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The eternal question.. Gas or Coal?


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I know this is probably an over-posted topic, but I've been looking for an answer for quite a while and I haven't found it.

I've seen several pros and cons lists about coal vs. gas stoves. I've seen a lot of the same information, but also a lot of conflicting information.

I'm looking to build a mid-size forge to be my first forge. I am a complete novice at blacksmithy. That being said, I've seen some people who say that coal stoves are the way to go for beginners. According to some, because of the versatility and better heat available with a coal forge, that is where all beginners should start. People also say that the larger surface area and ease of welding are major pros that help beginners. However, some people say that because coal forges burn hotter, it's easier to burn your project, it's harder to replicate results, and controlling the fire and the metal is too much for a beginner to handle. There are also obvious health risks.

Proponents of gas stoves claim that the forge itself is much easier to operate, it's easy to reach welding temps, it's cleaner, it's harder to burn your steel, and they don't require maintenance. Opponents say that gas stoves are touchy, they don't get as hot as coal, they restrict the beginner's ability to learn how to use the heat, and that gas is much more expensive.

I live in Vermont, and I'm fairly certain that both anthracite and bituminous coal are readily available to me. Propane and MAPP are also available. I don't know, however, which will end up being more expensive. 

TL;DR- I have 3 questions.

  1. As a complete novice, should I work with a Coal or Gas forge? 
  2. Which type of forge will cost me more to operate? (Ignore costs of making the forge)
  3. Just in general, what sort of forge will serve me best? (I plan to bladesmith, and probably construction of pieces with welding, brazing, riveting are in my future..)

Thanks All!


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Welcome aboard JNP glad to have you. Ayup, newby questions for sure. Forget finding the "best" anything, there are too many variables for any one anything to be the best. You can find a best for a specific purpose or person but as a newcomer you don't have anything to gauge.

Forget "stove" it's the wrong term entirely and getting a handle on the jargon is important that way we'll know what you're asking and you'll know what our answers mean. . . Well, you'll have a much better chance.

As you've noted either forge has it's pluses and minuses. Gas forges don't require much skill to manage the fire ad you can turn it off and walk away with a reasonable precautions. The down sides are how it heats, it will heat everything even near the door so spot heating is problematical. They also pump out a LOT of BTUs so summer is hotter than normal.

A solid fuel forge has the advantages of being able to heat darned small areas. Intense fast heat and they don't pump out a lot of heat into the room so they're not so uncomfortable to stand near. The downsides run towards much harder to manage properly, can be noxiously smokey and they take time to go out unless you clean them out and quench the coals in water. Good coal tends to be harder to find than propane seriously almost every gas station sells propane but how many sell metallurgical coal?

There are more goods and bads about either but think those are the basics.

Nobody can tell you which will work best for you,, even you won't be able to until you develop some skills at the craft, even then our needs and likes change.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Find a fuel in YOUR area that is cheap and plentiful. Build, or buy, a forge that uses that fuel.

Wood, charcoal, coal, propane, oil, and the list just goes on and on. Look into electric induction heaters. They are most likely the cleanest fuel you can use. All the smoke and pollutants are left at the power plant.

As to ease of use, the type and style of heat that is produced etc etc depends upon the forge and the operator. Coal can produce a spot heat or large heat, propane is a general heat limited by the opening and heated interior of the forge. etc. All should reach welding heat and all should burn metal if it is allowed to get too hot. It is up to the operator to judge the heat and adjust as needed.

The metal does not care how it gets hot. It only matters that it is hot enough to work at the anvil.

Edited by Glenn
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Gas forges need maintinance, its called relining and replacing the kiln shelf or  fire brick floor.  The big thing with gas is effecency. For a production shop its about time, but for a hobbiest its abiut fuel. So you end up with more than on, a single burner for general forging, a "one brick forge" for small projects. And a two burner for bigger projects. 

Coal can be manged (depending on wether its a bittom blast or sideblast) to provide very fuel effecent fires, it indead heats faster but is "dirty" but thats the charm. 


Charcoal likes the side blast forge, but is limeted to a 6" heatzone unless you use multible tuyeers. bottom blast with charcoal will go threw fuel like the dickens, but you can "coke" wood on top. 

Personaly, my "work forge" is gas, as I am a ferrier. But most of my forging is done with charcoal or wood embers. Coal is about $160 a ton, but the smoke gives me a sore throught

Unless well ventulated (Steve has an outstanding setup, great drawing stack and accesory ventilation for the shop)

Gas gives you basicly two choices, propaine, or with blown or highpresuer taps, natural gas. Methane can be made by a digester if you have plenty of wood chips and manuer, but you have to have a blown forge.

a side blast will burn charcoal, coal, coke and corn. 

My advice is to have more than one forge, more than one fuel

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I'm with Charles' last statement. More than one forge and more than one fuel. In my experience, limited as it may be, tools made for multiple uses may be able to do multiple things, but rarely do the do any of them well. Where as tools made for a specific task tend to do that task exceedingly well. it's the reason why there are so many different types of specific tools. Hammers for instance. Hundreds If not thousands of different designs, all with an individual task in mind. But how many black smith's do you know who only have 1 hammer that they use for everything?

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