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Hi I’m new to the forum and to smithing, I am excited and hungry for knowledge, since I was a kid I always loved knights armor knives axes swords etc, but was more fascinated by the men who made these tools of utility, warfare, and beauty and I’ve wanted to be one of them my whole life. 
 So I’ve built a small foundry before out of an old steel bucket and some homemade refractory cement(plaster of Paris and play sand) that was coal powered and worked like a champ for melting aluminum and softer metals to be cast, even managed to burn through a steel crucible once.
 

Now I’ve recently built my first forge out of an old propane tank and a similar refractory mix and it took forever to dry not sure what I did wrong there, But she did work and worked well even made 2 file knives and began drawing out an attempt at a Khukri ( ive always wanted one) but couldn’t get up to welding temperature when I attempted to make a small amount of Damascus, currently I use only a greenwood torch fro. Harbor freight on a homemade stand as a burner, but to test its durability I purposefully ran her long hours probably 30 hours in 3 days if not more before the refractory began to fail. Currently she is hollowed out and waiting for me to reinsulate and set back up. 
 

My questions to experienced smiths are, is that a good lifespan for a refractory mix 50/50 plaster to sand?  Is there a better ratio or anything I could add to the mix to insulate better maintain more heat? I’ve read articles about wood ash, sodium silica (water glass) , adding borax you the mix and even just plain old clay. would a custom built burner be more fuel efficient? 
 

thank you ahead of time guys any information , tips tricks or encouragement is much appreciated and welcomed. I suppose it will be awhile before I earn the title of smith but it is a road I look forward to walking, 

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First you really should have read the Read This First post as suggested when you joined, it would save you some time if you had looked in the gas forges section before posting  about help with your gas forge, and saw the pinned post about Plaster of Paris.  Instead you posted in the wrong section <general forging>, which tells me you didnt look around or read at all.

If you are to busy to read its going to be hard to learn here, so slow down and take some times to read a bit more, dont rush yourself so much

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Some dofus posted on YT about using plaster of paris in a gas forge.  Unfortunately PoP starts to degrade 1000 degF under proper forging temperatures; yes 1000 degF *under*.  Mixing other things with it doesn't help; it's a basic physical property of Calcium Sulfate.  It's also not a good insulator so getting higher temps and good efficiency in forges made with it is quite unlikely. 

Now some folks argue that they can't afford good refractories for forges but can PoP---this is like spending US$250 to save $50 as the increased gas needed for heating rapidly out costs the good refractories, not to mention replacing the PoP liner as it rapidly degrades.  (Now if you want to go this route I will gladly send you $50 if you send me $250 back; Shoot I'll do it twice a week!)  NOTE:  Glenn sells refractories for propane forges on this site!

My advice: 1) don't follow bad advice on the net!  2) read the section here on gas forges!

Also that type of torch tends to be very oxidizing which is BAD for knifework.  Plans for a Frosty T burner you can build yourself can be found FREE on this site; they tend to be on the reducing side and are tuned to be neutral. AND ARE HOT!  I replaced my two old school burners on my forge that I have been using for 20 years with Frosty T burners and am greatly looking forward to winter weather; wow my forge puts out the heat now!

Also if you live in America and not one of the other 100+ countries that participate in these forums on the world wide web; find the nearest ABANA affiliate to you and try to attend some meetings when they start up again.  Much faster to learn face to face!

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Here's a clue for  you:  Anything that says plaster of paris and sand mix is appropriate for forge or foundry use hasn't a clue what they are doing and should not only be dismissed...but you should run away so fast your shoes smoke.

Same with concrete/cement admixes

Same with "cinder blocks", standard bricks, and many hard brick solutions (even hard refractory brick unless used in certain specific ways).

Same with "weed burner" type burners in a forge as your heat source

Same with small propane blow (plumber's) torches--unless everything you forge is the size of a finish nail.

The list goes on but I hope you get the drift regarding how much terrible advice is out there.

Good information is out there if you take the time to find peer-reviewed stuff like is available on the IFI site.  After one packs in a bit more knowledge, it's easier to spot the crackpots who are just parroting another crackpot who is parroting another... (especially common on youtube).  Some do glitzy-looking videos so come off as though they are knowledgeable: Don't let the production quality fool you into believing that translates to information quality.

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Welcome aboard, glad to have you. If you'll put your general location in the header you'll have a chance to hook up with members living within visiting distance. You'll learn many times as much in time spent with a knowledgeable smith and trying to figure it out yourself. ESPECIALLY if you're relying on youtube videos. The ONLY qualification a person needs to be an "expert" on youtube is a camera and an ISP. So much presented is not only wrong, some is dangerously wrong.

Actually your POP sand forge liner lasted longer than normal, probably because you put too much sand in and it was too wet. PoP doesn't dry, it sets by chemical reaction, if it had to dry it's because you used too much water in the mix. 

Regardless, PoP and sand as has been said so often here repeating this is getting really tiresome, is worse than worthless as a forge or furnace liner. Packing damp soil and sawdust mix in a form would work better. Honest, no fooling.

Forges 101 and Burners 101 are the most current sections regarding forges and burners. Both contain links to and directions for proven designs for making them plus reviews of commercial forges and burners. 

Posts by folk swearing by PoP and sand haven't been deleted but before you rely on one of them, read the replies. Hmmm?

Many of us are here to pass on what we've picked up over the years while we learn about what we've been doing wrong or just not as well as we should. Some of us are semi disabled and don't spend a lot of time at the anvil anymore so this is a way to keep in touch with blacksmiths and help get new folk addicted to the craft.

We're really looking to get you up and working in the craft with as few failures as possible. We're offering you the benefit of our mistakes so you can make new ones to entertain us. ;)

Frosty The Lucky.

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And if you think we are jumping up and down on your for the Plaster of Paris, remember we are writing these replies for the WORLD, open forum!, and so while the question may be specific the answers  here are often  widely construed.

Plaster of Paris Delenda Est!  (Now John can correct me for not using the pseudo imperative third person pluimperfect subjunctivitis in the first degree!)

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5 hours ago, Flawedone318 said:

hungry for knowledge,

Welcome aboard... This is the place to get that knowledge. I'll not pile on, except to say I agree with the responses above. Here is a link to the thread Steve mentioned in case you can't find it.  READ THIS FIRST

My experience with YouTube is it's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, that's why we have a section of previewed videos with links to the good one's. It's located in Blacksmithing, General Discussions, Reference Materials.

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Welcome to the site... and the world of hot steel.

^ these guys have covered quite a bit already, so I'm just going to say- keep reading here. There's alot to learn, and you'll want to.

Couple quick suggestions I'll make if I may?

Quit making knives from your files. Use your files to make the knives!! Lol... its a bit more work, but that file in your picture could have really cleaned up that blade, and given you some great hand worked bevels with patience. The blade in my picture below has hand filed bevels and plunge lines. Took a few hours.

Secondly- and I'm very guilty of this... i just spent two days cleaning up my forging area and organizing. Keep the area where you're working with steel- free from flammables and debri. Just grinding sparks can be enough to start a good fire.

I like an idiot- had cut some handle material on the table saw, and left it under on the floor. Moved onto grinding some on the belt sander... yup.... smokey mess. That prompted my cleanup.

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Well, here is one more.

I have heard various people, who should know better, claim that knife making should not be a beginners goal.; they have brought up the complexity of the task, if it is to be done well, and that is true; it is also irrelevant. I don't know of any goal worth achieving that isn't hard, or complex. Knife making is one of the few that rewards every advance with perfect fainess--for all to see :)

Good luck to all of you beginners. You will learn a whole lot more than you ever imagined.

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I hold the other view; mainly because I've seen a lot of people give up forging blades in frustration due to continuous failures as they learn the basics the hard way. When I teach I try to start with projects that are hard to mess up completely; but teach skills so when they jump to bladesmithing they can concentrate on what new things they need to learn working high carbon steel vs just mild steel.

I freely admit some folks are fine with running into a brick wall again and again.  I just know that I am not one of them. 

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What kind of knife making Mike? I pretty universally recommend a person learn basic blacksmithing to a level of competence before climbing the high carbon learning curve. Running two learning curves so closely related is more difficult than necessary. 

However, there is a lot to knife making that has nothing to do with the anvil and can be learned simultaneously without causing more than normal problems. You can't make a decent blade without stock removal so I recommend making stock removal blades to learn those skills while they learn basic blacksmithing. 

Not relevant? How so?

Frosty The Lucky.

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One of you is saying that people are likely to give up, and the other is saying it's not easy. I agree with you both. I have a point of view too. This doesn't boil down to who is right, but to what path serves each particular person best; they have to decide that for themselves. I'm 74, and don't remember ever doing a single thing easy. It's not that I didn't, but they just weren't worth remembering.  This isn't brain surgery. Planes won't be falling out of the sky.Why fear failure? Can there be triumph without its shadow?

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I'm trying to get people to succeed; not winnowing out the people who may give in to frustration.   I've taught folks where teaching them was like throwing gasoline on a fire and I've taught folks who were a long slow slog to get the basics down. 

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Perhaps folks from our generation were taught to overcome failure and hardship. The generation I seem to run into all too often have been taught the threat of failure damages their self confidence and image. The edu. system is no fail, has been for decades, I'm getting kids who can't calculate the area of a square. High School graduates who don't know a square inch from an anchovy. Kids who've never swung a hammer.

Most spend a little time once and I never see them again. Challenging them is like shooing them away with a frown. A harsh word might require an ambulance. 

These poor abused kids need to be shown they CAN do things before you can show them how. By abused I mean by the system that has so neglected them a useful education, sense of values or work ethic. 

Not all youngsters of course, the home schoolers go through here like a storm, often making a knife as a first project. 

I won't assume anyone who asks basic questions is a born maker. The ones who are take what they need and move on.

Frosty The Lucky.

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10 hours ago, Mikey98118 said:

This isn't brain surgery

I tend to support Mikey here. The actual forging of a knife deals with a pretty basic skillset of the blacksmiths craft.

Basic heat treating fits that profile as well. 

I can give a 30 minute demo on forging a knife and spend an hour assisting a first attempt at forging and know they will have their first knife ready for cold work.

Nor does it take much time with an old leaf spring and a bucket of oil to get someone up and running on the basics of heat treating.

Will it be of the same quality to stand tall beside a Kashen blade? Naa, but if I had them make a simple "S" hook instead, it certainly wouldn't hold a candle to a Yellen grillwork either. And it takes about as much basic fire control to do either a basic "S" hook as it does to forge a basic knife.

You might say if a person wants to make lemonade, why start him off making apple juice?

And finally, I suspect that there are prolly as many people who ditched blacksmithing because their first "S" hook didn't meet their expectations as those whos first knife wasn't near what they expected. Lol, I call it the inevitable clash between fantasy and reality.

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And I agree with what you think too!

When in history has one shoe fit all? Let many paths flourish; people will "do it their way" if we encourage them--or try to stop them. striving for triumph in the school of hard knocks is only one path. it was, looking back on it, a very good path; and not one I intended to tread at first. Fortunately, I was schooled by a lot of very hard old men, when young, and came to respect them before I got hard enough to knock them down :P

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Don't get me wrong, that's just my take on it, no "this is the way" stuff. I respect most all ways that people teach. However, it is an indication of my personal philosophy.

My pathway has always been "working smith", not teaching. I have taught. From someone just dropping in for a day or staying for a week. I've taught group classes including one gig at the Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge for a 3 credit class.

In every group class there are those few who's passion really shines, and far more who's enthusiasm wains and stays just to get their money's worth. Those who show a passion tend to ask more questions during lectures a d work sessions. They get the full passion that I have for this craft. The rest get whatever they choose, and yes, I have no problem giving my all to a full class of enthusiastic students. For those who have this passion and keep it hidden from me, well they get my best no matter what, and will continue. 

A statistic from long ago concerning craft schools stated that most (90%?) never went any farther that their initial class. The next cut came at a year and the remaining crop is single digits. Those remaining after year 3 the remaining 1%'rs, were usually hooked for life. 

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I consider part of my job is not just teaching them blacksmithing; but showing them that they CAN create and do things with their hands.  A lot of students I get nowadays may never have grown up ever making something concrete, something their grandkids could give to their great grandkids and so on down the line.  It can be hard to encourage folks who "don't know which end of a hammer to hold".  I know few will make it a life long hobby and even fewer will go pro; but I'm happy even to find out they took up other crafts because they "learned that they could learn" in a class I had taught.

My wife has been teaching spinning for over 50 years now and she is much more rigorous in her classes.  The first one is just terminology and you had better be taking notes!  Me, I'm generally just trying to "set the hook" and get them into doing things on their own.  I picked up 40' of .2" sq coper wire over the weekend; I use it to teach a simple penannular brooch class at SCA events.  I almost purposefully try to teach the class with a minimum of specialized tooling to show them how to use stuff they can find on their own.  It's a useful item to hold cloaks together and is actually pretty medieval in the forms I teach.  I always like folks coming up to show me the ones they made in use.  A lot of the focus of the Early SCA was in making things yourself as there wasn't a lot of stuff being made and sold.  I guess I absorbed that viewpoint and still encourage it 42 years after I joined.

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You are the reason and example for my post. I respect all who teach and treasure the personal philosophy that guides them. 

To be clear, I have had students that show such passion that have no knowledge of which end of a hammer goes where and those with no passion that have an uncanny instinct for fire control, tooling and more. The former seem to ask more questions and thus gain far more from learning. Sadly you could beat the latter severely about the head and shoulders with no increase in passion.  

The students I prefer are those that seem to wander in unasked to see my shop and to get an answer to a specific question. And yes, I have had a few who came for a simple question stayed and camped out on my place for a week!

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