Propane Forges.... A Primer

John Wilson

Well-Known Member
Since we’re on the topic of “forges for beginners” I would appreciate some Sesame Street level explanations. I don’t mind being the dumbest guy in the room so long as I learn something in the process. Most of my real boneheaded epidodes were the result of pretending to know more than I did and being afraid to ask questions first.

On FiF they appear to be using forges intended for Farriers. I assume it’s because they are so big and open, which would make them very versatile. If I’m correct from reading Ed’s posts over the years, they are far from ideal because they are are big and open and therefore wasteful and uneconomical.

HOWEVER- for guys like me who are *casual* forgers- wouldn’t something like that be an easy solution versus trying to reinvent the wheel? If not, what about the ready made forges from places like Atlas?

I may be a fetus when it comes to forging, but I’m extremely busy as a stock removal guy and that’s where I want to be. I don’t have time to build everything I want to use, especially for a tool that I only need occasionally.
 

Bruce McLeish

Well-Known Member
Since we’re on the topic of “forges for beginners” I would appreciate some Sesame Street level explanations. I don’t mind being the dumbest guy in the room so long as I learn something in the process. Most of my real boneheaded epidodes were the result of pretending to know more than I did and being afraid to ask questions first.

On FiF they appear to be using forges intended for Farriers. I assume it’s because they are so big and open, which would make them very versatile. If I’m correct from reading Ed’s posts over the years, they are far from ideal because they are are big and open and therefore wasteful and uneconomical.

HOWEVER- for guys like me who are *casual* forgers- wouldn’t something like that be an easy solution versus trying to reinvent the wheel? If not, what about the ready made forges from places like Atlas?

I may be a fetus when it comes to forging, but I’m extremely busy as a stock removal guy and that’s where I want to be. I don’t have time to build everything I want to use, especially for a tool that I only need occasionally.
John, you CAN'T be the dumbest guy in the room. After all, I'm here ! And I try to always preface some posts with "dumbo alert", just to warn guys about whatever comes next.
 

EdCaffreyMS

"The Montana Bladesmith"
The reason you see those forges of FIF, is because of sponsorship. It's also because the things that FIF values, over shadows "what's best". It's easier for the camera to see what's going on, which means more to the show than being wasteful and uneconomical.
Everybody knows that FIF has nothing to do with the proper anything when it comes to building a knife, it's all about the drama.....which is one of the reasons that the majority of ABS Mastersmiths took a pass on doing the show. The ones who did the show, and did not win it all/lost, took a HUGE hit in their knife business. But I digress. Back to the subject at hand....
You, and anyone else, has to do what best suits their own needs, and their own set of circumstances.

I've not worked with the Atlas forge, so can't give you first hand info on it. I can tell you based on the images of the "Hellfire" and "Firestorm"forges, the biggest issue is the burner placement/angle. Having a round design, with that type of burner placement/angle is simply a waste. Might as well be a square design. I suspect for Atlas, it's more of a compromise between usability and ease of production.
Those "square" forges are indeed designed for forging mild steel, where the entire idea is to get it as hot as possible, so as much material as possible can be moved at a time.
I know a lot of bladesmiths who use square design forges, but few of them use those forges for damascus or forging higher allow steels.

You make your living in stock removal, so that's what your shop is geared towards, I make mine via the forged blade, which means I can't afford to be fighting with and/or hoping my forge is optimal for my uses.... so I have to ensure the forges are the best for the purpose they can be....and not working against me.

When it all washes out, as long as you're not trying to make damscus in one of the pre-made forges, and only using it occasionally, I don't see where it wouldn't serve you well.
 
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John Wilson

Well-Known Member
Thank you, Ed! That does answer my question really well.

Atlas has several forges. I’ve been getting by using the “Mini Forge” and the issue is that they aren’t joking about the “mini” part.
 

C. Killgore

Well-Known Member
I've always assumed they used those forges on FIF mostly because it is very easy to replace the floors. They are just flat brick panels they can remove after each show or whenever someone destroys them (probably every show, haha). They are also bigger than needed (blacksmith style) because they are often tasked with forging stuff from random car parts, etc, and it needs to be able to fit in the forge. If they had forges with inswool and a coating around them, they'd be having to spend a ton of time repairing their linings.

Originally, I used coal and my very first propane forge was one that looked real similar to what they use on FIF that I had bought off ebay. I had a huge amount of scale forming from those burners pointing directly at my work. I also assume that the air/gas mix was not tuned well. I can't mess with it now as it ended up in the dumpster about a week after I bought it.

I bought an early iteration of the atlas mini. It is a great little forge and it does fit most normal sized blades in it. Atlas has bladesmith forges and blacksmith forges. The bladesmith ones do bring the burner(s) in at a tangent and are a really nice design for blades, IMO. Like you mentioned though John, it is limiting. I switched a while back to a small vertical forge with only a 5" or so heat across it and can forge just about any size blade in that. I prefer to not heat up the entire blade every heat if I'm only hammering 4" at a time.... Now, I don't do damascus in it...I've got a dedicated forge for that.

If I were buying a commercial forge, I'd only buy an atlas or one of the ellis forge designs from hightemptools (these are more of a "kit"). I'd still make my own if I had a choice in the matter though. For occasional use, just about anything will get you by.
 

John Wilson

Well-Known Member
I've always assumed they used those forges on FIF mostly because it is very easy to replace the floors. They are just flat brick panels they can remove after each show or whenever someone destroys them (probably every show, haha). They are also bigger than needed (blacksmith style) because they are often tasked with forging stuff from random car parts, etc, and it needs to be able to fit in the forge. If they had forges with inswool and a coating around them, they'd be having to spend a ton of time repairing their linings.

Originally, I used coal and my very first propane forge was one that looked real similar to what they use on FIF that I had bought off ebay. I had a huge amount of scale forming from those burners pointing directly at my work. I also assume that the air/gas mix was not tuned well. I can't mess with it now as it ended up in the dumpster about a week after I bought it.

I bought an early iteration of the atlas mini. It is a great little forge and it does fit most normal sized blades in it. Atlas has bladesmith forges and blacksmith forges. The bladesmith ones do bring the burner(s) in at a tangent and are a really nice design for blades, IMO. Like you mentioned though John, it is limiting. I switched a while back to a small vertical forge with only a 5" or so heat across it and can forge just about any size blade in that. I prefer to not heat up the entire blade every heat if I'm only hammering 4" at a time.... Now, I don't do damascus in it...I've got a dedicated forge for that.

If I were buying a commercial forge, I'd only buy an atlas or one of the ellis forge designs from hightemptools (these are more of a "kit"). I'd still make my own if I had a choice in the matter though. For occasional use, just about anything will get you by.
I really appreciate your detailed response. I can’t ever see me doing big blacksmith work like hammers, axes, or damascus. (There’s only so much I’m willing to beat with a hammer.) Being able to do some general blacksmith work would be very enjoyable, though.
 

KenH

Well-Known Member
A very good write up Ed. I was one of those gullible folks who didn't know anybetter when I first started and purchased a commercial forge that I do think was the 2 burner version of the FiF 3 burner forge. I'm sure it was fine for blacksmithing, but sure not for bladesmithing! Thanks to you and others I now have a good forge that's works nicely with round body and upward/rearward angled burner - blower of course.

I do have a question after reading the page, you mention using "Blanket/Ceramic Fiber SHOULD have some type of “coating” to keep the ceramic fibers from flying around and getting sucked into your lungs. The best coating that I have ever found is ITC-100." This is the Ceramic Fiber Blanket that has loose fibers, is ITC-100 all that's required to seal it? It doesn't require a thin coat of Kast-O-lite 30 LI Insulating Castable Refractory (or similar) as the first coat, then the Kast-o-lite "painted" with ITC-100?

I'm asking since I did use a thin layer of Kast-O-lite 30 on my forge, then coated with ITC-100. As we all know that is going to have a limited life and when I need to replace it will be easier (cheaper) to use only ITC-100 if the Kast-O-Lite coating isn't required.

Thank you for all the guidance and education you provide the rest of us.

Ken H>
 

EdCaffreyMS

"The Montana Bladesmith"
There doesn't have to be any "under coating" before ITC.
ITC will actually perform two duties.....keeping the flying fibers under control, and adding it's heat reflection value to your forge(s)

I've always read/heard that you're supposed to put a layer of satanite, then a layer of ITC..... but it never make sense to me, so I did as I usually do, and experimented with just the ITC. The only reason I can image why to apply satanite or even a thing layer of castable before ITC is to make the interior more rugged. ITC alone won't take much banging on before it breaks and flakes. It's gona happen eventually, but I just try to be really careful about jabbing anything into the forges interior.

When I talk about building forges, and use the term "coat", I'm amazed at how some folks take it to extremes. Any of the products that are designed as either rigidizers, and/or heat reflectors are at their best and proper use when they are applied VERY THINLY, as in mix the product with small amounts of water until it's no thicker than latex paint. Then you spritz the ceramic fiber with water, then use a cheap paint or chip brush to literally paint the product on.
The final piece of the puzzle... is letting any refractory, rigidizer, or heat reflector (ITC) CURE NATURALLY AND FULLY BEFORE FIRING THE FORGE. Trying to rush the drying/curing does nothing but shorten the life and effectiveness of the product(s). Example.....the last welding forge I built using 3" of Kast-o-lite 3000 sat for 3 days before I removed the forms, then is sat for just shy of two months, with a 100w light bulb hanging inside before I ever thought of firing it.

When I first fired it, it had steam coming out for about 15mins once it reached the 1500-1700F range. (it was driving out the last of the moisture in the castable) But, by waiting that long, I expect it will be several years before I'll ever have to do any patching or "fixing" on it. The one thing I've learned about building forges is that failure is usually due to impatience of the builder.
 

KenH

Well-Known Member
Thanks Ed, I can understand why it would take a castable (Kast-o-lite) a long time to cure with 3" thick layer. What about the ITC-100 that is just "spiritized" over a 1" Ceramic Fiber Blanket? How long does that take to dry? Doesn't "seem" like it would be all that long, perhaps next day? I don't know is why I'm asking.
 

EdCaffreyMS

"The Montana Bladesmith"
Of course environment plays a huge role on how long it takes things to dry/cure. Here in Montana humidity is usually in the teens or twenties..... when I coat with ITC, I always leave it for at least a few days.... with a 100w light bulb burning inside the forge 24/7.

With the cost of ITC or other reflective coatings, the worst thing you can do is try to fire it too soon. Unfortunately, about the only way to know if you're firing too soon, is when the coating changes color or bubbles...... and then it's too late, the damage has been done. So ALWAYS err on the side of waiting more, rather than less. ;)
 

KenH

Well-Known Member
Ed, thank you for the response. I thought a couple of days would work for ITC-100 with a light bulb burning inside, that's an older style incandescent bulb that gives off heat, not the new LED type bulbs {g}
 

EdCaffreyMS

"The Montana Bladesmith"
Yep! I actually keep a couple of those "heat" lamp bulbs that they use for keeping baby chicks warm, and use then inside what I'm seeking to dry/cure. One thing that most overlook.... if you have a sunny day, put the forge in the sun! It's amazing how much something will cure on a sunny day, sitting in the sunlight! :)
 
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