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Homemade charcoal soldering blocks


#1

Hi everyone,

I am curious to find out how many folks use charcoal blocks for
soldering. A survey. Does everyone use charcoal (or not!)?

The idea of providing a surface that reflects the heat back to the
piece being soldered and for providing a good environment in which to
solder appears to have been used for a very, very long time.

Ok. And, of course, the most important aspect for my interest is:
how many on this list make their own charcoal blocks? I note that the
benchtube videos have folks that appear to have made their own.

The theory is simple, I know. You cook the wood in a retort of some
kind that is large enough to hold the pieces of wood over a heat
source. The process of cooking the wood at temperatures without being
exposed to the direct flame drives off the volatile gases in the
wood.

I would be interested to hear anyone’s techniques for this. I
suspect that my method will work fine, but I would want to make sure
before I start making a smoky neighborhood… Perhaps this would be
best done on a friend’s farm, out away from neighbors. Of course, I
hear that the smell is like BBQ, so perhaps it is not such a big
deal, especially combined with the fact that apparently done properly
there is not that much smoke.

Thoughts? Ideas? Techniques? I am all ears (and eyes).

I will compile all of the answers and post a more comprehensive
technique for those interested after I have given it a go.

Thanks in advance!

Cheers!
Christopher


Re Designed Ingot Mold
#2

Google “Charcoal production techniques”. You’ll get many hits
ranging from commercial to home production.

Mike DeBurgh, GJG
Alliance, OH


#3

charcoal blocks are mde in kilns,at semi high temp for long period
of time,it isnt easy 2 do i suggest you buy a couple from your
jewellry suply shop there cheap and last a long time,


#4

I don’t make my own charcoal blocks, but I do use them. Only for
important projects, though. The blopck is gradually consumed and
that gets expensive.

For most stuff I use firebrick.

RC


#5

What’s going on? I have charcoal blocks that have been in use for
ten years and although they’re dimpled and worn they’re still
perfectly usable.

Tony Konrath


#6
I don't make my own charcoal blocks, but I do use them. Only for
important projects, though. The blopck is gradually consumed and
that gets expensive. For most stuff I use firebrick. 

I use store-bought charcoal blocks too. You must know their
limitations. A block, after it breaks in half, should last you a few
years used daily in a to-the-trade shop.

I use backer-board on my desk top. It comes in 1/2" and 1/4"
thicknesses the size of a sheet of plywood for under $10.00 and can
be cut like sheet rock. It’s used under tile in restrooms and it
doesn’t change shape if it gets wet. It withstands high heat and I
no longer set my desk on fire. (I have it screwed to the wall behind
my desk as well.)


#7

Though I suspect this will elicit negative comments, I do, after as
fashion, make my own charcoal blocks. I often solder small pieces of
silver jewelry. My method is to saw natural charcoal bricquettes (for
a barbecue grill) along the center rectangular plane to make several
flat pieces that are about two inches square… One must avoid
charcoal with accelerant added by the manufacturer to make lighting a
grill easier (I think, personally, that one should not even use those
for cooking). I place the small block of charcoal in a depression
ground in a piece of soft fire brick to hold the piece steady. Metal
elements to be soldered can be positioned on the small block with
pins or the elements can be held in position by wire wrapped around
the whole thing, metal, charcoal and all. Larger surfaces can be made
by juxtaposition of several blocks on the fire brick.

Hammering or grinding the scraps of charcoal and the sawdust makes a
carbon powder that, when layered on a fire brick, yields a surface
that produces a reducing atmosphere for the soldering process.
Advantages to using the method I have described are that the material
is almost universally available, the blocks serve their new function
well, and they are inexpensive as well as cheap. This invites the
comment that perhaps I am too.

Oh well. Gerald Vaughan


#8

Gee whiz I think I’ve using the same commercial hardwood block for
what 4-5 years? I don’t see that as expensive.


#9

Whenever my charcoal blocks get too “dimpled” I simply rub them on a
concrete block - it smoothes the surface right off - I’ve continued
to use my charcoal blocks until they are almost too thin to work
with and at that time, I break them into small pieces and use them to
bunch up when I need to solder something with an uneven surface and
want to put it face down (uneven side down) - which I can then do in
the bunched up solder bits. I have kept bits of charcoal block for a
long time, so have a small iron skillet full of the bits and it
works wonderfully for burying things to steady them for soldering.

Kay


#10

Too many posts today. I’m waiting for my iPad to arrive… I’t’s
like I’m waiting for my prom date!

Don’t forget to condition a new block. Tie binding wire around the
beast and crimp it. Then apply some alcohol and set fire to it. When
the flames go out put in in an airtight box, jar or wrap it in
aluminum foil and leave it for a day (to make sure it HAS gone out.)
Leave te wire on, that way if the block splits it stays together.

Tony Konrath


#11

Relative to other supplies that I use, a charcoal block doesn’t
constitute a large expense. Especially since they do last a long
time and can rehabilitated by rubbing them on the sidewalk to make
the surface smooth again. Just like new, only a little thinner.
Additionally, the long-life versions might even see a couple of
birthdays.

J Collier
Metalsmith
http://jlcollier.com


#12

When this thread started recently I’d already been thinking about my
charcoal block for a while because the one I’ve been using hasn’t
lasted very long compared to others I had in the past which seemed to
last a very long time. That always impressed and surprised me. But
this latest one seems to have given up the ghost rather early in it’s
short life. For one thing, it ignites and smolders just like the
charcoal you’d use on a barbecue - not a big problem because i just
spritz some water on it after soldering and it goes out - but some of
it has been consumed and lost in the process. That didn’t used to
happen in the good ol’ days. And anyway it is split and generally
decrepit much too soon. Yes, I do wire it and, in fact, this one is
not merely bound with wire but snugly bound in a brass band like a
bezel all around the perimeter - which has held it from complete
disintegration. But I never used to do that and the old-time blocks
lasted longer. So what’s up? Was there some secret process which has
been lost?

Tony Konrath says to soak a new block in alcohol and then set it on
fire for a conditioning step. Tony - how’s that work? I’m willing to
try it but I want to know the purpose of it. And I’m perfectly happy
to make my own charcoal blocks - I’ve got hardwoods of all sorts to
use and i know how to make charcoal - but I am curious about why i
am having problems now that I didn’t have before.

Just wonderin’
Marty


#13

Tony,

Congrats on the iPad. Can you please explain the purpose of the
alcohol and airtight box?

Jamie


#14

I actually have no idea why I soak the block in alcohol and set fire
to it. I was TOLD to do many years ago and so, like a good student, I
did.

As my blocks seem to last a long time… maybe it’s magic?

Tony Konrath


#15

Tony,

That sort of thing is why I always loved my teaching jobs. Students
would ask me why I do things the way I do and then I’d damn well have
to remember why I’d first started to do things the way I do. Anyway,
the great advantage of having been self-taught was that I hardly ever
did anything just because someone had once told me to do it. I hardly
ever had anyone to tell me much at all. So, eventually I could find
my way back and reconstruct my original train of thought and actually
(usually) answer the students’ questions.

The drawback of learning the way I did is that I have spent a lot of
time in re-inventing the wheel thousands of times in my life and I
still can’t get a patent on it.

Now, yo go find your old teacher and ask “Why?”

Marty


#16
I actually have no idea why I soak the block in alcohol and set
fire to it. I was TOLD to do many years ago and so, like a good
student, I did. 

You get rid of organics. Why does it matter? Let’s do an experiment.
The goal of experiment is to set a sugar cube on fire. Not to melt
it, but to make it actually burn like a candle.

The only way to do it is to use some ash to start the reaction.
Anything else and sugar cube simply melts and caramelizes.

Any organic matter is a kind of a sugar like compound, and charcoal
is a kind of an ash. If organics are present, the block actually burns
and that reduces it useful life.

There is a practice of spraying block with water after use, but it
introduces other problems, so alcohol solution is the way to go.

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#17

How long do you soak the charcoal block in the alchol? Do you wrap
it in the binding wire prior to soaking?

Thanks
Debbie


#18
Any organic matter is a kind of a sugar like compound, and
charcoal is a kind of an ash. If organics are present, the block
actually burns and that reduces it useful life. 

Which may be why I end up going through so many charcoal blocks.
Thanks Leonid.

RC


#19
How long do you soak the charcoal block in the alchol? Do you wrap
it in the binding wire prior to soaking? 
  1. I pour it over - about 1/4 cupful
  2. I wrap it first.

Tony Konrath


#20

Hello, I just got a new large “compressed” charcoal block. I started
to use it and found that it actually burns! If I soak it in alcohol
and then burn it off will that keep it from burning? It was 40.00
bucks. I’d like to keep it around for a while. Also with these
compressed blocks is it also necessary to bind it to keep it from
breaking up? Any feed back on these blocks would be greatly
appreciated.

Thanks, Mike Grace