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I Forge Iron

How many of you guys are using more coal/coke?

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I filled my 2 100# tanks the other day for about $150.00 :o
I can run my forge for about 10-12 hours at 7 PSI on 1 tank.

Yesterday I did about 4 hours of forging in the coal/coke forge (I mix the two) and I used about 2 gl. of a 5 gl. bucket.

The more I use the solid fuel forge, the more I like it. Nice heat where you want it (and sometime where you don't :blink: ) With summer coming on, I will definitely like the reduced heat put off by the coal forge too.

Only down side- Its messy!

So how many of you are using more solid fuel these days as opposed to Propane?

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I use coal now because thats what I started with. But I had always thought that I would "progress" to a gasser. With the climbing gas prices I think less and less about "progressing" to gas. Yes the coal is messy but it forces me to take a shower :P . So long as I can get coal I will probably always use coal as my primary heat source. If coal gets scarce then I will find other solid fuel sources that I can afford.


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I use coal and build the fire to fit the task at hand. If you need a large fire, I use the 13-1/2 inch break drum. It will heat a 1/4 x 1-1/2 x 18 piece of steel so that when the working end is hot you can not hand hold the other (cold) end. if I need a concentrated fire I use the 4 inch diameter fire pot. The same 1/4 x 1-1/2 x 18 piece of steel gets one end to working temperature and the heat only travels about 8 inches or half way up the bar. You can easily hand hold the cold end.

If there is a project that needs a particular type of heat, I modify the 55 Forge by adding or arranging bricks to alter the shape of the fire, a long and narrow slot type fire for instance.

With coal you can heat more than one piece of steel at the same time. Put one piece in the center of the fire, one piece on the edge of the fire, and a couple on top of the coals. Set the air (electric blower) so that the fire is adjusted to the temperature you need in the fire ball. Now comes the dance. Pull the piece of steel out of the fire and hammer. If you do only one step at a time, you can then put that piece on top of the fire. Move the piece of steel from the side to the middle, from the top to the side, add another on top, and pull the now hot and ready piece from the center of the fire. I must caution you that you now have 5-6 pieces of steel in the fire at one time, and one of those pieces of steel is always ready for work. 5-6 is usually enough as you then need to take a breath and maybe add a little fuel to the fire to replace what was consumed.

The idea is to use all the heat the coal produces, there by using less coal in the overall process. If you heat one piece of steel to high orange or yellow, the second piece can be heated to medium orange at the same time. To go from medium orange to high orange or yellow is just moving the steel to gain a couple hundred degrees of heat. The steel on the top of the coals can get to black heat or up low red by absorbing the heat you would normally waste.

Otherwise you have to heat the next piece of steel from room temperature to high orange or yellow and that takes time and heat.

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Ah yes- The dance! I have lost more work that way than I care to remember :angry:

I did a tool making clinic with Tsur Sadan couple years ago. When I was putting the finishing touches on some tongs, I burned off the hoop on the end. I pulled it out of the fire just as Tsur came over to check on me.... They hang on my wall as a reminder....

I think it will be a while before I set up an electric blower. For now, I like the control of a hand crank. I don't get ahead of myself.... I was working a 4 piece rotation yesterday. I needed to upset both ends and then swage the middle. I'd work a piece then crank the forge a minute. I always had one piece at a nice heat and got a small break between forging. Enough time to actually think about what I was doing and make corrections and tool modifications as I went.

Its funny- I had a ton of coke I was storing for over a year. As soon as I took it back to my friend, I get hooked on solid fuel..... Go figure....

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my self I have both they both serve there purpose. I am making a small gas forge for the same reason my 3 burner will go through some gas. a 100 pounder last me about 15 hours cost $120.00 to refill it. I get my coal in 100 pound bags that will last me about 3 days of good hard work so like glenn said when you need a small fire keep it small conserve fuel. bought 1/2 a ton I should be good for a few months and the price has not gone up yet. hand crank comes in handy with small projects but when you are doing a lot the electric is the way to go. you can always add a ring to the fire to keep the heat contained that is a big help to conserve fuel if you only have one size forge

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Sir, it is not only the cost of propane, that causes me to use coal, a gas forge is too limiting in the size of parts i can fit in it. There always comes a time to get that last heat on a big scroll, for example, that it just wont fit in the box of my whisper daddy.I then have to rely on old victor and oxy-acet. (talk about prices going UP!)plus, I am so much more likely to get a burn from the gasser and irons in the fire, that i can put up with the mess. Coal ,here is expensive, and requires a one hours drive, one way, for me to buy if from a retired farrior that lost a leg to diabetes, this old man is living on what he makes selling coal, so the local smiths buy 100lb. sacks for $35 not a deal but ok.

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I started my smithy after five years working for a smith who had a natural gas well on his property. He had a whisper daddy as well as a larger forge that operated on a virtually free fuel source. Because of this he used gas almost always. Obviously we don't all have a well so when I left I was forced to find a good fuel source. I began with only a coal forge and i burned only coal, then started using both coal and coke at some point: sometimes seperate and sometimes together. If I am using coal only or a mix I go with the hand crank or my electric blower with an air gate. When I burn coke only (different forge) I use a small electric hairdryer with the heating element removed and switch between low and high without ever shutting it off (that is great for fast paced production work that does not fit in the 'daddy). I lost my local coal/coke source and now travel a short way for it. I added a whisper daddy on a 100# LP tank (around $70 to refill) and now have two tanks. I use it most of the time and would love to get a larger outdoor tank that is filled by AmeriGas via truck so I don't have to haul my tanks downtown. I am not sure if it would be more economical per hour to hook up a forge to the natural gas line at the house? I have recently added a whisper baby (singe burner vs. 3 burner) to do smaller work like jewlry, tools, or blades. Say what you will about propane but that is instant, clean heat. Thats another way of 'making a smaller fire'! I like every forge that I have and I use them all. Fransis said it - they both serve thier purpose. Obviously I don't need them all. If I had to pick only one set-up I would pick a good solid fuel forge with a hand crank blower and burn coal or the mix. Glad I don't have to pick just one.

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I use a coal - coke mix, drive 100 miles each way to get the coal @ $25.00 for a 50 lb bag- it is good stuff Elkhorn brand. The coke I get from John Mcclean when I see him at Octoberfest or I stop by his place when I am nearby (that is about 250 miles from here)
I do have a nice gas forge and a 100# tank that I filled up about 3 years ago, you can not beat the solid fuel for value and control of the heat, the only time I want to use the gas forge is when I need to heat a long piece (over 18 inches)

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Okay, I'm in the same boat. I learned on a coal forge, for creative work, that's my special happy place. I'm getting elkhorn coal for $30US per 50# bag, central Oregon, 400 miles round trip to buy. If cash gets tight, it's hard to sink $500 for a supply. What I'm doing now, is use the coal for creative and odd-sized projects, use the big ribbon burner propane unit for railings and stuff over 3 ft long, and a buddy and I recently built mini-atmospheric forges from those cute 1.3 gallon beer kegs, for leaves and BBQ tools, etc. I've got socket wrenches in 1/4, 3/8, 1/2, 3/4 inch drive, it seemed intuitive to make different fuel consumption forges to match what's come in the shop door that day.

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Blacksmithing; Types of forges and Fuels used

Fe-Wood, You certainly pose an interesting question that I feel has a many far reaching opinions and options that would no doubt have many practical and sensible answers based on various factors that govern each individual’s mode of operation.

Over the years I have met in-person, and read several posts where some blacksmiths have expressed an exclusiveness of how their operations reflected that “their methods, types of tools and equipment was the only right and proper way to forge”!

I agree with them 100% if it works out for THEM, but to be inclusive of the whole blacksmithing community at large it seems doubtful.
Due to so many factors that affect each of our lives and experience, we obviously have to make do with what our circumstance and life choices have allows us to do at any given point in time.

That would include the type, Kind, and Size of forge we use, which would include the general type of fuel used also.

When I think about all of the different configurations of people’s blacksmith shops that I have known, I cannot help but be reminded of the video’s of the African blacksmiths http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yx5s_P_EUys&feature=related

And the Burmese blacksmiths http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxNd1wCrXoM&feature=related

If we were to look amid both ends of the spectrum between a modern large blacksmith shop which contains up to-date blacksmithing equipment, Verses a third world blacksmith operation who is using a rock to strike with onto another rock, we would see that we have come a long way!

I know of several blacksmiths who have invested and sacrificed everything that was important to them as a means to develop and build a large modern and well equipped Blacksmith shop.
The requirements of what it took to produce their products determined the size and type of “heat sources” such as forges (Gas or solid fuel) or Induction Coils, power hammers, presses, plasma cutters and computerized water Jet cut out machines, shears, and specialty forming machines

The blacksmiths who determine the type and kind of forges and fuels used around the world are so diverse and they range in description from a very small backyard operation who uses a “hairdryer powered ~ 55 Gallon brake drum forge” that may burn coal, coke, or Charcoal, and is used by a casual hobbyist blacksmith who makes a knife on an occasion.
And then all the way up to a very large and well equipped shops with highly trained professional blacksmiths.

No question the rock strikers would love to have what is so abundant and available to us at this time.
But even the rock strikers would have to make a decision about the type and kind of forge and fuel to use based on (but not limited to) some of the following criteria;
1. Finances. 2. Skill level (professional or Hobbyist). 3. Your Initial training and experience and opinion about the types of forges and fuels you have used. 4. The size and nature of your product as a limiting factor to how much open area is needed (in or on) a forge to correspond with your needs. 5. The availability of equipment in your area. 6. The availability and costs of various types of fuels in your area. 7. Issues of visible emissions (city v. Country location) and Building Code restrictions. 8. Noise. 9. Availability and opportunity receiving training. 10. Time. 11. Whatever you can talk the wife into letting you buy.
Note: there are many other issues to consider such as flux eating out the lining of a forge, controlling ambient heat in a shop, Scale, and so on!

That is just a few considerations I have had to deal with in my day!
I feel so many of you who have posted, have also hit it on the head about the things to consider when choosing what fuel to use.

Forge Design:
Why I now use Propane Gas. I have used coke for about 55 years (to date). But then due to the high cost of coke which is no longer readily available to me, I have switched to propane gas. But then I ran into the same problem as Old N Rusty.

Usually a small gas forge also has a small opening. The opening may be of sufficient size to begin with to insert your stock, but after you bend or enlarge the material; many times it will not fit back into the forge opening.
I was disgusted with the small gas forge because the small opening will no longer accept the material I generally use, so the small gasser was no longer an effective and useful forge for my needs.

To solve the problem, I have purchased a “Clam Shell” style of gas forge. I am able to open up three sides if necessary, or I can close it up into different stages and use it for a Farriers forge, or close it down further and use it for a knife makers forge.
My Clamshell propane gas forge pretty well meets my needs now. But back in the day as an industrial Blacksmith, only my open faced coke or coal forges would have worked for me.

There is a lot to think about when you are just getting started. Good Luck!

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This is great!!! The merits of what fuel, forge size and why. I have built 4 forges, 2 gassers and 2 solid fuel. My first solid fuel was made from a 55 gl drum with a porcelain bar sink as the fire pot. Not very practical but it was what I could find at the time. My latest is using a lorance fire pot.

My daily gasser is a atmospheric 2 burner tunnel forge. I would typically run 1 burner with one end plugged up. For sure Propane is convenient yet becoming costly. I have often thought about building a forge out of the old Propane BBQ tanks I have. Given what I'm reading here, my solid fuel forge is well suited to work for that size work as well as more odd shaped work. The tunnel forge will be for longer and more linear work needing longer heat zones.

I replaced a bushing in the hand crank blower today because I want it to almost turn by itself :lol: :lol: Its getting close

As with so many things, it seems smithing is about adapting to what you have and adapting what you have to what you need.

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For short time forging, an hour or less, I use my gasser, if I'm gonna be awhile, I like my coal forge. I use a mixture of homemade charcoal and coal. It seems to make a hot fire and makes my coal last longer. Coal is hard to get in FLorida. I also have two coal forges, a G.I issue WWII Army Field forge for large stuff and a small tub forge-Tim Lively style- for just putzing around.

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It's about a 300 mile round trip for fair, not great, coal---with arrangements having to be made ahead of time.

OTOH I can pick up propane at 9 pm on a Sunday night 5 miles away...

You definitely should size your gasser for the work you are doing; most of my stuff is done in one that will generally get about 8 hours off a BBQ tank, and then there is my blown one that will melt steel without a problem but would use two of those tanks in the same amount of time.

I also have small and large coal forges and have wheen needed dug a 3' long trench forge in the back yard to box fold 3/8" steel plate.

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I've only been smithing for about a month and a half now so take the following for what it's worth.

I put together a single burner (Reil style, naturally aspirated) propane forge. A few weeks later I purchased a coal forge and 150# of coal as a package deal with an anvil and post vise. At the time all I wanted was the anvil and vise but eventually I got curious and fired the coal rig up.

After a few weeks of working with both heat sources I've found that I much prefer the coal forge if I know I'm going to be making a day of it. I don't have to worry about running out of gas and I can work much larger stock due to the higher available heat. If I'm going to be doing a large number of small items like bottle openers or hooks I much prefer the gas forge since it lets me quickly juggle small pieces with no fear of burning anything up and no time wasted fiddling around with the fire. Having propane is also nice whenever I let a friend play with the forge for the first time since they don't have to fiddle with the fire or worry about burning up their work piece.

So I guess long story short is, I like having both available and I use the coal rig roughly four times as often as the propane rig.

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So I guess long story short is, I like having both available and I use the coal rig roughly four times as often as the propane rig.

I'm headed in that direction too...

Do you have picture of the ground fogrge? Do you use a piece of perferated pipe for the air supply?
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I built that one in the old part of Columbus OH, (house was 100 years old, brick street, etc); been 10 - 15 years ago now.

O used a piece of black pipe 2-2.5" long, (left it when I moved), with a scad of holes drilled in it along one third of the pipe. I blew it with a shop vac and controlled the amount of air by having the pipe opening and the exhaust spaced and non aligned.

Started with a wood fire all along the trench and then when that was turning into charcoal I turned on the air and started filling it with the nastiest coal that I had been given as "You're a blacksmith and so can use this high sulfur furnace coal".

I managed to fill the alleyway from wall to wall for the entire block with dense smoke---very understanding neighbors!.

When it had coked up stuck the piece of 3/8" sheet in over the trench and covered over the hot spot with coke/charcoal.

Meanwhile I had clamped a section of RR rail to a couple of handy 4x4 uprights and gotten my sledge and helpers ready.

When it was a dull red we draped it over the rr rail base and started bending it with the sledge---once bent it heated a lot better.

Anyway it ended up as a box folded firetray for use on the Santa Maria replica afloat in the river in Downtown Columbus OH

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