Workshop Basics: Which fuel?

by Jamie Hall on February 21, 2010

It looks like I need to be able to achieve temperatures of up to 1000C, so I need a fuel that can deliver. Off the top of my head, the options for fuel (in my planned primitive hearth) are wood, charcoal, coke, coal and peat. I’m assuming that charcoal is the best, but lets look at the others.

Coke seems to have been formally developed much later in history, although I’ve seen blacksmithing sites that use “coke” to refer to coal or charcoal that has been partially fired in an oxidating environment (eg a hearth or open furnace). In either case, purchasing pre-made coke doesn’t seem like an option.

Coal was available, although not on the vast scales we consume it in the post-industrial world. Depending on the area (or it’s geology), small amounts of surface coal were available, and Wikipedia suggests (with citations) that there was evidence of coal use in Roman Britain. So, I can keep coal as an option, but one best avoided if I can – it’s dirty, toxic and smoky stuff. Bad for me, and bad for the neighbours.

Peat is definitely worth exploring in the future, but not immediately – it makes sense in the context of blacksmithing, if bog iron was such an important source of iron in the Iron Age. Whether that link holds true for jewellery is questionable.

As charcoal is a form of wood, it makes sense to use pre-made charcoal; I’m unlikely to have the time or energy to make my own charcoal, as it’s clearly a specialist craft, and burning wood will be more toxic and less efficient – it looks like I need a charcoal supplier.

If I can find barbecue charcoal without any additives, I can use that, and I’ve also seen a website that tells you about nearby independent charcoal suppliers, which has yielded me a couple of email address; one of them is only a few miles away, in the village where my nana grew up.

I don’t think that I need to use huge amounts of charcoal, so I’m hoping that a couple of bags will do me initially (how long is a piece of string?).


Jerry Fowler February 21, 2010 at 23:38

Small amounts of charcoal can be made at home by the retort method. This site shows how to make charcoal for cooking stoves in disadvantaged countries. Some of these may work for you.

Michael Johnson February 22, 2010 at 02:07

I’ve used charcoal. I have found it is better to just buy some uncompressed factory made stuff. You just have to use a blow pipe of some sort to intensify the heat to solder. Maybe look into Native American publications on silversmithing. I have a PDF (sorry) that covers a few Native American basic smithing techniques. These techniques are handed down from the Romans, to the Moors, to the Spanish, to the Mexican, to the Native tribes. I’m certain that they aren’t that different from what the Vikings were doing, except maybe the styles of the finished work.

Do you have some examples of actual Viking jewelry? I would love to see what you’ve researched on that. And, if you want that PDF, just email me.

Oh, and if you’re doing this inside of any type of building you will want to vent. The Viking probably didn’t, but they also didn’t know much about cancer :o/

Jamie Hall February 22, 2010 at 10:36

Michael, I’ve emailed you at your website address – the PDF would be much appreciated.

I’ve not yet done a lot of research on items of jewellery, as I’ve said elsewhere. I’ll be very pleased with myself if I can produce some basic bullion products, and I don’t want to run before I walk.

Having said that, I’ll try to post an article listing some specific items that I’d like to copy. I’ll do that in the next week if I have time.

I really wish I was an expert laying out my knowledge, but I’m not. I’m having to build everything up from first principles here.

EDIT: Oh, and when I start making furnaces, they’ll initially be temporary and outdoors; if I do put one inside my outbuilding, I’ll be very careful to put in a chimney and provide ventilation.

Jerry Fowler February 22, 2010 at 19:54

Please do provide lots of ventilation, several people off themselves unintentionally every year burning charcoal trying to keep warm during cold spells.
Metal techniques for craftsmen: a basic manual for craftsmen on the methods …‎
Oppi Untracht
I found the above book to be very helpful on basic jewelry operations from days in the past.

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