I see a lot of exposed wood about in many web pictures of "blacksmith's"
shops. Do any of you worry about setting fire to your wood built shops?
Am I being too fussy trying to fireproof or cover up all combustible
materials in mine?
Probably. But traditional shops were probably small and set away from
other buildings for the obvious reason (containing the fire when they
burned down). It can't hurt to be somewhat paranoid about not burning
the place down; but it's somewhat difficult to light a post and beam, if
you don't permit flammable trash to accumulate.
Anyone who's ever tried to start a log on fire with a Bic knows that
wood is pretty slow to get going. What will light your wooden shop up
would be a bunch of tinder lying around, particularly in a spot where
there's a good fuel load above it (such as trash lying against a wooden
wall). The best, from a fire-starting point of view, would be a pile
with a range of sizes so the small pieces will catch the medium sized
pieces, which will burn long enough to catch the large pieces, etc.
If I were going to build a shop I'd build out of brick or metal. If I
were moving into a wooden shop and I couldn't sheetrock everything in
sight I'd keep it scrupulously clean*, I'd make sure that all fires were
contained before I turned my back, and out before I left. I would _not_
try this in a shop that has oil-soaked or creosoted wood. I think if
you did that you'd have a long and happy relationship with your shop.
Come to think of it, there's generally enough fuel load in a "metal" or
"brick" shop to carry a pretty good fire, unless you were way careful
about how it was built.
* Actually I'm incapable of keeping things that clean and being
productive, so I just wouldn't use a wooden shop...
My shop is made of used fencing boards, I was worried about fire hazards as
well, but after using it on a regular basis, knock on wood, no mishaps so
far. My biggest concern was the heat going up into the roof area, its a bit
low, but with the ventilation and fan I'm using I don't think the heat can
build up enough to start a fire...I hope so any ways. T
I dont think you could be too fussy in trying to fireproof your shop.
I built my new one out of metal. (still used wood studs though).
In my old shop, which was wood, I had one small kinda scarery fire. I
used some bizzare mixture of oil, diesel fuel and something else as a
quench. Made this big bowie knife for a guy, when I quenched it, it
flamed up, no big deal, I just put the lid on like many times before.
Only prob was the handle just stuck up enough for the lid not to seal.
It just turned into a mess. I pulled the knife out, flames shooting
up, ran to the back door to grab the fire extinguisher, when I turned
around I realized the knife was dripping flaming quenching oil all
over the floor. As the quench tank burned it got hotter and hotter,
dense black smoke filling up the room. No real damage, but it did
scare me. Anyways I then ordered a 5 gallon bucket of Faxam quenching
oil. heh... on the bucket is "Caution: Keep away from heat, sparks,
open flames" etc. It actually works like a charm, no flame or smoke.
Traditionally wooden beams would be chamfered on the edges to reduce
the risk of fire. It's near impossible to set the surface of a beam
on fire, but much easier at a sharp edge.
The best defence against fire is a broom and using it to keep the
workshop clean - floor and dust-catching surfaces.
Even outside, the -smoke- from crap like that can catch fire...
while you're standing in it, surrounded by it. Almost BTDT. :/
All you guys make a point of wearing 100% cotton too, right?
The dangged stuff just plain ol' does a better job of quenching too!
So why not guys? :/ Safer and does a better job both, what else do
you want? Free? Considering the cost "as insurance" help any? ;)
I found some for sale in Phoenix, $52 for 5 gallons.
He claims a local automotive spring shop buys it pretty regular.
I bought 2 gallons from Brownell's over 10 years ago and now need 2
more gallons to raise the level (high enough for butcher knives) on
my new bigger quench tank, it's cheaper to buy 5 gallons from the
Oil Distributor in Phx than 2 from Brownell's. :/
My new quench tank is a stainless steel soda-pop-can with the top
third cut off.
Alvin in AZ
wow I dont remember Faxam being that expensive, but its been about 10
years since I bought my 5 gallon bucket. I ordered it from the oil
distributor in Billings MT for I thought about 30 bucks and that
included shipping it 200 miles. Yeah I love the stuff. I use a large
ammo can for most of my quenching, seems to work good cause I do an
edge first instead of point first quench, if that makes sense, then I
can close the lid and it stays clean till next time. The 5 gal was
enough to fill about a 4 in diameter pipe that was about 4 feet tall,
for swords. Wont be though if I do swords again, cause I'll want to
make a jig to hold the swords while quenching to keep the warpage
BTW you dont know a good source for coal or coke in northern AZ do ya
My smithy is just a corrugated iron roof on posts, with nothing in it
smaller than a 2x4 except my kindling box, which stays well away from the
fire and the oil bucket. IMHO if you're concerned about fire safety you
want a dirt or concrete floor, no walls so fumes can't build up to poison
you or flash--though our climate here is mild and I might wimp out on the
walls business if we had a lot of snow or hard freezes. Finally, use solid
fuel, not gas.
Maybe it's just me, but in my whole life I've seen one house fire from solid
fuel (burnthrough on a cheap tin woodstove) and half a dozen houses and RV's
utterly destroyed by gas explosions. As in an acre wide and a foot high.
Also, no one was hurt in the solid fuel house fire, and the place was
rebuildable. Four people died in the gas explosions.
Medieval smithies had a reputation of being fire hazards, but that may have
been the combination of thatch roofs and charcoal fuel. The times I've used
charcoal I've had sparks everywhere, but at least I haven't had a straw roof
overhead! Not a common problem today, but a definite issue for historical
The comments about sweeping up are good advice, though. Dust explosions are
a real hazard if lots of combustible dust can accumulate somewhere and then
get shaken up into the air, especially from surfaces like the tops of
rafters. In contrast, the more obvious worries like hot coals or hot-cut
chunks of metal don't seem to cause big problems--at least as long as you
pay attention to where they go, and clean up the clutter so there's no place
for them to land and smolder away unnoticed.
I've heard of a few fires from shops where aluminum and steel were run on
the same grinder, though. By pure chance the right mix of aluminum dust and
ruisted iron powder built up behind the grinder, and then a hot spark lit
it. Homemade thermite, which you are not likely to put out with a fire
extinguisher. "No aluminum on grinder!" is a sign worth posting, or if you
do need to grind the occasional bit, use that as the reminder to clean up
No kidding on that either, it does a better job.
I started out with ATF (automatic transmission fluid) besides nearly
catching myself on fire, the results weren't as good.
Since thin blades are my "thing" I get away with quenching 1095 and
50100-B in oil.
I need to try that, might help with my butcher knives. :)
Sorry, don't know nuthin about coal or coke. :/
I'm not a blacksmith, just a self-taught high carbon steel
metallurgy nerd and knife blade+spring heat+cold treater.
I guess, Arizona's Black Mesa's got the wrong kind of coal? :/
Alvin in Vail:/ AZ (got "bumped" and never made it back to Bowie)
ps- retired railroad signal ape
Good point and one I keep forgetting. :/
Too busy thinking about how the aluminum's going to plug up my
wheel instead of what I should be thinking about. ;)
BTW, I figure every blacksmith should witness, at least once, the
railroad welders "field weld" rail using thermite powder.
Stop and ask about it to anyone working on the tracks, they'll tell
you the welder to get a hold of and a phone number. Or by chance
exactly where to go, that day, if you asked early enough in the day.
Generally they get told where they'll be welding that day in the
morning, one day at a time. Sometimes on a big job when the "steel
gang" is in the area that could be a month long job and predictable.
(bring your own (about number 5) goggles:)
New friggin rules might prevent it tho. :(
Alvin in AZ
Now that "sparked" a memory. I once was doing presentation boxes with
the belt grinder and being the slob I am didnt clean up before working
on blades again. Went to the house for lunch, returned to a shop full
of smoke! Just as you said, build up behind the grinder. Chared my
bench but fortunately didnt burst into flames. I didnt know that about
aluminum though, I'll watch out for that too.
That is a good piece of advise, for a while I worked an aluminum
foundry, in the finishing and grinding departments they had signs
everywhere reading "NO IRON OR STEEL ON THE GRINDERS".
If you do have to regularly grind both iron and aluminum and you have
the room and coin it's a good idea to set up seperate grinders, each
with their own dust collectors.
The first rays of dawn make the mushrooms scream.
I think with careful cultivation I can make them do "Ode to Joy".