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I Forge Iron

What are forges made of?

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I just got off the phone with the missionary I will be working with this summer, and possibly teaching some blacksmithing.

As typical his idea of a blacksmith is what you find in a re-enactment village or museum setting. It took a bit of explaining that a forge can be made of many things, even the ground itself.

So this got me to thinking... (dangerous I know:o) What have you used to build a forge, (not how but what)... or for that matter what have you thought of using?

Here is my list of what I have used~

Pickup truck brake drum
Small washtub and clay
A few fire brick
Factory discarded propane tank bottom
30 gal barrel lid

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I currently have a brake drum mounted in a wheelbarrow pan to handle large stock. My other forge is a dinged and bent rear wheel from my son's Yamaha 4 wheeler. Both use anthracite coal and an electric blower. My very first forge was built using an I-beam with fire brick surrounding the fire. No fire pot, just a flat surface. Believe it or not, I could melt railroad spikes in it. Did that one day not paying attention.

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In a primitive setting, plain dirt works fine. You can put it at ground level and dig a pit for the smith to stand - the anvil goes directly on the ground also. I have seen many Eastern smiths squatting but I had to give that up 30 years ago so I'd have to work out some way to stand. Alexander Weygers did a lot of work in primitive areas and his books show basic forges that function with a minimum of equipment.

While on a hunting trip one year, I built a forge on the ground using a piece of pipe for a natural draft air source (got that idea out of Weygers' book). This camp was on a very large ranch so there was some sort of scrap laying around in almost every pasture. One of the guys in the group needed to make a few tent stakes because he didn't bring any from home and a norther was coming in that night, so we made some using a scrap piece of I-beam for the anvil and mesquite charcoal for fuel. However, the hardest part was cutting down the steel (which was 3/4" rebar) - we had no hacksaw and first tried the edge of the I-beam but that was completely futile so I decided a hot chisel would work better and forged one from a short piece of rebar. All of the scrap rebar was about 7-8 feet long so we would make about a 90 degree bend then sever one side about 2 inches from the other leg so there would be a leftover toe for the tie-down. We were fortunate to have a 4 lb engineer's hammer so it did not take long to point the stakes. It worked well enough that one of the other hunters made a camp fire tripod the next day just for fun.

Necessity is a mother and sometimes leads to invention...

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I watched two kids in Thika in east Africa, using a fire pot made out of a mud filled calabash gourd, they had a kind'a bellows made out of a long hollow shrub and some ostrich feathers, attached to the stem of the gourd. They were also vulcanizing patches on to holed inner tubes by filling the inside of a flat toped piston from an old Leyland bus with gassoline, torching the thing then throwing sand into the piston to put it out. It never ceases to amaze me how constructive the human race is when pushed.
It's not over... Until we Win!!!

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Lets see: my first forge was made from an old farmhouse dry sink, then I bought two cast iron forges, then I made a firepot from the axle cover of a banjo rear end, (probably a '37, bought two that had been converted into jackstands for $3, still on the first one 20 years later). I've dug a 3' long trench forge in the back yard, built a number of mud and firesafe rock Y1K forges for the LH group I was in, used a campfire, bought a NG johnson heat treat forge, build both aspirated and blown propane forges: blown used grain auger tubing for the shell, aspirated used a section of welding oxygen tank. Oops I forgot using the guard from a PTO as a firepot for a short while, thin sheetmetal and it rusted out fairly quickly.

My current "user" solid fuel forge is the axle cover mounted into a WWII jig borer door that I found and welded legs to.

Edited by ThomasPowers
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My first forge was a break drum mounted on steel tube legs! My current forge is an old forge pan with a new firepot that's too deep. Now it has clay, fire brick, and stuck on clinkers for a lining. The next forge will be built of 1/2 of a bush hog deck with a homemade firepot in the middle! I also have one of those plow discs (or something similar) that I might eventually build one out of!
To an imaginative person the possibilties are limitless. Like my sisters pocket book would make a good one. Course it would be too big to cart around so it'd have to be a stationary forge!!!:D

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first attempt at a forge was a pile of bricks and a scaffold pipe (haird dryer for air). 2nd one was old BBQ. 3rd was the clippings box from a lawnmower stuffed with adobe. 4th was a mild steel portable foge (looked like a heavy BBQ) made by a farrier for his own use but then he couldn't lift it.

Since actually using the things rather than trying to get a forge to work, i've built from bricks and cement and fabricated from mild steel. I've a gas forge that is a pile of fire bricks and I've demonstrated using a 'Mad Max' style of ground forge constructed from broken concrete and scaffold pipe.

When I go out demonstrating I use an iron age set up that is basically a hole in teh ground with simple bellows. I can do everything with thatthat I can with my modern forge set up ;)

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My first forge was a brake drum let into an old washing machine lid on cinterblock legs with a hair drier for the blast. It was on old style hair drier that had a hose that ran to a plastic hood for your head, not like the modern gun looking jobbies. At Father's suggestion I used a piece of 12" steel pipe about 18" long on top of the brake drum to contain the wood I burned down to coals to forge with. It was notched about 3" wide by 2" high to access the coals, no pass through. I was 9 or 10 at the time.

Since then I've made forges from virtually anything that wouldn't catch fire. Most burned wood into charcoal to forge with. Most would roast you in short order so I'd poke the work into the coals and back off till I had heat.

Some of my favorites were trenches dug into dirt banks. I'd feed wood into the top letting it burn down. The slope provided strong draft via convection and also caused the coals to settle naturally to the bottom where I heated the steel. When possible I covered the majority of the trench to improve draft and shield me from some of the heat.

My best field expedient forge was the wind driven Resurrection River Forge. (you can find it's description with a search of the site, I've posted it a couple times)

Many times I've just poked steel into the camp fire and others I've used a 12v Coleman InflateAll and a piece of pipe for the blast. I've welded with the InflatAll.

My large coal/charcoal forge is a "duck's nest" the tuyere is welded up from truck exhaust pipe with a flapper type rain cap for the ash dump. It's table is steel, lined with fire brick, about 40" sq. and all from salvaged materials except the motor on the blower.

I have a round cast iron Buffalo rivet forge and hand crank blower.

I have an enclosed 12v farrier's coal forge I've never used.

I have a Johnson Appliance #133a gasser I've never used.

I have my old reliable pipe forge, recently replaced by my new gasser.

My main forge is my new variable volume propane forge. I'm pretty happy with it though I'm noting it's flaws and planning the reworks.


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a forge on the ground using a piece of pipe for a natural draft air source

An ancient wind-powered iron smelting technology in Sri Lanka

An eleventh-century Pittsburgh in Sri Lanka

http://www.sinhalanet.com/data/samanalawewa%20steel.pdf (wind driven smelter diagrams)

theorized as the region of the first wootz (true damascus) steel Edited by Ice Czar
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Gill' one of my old lecturers so I've seen a lot of the cool reserach from the wind-powered furnaces. They are billiant, using the monsoon winds to produce the metal. They ran some of the smelting experimients at night and teh resulting photos are incredible. The wind that hits the front of the furnace heads stright up and over creating a shield over the top of the furnace; which inturn keeps even more of the heat in the furnace and makes it even more efficient! Amazing stuff :)

Some of the videos that she made of the Sri Lankan balacksmiths in their forges are great too. They are all using ground level hearths and many still have stone anvils and hammers as well as small iron/steel tools. I wouldn't fancy working with their equivalent of a sledge hammer though (a boulder of about 20lb). The smith in one film had a bit of metal in some very short tongs and resting on a stone anvil infront of him (sitting cross legged on hte ground), while his mate standing in front of him swung a boulder toward the hot metal!

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Mine is a bbq lined with wood ashes. On a wood working forum someone posted about a sawdust forge for heat treating simple tools. If i remember the description right it was something like this, put a hole in the side of a paint can, run a pipe through the hole about 1/2 way into the can, pack with sawdust leaving a hole down the center to the pipe. the pipe makes the air source, the sawdust is both fuel and forge lining.


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Dave have you been over to the Exmoor siteproject? (Roman Lode)
BBC - Devon - Archaeological dig at Exmoor unearths Roman Empire iron

re: monsoon smelters, seen quite a few photos, but not any vids, any of em online?

I went to see them a few years back and the slag flows are something else, its like sitting on a lava flow! I confess to not knowning a huge amount about the project (I'm more into the resulting metal than the making of it) but I know iits been teh launching pad for a lot of interesting and useful work. Various geochemical and geophysical prospection techniques have been pioneered there to identify metal working sites. I did my MA when the developers were doing their phd's and some of the maps were brilliant: on a map of the forge site you could make out not only where the hearth was (a raised hearth, so left no physical remains) but alco where the anvil was!
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