Introduction: Brake Drum Blacksmith Forge

Picture of Brake Drum Blacksmith Forge
My son caught the blacksmithing bug while he was at summer camp so we investigated building our own blacksmith forge and found that brake drum forges are a very popular way to get into the hobby.  We built our blacksmith forge out of a brake drum, 2" pipe, cinder blocks, a light dimmer switch and hair dryer.  Here is a video with all of the same pictures in this instructable plus a short video at the end of the forge in action.

Step 1:

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This is the basic design.  A 2" floor flange was bolted to the underside of the brake drum to which a 2" coupler was used to attach it to a 2" T-connector.  A longer coupler was attached to the side to accept the hair dryer and a bottom pipe was attached to the bottom to collect the ash.  This is usually capped with a 2" cap so the air can't escape that direction but I didn't want to have to wait until the forge cooled to unscrew the cap and empty the ash and I was concerned the cap would become permanently attached by rust since the forge would be stored outside in the rain.  I'll show you how we handled that part.

Note: The brake drum was free but it took visits to several garages to find it because brake drums are harder to find now that disc brakes are becoming more common on the rear wheels of new cars.  A large brake rotor with a large hub will work but the hub will still not be as large as even an average-sized brake drum.

Step 2:

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The forge was designed to be very basic and modular so it could be broken down easily for storage so we just used three cinder blocks for the base.

Step 3:

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Instead of capping the bottom pipe, we used a paint can filled with water to catch the ash and keep the air from the hair dryer from escaping through the bottom.

Step 4:

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To prevent coal from falling through the 2" pipe opening, we used a small 3/4" pipe floor flange as our "grate".  It just sits loosely in the bottom but it catches the edge of the brake drum hole perfectly so it can't be accidentally pushed aside while stoking the fire and allow hot coal to fall through the opening.

Step 5:

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I found out the secret to maintaining a nice, hot fire without burning up your coal too quickly is to regulate the flow of air from the hair dryer using either a mechanical, adjustable valve or an electrical rheostat (adjustable resistor) and to be able to completely stop the airflow between firings to save your coal.  That's why hand-cranked blowers are ideal for blacksmithing but they are big, heavy, expensive and hard to find.  Even having the hair dryer on low is too much air if not regulated.  I wanted to use a light dimming extension cord like the one found here but they didn't have one at my local Home Depot so I wired up this Leviton wall-mounted, light dimmer switch to the male and female ends of a heavy duty extension cord and installed it inside an outdoor junction box.  This model is a little more durable than your typical dimmer switch so I decided to use it so it could be turned on and off using your foot.  I used one of those unbreakable nylon faceplates to cover it and screwed the entire junction box to a scrap piece of wood.

Step 6:

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Coal can be expensive to buy online with the shipping costs if you cannot find some locally but luckily a local blacksmith gave us some to get started :) 

Step 7:

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The hardest part was getting the fire started!  I found out the easiest way is to use 3 or 4 Match Light charcoal briquettes to heat up the raw coal to ignition but we didn't have any so after trying for 30 minutes or so to get it started using balled-up paper I finally cheated and used a small piece of a fire starter log.

Step 8:

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Finally it caught and the forge worked beautifully!

UPDATE:  The rubber coupler for the hair dryer was a little too close to the forge and got very hot so I replaced it with a 6" long piece of 2" pipe and shoved a smaller hair dryer into the end of it as you can see from the last picture.  It stayed much cooler that way.

Step 9:

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This is our temporary "anvil" until we get a piece of railroad track nailed to a stump to use as a makeshift anvil.  If we stick with this hobby very long and get seriously into it then I can see where we might buy or build a complete blacksmithing table forge with a hand-cranked blower and also buy a real anvil but in the meantime this will suit us just fine.  Thanks for looking!

Comments

scomstock1 (author)2017-08-04

Nice job...like the rheostat...my 2 speed usually runs on low but, as you say, that is a bit much...

MichaelK511 (author)2017-01-29

Do they have 2" black pipe you can do this for? really do not want to use galvanized. I dont think it will get to hot but really dont want to risk it.

3R-Automation (author)2017-01-15

Just a thought, but could you not use Propane and forced air? If you used a BBQ gas jet to get the right back pressure on the Propane and with enough supplied air you should be able to run up the temperature much like torch. Kind of the premise around cutting torches.

We have coal here in Alberta but the province is seeking to abolish the mine so the amount of coal is going to dwindle significantly due to greenhouse regulatios.

MikeW195 (author)2016-03-25

What`s the fuel?

DarthxPotatoes (author)MikeW1952016-03-31

Bituminous coal. You can also use coke, which is a 'prepared' coal. If you can't find either near you, or don't want to have it shipped, you can use lump charcoal (not the briquettes you cook with).

sires6 (author)2016-03-04

For those of you on the East Coast, you might look into the extensive Amish and Mennonite communities. They very often still burn with coal, have lots of it and it's cheap. I have been taking a beginner class locally and plan on making my own forge. Just need a few supplies and your "kit" as laid out and I will be roaring to go.

HeathH (author)2016-03-01

Many wrecking yards are unwilling to sell drums for liability reasons, but they tend to get combined with rotors in a single container and sent to the scrap yard/metal recycling, so you could likely get them, and other scrap metal peices paying by the pound. I've bought all kinds of things from brand new mag rims to like new plate steel. If you can't source traditional coal, you could always use wood. Look for hard woods to create the best heat, but using seasoned birch to get everything stoked up nicely is fine, probably better.

PoProbot (author)2016-03-01

Very cool. I have a soldering outfit, using propane, etc, for melting and soldering smaller pieces for jewelry, craftwork repair,etc. This looks like it will make a much hotter environment necessary for iron and steel. Lots of people are making jewelry out of steel these days, for it's lasting ability and it's far less expensinve the silver, and stronger then copper, brass or bronze. Don't know yet whether I would make it as I dont have a safe space where I wont et something on fire. I live on a steep hillside and in CA where were have to be so careful with outdoor fire and heat. At least I have your instructions, should I decide I want to.

PoProbot (author)2016-03-01

Very cool. I have a soldering outfit, using propane, etc, for melting and soldering smaller pieces for jewelry, craftwork repair,etc. This looks like it will make a much hotter environment necessary for iron and steel. Lots of people are making jewelry out of steel these days, for it's lasting ability and it's far less expensinve the silver, and stronger then copper, brass or bronze. Don't know yet whether I would make it as I dont have a safe space where I wont et something on fire. I live on a steep hillside and in CA where were have to be so careful with outdoor fire and heat. At least I have your instructions, should I decide I want to.

Exidis (author)2015-06-18

Is charcoal an viable replacement for coal? It is much easier to find in my area.

mikecz (author)Exidis2016-03-01

It is my understanding that throughout the world and throughout history (and as far back in pre-history as forging goes), charcoal has been THE standard blacksmith's fuel. Remember, in much of the world, coal was thought to be a rather odd material and not used at all. Also, in much of the world before "modern" transportation methods became common, a lot of people didn't even have access to coal.

I have forged small steel pieces in the charcoal starting chimney we use for the BBQ!

So, go for it!

mbgbtb (author)Exidis2015-09-30

Charcoal will most certainly work. I've also had success burning just plain wood lumber scraps, just takes a while longer to build up a good pile of hot coals.

rosemarybeetle (author)Exidis2015-07-23

well, it worked for me:

https://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-blacksmithing-...

This was using my barbecue as a forge :)

CharlesP34 (author)2016-01-13

I also used a break drum but I set the drum in the center of a flipped mower deck

Rich1214 made it! (author)2015-11-14

I made one based off of your instructions and it came our great. I just have an issue with getting it hot enough. I also used an old antenna as the base instead.

Rich1214 made it! (author)2015-11-14

I made one based off of your instructions and it came our great. I just have an issue with getting it hot enough. I also used an old antenna as the base instead.

partsman325 (author)2015-10-05

Like it .... good pictures and description.

letstormdufield (author)2012-07-31

If you run out of coal, you can use lump charcoal.It burns VERY hot.
It's usually pretty cheap and you can normally find it at Walmart or other places that sell grilling stuff.
To start it, just soak it in lighter fluid and light it.EASY!!!
But don't use briquette charcoal, it won't burn hot enough.

mbgbtb (author)letstormdufield2015-09-30

Won't burn hot enough for what? It's not going to melt the steel, but it gets it plenty hot. I've also had plenty of success burning lumber scraps. Briquettes aren't the best choice out there, but if someone has them readily available for use, why not use them? They are easier to find for some people, and the general population here in the states can purchase a bag 24/7.

denswei (author)letstormdufield2012-10-21

I don't have experience using charcoal, but it if works, it should burn a lot cleaner. The smoke from bituminous coal can be nasty.

RangerJ (author)denswei2013-01-07

That's the truth. I have had to leave the forge, gasping, more than once!

FWIW, I've had pretty good luck using briquettes. They do, however, burn up quickly.

Thank you for the tip!

LesterM3 (author)2015-08-18

nwonharp (author)2015-07-24

You might try an auto-wrecking yard where they sell used auto and truck parts for your brake drum . If you explain to them what you need it for , they may have some that are " worn out " and not useable on a vehicle , or even an odd-ball size that they probably couldn't sell anyway , but would work just fine for your forge ! They would likely give you a good price . Also , some shop-vacs have another hose connection so that you can use it as a blower ( for your " bellows " ) You may have to experiment to get the airflow right , just a thought .

E. BryanR made it! (author)2015-04-07

Haven't had a chance to fire her up yet but she's beautiful!

atluft made it! (author)2014-12-27

Thank you from another father and son back from camp. Found 5 hole drum at a towing company for core price of $6 and blower came from a water heater. Doesn't need much air flow (like you wrote), dimmer is adjusted way down. Drilled 3/8" holes to mount the 4 hole flange onto the 5 hole brake drum. Our floor flange accepted 3/8" hex bolts. Stoker coal around here is $13 for 100lb.

Andrew J Conklin (author)2014-11-14

Nice tutorial, I made mine with inch and a half black iron pipe. I heard galvanized when heated can actually kill you. Another adjustment I made was laying an old circular saw blade in the inside bottom of the brake drum to plug up the out side holes. I also drilled a bunch of small holes in the center of it to create a grate for good air flow. Now Im just working on the base. I wanted to have it stand taller so im trying to figure out a way to do it. Any suggestions?

Welding a few metal posts to the drum would let it stand properly. Alternatively, I have seen someone who happened to find an old table with a glass top. They removed the glass top and the drum just so happened to fit perfectly. Theres a lot of luck in that last one, but hit up a few yard sales maybe?

AaronY8898 (author)2014-10-28

building one asap, thanks for the tutorial

I am in the shed! (author)2012-10-17

That's something I had not considered... Are there any coal mines in the US?
I suppose we just take coal for granted here in the UK.
Good 'ible - thanks.

From Wikipedia: "The United States was ranked as the 2nd coal producing country in the world in 2010, and possesses the largest coal reserves in the world."

So, yes, lots of them. It is mainly used by industry here (power production). It and isn't something you can run down to the local corner store and buy.

Eirinn (author)Goodluck2012-10-21

I'm guessing BBQ coal wont work?

Cant Hardly (author)Eirinn2014-09-06

Yes, it will work. Use the lump style hardwood charcoal, and not the briquettes. It burns up faster, so you use more charcoal that coal, but it works well.

michael.bobier.1 (author)Eirinn2014-08-26

better watch out guys. Obammie and his mammy don't like the coal. Reminds him of what he got in his stocking for Ramadan

just kidding. This is really awesome project. I liked the idea of welding steel plate to RR track. Seems like it would work well.

cody.lomas (author)Eirinn2013-03-12

bbq coal works ive also used pallet wood

acoleman3 (author)Eirinn2012-10-21

why briquettes are a bad idea is due to the clay binders used to hold them into shape. it heats up unevenly as well as sticks to your work which causes excessive pitting. natural hickory charcoal lump is much better.

cjohnson43 (author)Eirinn2012-10-21

BBQ charcoal is just charred wood pressed into briquettes, not nearly enough heat is produced.

chancefour (author)cjohnson432012-10-21

I use BBQ coal to melt aluminum in a small blast furnace I built. It is just fine for providing enough heat. I have to make sure I don't get it too hot as a matter of fact.

maxhuey (author)Goodluck2012-10-21

So.. do you know who is the biggest coal producer in the world?

Goodluck (author)maxhuey2012-10-22

I believe the Wikipedia article said China.

Lorddrake (author)Goodluck2012-10-21

I don't know about the area you live in but I know that a lot of the landscape supply businesses around here that sell bulk mulch also sell bagged and bulk quantities of coal.

Somewhere in E/Mt. You should be able to Yahoo some up.

I live in west virginia u.s.a. and all of our electric power comes from burning coal along with most of the entire east coast.

Canadarocker (author)2014-07-25

I'm building one of these brake drum forges and beware anyone looking to purchase the black iron pipe, I bought an actual 2 inch thread flange, they are very expensive for actual 2 inch thread flanges (47 dollars, I was discounted about 70%) keep this in mind, go a bit smaller and more common.

aenewton (author)2014-02-07

will this work with 1 3/4" diameter pipe because i cant find any 2" pipe in my area

rgoeser (author)aenewton2014-07-06

for both pipe amd wood, the measurements are in whole inches, yet the actual dimensions of a 2" diameter pipe is 1 3/4"

aenewton (author)2014-04-01

This works great, even if you don't use coal!!! I love it excellent project.

Destroyer47 (author)2014-03-08

Great brake drum forge plans with the bucket of water for an airtight ash dump. Although, I am not sure about the electrical mechanics for the hair dryer since it uses an electrical transformer for the plugin voltage, but some fans require their own especially made dimmer switches for them. I know that the bathroom ventilator, being a 50~55 CFM air supply source for my forge, is more than enough air flow to get a heat of metal to over forge-welding temperatures and so I had found a dimmer switch especially made for them by Lutron for somewhat of a similar price. By any chance, would a 1" thick, 6" x 8" Steel flat-bar plate suffice for an anvil just until I can get the handle on blacksmithing without going to the 'soft as lead' Harbor Freight cast iron?

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