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Atlas Graham forge review


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I previously wrote a review of the NC Knifemaker forge, thought I'd cover the Graham I've been using, as well. 

Construction

The forge has a round exterior and interior chamber. A friend of mine commented it 'looks like a coffee can forge', but the fit/finish are obviously better, that's just a comment on it's shape. The stainless legs are sharp and, unfortunately, have no way to bolt the forge down. 

 graham_soak_outside.thumb.jpg.1819ffd1a7cd88d8ddd3a2c4c2a02dd3.jpg 

There is a sliding rest, which is a nice feature, although it looks a little spindly at first glance. I was worried it would flex or bend under heavier bars, like a 1in 52100 round bar, but it doesn't even when it's near full extension. The only issue I had with this on mine was that it was slightly bent, so I had to try and straighten it out. I do work with metal, so I'd imagine that's in most people's wheelhouse...or hope anyway. 

The burner is blown using a fairly inexpensive fan coupled to a controller. They attach to the burner using a plastic ring that 'grabs' a flange on the fan, you then adjust the fan with a small knob. The fan doesn't exactly inspire confidence given its size and purpose, but it never failed on me and did the job fine. I guess i'm a little leery of something so small and inexpensive doing such a critical job, but it didn't fail, sputter, or cause any problems, so I guess I can't fault it. 

graham_burner.thumb.jpg.64ae65ca3384db2759c09dff95dfc9a0.jpg

The only issue I did have is the attachment to the burner is a bit easy to remove. If you knock it wrong, it'll fall out. It's not super loose and floppy or anything, but it's not bolted in either, so you have to be careful when messing with the burner not to accidentally pull it out. Other than make adjustments to the fan speed, I probably wouldn't touch it and would be careful to avoid knocking it out. Again, I had no issues with this except when I was trying to pull the burner out, but I imagine it would happen eventually. Thankfully, the cable to the power supply is fairly tight, so pulling it out on accident would be difficult.

The regulator doesn't have a gauge, but the hose is stainless, which is nice, but I would worry about the potential for the power cable to chafe over time and electrify the shroud around the hose. HIGHLY unlikely, but I'd try to keep them separated, despite what my photos above show. I would like to have seen the hose be a bit longer, as the distance from the tank to the forge is fairly short, I ended up having to replace the hose and regulator to fit onto my 125# tank plumbing. The fitting on the burner is a standard 3/8 flanged fitting, so I found a 3/8 hose that was 12ft long and attached a 1/4 NPT regulator to it using an adapter, which also allowed me to use a gauge.

Burner adjustment

The burner is adjusted using a combination of the PSI from the tank and speed of the fan. As you increase the pressure from the tank, the fan speed will also have to increase. If the fan speed is too high, it'll blow out. If it's too low, flames will sputter out either end. I wasn't aware of this phenomenon and it took me a while to figure out how to start it without flames coming out either end. 

I made a few marks on the original regulator with a sharpee: the lowest setting I could feasibly run without flaming out and a 'start' point to fire up the forge. This made getting to those points easy (the first is important for HT, but which I'll discuss later) while I didn't have a gauge. I also kept a notepad with corresponding fan speeds for those settings. I found even at the lowest setting (which, according to my crap gauge, was ~.5-1psi), it had to be around halfway on the fan adjuster to work. 

It took some time to figure out the optimal setting for the burners, but it seems like you can go based on the 'shadow' or lack thereof on the wall of the forge. As you increase the fan speed, you'll notice that a dark spot forms directly in front of the burner and it grows as you increase the speed, unless you increase PSI from the regulator. As you decrease it, that spot goes away, but a PSI or two below that point and it'll start sputtering flames. It took a few forging sessions, but I eventually got the hang of it. 

I found the range, again based on my crap gauge, to be around .5-15psi or so. 

Operation

Unlike the Knifemaker, I did a fair bit of forge welding in this one, but I also did some HT soaks to see how it all worked. 

On the low end, I ran the forge as low as it would possibly go. I couldn't get a pyrometer to work due to the shape, but I noted that I could soak a 1/4 piece of 80crv2 for 15 minutes at the lowest setting and it still remain magnetic. A SLIGHT bump in PSI would take it above non-magnetic temps. I soaked and HT several pieces of steel for a long period of time to see how steady it would keep the temps, some as high as 20 minutes, and it would keep it around that still magnetic point fairly easily. 

graham_low_soak.thumb.jpg.c7bcfa56ca01846ce1cb06f8d878f6ee.jpg

The downside at these lower ranges is that you really have to stay on top of the fan, it's finicky and will blow out. The vortex in the chamber will also be interrupted by larger pieces, causing it to sputter a bit and require you to dial it back, then increase it again. At high temps and fan speeds, this is not an issue, but at the bottom end of the range the forge is capable of, it can cause it to flame out. If you are outside, wind will also negatively impact the ability of the forge to stay lit at the bottom of the temp range. You also start getting a cold spot near the end of the forge, however that's to be expected, as the chamber is fairly small and lower fan speeds won't blow the fan as far back. 

At higher temps, the first thing I noticed compared to the NC was the amount of scale or lack thereof. My NC would flake and scale like crazy. After hours of forging, I had less scale around my anvil than possibly one or two heats on the NC, it was a dramatic improvement. I was also easily able to 'dry weld' a 360 layer billet, which required a number of folds, with ease and without oxidation issues. 

graham_damascus.thumb.jpg.d6ef3d1d19fa08f3883ea984d906c5ce.jpg

There is a small hot spot right in front of the burner, but if you leave the piece to soak long enough, the heat will transfer down as long as you aren't really close to the rear opening. The main part of the hotspot, as you can see above, is higher up on the forge, so it doesn't typically touch the workpiece as much as one where it was blowing directly onto it, but it does seem to have an effect on the work piece, although more minor than others I've used

It doesn't shoot out massive amounts of dragons breath or even heat out either side, although the blower does seem to cause the heat to move further out than other forges I've used, which may be an issue if you use a ventilation hood like I do. 

Conclusion

Don't mistake my minor complaints above, they are nitpicking, I REALLY like this forge compared to my NC and even others I've used. I have a Chile Habanero that came in today, but I plan on keeping both. The value for the Graham is great and I wished I had gotten it instead of wasting money on the NC the first time around. Aside from chamber size and length, the Graham is better in every way and considerably less expensive.

I can do HT soaks with it and forge weld, both with relative ease, all in a forge that costs $400. I was out another $80 or so by the time I bought a longer hose and regulator, I would've liked to have seen more options there, but even still, you have more features and functionality than you do with the NC and a lot more flexibility. I think if I had started out with this forge, I may not have ended up buying a kiln or the Chile for some time. I felt they were more essential purchases with the NC, but with the Graham, I feel I could get by easier without them. I'm still glad I have them, but the Graham makes them less of what I felt to be a necessity. 

That said, the interior chamber is smaller than the Habanero and the Habanero does seem to get hotter, although it has a more noticeable hotspot. The price difference between the two is massive, though. I'm glad I have both, but question whether I'd have bought the Habanero for anything other than chamber size after using the Graham. That's not a knock on the Habanero, at all, the fit/finish on it are fantastic and it works REALLY well, but the Graham is more flexible for making knives and the price point is more attractive starting out.

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4 hours ago, Irondragon ForgeClay Works said:

A good review. The only thing I see is it could use some adjustable doors (insulated fire brick) front & back to increase the heat and lower the fuel consumption.

I considered trying this, but was concerned blocking the back off would result in some back pressure that would disrupt the vortex inside. There is a bit of air that exits the rear of the forge, but I'll give it a shot and report back when I get a chance. 

3 hours ago, BillyBones said:

Was there a difference in propane usage?

Anecdotally, yes, it seemed lower for the temps I was trying to work at. I didn't really go to the point of trying to measure actual usage, but it seemed like I was able to run longer forging sessions without refilling the tank.

21 minutes ago, ThomasPowers said:

My thought exactly, followed by: if you can't figure out how to fasten it down; should you be working with hot steel?

It was less "I can't figure it out", more "This is something to consider if you are buying it". It's not a huge deal for me, I have plenty of room in the shop, but I've been in others that were considerably smaller and bumping into it or knocking it off would be more of a risk. Generally when I'm purchasing something, I like to have everything with me when it arrives so I can get it prepped properly, so it was just something to consider.

It's also a lot easier to just have bolt holes already in place. You can work around it, but it's nice when you don't have to. It's a minor gripe or point.

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  • 5 months later...

Some of the most useful feedback in the 5 years I've been making this forge, and a dozen or so updates.  You're spot on about the bracket to hold a couple bricks.  It's been designed, fabricated, and is being shipped to me for inclusion with future versions.  It's actually pretty simple.  Once you block up one side with a couple firebricks, you can run an even more evenly heated chamber with a fraction of the propane.  As it it, because the flame points back into the chamber instead of straight in, it does a better job of keeping heat in the chamber even when unblocked. 

 

Do you mean the cord on the power supply should be longer?  That would make sense.  No one has mentioned that, but it is a rather short cord now that you mention it.

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I would agree that controlling the opening  exhaust flow will do a lot to even internal temperatures in this, or any other gas forge. The increased efficiency is also nice, but even internal temperatures will probably be the biggest advantage.

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  • 1 month later...
  • 4 weeks later...

 Bought this forge for my son. It came about two weeks ago but today was the first time he could get down to trying to forge something. Hate to say it but I'm a bit disappointed and hoping it's only a learning curve. We've watched the video on how to light it but there was no way it was lighting (turn fan to half way, light your propane torch, turn on the propane until it lights). Even with the gauge at 20psi it wasn't lighting. Finally we backed off the fan and it lit, but was in sputtering mode for 20 minutes. I cranked the fan back up and it started running but any thing less than 15psi and it would start to die, even while trying to adjust the fan speed. He forged one knife with it this afternoon but the forge really isn't hot. No way xx xxxx he's going to weld in it. I'm hoping we're doing something wrong. Read this and other reviews with people talking about 2 or 4psi operation but this one won't do it.

Any suggestions are appreciated. FWIW, he has and uses a coal forge and has worked on a naturally aspirated propane forge. Not too much of a newbie.

Thank you.

Edited by Mod30
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I had about something else (shipping damage) but never heard back. Will try them too but was honestly hoping someone here had some ideas just in case they don't get back to me.

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I experimented with this a bit and may be able to help a little. 

For starters, the blower needs to be on higher than you think it does. At 20psi it was near full speed for me to keep it lit and from sputtering. There is a range of each gas pressure setting you can use, but the full scope of the blowers adjustment range isn't available at every pressure setting. At 20psi, you should be near full speed with it, but I wouldn't light it that way. I'd try setting the blower maybe a little over half speed, then slowly turning on the gas while lighting it. Initially it'll sputter a bit, but if you add a little more gas then you will get it lit. Doing it this way ensures you only have one adjustment for the mixture and don't miss the optimal mixture for it. 

I also found it may sputter a little bit until it warms up, but not a ton. 

The depth of the burner also makes a big difference. If it is too far in, then it will sputter and not light. Too far out, same thing. Getting this right takes a bit of experimentation, what I did was find the optimal position and then mark a line on the burner with a sharpie to know where it should go each time. Basically you want it pulled in about a half inch from the top of the hole inside of the forge. So from the edge of the insulation to the end of the burner, there should be a half inch on top (it is round so there will be more space on top than bottom). You don't want it poking out into the chamber. 

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I wanted to update y’all on what’s going on with the forge. Contacted Atlas and they’ve been very helpful. Problem was it wasn’t getting enough propane. The reason was 1 in 1000. Turns about that there was a small, perhaps 1/8x3/16” piece of styrofoam and some Plistics in the fuel inlet that was partially clogging the jet. Thank you to the unnamed shipping company that bounced the forge around in transit. 
 

Works perfectly now and I have one happy 16 year old forging as we speak. (And thank you to Charles at Atlas).

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  • 4 weeks later...

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