How To Build Your Own Blacksmith Forge

by Patrick Rock

This article first appeared in a thread on theWoodNet woodworking forum. It was compiled and reproduced here for easier public consumption. All Text and Images are the property of Patrick Rock.

[DISCLAIMER: This involves building a steel forge to burn coal in at temperatures so hot that IT CAN LITERALLY BURN THE STEEL UP! Take all necessary precautions. When you are drilling the holes in the steel wear eye protection. When you are using your forge always wear pants over heavy boots, a leather welding apron, and eye protection. If you get hurt its your damn fault. Don't say I didn't warn you.]

You start with a brake drum. Where can you get a brake drum? You call brake shops and ask them if they have any lying around and if you buy one. Chances are they'll let you have one for free. If you strike out there then call around to junk yards. They should have some too. But they'll probably charge you some money.

Brake drums have odd holes in the bottom of them that you need to cover. So you'll need a piece of 1/4" mild plate steel cut to just less than the bottom diameter of the brake drum. Call a welding shop. This should cost about $15-$20, or maybe a box of doughnuts, or whatever they feel like.

And finally you need a way connect your plumbing pipe to this. For this you need a 2 inch black pipe floor flange. You cannot buy this at Lowes you'll have to go to a plumbing supply house. No big deal, just check your yellow pages under plumbing.

The floor flange will have 4 holes for 3/8" bolts. Mark spots to drill on the plate, and on the bottom of the drum. Make sure not to line up with any exist holes.

Use your drill press to drill the holes, set it on as low an RPM as you can reasonably go. About 600 RPM, take it easy, and use cutting oil. (If you don't know what cutting oil is, it is a lightweight motor oil you can buy at most hardware stores. You kind of dribble it onto the drill bit as its drilling, this keeps the bit cool and prevents it from burn and dulling.) And for gods sakes clamp whatever piece of steel you are drilling so it doesn't move or catch and become a whirling blade of death.

That's a brief overview of how to assemble the fire pot. Below you can see the pictorial step by step (minus the drilling operations, I'll leave that to your imagination.)

Here is the inside of the brake drum. If you look you can see the bolt heads of the 3/8" bolts that secure everything together.

And here is the bottom. The large black circle is the piece of plate steel, and the smaller circle with protrusion is the floor flange. And the 2 inch piece of pipe is what's called a nipple. A nipple is a pipe that is threaded on both ends.

Here you can see the other two parts that make all this work. The T connector and a 6 inch nipple that we will connect our air supply to the forge.

And here all that is assembled.

And here is a small forge hearth I have constructed out of 4 pieces of concrete block that were laying around, and 10 pieces of CONSTRUCTION GRADE firebrick. This is different than the firebrick used in clay kilns. You can buy construction grade firebrick from a brick supply house. It is a little less than a $1 a brick. Again, consult your yellow pages.

Everything here is laid loose without mortar so that I can break it all down and store it in the back of the garage if I want.

The forge hearth projects out so that you can set things there, and the two angled bricks are there to mound coal against that I feed slowly into the fire as coal is consumed.

Here you can see the fire pot with pipe fittings assembled and set into the forge hearth. All you need to do is provide air. I use a small shop vac reversed to blow, and just duck tape it onto the pipe. Don't worry the heat travels up and will not melt your hose, or duck tape. You could also use a hair dryer, or what's called a squirrel cage fan.

Be careful with high velocity blowers like a shop vac or hair dryer because if you have too much airflow that is bad. It burns too much coal too fast and too hot, or can start actually blowing out burning out hot coals like a volcano. That sucks and almost guarantees that other things will catch on fire.

If you have too much air velocity you will need a way to regulate that. All you need is a 2 inch PVC ball valve. Again you can get that at the plumbing supply house. Just duck tape it into the system.

And finally here is my current anvil. It is a 55 pound cast iron anvil from Harborfreight. Everyone says these things are useless, but I've been using mine just fine. I also have a 40 pound piece of railroad rail that I got for free by, you guessed it, calling up a rail road yard and asking if they had any cut off offs of rail laying around.

The anvils set on a cut off from a beam that I got for free (again!) from a timberframe company down the road. Stumps are easy to get though, just call a tree service, or see if there is a timberframe company in your area.

Ok. Let's go over the cost breakdown of all this, because it's important for you to realize just how easy and cheap this is. All it takes is a little gumption on your part.

Brake Drum: Free

Cinderblocks: I already had some, but they are only $1 apiece.

Firebrick: $0.90 apiece, I bought 10.

Plumbing Fittings: $22 dollars

Air Supply: You should already have something around your house, so free.

So the total cost of your forge should be somewhere between free and about $35 bucks.

But in order to blacksmith you'll also need an anvil, a hammer, and some fuel.

Anvil: Railroad tie I got for free

Hammer: $5 cross pein hammer I bought at Harborfreight

Coal: I buy blacksmith coal for $12 a 50 pound bag at City Coal Yard in Brazil, IN.

Here are three lists of coal yards around the US:

Art Metal's list of Coal and Coke suppliers

Blacksmith Gazette's up to date list of Coal suppliers

Anvil Magazine's list of Coal suppliers

So the extras here will cost you about $17.

Total cost to get started? $52.

52 BUCKS!That's about all it takes to get started blacksmithing. Many of us could raise that money in a weekend with a garage sale, or selling some things on Ebay.

Here's the tricky part. It takes time and a little footwork to scrounge materials and find supply houses. You'll have to use your phone book, and most of these places are only open during the 7-5 range so you'll have to go early before you go to work, or find places close to you that you can get to during lunch, or go the supply house first thing in the morning and be a little late to work. Whatever it takes.

In our economy of conspicuous waste and consumption blacksmithing is a refreshing chance to practice your ingenuity and frugality. How much can you do for how little? How many problems can you solve with your mind and with junk you've collected from scrap yards and the side of the road?

If woodworking is the practice of purchasing and accumulating tools then blacksmithing is the practice of finding, scrounging, and making your own tools.


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