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Hey Everyone! I hope I am posting this in the right place. I have been making knives part time through stock removal for about 6 years now. My goal is to setup the necessary equipment to start forging my own Damascus billets in different patterns. I know it is not an easy task But I'd rather try and fail then not try at all.  

I have been searching through this forum and I think I read between the lines on choosing the right equipment. Here is what I am looking to get so far:

Propane forge- I have been tossing and turning on this. Right now Chile Habanero is my front runner, 2nd Chile Cayenne, 3rd Diamond back forge 2 burner 

Hydraulic Press- 16 Ton+ press  from Coal Iron works

Anvil- I looking at Holland 140#, Holland 190# (Shipping get a bit complicated and pricey for this model) and lastly The Ridgid Forged 165#

Hammer and tongs- I have found a nice 2.5lb rounding hammer on Etsy from a fellow maker but I would love suggestions. 

Please let me know what you guys think. If there is any better products out there that I am unaware of or a way to save some money I would be happy to hear it. 

Thanks in Advance, 

Camillo   

      

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I once built a system for welding billets for under US$25: forge, blower, anvil and basic tools. Worked great too I used it around 2 years as my primary billet welder.  I would highly suggest learning the process and deciding if you enjoy doing it before spending a huge pile of cash!

Is an expensive custom hammer going to hit any better than a $2 fleamarket one dressed properly?  Will an expensive anvil weld billets better than an improvised one bought at 20 UScents a pound?  Shoot I once demonstrated how to weld billets using a claw hammer and a chunk of RR Rail, the forge was a sheet metal firepot welded up earlier that day and the fuel was charcoal sieved out of the 4th of July bonfires---it was Christmas so the charcoal was nice and cold.  The person I was teaching did have a nice hand crank blower though.

Skill is what makes high end equipment worth it's while!  Building those skills on cheaper "learner" equipment can be done. When I taught my Daughters' to drive they learned on my old beater pickup before they Graduated to my Wife's *nice* car...

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Yup.

Anyway, sure, all of that is fine as far as I know. The truth to forgewelding is getting the process down. More finicky alloys may need more specialized flux but the process is about the same. If you have the money to spend, go for it. Hammer is a hammer, depends how you use it is what counts. Someone experienced could use an 8lb hammer for small intriquit work. Forge welding can be done with just a charcoal or coal forge. It's all in what you want to start out with. To get the "idea" down start with faggot welds on mild steel. Then once you get it down move up. It's the knowledge, process and experience that counts with forging, not the fanciness of the tools. 

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Well said. The first billet I made was in the lid of a Weber BBQ, flipped upside down, lined with firebricks with some black iron pipe coming in the side blowing in air from a hairdryer. The only thing I didn't already have on hand was a ball valve to release the excess air from the hairdryer. My anvil was a piece of ~3" round I found in the scrapyard for $14 and my hammer was a little ball peen hammer I found at the tool thrift shop for $4.

Of course my first billet (having no real conception of what a welding heat to the core of the billet really looked like) only kind of stuck, and was a total failure by knifemaking standards,  so it ended up becoming a keychain.

I know this is what you do (excellent knives btw) but buying a press just to make damascus is, IMO, something one would do in a production environment where they make one large billet of some fancy pattern after learning how to manipulate the pattern and climbing at least a little way up that learning curve of squishing hot steel with a hammer. 

Once I was hooked, I did end up buying a "real" anvil and a fancy hammer, but there are few things I make now that couldn't be done without them. 

I like your "better to try" mentality, I'm the same way. All I'm saying is you don't have to spend a couple thousand dollars just to do so. I'm a solid fuel guy, but if gas is your preference (it does have it's benefits) there are many tried and true build plans discussed at length here. Of course buying one off the shelf is convenient and if you have the spare money for it then more power to you. However, even by anvil standards, a new anvil is a pricey and there is a reason most teachers let the new guys work on a beater anvil, so to speak. They are more likely to miss and put apprentice marks on the face. At least I was.

Anyway, welcome aboard and hello from the other side of NY!

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Well, a press or power hammer certainly do help things to work faster, and I'd bet Cs is wanting production. I was just saying about learning the process before jumping into the big tools. It migh take one try or it may take many before you get that " Aha" moment of forge welding. Then the stakes might raise with tougher alloys. 

 

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Thomas, Daswulf and Frazer you all are absolutely correct fundamentals are absolutely essential.
One thing that forgot to mention is I started this journey with forging. I made a charcoal forge out of two stainless steel junction box that I got from a commercial building while I was fixing some electric. It was two 14x14 boxes stacked and welded on top of each other. The bottom box I had a 2” stainless steel conduit that I attached a variable speed inducer motor. My first anvil was a harbor freight 50lb. I played  around with mild steel with faggot welds  and practiced some of my designs on O1. 

Ultimately I am still at a beginner level with forging and I will never pretend to be anything else. 
I have saved for years for my business next step. Which until recently my savings was  for a cnc machine. My goal now is to forge weld long billets of Damascus. Enough to do 4 knives at a time so I could keep up with demand. Speed would be key. 

So I do agree tools do not make up for skill. But in my mind if I hone this skill the machines will polish it. 

Frazer- Thank you! It is nice to see another maker from NY. I have been bouncing back and forth on idea of charcoal. My ultimate concern is I would like to forge in my workshop. My workshop is One side of a two car garage. I built a wall separating the two halves. But I worry it would be more dangerous then a propane forge. The other concern I have is getting the coal. I do have a tractor supply close to me but it tends to be a bit inconsistent. 

 


This picture old. But you can get the idea of the space I have. Actually I have less space now due to my surface grinder and welding table 12407DFC-4AD1-4D07-A23E-84F741A80E58.thumb.jpeg.27f39b56edf3b733e0e046f184d1af41.jpeg

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Welding long billets isn't necessary nor desirable. Weld one that weighs say 3 times as much as your knife and forge it to enough length for two after welding is done. You can't forge much more than 6" at a time and keeping steel at or above critical temp without hammering to refine the grain causes excessive grain (crystal) growth. 

Set the weld on a billet while the other(s) are heating. If you build a "tunnel" forge you can place the billet you just worked in one end pushing the ones already in the forge towards the other end where you'll pull the next one in line. A little practice and you'll be able to lbe able to stay as busy as you can stand. No?

Timing will be really important, getting the proper soak time can be tricky enough in a one off situation but in a production line you'll have to have the timing down to a science. 

Frosty The Lucky. 

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Hey Cs, I wont say the right tools wont polish and or speed up the work. It sounds like you have more idea than what we perceived you led on. 

The knowledge on this forum will help you.

Steve Sells uses an ingenious roller mill for some of his damascus/pattern welded billets. That might be a useful option for increasing production. He also forges and makes blades in a smaller shop. Just to say, he has two books out that may be worth buying. I've yet to buy the second one but plan on it when I'm able. 

There are atleast a couple ifi members making damascus/pattern welded blades. So you are in the right place. ;)

 

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I like your setup! And all your toy.. *ahem*, I mean tools! I always get those mixed up.. ;)

Whether you use gas or coal, and I know I'm stating the obvious, but if you're indoors you'll want to have proper ventilation and make sure whatever heat source you put in there is up to code. First for safety's sake and second for insurance purposes.  I'll be moving my shop indoors (also a garage) in a little under two weeks so the second point is fresh on the mind, so to speak.

re: Getting coal, or if you just wanted to find a few blacksmiths on your side of the state to talk to, I think you would be in the Metropolitan Region of the NYSDB. I'm sure any of the guys (or girls) there would be more than happy to help you find what you need to get started, including tools/supplies. 

Here's their website.  http://www.nysdb.org/regions/metropolitan-region/

Meetings may or may not be in session due to CV19, but at least you will have someone local you can call!

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Thank you Frazer! I will definitely check them out! Have you come up with any solutions for fresh air intake and venting? If so I would love to hear about it. Currently I have a 500gallaon propane tank for my house. From what I am reading in other post. That tank cannot be used due to the reduced pressure going into the house. So I would have to get a additional 100 Gallon tank. 

I really do like the idea if coal forge to eliminate propane. I am a long way off from this but I would like to experiment with Stainless steel damascus . Do you think a coal or coke forge can handle that kind of material?   :::Sigh:::

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JPH has posted pics of pure eye candy blades many times, you can search out his login "JPH" and look through his content. 

Whatever fuel you burn will produce CO Carbon Monoxide and consume oxygen. If it's an attached garage the CO will probably infiltrate the house too. You can prevent this by keeping the garage pressure lower than the house with exhaust fans. It's not a guarantee to be sure but it helps. The only safe assumption is CO is getting everywhere, detectors in your living spaces. A detached garage is better by a long way.

Whatever fuel you burn has advantages and disadvantages. For some things I light my oxy propane torch. It's all fire and we do fire. :wub:

Roll presses would allow you to weld that long billet, they're amazingly simple devices but MUST be robust and are kind of expensive to build.

Forge welding stainless requires the use of an aggressive flux containing a flourine compound and is quite toxic. I do NOT recommend you try stainless until you're familiar with and better than have adequate fume extraction equipment. Your PPE needs to be a cartridge type respirator with cartridges rated for flourite, etc. compounds. It's a no joke dangerous stuff. Literally dissolve the calcium from your skeleton, BADNESS stuff.

Both Steve Sells and JPH have two books published for sure and I think a third out or close. 

Frosty The Lucky. 

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I don't have a gas forge and have only used them at the school in Rochester where they have a welding school grade, forced air HVAC system that's way far and beyond what would be expected for your average guy in the home shop. That is to say I don't know what the "NYS approved" gas setup would be, but I know there are a few other NY guys in here. At the end of the day the best person to ask if you're unsure is a local building inspector/code officer and the best person to tell is your insurance company. Maybe you don't say, "Hey, I'm playing with fire here!", but like you have to disclose if you have a pool or a trampoline or a fireplace, I imagine it's good to tell them you have a fire that you plan to heat steel up to ~2000 degrees with. Okay, maybe you use fewer words than that too haha, but you get the point. 

Sorry, I was doing some reading (disclaimer: I assure you I am not a code expert and have not read the whole 80 chapters...). NYS fire code section 308.1.6.2, Portable Fueled Open Flame Devices:

"Portable open-flame devices fueled by flammable or combustible gases or liquids shall be enclosed or installed in such a manner as to prevent the flame from contacting combustible material."

There's a lot of wiggle room in there, (keep in mind this is statewide, towns can add other things I believe), but I'm not qualified enough to say what's acceptable and I didn't get far enough to find any section on ventilation requirements.

I have to put in a chimney for the smoke and while I'm fabricating the hood, as far as the chimney goes I'll have to get a permit and have it done by those who know these things better than I do. It's probably not rocket surgery, but it's not something I'm comfortable with doing myself

I'm 25, first house, so what do I know? Maybe I'm just overly cautious. I'm sure there are plenty of people who just build a forge and hook it up to a tank, put in a CO detector and an extinguisher and call it a day. I just know insurance companies generally speaking don't like surprises, and neither does NYS so I tend to prefer the keeping everything above board.

I've never made stainless damascus and honestly I don't make many knives so take the following with the requisite number of grains of salt, but I don't see any reason why it would be any easier or harder in a coal forge vs gas. Well, actually I take that back, I don't know if stainless needs to soak longer, which can be trickier with coal since the heat is less even/consistent and the longer you burn fuel the more oxidizing it becomes etc. etc. (Now I see Frosty has responded to that point, I'll defer to his statement on SS damascus since I have precisely 0 experience with it)

It's funny, when I first wanted to learn backsmithing, all I wanted to do was make damascus knives, and maybe even a sword! Then I got hooked on all the other elements of blacksmithing and all the fiddily-bits of knife making weren't as exciting to me. I love knives, and I do make them here and there when I need one. I have a lot of respect for knifemakers, there is a ton of time and effort that goes into fit and finish. 

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First off sorry for the delay responding, Your Advice is amazing and lead me to a lot of research. Thanks to everyone taking time to help 

Frosty- JHP does amazing work. I am going to walk before I run for sure. My work shop (Garage) is attached to my house so I will have to be extra careful. I work in the HVAC  Industry for 20 years and after your response It got me thinking. I began taking measurements on calculating Make up air and exhaust air. So far I need 400 CFM for the exhaust. I am going to need 800 cfm for makeup air. I will also set up a few RIB relays to power up a bigger fan.  When the CO raises to a unsafe amount the second fan will turn on. 

Frazer- Thanks for the help. Since I will have to rig up my shop with a exhaust for either forge it is really making me think more about coal. The only coal available to me at the moment is from the tractor supply. They sell  Kimmel's Premium Rice coal (Quality Anthracite) and    Kimmel's Coal and Packaging Premium Nut Coal would either of those work?    

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You're not punching a time clock, no worries about response time. Frankly I appreciate someone taking the time to do some research before responding, it says good things. 

If possible find bituminous smithing coal, anthracite isn't optimum, it'll work but there is better and less smoky. Try calling a farrier supply, if they don't carry it they should know who does. Failing that try calling farriers, if they don't use coal they'll know who does, call them. 

Remember if you build a coal forge it won't take much air at all. I pick up mattress inflator blowers at yard, garage etc. sales when I see them cheap, usually under $5 or tossed in bundling other stuff. New at Wally World in the spring they were $13 spring before last. They come 12v DC or 120v AC. I see 12v DC most often at garage, yard, etc. sales. These put out way more air than necessary to blast a HUGE coal fire, I aim it mostly away from the tuyere to control the air blast.

Frosty The Lucky. 

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Coal ranges from stuff that I haul 1500 miles to use and stuff a smith I know got for free and ended up dumping on his dirt driveway.  I'd sure suggest talking with local smiths to see if any *GOOD* coal is close enough to get.

I was going to suggest looking at rolling mill too.  The problem with smithing is that every "toy" has a specific use and so while a powerhammer with drawing dies will draw billets out a lot faster than a hydraulic press, the press can be used without deforming fancy designs in Mosaic work.

One of the plusses of bituminous coal is that you can look at the smoke and *KNOW* you shouldn't be breathing that stuff!  A gas forge puts out the toxic invisible, odorless CO and so we get problems, especially when it gets cold out and folks tend to button up their shop.  Also they may not realize that when they start re-running exhaust gasses into their burner; CO production SPIKES! With a background in HVAC I won't worry about you!

What I do worry about your shop: are you keeping the "clean shop" separated from the "dirty shop"?  Machine tools do not like dust produced by other processes!

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So after doing a ton of research coal is not in my cards. Setting up a proper chimney to code at my house would cost way to much to get started.  Also the right coal needede very difficult to get. 

Thomas- I do keep a pretty clean shop however when doing handles I even with my dust collector G10 dust still manages to coat everything. 

Please let me know if there is better options out there

So what I have come up with so far is

16ton coal iron works press 

165lbs Ridgid anvil 

Propane forge I am really tossing and turning on this one. Chili 2 burner forge and Ellis 8 HT (Forced Air). Chilis reputation is amazing however the price is high especially when I know flux is going to ruin it. Ellis 8 HT I have heard great things about it however I don't like the idea of having to build it and coat and line the forge myself. Does anyone know a better option out there?   

 

 

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Camillo,

You're not kidding... The price of double walled chimney pipe is crazy. And they don't even clad them in gold! 

To your other points, I'll leave them to those who will be more capable to answer them.

Good Luck! 

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Depending on how my current home build turns out (it's almost done, I swear! Darn weather and life getting in the way), I might end up with a Chile next year, so I've read up on them a bit. They do use a burner based of Mikey's work from here I believe, so that's a plus too.

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You might look into a rolling mill. Google "Hughe McDonald rolling mill", he was an austrailian fellow who designed and published plans for a roll forging machine specifically for damascus. Briefly Kayne and sons built and sold the machine but there was some sort of legal scuffle over it and the whole thing kind of fizzled.

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