All of us are made of star stuff but it takes a special star to make iron. It takes a really big star. Much, much bigger than our Sun. The main source of energy in any star, our sun included, comes from the nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium at the core. The radiation  pressure from these reactions resists the enormous gravity of the outer shell preventing collapse. There is not an unlimited supply of hydrogen in the core however. At some point as fuel runs out the core cannot resist the pressure of the outer shell.

What happens next

A star such as our sun will eventually grow into a Red Giant, convert the helium in the core to carbon, then nova or explode its outer shells into nebulae. The carbon in the core will glow white from the retained heat making a white dwarf that will eventual cool into a black dwarf about the size of the earth. Pretty tame stuff. Except for the fact if it were our sun it would obliterate all life on our planet.

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The Nitty Gritty

We need a way to control the process and understand how we get what we get.

I wanted as controlled an environment as I could get so I used a paint can, flue thermometer to 1800F, and an ash bucket.

I used way more fuel that I created but the point was to gather information not efficiency-yet. I put the paint can in a larger bucket and built a fire around it.

Here are some pictures of the process

And a big fire.

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Rethinking what I know

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since I last wrote about charcoal in April. In my initial test I thought I was getting good charcoal from my little retort at 720c. I even made the comment that that it burned with a nice small blue flame.

Well, a small blue flame is not what we need. We need a honkin’ big flame! Over the summer as I read about Japanese forging and Tatara I came across an article that talked about charcoal for forging and smelting.

There it was in black and white. Forging charcoal must keep a good portion of the volatiles to add power to the burn. Smelting charcoal needs even more.

Those few words sounded the death knell for making charcoal in a self fueling retort.

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