.
Propane is more practical, but coal is more elegant.

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Funny how different people do things differently.
I take a 1/2 sheet of newspaper and fold it in half, then crinkle the edges under and make what looks like the top of a mushroom. Light the center (underside) of the mushroom and place it in the clean forge. Then cover the edges with coal and turn on the blower. The fire will shoot out under the mushroom. Once you know the fire is there and did not go out when lighting, cover the entire thing with coal and watch it fire up the coal. I don't use any wood at all except at lunch. If I am working at the forge and lunchtime rolls around, I take a 3" round log and stick one end of it into the fire and cover the end with coal. Then go to lunch. When you come back, the log will be burning under the coal, just hit the blower to revive your fire.
Ernie, just toss a small piece of coal into your gas forge to get that coal forge smell for a few minutes, it will take you back to your roots. I do that sometimes. I have a shelf under my door of the gas forge and put a piece of coal there sometimes.
Bob
On Fri, 28 Nov 2003 12:26:09 GMT, Ernie Leimkuhler

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Ernie Leimkuhler wrote:

Or, behind Door Number Two: Mound up wet, green coal in center of firepot. Start air blast. Light cutting torch. Place tip in bottom of pile facing upwards. Hit the oxygen. Ora le vato! You've lit your coal fire. Not as romantic as the traditional manner described by Mr. Leimkuhler, but lots faster and just as effective. (g)

I still use the shop coal forge from time to time, but I certainly don't miss having to carry a coal fire and a bucket of coal on my shoeing rig. In the early '80s, Ken Mankel's little portable gas forges, followed closely by the NC atmospherics, freed us farriers from the tyranny of coal and started a revolution that's not over yet.
[...]
--
Tom Stovall, CJF
Farrier & Blacksmith
  Click to see the full signature.
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wrote:

I admit I used this technique quite a bit. It is a shortcut that works well., as long as you don't point the torch down into the tuyere for too long and then hit the moxygen. I now a guy who accidentally cut a hole through his firepot doing that.

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Ernie and all the rest who were good enough to reply,
Got a couple more questions if ya'll don't mind;

Sprinkler can has water in it, right?

This coking you speak of, I've heard the term before, is this a reaction that I will see?
Thanks again to all who replied, Jim C Roberts
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Take a campbels soup can and punch a few holes in the bottom. Make a long rod with a fork at the end. Rivet the can between the tines of the fork. You now have a sprinkler can. You have to constantly dampen the green coal around your fire or the fire will spread too fast.
When the damp coal gets warm the coal will start coking up.

Rolling clouds of smoke as the sulpur and other impurities are burnt out. It should only last a few minutes. After that it will do it to a lesser degree as you slowly move coal in towards the fire.
I once tried to coke up some stokers coal, what is used in power plants in Indiana, oh my god the smoke would just not stop. I gave up after 30 minutes.
Poco #3 is the best.
City Coal yard in Brazil Indiana.

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Jim Roberts wrote:

Yep.
Coke is to coal as charcoal is to wood. Coke is coal that has been 'baked' to drive the impurities out, usually sulphur compounds and water vapor. Stand upwind, you don't want to breathe this stuff. What's left behind is almost pure carbon, and will get hot enough to boil iron if you push the air really hard. I use NG and forced air due to the EPA and the Clean Air Act, but I've used coal in the past. Yeah, it's nosestalgic, but gas is cleaner and more controllable.
Charly
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On Sun, 30 Nov 2003 13:09:48 GMT, Charly the Bastard

Not just the impurities. There are a lot of hydrocarbons that get removed too. Coke is cleaner burning than coal, but it's also _much_ less of a fuel on a volume basis. By weight, it's not much different, because coking also makes it much less dense.
Trying to fire a steam engine on coke is a thankless task though !

If you're lucky. Cheap coke contains a lot of silicates and other low-melting grot, and this is what causes clinker.
Can you just buy coke in your part of the USA ? In the UK it's probably easier to buy coke than coal. Most of our cities are "smokeless zones" from the '50s and the remaining "coal" fires in domestic use are nearly all burining coke.
I've heard tales of US smiths visiting the UK and taking a souvenir lump of coke back with them, because they'd just never seen it before.
-- Die Gotterspammerung - Junkmail of the Gods
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Greetings all,
For those who care, I finally found a source for coal today. Kinda lucked into it, asked a co-worker if he know where to get some, he mentioned an old fruit/vegetable stand close by. I dropped by on my way home to find that it was now a used appliances store. I figured what the heck, can't hurt to ask. I inquired if they had any coal and was surprised to hear they did, "did I want a whole truck load?" "Uhhhh, no," says I, "Just a small amount." "$5 for 50 lbs." he says. Works for me. 8>) I did ask what kind of coal it was, got a dumb look,(no extra charge for that). "Black?" said I. The old fellow just grinned and nodded. So, I've got the coal, got the use of the forge set up for Sunday evening, got both little brothers scheduled to be there. All I lack is my templates, and printing out the advice from this group on how to burn coal. :)
Thanks again for all or your help, Jim C Roberts
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Some smiths will go on about traditional ways, using a wad of paper and such. Kerosene or lighter fluid work quite as well, and faster. Your choice.
Daniel
Jim Roberts wrote:

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I see you got a lot of answers on starting the fire. They will all work, but here are a few comments of mine:
I wad up 4 sheets of newspaper, not just one. I like the "mushroon" shape, tightly squished. Use a VERY SLOW blast to get the fire going. You don't want ANY of the heat from the newspaper to be wasted; you want it ALL to go into the process of heating the coal enough to get it to ingite. Wetting the coal sure is the right thing to do, but I don't, especially if this is a new fire (one with only fresh coal and no left over coke). In this case, I start the fire with dry coal. It ignites MUCH more easily than wet coal does.---Especially for your first fire! I mix water with my coal in the bucket and add that as soon as the fire is going well. As far as I'm concerned, this process works as dependably and as quickly as the torch or the kerosene do. Now, I suppose, having said all that, the very next time I try to start a fire, it won't.
Pete Stanaitis
Jim Roberts wrote:

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