Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wet Coal or Dry Coal?

It was a tedious weekend having to do house repairs and recycling, however, there is a sliver lining in those clouds. A break in the heat wave is what permitted me to get these chores done. It also allowed firing up the coal forge and doing some forging on a larger scale than the little torch projects I’ve been doing for most of the past month.

Today we worked three jobs. One required upsetting some 1” bar stock ends one required punching some pockets where lag screws will seat and the third involved bending some 3/4” round stock to 1” and 1.5” radius 180’s. All easy enough but much easier (and less expensive) with coal fire heat than torch heat and it was something of a relief to make this little progress.

As we were working with the dry coal fire it occurred to me that we hadn’t used a wet coal fire in quite a while. I probably only manage the fire about 20% of the time and mostly leave that task to my assistant. I recall that when I was first forging I used wet coal a lot. I learned about it at CRMS watching Francis Whitaker and his assistants. It does a better job of making a “cave fire” which is great for forge welding and it probably is more effeceint in keeping the fire in a more confined space thus conserving fuel.

Most of my work does not involve forge welding and the fuel is relatively cheap compared to labor time so that has encouraged a “work very hot and quick with multiple pieces” tactical approach. Today I tried to focus on what we were actually doing and characterize it better. It was essentially a method of keeping the fire as hot as possible all the time - frequently pushing coke into the hollow - and shifting the work pieces to keep their heat at the desired orange-yellow incandescent color. It requires constant attention to avoid burning up the work and it possibly uses more fuel than when running the fire temperature up and down but it is the practice to which I’ve become accostomed. In an hour and a half or two hours a large clinker will form but that is when I quit anyway so no time was wasted dealing with it.

Now that all these thoughts have come back to me I think it would be interesting to spend more time working with the wet coal again. Then I remember, “Never trouble trouble, until trouble troubles you.” This has evolved into our style fire management and it works for us. Alas, I’ve got a lot of other things to think about that seem more urgent.

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound's the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost

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