DIY Blacksmithing Forge

Basic forge designs
With a few metalworkers frequenting the farm and a recent betterArts residency application from a blacksmither, this past weekend was spent putting the beginning touches on a homemade forge for metalworking.

A forge is the hearth upon or inside of which fire is kept for the purpose of heating iron or steel until it is soft enough to be bent (usually on an anvil). The forge provides a safe, fire-resistant structure in which to keep the fire, and to which a source of air blast can be piped to increase the heat of the fire. Most modern shop forges incorporate a chimney structure to remove smoke from the fire, out of the shop safely. The blast of air raises the heat of the fire in the same way as blowing softly on a small flame to help light a campfire.

The blacksmith's forge has remained similar in design and purpose for millenniums. Some of the differences being in the materials we now use to build our forges and the source of air supply and delivery. Despite its modern look, the modern forge works exactly the same as those of its predecessors. Over thousands of years of forging, these devices have evolved in one form or another as the essential features of this type of forge:
  • Tuyere -- a pipe through which air can be forced into the fire
  • Bellows or blower -- a means for forcing air into the tuyere
  • Firepot or hearth -- a place where the burning fuel can be contained over or against the tuyere opening.
During operation, fuel is placed in or on the hearth and ignited. A source of moving air, such as a fan or bellows, introduces additional air into the fire through the tuyere. With additional air, the fire consumes more fuel and burns hotter.

To make our forge, we decided to forage. Found objects included old tire rims and a steel water tank. Here's a small schematic:

Then Adam and Greg got to work:

A forge typically uses wood, bituminous coal, industrial coke or charcoal as the fuel to heat metal. The designs of these forges have varied over time, but whether the fuel is coal, coke or charcoal the basic design has remained the same. We've also begun looking into modifications, like building a waste-oil forge and foundry.

A forge of the type we're creating is essentially a hearth or fireplace designed to allow a fire to be controlled such that metal introduced to the fire may be brought to a malleable state or to bring about other metallurgical effects (hardening, annealing, and drawing temper as examples). The forge fire in this type of forge is controlled in three ways: 1) amount of air, 2) volume of fuel, and 3) shape of the fuel/fire.

Stay tuned for images of the finished product!

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.