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So I went to my first forge group meeting today. Another female student and I were talking to an instructor about solid fuel furnaces. Coal is crazy hard/impossible to find, and both of us had looked hard at solid fuel forges, for multiple reasons not the least of which is expense. But our instructor was sold on the virtues of propane, including having really no setup time, not having to tend a fire, etc.

 I'm going to begin with solid fuel for many reasons including cost but also because I have this crazy desire to learn the Old Way before I move on to easier, modern way. Trust me, I do NOT feel that way about most things. God gave us power tools and they are good....very good! But I really want to start off with real fire. Is that insane? Listening to the instructor today I'm starting to doubt my gut.

 

Any Suggestions?

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I use a propain forge in my day job (farrier) but i use a solid fuel (charcoal) for general work. Gas forges tend to heat large sections of the peice wile a solid fuel forge is easier to manage for isolated heats.besides scrap wood is abundant.

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hairballz (cat lover?)

 

Propane is readily available

Propane is consistent

Propane is relatively inexpensive (though it has gone up in recent months)

Propane forges can be built inexpensively

As you mentioned you don't have to tend the fire constantly.

You can put several pieces in the forge without worrying about burning up the metal while you are working the other, problem is when the first piece cools and needs to be reheated you put it back in the fire but there is another piece hot and ready to work.  You don't get a break between and you will work yourself to a nub.

 

Granted, with enough attention you can get isolated heats but you can also do that with a Oxy/propane torch. 

Most who use coal, coke or charcoal do so because of they, like you, want to do it the old way.  You must be a romantic.

 

I will look forward to visiting with you at the September conference of the Alabama Forge Council at Tannehill State Park.  Be sure and come by my hospitality canopy on the corner.

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Both fuels have thiere place. I think propane is better for most production work but I prefer coal or coke. I like the way it heats the metal. Follow your gut! Being from Alabama, I'm surprised you can't find coal....

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Nearest coal source seems to be birmingham, I'm up in far north 'bama where all the tornadoes they're talking about are hopefully NOT headed in the next few days! Well, at least my anvil won't likely blow away. It'll be a while before I can poke around b'ham to try to scare up some coal, I'll be using wood charcoal/wood combos until then.

Yes, Hairballz = cat reference. Owned 1 or 2 for more than 20 years. And I've never been to Tannehill but hope to get there this year!

Is a propane forge difficult for a novice to set up? The instructors started talking about regulators and air flap thingee and my head started spinning. Fire is at least SIMPLE! I can get some coal burning!

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That's a workable forge and burner Cat lady. <grin> I have one suggestion and it's about safety not function. Put a 1/4 turn ball valve between the regulator and burner, close to the regulator so you can turn the gas off as fast as you can get to the tank. The tank valve can take a few seconds to shut it down and on occasion you don't have that long.

 

I'm a propane forge guy and make a pretty easy to build and tune naturally aspirated burner and prefer a different shell for a pipe forge but that's for another time.

 

For an isolated heat it's hard to beat solid fuel forges, even torches don't do the same job though it's the smith who adapts. Propane is on and it's going, off and go have a nap. Everything that gets close to the door WILL get hot, everything. Then again if you're looking for even heat they can't be beat, just keep an eye on it and pull it when it's time.

 

Upside, downside, everything has them. Use them all and decide which you like. "Like" in this context is a VERY broad term and for another long Frosty ramble. <wink>

 

Frosty The Lucky.

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I have both, use the gas forge mostly for production work and things i need a big even heat for and the coal forge for all the other stuff. There is no 'right' way, try them both out and just go with your gut, as what Peter says!

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I'm going to be making small pieces for some time to practice and learn the very basic skills, so I think I'll stay with my gut and the solid fuel for now. As WayneCoe said, there is something of the romantic in wanting to learn the old way first. Years ago I bought and renovated my house and very quickly learned the wisdom of the right tool for the right job - it can be terribly frustrating trying to do a job without the right tool for it. But I'm also fond of the old ways when it comes to craft, which blacksmithing certainly is. I'll never be doing production work, I'll be making cool, hopefully nice looking things to give away for the pride of saying "I made that...with hot steel and my girly hammer!" So I think solid fuel is a good place for me to start.

Thanks for the input, everyone. I guess I just needed to hear some more opinions and experience to come back around to what I knew was right for me, at least for now.

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Take advantage of any chance you get when you go to meetings and so on to try different forges. Many groups often allow members to get their hands dirty at meetings. In some cases if there is more than one forge up and running, one will be dedicated to "teaching" and new  membranes are encouraged to try their hand for the 1st time and older members can use that forge to ask questions about specific issues they may be having to other members there.

 

When I took my class last year, since I was one of the ones with more experience, I ended up running one of the cola forges up until the last day. Then I swapped back and forth between the 2 different types of gas forges they had and the coal one so others could get a chance to use my forge. I quickly realized the advantages and limitations of the gas forges that they had. One was long and narrow and worked great for longer stock, but limited me on wider items. The others were wider, but shallower and didn't work quite as well with some of the longer heats. It was nice to get the chance to play with the different units and get a feel for what I might like to get when I eventually either make my own, or look at adding a gas forge to what I already have.

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For easy portability or work of a mobile nature gas might have a bit of an edge. For a stationary shop coal or coke is the hands down winner in all areas. Is quieter, makes for a hotter fire, welding is easy, is safer, more versatile. Less likely to burn yourself as fire goes up and out as it should instead of down and out and in your face. Pleasant vs unpleasant smell.

 

If after learning and developing proficiency with coal if you'd like to add a gas forge to your collection of stuff, the two best ones out there right now are the Forgemaster Blacksmith model and the Hypona. I'd give no consideration to anything other than those.

 

Glad to hear you're going with coal. Good choice :)

George

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Coal forges have their place, and fire tending and the marvelous heat control you can get with a coal forge are great...  That being said gassers are flat easy to use, you need longer tongs, or to have an air blast to deal with the dragon's breath, but for heating small pieces and doing twists, and NOT burning things up!!!  They are great!!!  I know you don't think you will ever do anything like production work, but there are some simple jobs that you can stack a bunch of pieces in a gasser and just pull one right after another, tending more than one piece in the fire with a coal forge isn't easy even for someone with lots of experience!!!  It is disgustingly easy to pull out half of a "sparkler" where you thought your project was...  :-) 

 

Gassers are a bit more expensive to build than a coal forge in general.  Thomas could build one for much less than what you would pay for an antique one easy, even if he bought all new parts at retail, heaven forbid;-)...

 

Fuel cost average a bit lower for gas, unless you make your own charcoal, or get several tons trucked in.

 

Do what makes you happy, and doesn't result in property damage;-)

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Ahh smiths were smithing for about 1000+ years before they ever used coal and it's a couple centuries less than that before propane forges came along.  How old are your "old time ways"?  (Charcoal kept in use through this day---I remember reading a reference to using it less than 100 years ago in your area in a FoxFire book IIRC)

 

I met an author at my demo in Albuquerque who is writing a book about a boy apprenticed to a blacksmith around 1066AD. I have invited her to come by and spend a day using the Y1K forge: mud and fire safe stones, side blown, charcoal fueled and blown with two single action bellows.  Just to make things interesting I'm going to have her use real wrought iron.  (I picked up a 1" diameter 14' long rod of real WI on the way to the demo---US 20 cents a pound...)

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saying "I made that...with hot steel and my girly hammer!"


I concur with starting out on a solid fuel forge...gasser can come later.......however, I'm interested in your "girly hammer", not sure I've seen one. Got a pic?

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I concur with starting out on a solid fuel forge...gasser can come later.......however, I'm interested in your "girly hammer", not sure I've seen one. Got a pic?

 

LOL!   Actually I have picked up quite the collection of hammers, but my favorite by far is a little 2.5 pounder I picked up at Harbor Freight (I know, I know...).   It has a shorter handle than many I've found and dang it, it just feels great in my hand - like a natural extension, unlike any of the others I've collected.  Any of you manly men would look at it and snort at it being too small - it looks small - but she's the one.  Now you've given me ideas... I might just need to dress it up in some more feminine manner!  Hmmmmm........  anybody got some pink spray paint?  :D

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Propane forges can be built rather easily, especially if you buy a pre-made blower and just have to construct a shell.  However, I'm not a fan of propane forges.

 

Having learned on coal, I like how the coal can support the work and only heat a small section of what you're doing.  Propane forges heat the entire blasted thing when you're doing small work.  Odd shapes or large scrolls are not a problem for a coal forge.

 

Having used a commercially-made propane forge for the last few months, I can't wait to get back to coal.  While there's no smell or smoke to deal with, I have a really hard time not knowing when I'll run out of propane (it's a 100lb tank) and dealing with the forge itself.

 

Alabama is the steel capital of the south.  You shouldn't have any problems finding coal by the bag or even getting it shipped to you if you buy in bulk.  Even if you have to drive a few hours to get a truckload.... coal's a winner in my book.  And once you get the smell of a good coal fire in your veins, you're addicted for life.

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Hammer handles are pretty easy to cut. And reshape with a rasp. I like the longer handle, reshaped so i can chose my hand placemenr. I can always choke up on the handle or i can lengthen the handle
The first thing i do after buying a hammer or rehanging one, i reshape the handle ( i make a rounded rectangle) then cup the hammer head and cut the handle off where it reaches the inside of the elbow.

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Hammer handles are pretty easy to cut. And reshape with a rasp. I like the longer handle, reshaped so i can chose my hand placemenr. I can always choke up on the handle or i can lengthen the handle
The first thing i do after buying a hammer or rehanging one, i reshape the handle ( i make a rounded rectangle) then cup the hammer head and cut the handle off where it reaches the inside of the elbow.

 

I plan on doing something similar with my "girly hammer" - and maybe THEN I'll paint it pink!   I have a couple hammers whose handles reach to my elbow, they're just very uncomfortable to me.   This one only reaches about 1/2 up my forearm, and like I said earlier it's crazy comfortable for me.  I actually picked it up the first time and put it back down thinking "I've got enough hammers," but then I kept circling back to the same aisle and picking it up again... and again.  In the end it was just too comfortable feeling in my hand for me to possibly walk away from it.   It called to me... spoke my name.... though that might be a girl thing, too.  :D

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" coal or coke is the hands down winner in all areas.Is quieter, makes for a hotter fire, welding is easy, is safer, more versatile. Less likely to burn yourself as fire goes up and out as it should instead of down and out and in your face. Pleasant vs unpleasant smell."

 

I feel that perhaps you are comparing a specific gas forge with a specific coal forge; because in my experience almost all of those are the other way around for different forges!  Like many things in smithing the devil is in the details!

 

"Quieter":  I've worked with a bunch of coal forges where the blower was noiser than a ribbon burner

 

"Makes for a hotter fire"---I've melted mild steel in my gas forge; as has a friend in his as well.  How much hotter than melted do you need your forge and WHY?

 

Safer?  how fast can you shut down your coal forge without a steam explosion?  Toxic fumes?  The City of Albuquerque Fire Marshal sure feels that a propane forge is safer than a coal or charcoal forge. For my Demo Saturday, his ruling was that a coal or charcoal forge could not be closer than 25' to a structure (So no shade!!!!!) however a propane forge could be within 3' of a structure---anvil and tools in the shade, forge just outside...

 

 

"Less likely to burn yourself as fire goes up and out as it should instead of down and out and in your face"---guess you have never used a vertical propane forge or one with an air curtain.

 

" Pleasant vs unpleasant smell"  burning propane doesn't have much of an odor, burning coal can give me a raging sulfur smoke sinus headache for hours---I guess it's more pleasent if you are into pain...

 

Finally may I point out that since coal is the "hands down winner" for a stationary shop it is very odd that many if not most professional full time smiths and industrial smiths don't use coal.

 

Me I have about the same number of propane and coal forges and use the forge that suits the project and external factors---(can't use coal at my rental house; love to use it at my shop back at the house I own...; just did a day long demo where the city Fire Marshal mandated propane, etc)

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I use a coal forge, and while I would like to also have a propane forge for a few of the reasons already cited, I can't really justify the expense right now. Not only the initial expense to build the forge, but its use. I do this as a hobby, not for production work or profit (not to say I don't sell the occasional item to support the hobby), so I need to keep the costs low. My research indicates propane fuel consumption is .5 to 1 gal per hour for a typical propane forge, using up a 20 lb bottle in 6 - 8 hrs +/- . Some weekends, I'd go through a couple of bottles at that rate. In the winter, the bottles get over $25 ea here.  (If this is off base, someone please let me know what your usage rates are.) I can buy coal for $8 for 50 lbs, and I don't go through lots of it, maybe a bag over a weekend. For me, $8 is a lot better than $50 for a weekend of forging.

 

As I scrounge parts on the cheap, I may still build propane forge for specific projects, but I don't see it becoming my primary forge unless I do begin doing production work, or win the lottery.

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Are you swapping bottles or getting re-fills?  That price seems high  propane was a bit over 3 dollars a gallon when I got my re-fill on Friday (and I got 20% off with my frequent filler card)  my larger forge uses about $1 an hour and I typically make a "trinket" as the by-piece that will pay for the gas for the run.  My smaller forge uses 50 cents an hour.  Cheaper than a movie!  (especially as the nearest movie theater is 50 miles away...)

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Swapping bottles. The price jumps around, it will go from about $15 at the low end to almost 2 x that in the winter. I don't use many a year right now, but if I were to switch to a propane forge, i anticipate that would change.

 

So you are saying your forges use less than 1/6 to 1/3 of a gal an hour? What info I can find on consumption rates for 2 burner forges ranges from 1/2 to 1 gal per hour. I'd like to know what others are seeing.

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coal for me hands down and not for traditional reasons. most of the benefits have been named. a little elaboration.

cost: coal at the mine is around $100/ ton. for me, its less than a days drive round trip. thru beautiful country. very few mines in the suburbs or inner cities. so even with gas and a splurge on lodging, a ton-ton and quarter is around $250 max. this will last me around a year of full time work. hard to beat.

control: I've worked propane, so am comfortable with it. I don't like the excess heat. even with a shield, when you remove work, it comes out the front hot and fast. as far as noise, when I hear the roar of a propane forge, all I see are $ up in smoke. sheesh. there is no control for this.

production/non production: this ties in with control. here's a great but true blacksmith one liner: "how did you do that?,,,, six inches at a time.

so an example I can maintain a 10"-12" heat on say 4 bars of 1" square w/o a problem comfortably and once they reach proper heat will keep me busy with no delays.

I can maintain, when needed, a 16"-20" heat on say 3- 1-1/2"x1/2" x 20', with proper setup(multiple stands) and work this on pwr hammer or anvil and stay time efficient- meaning no downtime waiting on heats.

for smaller stuff such as rosets, estucheons, rivits etc, with a piece of proper width channel iron in the fire, I can place as many as needed, bring all to heat and finish one/add one and never wait on a heat.

with my hand crank blower,,, I do love my dance at the anvil,,, when I move to the anvil, it decreases the airflow, and thus maintains a proper heat whilst at the anvil with no fear of burning my other irons. a gate works fine here for fan power.

scale: this hasn't been mentioned. there is way less of a scaling problem with coal than gas. correct me if I'm wrong but this is especially a problem with lots of pieces in the propane forge. I suspect this can be dealt with as experience grows and you learn (coal or gas) just what "too many irons in the fire" truly is for your experience level.

smell: as has been stated, it gets in your blood. when I smell coal, I perk up and start looking for a source,,,, often as not I find another smith!

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