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I Forge Iron

Proper clothing materials to use while forging

Chuck Wright

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I've gotten several messages all asking what the best possible clothes should be worn while forging...well at first approximation, it seems rather simple...but after some thought, It's not quite that easy after all. So here's the original response and reasonings. So let's get the recommendations done first and then I'll tell you the reasonings behind these directives. First and foremost, the safest are 100% cotton clothes and second, leather. There that was simple and painless. So what do I have against synthetic fibers? Its quite simple. It is a given that slag, sparks, scale, and molten metals are going to be shot all over the immediate area, you will have punctate particles burning through the clothing, and possibly melt it. Thus rendering your clothing no longer useful in preventing burns. Now I'm certain all of us had small pinpoint burns on hour hands parts of our face and exposed limbs for certain. However, under and surrounding the scab is viable tissue that in no way, can stand up to the punishment of flying sparks. I will refrain from using the " degree" classification for now. Lets assume you are forging in the nude, I can't imagine anyone trying this out to see what the results would be. Lets imagine that you are welding in the nude, or forge welding and the first few hammer strikes are sending molten slag and flux all over the place...And given the height of the anvil, you can imagine what your first victims went through. If you are then covered in cotton clothing and leather, the sparks fly in every direction and if burning a hole into cotton (easily done) or leather (not to easy) you two will experience some painful side effects that will heal all by itself. Now lets throw on some clothing made with fibers from nylon, or containing nitrogen with in the fiber molecule. If this were to catch fire or just smolder while you are working close to the flames, when it combusts, any materials containing nitrogen and carbon will have produced cyanide in high enough concentrations to render you toxic if not removed. If the fibers are chemically similar to PVC and the like, combustion of these materials will release hydrogen chloride. When dissolved in water based solutions, like perspiration, fluids in the lungs etc, the HCl will form hydrochloric acid as a byproduct and chemically burn the tissues. Lungs that are burnt within the tissue hardly ever heal leaving pockets of hydrochloric aside furthering the burning destructive process. Depending on your exposure and response time, it is highly toxic and potentially ruin your ability to breathe. If your clothing is a mix of cotton and synthetic fibers, you still run an elevated risk of toxin inhalation...and if the direct damage doesn't harm you the immediately, it is highly probable that the inflammatory response will wind up filling your lungs with fluid resulting in literally drowning and never set foot in a pool. 

So what is the deal with even cotton, well its a good question, on its own, it is very safe to make clothing etc from. And if burnt will go through similar injurious patters as above. But now we have to consider the combustion by product of not only cotton but any material containing carbon. Without the process of replacing the local air volumes say during breezes, incomplete burning/ oxidation of any carbon containing material will be carbon monoxide. Now to finish up the carbon based fibers particularly cotton. When is it not safe by any means. Well think of this. I had patient who presented with a story consistent with a flash burn. Given his history, I wanted to dig a bit further into his story at presentation. Bottom line was that his pants caught fire and went up in less than a second. His wife said that they were talking while he was forging when his cotton denim pants erupted in flame. Yes , his genitals were damaged so bad they needed plastic surgery to come in to cover the wound with cultured skins. What caused the flash burn....well that was still up for questioning. After some preliminary treatment and pain meds, I went back to continue his interview and he referred to his pants and himself as a walking flame thrower. Well not quite exactly the point I wanted to make but it will work for now. It turns out his other favorite hobby was refining gold from a wide assortment of discarded electronics and circuit boards. The light bulb went off.....so much so that you could see my propeller beanie just whizzing around in a fury. I asked about his exposure to nitric acid...I had just learned of its use in refining gold . He had spilled some on his pants and he hung them out to dry. And dry they did, so he puts them back on and immediately as the fire in the forge ignited so did his pants. I put a small piece of cotton in a sample of nitric acid and got a similar response. At that point it made me a believer of some of these stories I was getting.....The reason is that the spill inadvertently produced nitrocellulose or flash cotton. 


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Never said to roll them up past the boots. :) 


 There are stores out there that sell flame retardant workwear. As for the OP I see how thinks could get on your clothing and make them not so. 

I have worn my work ( body shop) uniform  at the forge and found them to be severely insufficient heat/ flame retardant. At work also to be honest. There has been more then one time at work where I had to weld over head laying down and caught my work over shirt on fire or singed through my pants. ( still need to bring that up again) good reminder. 

I prefer the wrangler Riggs workwear pants in the forge ( everywhere actually). Not trying to plug a brand but they have held up the best for me so far with forging and welding. I'm sure I will try others over time but once you find a good go to its easy to stick with it. 

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A while back, 7 or 8 years, my wife bought me a flame retardant Carhartt shirt to wear while welding. We both had gotten tired of me having little pinhole burns ruining my shirts. Although it never caught on fire it certainly didn’t hold up as well as expected. Same pinhole burns covering the sleeves. To be honest though, very few fabrics hold up to repeatedly having tiny bits of molten metal land on it. 

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I agree with cotton and wool. I once  burned a one foot hole in a flannel shirt that was not cotton but some synthetic rubbish. Escaped injury but it was not fun.     

One issue I have is with my apron. I use one from Forg-Aprons that I had custom split at the front in order to be able to hold stock between my legs. It's all good for forging but if I need to weld something I find that a section of my upper chest get's UV exposure. 

Sure I can swap aprons with the welding one that is much higher but it's a bother. May be I need to rivet a flap at the front of my welding helmet. 

As far as scale in my shoes. I always wear leggers. 

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Keep in mind that you can make your clothing somewhat more fire retardant by wetting it with a solution of borax and boric acid (check the web for recipies) and allowing it to dry. If you're doing forge welding, you probably have both on hand already.

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