Some people use coal for a forge, other gas, and some, some use charcoal.
The nice thing about charcoal is that, from what I've read, it burns cleaner than coal, it's cheaper than coal, and you can make it yourself!
I looked at a few instructables on charcoal making, and I think that this method is the cheapest and easiest. I got the idea initially from somewhere on the internet years ago, but they used 55 gallon drums and pipe. I don't have any drums lying around, nor any sealed steel canisters. What's a poor craftsman to do? Follow along, and I'll show you.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
wood to burn and wood to char
tools for cutting and splitting wood
a metal container, and a way to mostly seal it.
What I used:
A battery operated chain saw, I could have used a regular saw, and so could you!
A Ka-Bar combat knife for splitting the wood, steel wedge and sledge, or a froe would also work. (this is part of a forge building adventure so I can make a froe out of an old lawnmower blade)
A piece of wood to drive the knife (or froe if you have one)
Red oak for charring and burning
A coffee can for the container
Aluminum foil to seal the container
Step 2: Buck, Split, Fill
No pictures of the action due to not being able to find my gorillapod, but I think you can get the idea.
First I cut the red oak to slightly less than the length of the coffee can, then I split it till it was roughly 3/4" thick.
The thickness was somewhat arbitrary. Since I plan to use this in a forge soon, I thought I didn't want it too small, and since I was just experimenting and wasn't sure if this would work, I wanted as much surface area as possible.
I then filled the can as much as I could, and covered it with aluminum foil. I put a small hole in the aluminum foil to allow moisture, and eventually wood gas, to escape.
When wood is heated in the absence of oxygen it gives off woodgas which is really quite useful if you collect it. You can actually run engines on woodgas! Because of the gasses, if you used a sealed container, you would basically be building a bomb, with aluminum foil, no problem, but with a fully sealed container. . . well, you can imagine.
Step 3: Build a Fire!
A bucket of water or hose at hand is a must, it's been raining for about two days now, but fire is nearly sentient and it wants to grow, so be prepared to stop it instantly. I had about 10 gallons on hand.
I also used a steel fire pit to put my fire in, actually a grill I made in welding class years ago.
I have a rather large beard, and I've burned half of it off before, so bearded fellows, braid or tie it up, or tuck it in your shirt, I find the fishtail braid to be self locking, where as a traditional three strand braid will come undone rather quickly.
People with Long hair, tie it back, put it in a bun, just don't burn it off, it takes a while to grow hair back, I keep my head hair about half an inch these days, so no worries for me.
Alright fire building, yes, I cheated, a little, I used a blow torch to light my fire. My firelay started with pine shavings from my workshop as tinder, and split and dry pine as kindling, I used that to dry out some split red oak so it would burn.
After lighting the fire and stacking on the oak, the fire was looking sluggish, traditional charcoal making requires patience, but I wanted this done tonight! so I put a fan on the fire, about half an hour later the sealed-ish charcoal making can went on and that leads to the next step.
Step 4: Wait, and Watch
I arranged the wood around the coffee can and left the fan on it to keep the heat up.
About 20 minutes later the can started off gassing, but it was just water, did I mention we've been getting a lot of rain?
After about an hour the gasses coming out lit up. YAY! that means it's working, the wood is carbonizing! after another hour or so the fire on top died out, I held fire next to the opening to be sure, and no more wood gas. That means it's almost done!
I pulled it off the fire with a couple of sticks and packed dirt on top to completely seal the container, I didn't want air getting in there now that there was no longer positive pressure, air would allow the charcoal to burn.
I waited another hour or so to open it up, and that's when I saw the finished product.
Step 5: Unpacking and Thoughts
I unpacked the cooled canister, cleaned out the dirt, pulled out the charcoal and broke it up to about 1 1/2 inches long. I was mostly making sure the wood was completely carbonized, and it was! I ended up with about 3 quarts of pure charcoal!
I won't know till I build my forge if this charcoal is any good for forging, and I don't have enough to make anything yet. I'm going to do a couple more runs to build up my supply.
I was actually somewhat surprised at the amount of charcoal I got, I figured the can would only be about half full when all was said and done.
If you have a few extra dollars, or no coffee can, you can pick up a paint can, I'd recommend buying one of those shiny never been used ones from the hardware store, wally world might have them too.
Be sure to use a deciduous wood for charcoal making, it's generally more energy dense than conifers, also you likely won't get as much pitch and sap everywhere.
I hope you have enjoyed this Instructable, and maybe can get some use from it!
I got around to building a forge and using this charcoal in it I got pretty good results, it puts out some serious heat, but burns rather quickly.