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Compressed charcoal blocks


I read some earlier posts about compressed charcoal blocks. I purch=
ased one last week and found that it burns when heated. I had to put
it in an airless container to get it to stop burning. I have never
used a charcoal block before but thought id try it. First, is this
normal? Also is there a way to stop this from happening as they are
not cheap. I soaked it in alcohol and burned it off but I haven’t
used it since. Any advice you could give would be greatly
appreciated. I’m in Texas and I want to use it for sold ering small
silver projects.

Mike Grace


Charcoal is going to burn. That’s in some ways one of its
advantages; it pulls oxygen away from your piece as it combusts,
reducing firescale.

Compressed charcoal has in my experience self-extinguished faster
and more easily than non-compressed, plus its greater density means
it lasts longer. However, it’s generally too hard to use pins for
jigging in it.

I don’t see that soaking it in alcohol is going to help, but I could
be wrong about that.

Anyway: charcoal burns. If you need to smother it after soldering,
do so. I personally just use charcoal for gold (OK, mostly; there are
some silver pieces I do on it because I use pins to hold things in
place), and mostly even my non-compressed charcoal does extinguish on
its own.

But- ANY soldering block is going to have a shelf-life. After a
while, they just get unusable- whether they burn up like charcoal, or
get too encrusted with crap like my solderite slabs- they
periodically need to be replaced.


Amanda Fisher


Mike and all,

Some things are supplies that are meant to be consumable. Things like
bench pins, charcoal blocks, beading tools, burrs and the like have a
useable life, and will need to be replaced/refurbished occasionally.
I know that charcoal is not inexpensive, and I have just about
dropped over looking at the costs of some new Lindstrom pliers that I
was lusting after. So you need to learn how to take care of your
tools, so you need to replace them less often.

You said you are soldering small silver parts and the charcoal got so
hot you actually ignited it. I use charcoal regularly for soldering
large silver pendants and rarely have trouble with the charcoal
lighting. What I think is happening is that you are using either too
large a flame, or not keeping the flame on the silver. I have found
the most successful technique is to use a large-ish slightly bushy
flame to heat up the entire work, and as it approaches soldering
temperature as evidenced by the appearance of the flux (I use pripp’s
and an occasional dab of paste if necessary), concentrate the flame
around the seam. When it reaches flow temps, watch for that bright
flash, make sure the whole seam has flowed, and get the heck out. The
heat stays on the silver pieces, and the charcoal reflects it back
from underneath.

The charcoal is consumed over time, and it does crumble apart. I use
the uneven texture of the block as support for my pieces, but that is
what is working for me at the moment. I have another block that has
been sanded thin because I needed to have a flat surface, and I
regularly take an old file to it (outside) and lightly sand the top
surface. Wrap the outside of the blocks with binding wire to help
hold them together so they don’t break apart. If you do get them too
hot, and they start to burn, I squirt a bit of water on it. I’ve
never heard of soaking the block in alcohol and burning it off. What
is that supposed to accomplish? You never know, this old dog is
always willing to try a new trick.

Melissa Veres, engraver and goldsmith


Hi Mike,

I spray water on my charcoal blocks to stop the cooking when I’m
finished using them. I have used compressed charcoal blocks for the
past 25 years and they will last forever if treated properly. I have
never soaked them in alcohol. I use them then spray with water. You
can also mix up some plaster of paris and when just about ready to
set place your charcoal block into it so you can hold the shape. I
personally wrap the block in binding wire.

Jennifer Friedman


I had someone contact me offline about the compressed charcoal block
and can not find the email. The problem was the charcoal block
catching on fire and burning like a charcoal briquette. Well, like
charcoal briquettes, they are almost impossible to catch on fire
unless you try from an edge. I have blocks that have made it through
numerous classes with dozens of students using it and not had
problems. Do not let the flame touch the corners or edge of the
block and it won’t burn up. The standard block will split with the
continued heat of fusing. The compressed one will last for a really
long time (months of daily use for me). If your block happens to
start burning (like the briquettes in your BBQ - slowly turning to
ash) simply spray with a little water to extinguish.

Ronda Coryell

The compressed one will last for a really long time (months of
daily use for me). 

I just bought a new one last week, mostly to dress up the place, as
the old one still worked. Use it every day for melting… It’s
been, what, 10 years? 12? No binding, no nothing, I just use it

It's been, what, 10 years? 12? No binding, no nothing, I just use
it as-is. 

Yeah, mine last years too. I don’t really understand the problem.

Use it every day for melting 

How do you use the block for melting? do you carve a “V” or a pattern
in which to melt gold or silver or to pour melted gold/silver into? I
tried once to carve out an oblong for forming an ingot but didn’t
have much luck getting it uniform in shape.

Thanks John, I find your posts to be very informative.


How do you use the block for melting? 

I guess you could call some of it being intimate with your metal…
Frequently I’ll need to melt a few pennyweights of metal for rolling
or drawing.

Or recycling. I just melt it on the block, which needs to be
reasonably level. If I need sheet, I have an old brass roller bearing
(it looks like that, anyway) that’s 2 inches across, and I’ll just
rest it on themolten metal - instant sheet metal - which is to say,
ready for rolling.

For an ingot, I get self-locking tweezers - the metal ones with wide,
blunt tips, straddle the metal and close the tweezers a bit. The
metal follows the tips and makes a nice little ingot. Usually I fire
polish after… It’s not my invention - don’t burn yourself…
It’s easy when you get the knack.