Fuel for the Fire

I posted before about my experiments in building a forge.  Just a little update:

We got the old water heater mostly disassembled.  The steel tank inside is a nice, solid one with a good 3 feet of height, maybe a foot and a half in diameter.  Bottom of it has three holes that I think were attached to water pipes, so we’ll have to see if those will be a problem.  If they are, we can try using it upside-down and have the holes function as smoke relief.

To give you a better idea of what it’ll look like, I’ll be following this excellent guide.  We also happened to have an old blow dryer which I took the motor out of.  Actually has a nice kick to it.  Cut up a pop can and gave it some length.  Hooked it up to a big 12V battery my dad had, so I basically have a portable bellows.

The other aspect of forging that I didn’t have before was the fuel.  Sure, you can build a fire, but that takes space, is dirty (ash and other impurities are terrible for smithing), and is just a terrible idea inside of a forge.  Instead, I started researching ways to make my own charcoal.

A few techniques involved large 55-gallon drums, which I do not have.  Even if I did, the space needed would be a problem.  Somewhere during my search I found this little gem explaining how to make charcoal in either a stock pot or a paint can.  I opted for the paint can because I’m pretty sure some explanation would be needed as to why cooking pots have gone missing.

After asking my neighbors if they had any (oddly enough we did not), I got a nice one and set off to make charcoal.  Girlfriend was picked up first, since we had planned to hang out anyway, and she was my little assistant :)

Basically, you just punch a small hole in the paint can lid, then place pieces of 1x1x4 wood inside.  Put the top on tight, and start your fire.  Once you have a nice blaze going, make a little hollow for the paint can and put it in.

Now the fun begins.

At first, nothing really happens.  The fire burns on and you watch.  After about 10 minutes, a small amount of steam begins to come out of the hole.  Just some water escaping from the wood.  Then there is more steam.  Then more.  And more still.  Eventually it looks like an old steam-engine scaled down to model train size.

Now the real fun begins.

Have you ever seen the JFK Eternal Flame?  You have?  Okay, now imagine that about three times bigger, and making a sound like an overhead jet.  It’s awesome.  Girlfriend liked it because it looked like  dragon’s breath.  I can’t blame her.  I’d love to see one in a stock pot.  Oh, and the paint can was only filled half way because I was not sure if this would work.  Just think what it would be with a full one.

After the pyrotechnic show ended, I took the retort (fancy term for “my ghetto-ass charcoal rig”) out of the fire and let it cool down.  Girlfriend and I went up to watch TV for a bit, then I took her home.

Upon returning, I went down to check the results.  I was a little skeptical about how well it would turn out.  A few times during the burn I saw flames shooting out the rim, so I had to put a rock on it to seal it.  Fire is hot, by the way.  Anyway, I took the now-cool retort over to where I could see it better in the moonlight and cracked it open.

It looked just like the picture said it would.  I reached in and found that roughly 1/4 of the space was taken up by light, brittle, dark charcoal.  Some sticks were nice and long, while others had broken up a bit into pieces ranging from the size of a dice to that of a lighter.  I took the good ones out, dumped the rest in the remains of the fire, and triumphantly began filling a small box labeled (in charcoal) “Fuel for the Fire”.

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