Workshop Basics: Which Fuel?

by Jamie Hall on November 1, 2010

Note: This is an old post, that had to be re-posted during the transfer to Primitivemethod.org

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?).

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