Hot Work Made Easier

                            or 

   How to Make a Cheap, Workable (I Didn't Say Pretty) Forge
                  
                       Turig Noyam

     If you are one of those select group of people who go
through life with neat looking tools, who never get dirty hands,
who find that everything works the first time, read on and see
how the other half lives.  The rest of you (the other 99% I
figure) can get involved.  Throughout history there have been a
great many different ways to heat iron or steel to facilitate
working it, welding it, or shaping it.  The place where this
heating occurs is called the forge.  I have made two forges, one
from a manhole cover and one from a truck gas tank; and I have
seen a great many more.  What I am going to do is distill the
essential elements of forge construction and let your
imagination do the dirty work.
     The first thing a forge needs is a source of air.  This can
be anything from two slaves through a long copper pipe (a little
extravagant), to a great bellows or an electric blower.  Of
these choices I am afraid that the blower is by far the most
practical.  What kind of blower, you ask?  A cheap one!, I reply.
You can use any of the following:  a squirrel cage with a round
outlet, a heater fan from a wrecked auto, the exhaust from your
wife's vacuum cleaner, the exhaust from an old/cheap/secondhand
vacuum cleaner (this makes for a happier wife), ANYTHING that
will provide a steady stream of air through a two inch pipe. If
the electrical appliance that you choose does not have a means
of controlling the speed of air flow, get a rheostat and put it
into the circuit so that you can slow down the flow of air into
the forge.
     Next, you need a way to get the air from the blower to the
forge.  Use plumbing pipes (metal ones silly) and fasten them to
the blower.  If you want to be inventive, this is one of the
times it pays off.  One smith I know simply made a wood box that
fit over the front of a large kitchen fan, cut a hole in the
bottom front of the box and ran his pipe from that to his forge.
     Now for the forge--essentially a forge is a place to hold a
VERY hot fire so that it will not burn the house down.  There
have been forges made of dirt, wood, clay, brick, any thickness
of steel, and probably anything else which does not burn at room
temperature.  The first rule is that you do not make a forge in
your living room.  Make it wherever you plan to use it.  The
second is never make the forge from something that will catch
fire easily.  The third thing to remember with the cheap and
quick forge is INSULATE.  Remember that hot air rises, so that
if you keep the area where the fire is below the flashpoint of
the component material of the forge body, it will work.  Most
importantly, never fire up a forge without an enormous supply of
fresh air -- CARBON MONOXIDE IS POISONOUS AND WHATEVER YOU BURN
GIVES OFF CARBON MONOXIDE.  The shape where the air is entering
the forge should be the bottom of a bowl at least four to six
inches deep and twelve to eighteen inches wide.  The air coming
into the bottom of this depression leaves room for cleaning out
the air pipe.
     Burned out cinders have a way of falling down.  The bowl of
a professional forge is usually cast iron, thick and heavy.  But
to keep things cheap and easy for the amateur I suggest clay 
(you could also use dirt, and it is dirt cheap if you want to be
that chintzy).  Take about twenty percent of the clay (NOT
CERAMIC SLIP) and heat it until dry.  Break this dried clay into
tiny chunks.  Mix these chunks with the rest of the clay and
fill your forge form.  It really does not matter what form you
use as long as these four things exist.
          1.) Air can flow in at the bottom of the bowl.
          2.) There is adequate insulation (4-6 inches).
          3.) The air pipe can be emptied.
          4.) The bowl must be at LEAST four inches deep.
     NOW YOU HAVE A FORGE.  Funny looking isn't it?  But it
will work.  Now what to burn it?  If all you need is enough
heat to bend metal then store-bought charcoal briquets will
suffice; however plan on using at least ten pounds, perhaps
twenty.  Do not start the blower until after the fuel has
caugnt.  Other fuels like coke or smithing coal also work
nicely.  Regular heating coal is also good with one caveat --
there is too much sulfur in regular heating coal for a weld to
take afterwards.  But if all you plan to do is bend then use the
cheapest fuel you can procure.  FOR THE MODERN SMITHS WHO ARE
SCREAMING ABOUT THE USE OF CHARCOAL, I REMIND YOU THAT CHARCOAL
WAS THE FIRST FUEL USED IN BLACKSMITHING.  It is no longer as
economical because of the amounts needed to produce heat, but it
is still one of the easiest fuels to find.
     HAPPY HAMMERING!