Coal has reawakened! This is good news for a lot of blacksmiths since they can once again showcase their crafts using an old technique.
You have 3 blacksmithing coal options when it comes to heating either steel or iron, which includes lignite coal, anthracite coal, and bituminous coal. Among the 3, bituminous coal is said to be the best according to blacksmithing experts. However, this is the most difficult to obtain.
The best alternative to bituminous coal is lump charcoal. This type of charcoal is synthetic – meaning, not a natural fuel.
Next to the bituminous coal when it comes to heating performance is the anthracite coal, but other blacksmiths disagree with this. Well, coals have their own pros and cons, which you need to weigh to find out which coal will exceed your expectations.
We have assessed the performance of each fossil fuel that will somehow help you arrive at the best decision. If you are eager to know which blacksmithing charcoal type is suitable for your business or personal project, then continue reading on.
The Role of Coal in the Blacksmithing Process
The fuels that are usually utilized in blacksmithing forge are propane and coal, where the main component of coal is carbon. Its other elements are oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and minerals. It is likewise made of non-metallic and metallic elements.
The word forge, by the way, refers to the hearth, furnace or incinerator used for refining or melting metals. In addition, forging means the process of shaping or molding metal objects by way of heating with the use of fire. The process also involves hammering or thumping.
Between blacksmithing coal and wood charcoal, it’s much easier to light the latter, but the heat from coal forge lasts longer and is definitely way hotter. Its efficiency is what makes it popular among blacksmiths. Would you believe that a piece of coal as big as a bowling ball is equal to 5 gallons of chipped wood?
Blacksmith coal is categorized in accordance with its lucrative value, which is dependent on its impurity as well as mineral content. The coal’s condition is also a determining factor in rating coal.
So, this is why there are instances where low-grade coal or lump charcoal is higher than high-grade coal. Always remember, condition matters!
How to Rank a Coal
As I’ve said earlier, coal is ranked according to its mineral contents and impurity. The amount of water, volatile matter and essential carbon are important in the process. The calorific value or the coal’s heat content is likewise a major thing to consider when assessing the value of a coal.
Coals that are high-grade have lesser precarious matter and moisture content. These are some of the most important features of coal that a blacksmith is looking for.
Types of Coal
1. Anthracite Coal
Anthracite coal is mostly found in the mines of Oregon and Pennsylvania. It is ranked the highest because it has the purest coal fire and that it has the highest energy level per pound. Since it has the purest coal fire, no smoke can be seen emanating from it.
This type of coal is the toughest of all coals. When split into 2, the surface of this metamorphic rock turns shiny.
Although anthracite coal has seemingly impressive features, it still is not used by several blacksmiths. Why? It’s because the coal produces tiny particles that have the tendency to blow off the fire. Sad to say, the glare from the fire can hit the eyes of a blacksmith pretty bad.
Other blacksmiths choose to use hardwood charcoal rather than anthracite coal because it’s rather difficult to light it up . Another downside is that it is not able to retain heat that long since its insulation quality is not that remarkable. Most charcoal has a forging time of 20 minutes, but with anthracite, it takes longer.
Anthracite coal clearly still has a fair advantage over bituminous coal. It is perfect for public demonstration because its smoke is invisible. It also has lesser impurities and sulfur content. The best thing about anthracite coal: it is easy to find and inexpensive.
2. Bituminous Coal
Bituminous coal, which is a black, soft fossil fuel, is the most popular coal among blacksmiths mainly because it has low sulfur content. Low sulfur content is essential to maintain a coal’s quality. It reduces the brittleness of any type of steel.
Sulfur is deemed to be an air pollutant because it emits sulfur trioxide and sulfur dioxide. If this element is mixed with water and oxygen, it turns acidic, which can make the metal parts of forged items corrosive.
As compared to lignite coal, the bituminous coal has fewer impurities, which means it has cleaner coal fire. The best bituminous coals can be found in the mines around Birmingham, Alabama.
Bituminous coal doesn’t demand a great amount of air and is able to retain heat for a much longer time, unlike anthracite coal. What’s so surprising about this type of coal is that you can revive the coal fire after leaving it for a couple of hours without going back to square one.
Obviously, bituminous coal can be considered a blacksmith’s best friend, but unfortunately, it’s not available in all places.
3. Sub-bituminous Coal
The sub-bituminous coal is dark brown in color and is not gleaming coal. As compared to lignite coal, its heating level is higher. This is the type of coal used to fuel steam-electric power plants.
Sub-bituminous coal is abundant in Washington, New Mexico, Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana.
4. Lignite Coal
Lignite coal, also known as brown coal because of its woody texture, is the softest among all coals. It has obtained the lowest rank for it contains an extremely high sulfur content as well as non-burnable materials.
This type of soft coal is obtained through strip mining or open pit mining. Lignite coal is not ideal for blacksmithing purposes because it is low-grade and it generates a greater amount of clinker than other types of coal. Most of the time, it is used in electric power plants, especially in Texas.
Elements Formed from Coal
Clinker refers to the semi-solid and sticky residue that thickens at the fire pot’s bottom right after coal is smoldered. It consists of non-burnable materials like silica and metals.
The accumulation of clinker in a forge obstructs airflow and drags heat away from the coal fire. Its impurities hamper the forge welding process in a hot fire.
Coke, on the other hand, is the coarse or lumpy residue that you’ll find after smoldering coal. This coal element is composed of pure carbon.
This is ideal for heating steel because it’s clean and extremely hot. The dark layer of coke is used to conceal the powerful light released by the coal fire, which can be very damaging to the eyes.
Commercially produced coke is harder and more compact than those produced the natural way. Coke is easy to use and demands lesser management as compared to other types of fuel.
What to Consider When Choosing Blacksmith Coal
The core is considered the most vital part of a coal fire, which is why you need to focus your attention on the functions of the core. The core is where metals get hot and the part where oxidation happens before it heats up.
Here are the factors that you should consider when choosing blacksmithing coal:
- Fire’s core
- Intensity or height of the flame
- Heat temperature
- Burning time
- Energy level per unit of mass
- Density of energy
- Smoke pollution
- Noise pollution
Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I purchase blacksmithing fuel?
You can find blacksmithing fuel in blacksmithing shops. You can also find packaged and branded fuels in stores over the internet.
Is coal hotter than wood?
Yes, coal is hotter than wood because it is more compact. Its heat also lasts longer. In addition, coal delivers a higher efficiency rating than wood.
What is smithing coal?
Coals come in different types, but not all types of coal are ideal for blacksmithing forge. Smithing coal is what’s often used by blacksmiths because it is low in sulfur content, it produces the smallest amount of clinker, and it burns efficiently.