I can’t believe it has been six months since I posted anything. Bad blogger! No excuses but my day job got really busy, had family issues clear across the country and the worst summer in recorded history descended on Texas this year. It was virtually impossible to work outside and almost all Texas counties had a burn ban in effect. That meant no charcoal burning.

Worked on the other end

I did however work on the back end of the sword making process-Polishing. I read many comments on blade forums about the trials and evils of polishing blades. I thought a lot about it on my cross country drives and am in the testing phase for a way to make it at least a little better and effective. More on that later.

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Why Make It?

Back in Building The Forge-Part two I talked about my reasons for using charcoal. But why go to the time and trouble to make it?

First-I like doing it. It is a bit like alchemy. Start with one material -apply fire- get a different material.

Second-I like the idea of creating the whole process. Later we will talk about smelting our own steel.

Third-It is cheaper than buying it. Plus, I am recycling a waste product-construction scraps.

Fourth-and most importantly-I cannot easily buy the type of charcoal I need. Pine in general-Specifically metallurgical grade pine charcoal.

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I thought I had it figured out years ago. Making charcoal that is.

Get a barrel. Run pipe out of it and back under it. Build a big fire under the barrel. Cook off the volatile gases until they ignite and continue cooking the wood with its own gases until it stops. Let it cool and Voila! charcoal.

I even told the world about it here.
Everybody else thought it was pretty cool as well. People even started cottage industries in South Africa using my method.

But guess what. There is more to charcoal making than cooking it with its own gases with a big fire.

Now ain’t that a surprise

Turns out there are quality specifications for charcoal.

Things like retained volatiles, carbon content, friability, percentage of fines etc.

This first came to my attention last November when I visited a swordsmiths shop in Nagano.

His apprentice was cutting charcoal and it twern’t nuthin’ like the stuff I had been making. It was made from pine same as mine but that is where the similarity ended.
It looked just like the section of log it came from only black. There was a metallic shininess to it and it had a ring to it when I rapped it on my knuckle. As he cut, the pieces came off in one piece with very few little bits and no fines flying everywhere. When I rubbed it on my hand it left almost no dust.

I could not crush it between my fingers and when the pieces where jostled together there was, for want of a better word, a crystal sound (TINK)

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