Friday, November 29, 2013

Blacksmithing 101: How to build the fire

This blog post was originally posted on January 20th of 2013, but in lieu of the Blacksmithing 101 course that I am publishing, I have decided that this would be a good post to resurrect!

By the end of this post, you will know how to build a fire like Ridgeway Forge!

First, a look at the materials used in the construction and combustion of a fire.

Pictured on the top is clinker, middle is coke, and bottom is coal.
A brief description of each:
Clinker is the ceramic, glass and iron oxide mixture that melts out of the coal as it burns. Clinker makes its way to the bottom of the firepot, being heavier, and is then cooled and partially solidified by the air blast. It must be taken out with a poker or clinker breaker in order to burn a clean, efficient fire.
Coke is the partially burned coal. The impurities have been burned off, making it a very porous, hot burning substance. It is like charcoal in the way that it is formed, and reacts slightly like it.
Coal is compressed carbon formed many eons ago by dead dinosaurs and weird extinct fern plants. Remember of course that coal comes in different grades. The lowest grade is lignite, or brown coal. (some might argue that peat is the lowest grade, but I beg to differ. It is not really coal. It is a plant.) Sub-bituminous coal is the second worst grade, being not purely carbon.
Bituminous coal, or soft, blacksmith coal is the best grade for general forging. It is not the top of the line coal, as it has impurities in it. However, it cokes well and burns hot. It is superseded only by:
Anthracite coal. Anthracite is hard coal, and it has a shiny, obsidian-like look to it. It burns very hot, and is almost pure carbon. However, it is more difficult to use because it takes a more intensive care and more air. it also does not coke up like bituminous coal.
(Okay, I will add here that the top of the list, even superior to Anthracite is graphite. [Yes that's right, the 'lead' in your pencil is graphite. {Make sure you use a #2 pencil for test taking, lab reports and scantron sheets}])
A bag of good bituminous blacksmithing coal.
Okay! Now we know about the types of coal. If you don't know where to get good coal from, feel free to contact me and I will certainly point you in the right direction.
So, you are now ready to start your fire, equipped with the knowledge of the materials needed.
Begin with a few crumpled sheets of newspaper. (avoid the shiny inserts, but political cartoons and the celebrity sections seem to work best. Maybe its all the hot air!)
Next, put some charcoal (or coke if you have it) into some of the pages and wrap it up into a ball. (Oh, and look fabulous faster.)
Put several of these newspaper balls into the firepot on top of the initial sheets. Put some charcoal on top and around the sides of the newspaper balls.
I use sliced, kiln-dried hardwood floor drops as kindling. I cut them up into slivers and make the fire lob-cabin style.

After I bundle the fag of sticks (redundant, I know.), I light 'em up! I light several ends of the newspaper, and add a really slight amount of air. (and by slight, I mean super slight. Like, opening up the ash dump is enough for some forges)
And, we have combustion!
After the fire is burning briskly, feel free to turn the blower freely. Just no F5 Tornadoes, please. We're trying to burn a fire, not blow sticks out of a firepot.
After a bed of coals is established I add some coal. I smokes a bit at first, but if you pile it up like a volcano with a hole down to the coals in the center, you should be able to minimize the smoke. Also, wetting the coal a little bit helps some, too.
After adding coal, add air. And lots of it, too. You want to create an inferno, so crank it hard. (again, don't blow the fuel out of the firepot!)
After a little while, you should see coke forming. Break it into smaller chunks, and keep the fire well fed. Then, you will end up with this egg-shaped hot spot in the fire. That's the good part: it will heat 1/4" steel in under a minute.
A better view of the fireball:
And that's all folks!
This installment is brought to you by the Letter B!
Letter B is helpful in many applications, especially spelling the name of what you are: A Blacksmith!
 This concludes the next post in Blacksmithing 101!
Thank y'all! God Bless!

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