I am setting up my first forge. I am at an em pass as to weather to go
with charcoal, which I have some experience with and I know I can anneal
with it, or propane. The major consideration is which lasts longer, $10
worth of charcoal, or $10 worth of propane. I can build my forge either
way, charcoal may be easier to work with and I already have little
blower (free), but propane might be alot cheaper.
I'd go with poopane; it's cleaner, it stays where you set it, you don't
spend a lot of work time futzing with the fire. Charcoal has some
advantages, but they are dependant on what kind of work you're planning. If
your work is primarily Large and bulky, like farm equipment, then charcoal
or coal offers the potential for a conforming fire in an open top setting.
But if your plan is smaller pieces like knives or other mideval weaponry,
then gas will be easier to deal with. There isn't a 'perfect' setup that
will fill every need all the time. Different projects need different
tooling. Fuel is the least of your cost worries, tooling is the big bite,
and it adds right up. I'm currently set up for blades up to three feet, I
have about 30 Large invested in tooling. I'm thinking about spending
another 6 Large on new equipment so I can expand into the custom motorcycle
market. This doesn't include the tooling I will fabricate myself, mainly
sheetmetal forming stuff and fixtures for frames. It all depends on what
you want to make, think long and hard on this before you spend big bux for
It also largely depends where you are - if you live out in the woods,
charcoal is going to be free, except for labour, and propane
(POOPANE???!!!???? LOL) could be expensive to deliver/collect
If you live in the middle of a city, you may have to go with propane
because of city ordinances banning smokey fires.
On the other hand, my city ordinance allows the burning of charcoal, but
I can't store propane cylinders on my land.
I get about 4-6 hours of forging time from a 20# propane tank (BBQ
size). This includes running two burners at 5-10psi with some short
periods of cranking it up to forge weld. So that works out to about $2
to $3/hour in fuel. Figure that you will want to get at least a couple
of tanks so that when you run out you don't have to close down and go
to get a refill. The tanks are around $30-$40 filled.
Unfortunately propane isn't cheaper in volume like a lot of other
welding gasses, so having 3-20# will cost as much to refill as 1-60#.
(Although the 60# won't freeze up on you as much).
I believe that propane is a lot more convienient in general (cleaner,
quick to start up, doesn't need to be tended to,etc), but I have a lot
more experience w/ propane then coal.
Unless you are making your own charcoal, I would expect it to cost a
fair bit more than propane. From what I hear, it burns up fairly fast.
Coal is generally viewed as the least expensive of the three. Once I got
my propane forge put together, I had it sitting on top of my coal forge
for about 5 years--I never went back to the coal. Propane is pretty
nice, except in the summer. It does heat up the shop a fair bit more
Jacob Hawes wrote:
There are some real good posts so far.
Another thing or two:
If you go with charcoal, you could use a hand cranked blower and
therefore have an easily portable setup. If you go with propane, then
you have to fight that battle or "naturally aspirated" or (blower)
forced draft. The forced draft, of course, requires some sort of a
blower. And some say that you can't weld well with a naturally
aspirated propane forge. By the same token however, some say it's
pretty hard to forge weld with charcoal, too.
I know several guys who make their own charcoal and a few who use it
exclusively. It works for them. I only use it when I have to. I
prefer coal, for reasons already mentioned, but I have a propane forge
that gets a fair amount of use, too.
In summary, don't overthink this. Go get a fire going one way or the
other. Nothing is forever. Sooner or later you get another source going.
Jacob Hawes wrote:
There -is- a source for free charcoal and all you can burn too. ;)
But it's fine 1/8" to 3/16" cubes since it's coconut shell charcoal.
Water softner outfits throw the stuff away and buy it bagged by
the pallet. Ok so "it's too fine" there was some talk here about
"briquette-ing;)" homemade charcoal, why not briquette this stuff?
My question is what's involved in making briquettes?
What's used as a binder?
Some of the charcoal has "KDF" added to it in the shop for certain
installations, KDF contains metals, mostly copper, don't know
whether that will make a difference or not in pattern welded steel
for swords etc. :/
But they know (and can tell) which charcoal has KDF (etc) and which
don't. :) In our area most of the charcoal that's used, don't have
anything added. ;)
They coat gas-welding rod with copper on purpose for "liquid pool
protection". I'll look into what other additives can be used in
water softner charcoal too, so we'll know what's going on there.
BTW, if you didn't know, a water softner is nothing but a "reactive
water filter". The mineral (zeolite) used in the filter attracts
and holds onto certain "impurities;)" in the water. It's not real
efficient size-wise and has to be cleaned periodically with a brine
strong solution. But the mineral will last for well over 10 years.
So the "head" is set so after so many gallons of water go through
the system it automatically cleans itself, but waits until 2AM to
do that. Weird huh? :)
Was that more than you ever wanted to know about water softners? ;)
Are water softners mostly just a desert-thing?
My water is "greater than 25 grains hard".
I never cared about having one but my son set one up out here as an
experimental base. Sometimes it works and sometimes it don't. What
I've noticed is "it's a -lot- better shaving" when it's working! :)
Where you at (in England)?
Alvin in AZ
Every time you mention it, I mean to look into it, but forget.
Trouble is, we're on sandstone here, so no softeners needed, not in the
sort of quantities you're on about anyway - I would guess softeners are
only needed in limestone areas
Zeolite is an ionic filter. The brine (high ionic strength) releases
the crud, which is rinsed away. When the brine in turn is rinsed away by
fresh water, the Zeolite is ready to use again. Zeolite catches "minerals"
if they're ionic. You'd want an activated charcoal filter to catch the
It's actually a synthetic resin these past 50 years or so. Picks up
calcium & magnesium ions from the water, and replaces them with sodium
ions. The brine, which is a really strong solution of sodium (and
chloride) ions forces the reaction to run the other way.
Yeah they call it "resin" alright. :)
(didn't know how to spell it before your post;)
There are different "resins" to choose from how close are they
chemically to the old zeolite tho? (the water softner guys didn't
know the answer when I asked it last year;)
Sorry guys didn't mean to turn this thread into a water sof'ner
thread just wanted to describe the jist of how the dangged things
worked. My college chemistry book describes it in such detail the
"jist" was lost on me until a year or so ago. :)
Alvin in AZ
cement I believe.
You could always try egg white :.))
I wonder if PVA would work - I can get tonnes (literally) of
that - carton manufacturers (conflakes packets etc) use it by the
1000's of gallons a week, and there is a lot of waste - which (certainly
in UK) they pay to dispose of.
There is a larger, constantly on flame. It isn't that the forge is
bigger, but you're heating a larger volume, all the time.
A coal forge is great when you want heat in a specific place or shape,
just build the fire to suit. A propane forge is often better if you
need an even heat over a large area (twists, tools). You can do both
with either, but having both is convenient.
Henry Kolesnik wrote:
Ummm, I would have said that BTUs was BTUs. I think the difference is in
how you use them. A well insulated and efficiently managed gas forge should
blow off way less heat than an open coal forge.
Even heating such as when heat treating a longer blade can be a real pain in
the butt with a gas forge. Depends on the design. As a rule of thumb, if
you want the same temp all around, you would want it larger in diameter as
the length of the work goes up. Not sure of the ratio but I'd say about 50%
of the length in diameter. I've never used coal myself but I've seen some
examples of arranging a charcoal forge for heat treating and it was
simplicity itself if you're treating long thin stuff. Just make the coal
bed the length of the work and stick the work in a pipe and lay it on the
coal. You could do that with a camp fire.
As you would with a naturally aspirated burner. On the other hand you can
run a blower on battery power.
Crap. all you need is enough BTUs for your forge volume and an Oxygen lean
atmosphere. A good naturally aspirated burner will do both if forge and
burner are well designed (and matched). If you make your own burners then
results will vary according to how well you did. I eventually gave up on
making my own and bought a T-Rex and won't use anything else as long as they
are available - though I have a home built I could use to add more heat if
It's all in managing your atmosphere. You can do that with charcoal too.
Amen to that! Work out the bugs as you go and have fun. Problems and
solutions are a matched set. Life would be boring without them.