Starting a coal fire

Here's an article about starting a coal fire that appeared in response
to a question on this NG a few years ago. If some of you "regulars"
feel that it is inappropriate to republish such things, let me know and
I won't do such a thing again.
Pete Stanaitis
The question----:
I am fairly new to blacksmithing, been doing it for about a year now
and have a real basic question. Does anyone start a fire with a single
piece of newspaper wadded up tightly? I have tried to do this and it
never works. The only way I can start my forge is by building a small
wood fire over my air grate. If you can do it with a single piece of
paper, please let me know how. Thanks
The Answer:
I'm not sure that I could start a fire with only one sheet of newspaper.
We teach a lot of basic blacksmithing in the Minnesota/western
Wisconsin area and we teach fire starting with 3 or 4 sheets of
newspaper. It works every time, once you learn to do the right things
If my life depended upon starting a fire with just one sheet, here's
how I'd go about it:
1. I'd have a forge with a deep firepot, deep enough so that the balled
up paper would, once placed over the clinker breaker, all fit below the
top of the firepot
2. I'd have available at least 2 gallons of a 5 gallon pail full of coke
that I made in yesterday's fire, very dry. I would have it piled on the
forge table right by the firepot, so I could quickly use it to cover the
paper. None of the pieces of coke would be any bigger than about 1" in
diameter, and some almost-dust-size stuff is okay.
3. I'd have the capability to run or crank my blower VERY slowly.
4. I'd have another bucket of dry coal to add to the coke.
5. I'd find a newspaper with the biggest sheets of paper you can find.
Out in the country where I live, the sheets are only 17" X 22", but one
big town paper has sheets that are 22" X 27", 60% more fuel value!
Remember, my life DEPENDS on it so every little bit of fuel counts.
6. Then, I'd have a 5 gallon pail of wet coal ready to add to the fire
once it got going, because that's the way to keep a mature fire under
control and to be assured of making enough coke to start it again tomorrow.
Okay, so now we are ready to go.
1. Make a TIGHT ball out of the paper. Make it tight enough so that
when you let go of it, it doesn't open up much. The object is to make
the ball so tight that it WON'T burn very quickly. You want every bit
of energy in that paper to go into coke, heating IT to the point where
it starts fire, too.
2. Hold the ball by THE TOP and light the very bottom of the ball, in
two or three places. Immediately lower the gently burning ball in the
3. VERY gently give it some air. JUST a LITTLE!!! All you want to do is
to keep the fire in the paper from going out at this point.
4. QUICKLY start covering the paper with the coke. Your goal is to get
the paper covered COMPLETELY ASAP so that ALL the energy in the burning
paper is used to heat the coke. Remember to keep the blower going VERY
slowly. If you blow too fast, all that happens at this critical point,
is that you blow the heat right past the coke into the air above the
5. Still blowing very slowly, GENTLY, with your BARE FINGER, push a
little coke down into the area where the paper has burned away. This
step keeps the coke a little closer to the burning paper. If your
finger gets too hot, you are blowing too fast.
6. Look for any areas where you can see fire and gently place pieces of
coke over them to again help to contain all the heat.
7. When is it started? As you repeat steps 5 and 6, you should look
down into the heart of the fire to see if any of the pieces of coke have
begun to glow on their own. When it is clear that this IS the case, you
have a fire! Don't ruin it quite yet--- keep blowing slowly
8. All the above actions take place in a matter of 3 or 4 minutes. If
you run out of coke before a healthy fire is going, add a little dry
dusty green coal to the top of the fire. It will smoke yellow or green,
but it will add easy to start fuel to the fire.
9. Once the fire is going enough that you can clearly see that the coke
is glowing and that flames are starting to shoot through the coke, you
can begin to mound wet coal around the fire.
Finally, if my life didn't depend on it, I'd use 3 sheets of big city
newspaper or 4 sheets of the small town stuff, but I'd do the rest in
exactly the same way.
Reply to
Pete & sheri
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