2019 March 4    Metal & Shop  


Introduction


In the previous article we looked at an upgraded design for the basic 55-gallon drum forge.  So far, I found that it works great with charcoal and wood.

So how does it work with anthracite coal?  Let's find out.



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In This Article

Anthracite Coal

Igniting the Anthracite

The Air Blast

Heating Some Steel

Other Observations

Conclusion




Anthracite Coal


My first attempt at anthracite forging went OK, except for one thing.  The wide, shallow firepot made it tough to maintain forging temperatures. 

Anthracite has a lot of potential, though.  It's an extremely high-BTU material, if you can keep it lit.  Anthracite is low in volatiles, it's very low in sulfur, and it burns with a smokeless, pale-bluish flame. 

With bituminous you have to let it coke first, but you can just put fresh anthracite right on the heap. 


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Igniting The Anthracite


Again we use a charcoal or wood fire to light the anthracite.  Having done this a couple-three times now, I've learned some things. 

First, make sure there's enough kindling. 



Too few pieces of wood or charcoal may start the anthracite, but if there's not a "critical mass" of concentrated heat, the coal will slowly go out.  It could take forty minutes or an hour to realize why it doesn't seem to be working. 

Also, leave a few air spaces in the top of the coal pile.  The wood or charcoal flames should be visible through a few of these. 



If you stack the coal too closely, it may eventually go out.  Unlike bituminous, anthracite needs both high heat and good air flow to get started.


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The Air Blast


The hair dryer on full-blast, at 100% engagement with the tuyere, would burn up a pile of charcoal in minutes.  The same amount of airflow is just about adequate to keep a small pile of anthracite burning. 



Anthracite doesn't always have to be run at full blast.  However, if you turn the airflow down too much, it takes a while to get anthracite back up to full heat.  (Charcoal, in contrast, heats back up within seconds.)

Although anthracite does not really spark like charcoal or wood, be careful;  it does sometimes crackle and throw off very hot pieces.  More air blast could make this worse, but it could still happen anyway.  That's another reason why the forge should be located away from combustibles. 


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Heating Some Steel


Large coal pieces can allow too much air to get at the workpiece.  They also let heat escape more readily.  This was a usable fire, but the fuel was still a bit shallow.



Pile more coal on top to try increasing fuel depth.



With this coal, I think the fuel depth should be greater still.  In the future, I might try building the hearth area up a bit higher.  One more layer of bricks, flat instead of on-edge, might work.  Another alternative is to use rice coal, because the air gaps are smaller.

Just the way it was, forging temperatures were easy to obtain.  Medium-orange was no problem at all;  bright orange was attainable with slightly more careful placement of the workpiece.  Once you get everything figured out, welding temperature should be no problem;  anthracite can generate white heat.



This photo was kind of blurry, because by now I was trying to do some blacksmithing instead of taking pretty pictures.  But you get the idea.

The all-important heat-up time was fairly short, as hoped. 

Removing and re-adding the workpiece from and to the fire is a lot easier with this upgraded forge.  There's no longer a complete re-stacking of the anthracite each time.  With the right tool, you can pile the fuel back up pretty easily. 

Those narrow coal rakes we all make for charcoal or bituminous don't quite cut it, though;  make yourself something for corralling together tumbly bits of gravel, and that should work well here.



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Other Observations


The pass-through port is for longer stock, but I didn't use it this time.  I set a brick there to close it off.  This helped to keep the anthracite heaped up, thus maintaining good heat density. 

If you need the anthracite fire to get hotter quickly, just add some dry wood or charcoal into the pile.  However, if you kept adding coal as needed and maintained the air blast, by now you could have a good forging fire with just the coal.



Anthracite doesn't form clinkers of its own that much, but it can form clinkers from the surrounding dirt, ash, or especially sand.  Clinker wastes a lot of heat in a blacksmith forge if you don't keep it cleaned out.  (The clinker absorbs heat that would otherwise go toward heating up the steel.) 


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Conclusion


This upgrade made a huge difference.  It works with wood, charcoal, and anthracite. 

The same design could probably work with coarse wood chips, corn cobs, or other solid fuels, too.

The brick hearth, formed by placing some bricks on edge, makes a durable platform where more coal can be stored.  So I think this is a pretty good design. 


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