Dirt Cheap Forge

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Introduction: Dirt Cheap Forge

About: I dabble a bit in just about everything, electronics, gardening, metalworking, backpacking, photography; but my real passion is in wood working. I have recently started a new job(actually a fellowship) as a...

If you read my Instructable about making charcoal, then you know that I am on the path of making a froe, for free. The forge is the heart, which I guess would make the anvil the lungs. . . or would it be the other way around? Either way, the forge is important so I set out to build a dirt cheap forge. I didn't want to spend any money, so making my own refractory from kitty litter and plaster of paris was out, I don't have a break drum kicking around, so that was out. However, I do have soil that is extremely high in clay content, and maybe it will hold up to the heat. Let's find out.

Step 1: Stuff You'll Need

Clay soil, I would highly recommend not using sandy soil as it won't hold its shape, nor would I recommend rocky soil as rocks can explode when heated due to trapped water. This forge is not very durable, if you are going to buy stuff to make a forge get supplies to make a refractory, there are tons of recipes, instructables, and videos on the 'net on how to make your own.

A Shovel, although, I guess you could dig with a stick

Something to haul the dirt in, I used what I call a rough tote, a bucket would work to

A beating stick, I used a leftover scrap from a sledge handle I had cut down

A place to put your forge, I used a piece of scrap plywood and two by fours to make it moveable.

A section of metal pipe, mine is from one of those canvas carports, it broke years ago; I think with some ingenuity a series of tomato paste cans could work, just cut both ends off

Something fire resistant, preferably round, and with a bit of height, I used a flower pot, that I mutilated. you could also use a soup can. . I think

An air supply, I used a shop vac, I recommend something lighter powered, maybe a hair dryer

A hack saw

A small piece of flashing

Tin snips, heavy scissors might work.

Tape, I used duct tape to attach the shop vac hose to the forge.

Optional:

A garden cart or wheelbarrow, it makes hauling easier

A lantern burning citronella oil, I was working in the evening and the mosquitoes are already starting up.

A file

Step 2: Dig!

I had a mount of nice clay based soil I dug up about a decade ago when trying to build a pond as a kid. I've spent quite a bit of effort filling that hole back in, but there was still some dirt piled up. I scrapped off the organic matter and tossed it into the hole, then dug out the dirt, a bit of organic matter won't hurt, just not too much.

I tried to keep the soil fairly level, but if you're just digging a pit have at it.

I filled my rough tote about half full, which was about twice as much as I ended up using.

Step 3: All About That Base, No Trouble

In addition to the tools and materials I listed earlier I used :

scrap 2x4, scrap plywood, some screws, impact driver, hand saw, vise, pencil, combination square, tape measure, and a snap line. I didn't list them before because this step if fully optional

Alright, a forge needs a base, but if you want you can plop it on the ground. My forge has to be able to move, I hunted through my scrap wood pile and came up with a partial sheet of 3/4" plywood and a 42" length of 2x4.

I cut the two by in half . . .no I didn't, half would have been 21 inches, I was so busy trying to take pictures I somehow managed to cut it 20" long, so I cut the other one the same length and it worked out, because the ply was about 20" wide.

set the 2x4s on the ground, set the ply on top and sunk a screw at each end of the 2x4 then snapped a line across the screws and put in a a few more screws. it probably would have been fine with just two screws each as it's only dealing with compression stress, I tend to either over build sometimes.

You might have noticed I inset the 2x4s a few inches on the sides, that way I have a grip all around the forge to pick it up.

Alright, the base is done! now for the hard part

Step 4: Building Up the Forge Underlayment

From here till I was done with the clay/mud I had to release my inner Hulk and smash.

Bassically, using fist sized clumps of mud/clay I set them on the board and pounded them flat. I started by using my fist but started getting tired quickly so I used a stick, actually a piece of a sledge hammer handle. I ended up with about an inch thick oval of compacted soil.

Step 5: Starting the Bottom of the Fire Pan

Continuing the smashing style of construction I built up a layer around the edge. I was kind of figuring this out as I went along, I had an idea of what I wanted to do with it, but I was kind of letting the materials guide me.

Step 6: Air to the Coals

I needed a place for the air to come up into the forge, I knew I was going to feed the fire air via a pipe, but I needed a place for that air to come up in.

I initially thought of using just plain dirt, but I wanted to lend some rigidity the structure here, so I chipped out a section of a small flower pot.

Step 7: Pipe It to Make It Hot!

I used a section of pipe I had laying around for this step, I also used a little bit of flashing material to make a blast gate. I will leave the pictures to do most of the explaining.

One neat trick I came up with, I needed to cut the pip half way through for the blast gate, so I took a piece of string, wrapped it around the pipe, marked a point on the overlap, then I took it off, folded it and marked the bottom of the fold. When I rewrapped the string, making sure my original marks met, I had two marks equidistant from each other and I sawed to them.

Step 8: Build It Bigger, and Make a Fire Pan

With the pipe in place I started laying down more mud/clay up to the level of the flower pot rim, then I built a wall around the whole thing to keep the coals in.

Step 9: Cleaning Up the Surface and Making a Fire Grate

I used a shovel to clean up some of the edges around the base, then I cut some hardware cloth to create a grate. I'll be honest, the grate was a waste of my time, the heat ended up deforming the grate and the coals were actually in the flower pot. I think that actually worked out alright though.

The takeaway, don't make a grate like I did, infact, maybe don't make a grate at all.

Step 10: Low Temp Heating

I wanted to dry out the clay/dirt as much as a I could before I fired up the forge for real. so I built a small fire and let it burn out. as I expected, the dirt cracked quite a bit, but not too much. success so far!

Step 11: Forging Ahead! Well, a Froe, But That's a Different Instructable

After itching to use the forge for a couple of days I gathered my forging supplies

railroad track Anvil

shop vac with blower

Leather boots, cotton pants and cotton shirt (synthetics can melt to your skin)

Quench bucket, preferably metal

And of course my charcoal of which I prepped a quad batch

It's really hard to take pictures of myself forging, so there is only one picture of me hammering. I was attempting to make a froe from an old lawnmower blade. I am hoping to finish up that froe, and maybe create an instructable for it at some point.

It's a good thing I had the blast gate because the shop vac was way too powerful for this little forge.

Step 12: Final Thoughts

The forge worked quite well, the only really important changes would be to remove the grate, and use a lower power blower.

I expect this forge will last a few more forges, but the flowerpot is already starting to melt.

I wasn't able to get a forge weld on the froe, but I think it's because it was too bright outside and I couldn't see the colors of the steel.

That thing ate charcoal like candy. I had about 2 gallons of charcoal I'd made and I burned through it in about 20 minutes, I think it might have been because of the air supply being so forceful.

This was my first forge build, and for the cost ($0.00) and time (about 2-3 hours) I put into it, I call it successful I did get steel hot enough to shape, and it was a decent sized chunk of steel too.

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    82 Comments

    Awesome! Now all you need is a real anvil... Check out my 'ible to find out how!

    19 replies

    Haha, I read it when you posted it, very concise if I recall. From everything I've heard Railroad track makes a great anvil. It just needs a horn, but I tell ya, grinding on that thing takes forever.

    Harbor Freight has some fairly inexpensive anvils that might work for you. The

    I will tell you though that those anvils are nothing compared to a old London anvil. They can crack, chip, and spit. My dad works at grizzly and he has had tons of those types of anvils come back because they do not have a good top plate.

    I haven't observed those problems, but I work with non-ferrous metals and all my forging experience is with cold forging brass, copper and silver. I probably stress my tools less a steel worker does.

    That is a good point. I have always used mine for heavy blacksmithing work. and It takes good hard swings to shape the steel fast. So what do you cold forge out of brass?

    Jewelry, sometimes when I'm planning a piece in silver, I make a brass or copper model first to ensure I have the techniques I'm using practiced enough not to ruinmy attempt at the silver work. Also, I love Mokume Gane, but my only success with it involved brass and copper.

    That is neat. I have only ever done forge work when the steel is really hot. Do you have to ever worry about splitting or cracking with the silver. I have never worked that much with soft metals. I use brass a lot, but silver and copper I have not done to much with.

    In general, when working non-ferrous metals, they get harder as they are forged. When the metal is hard enough that it isn't responding well to hammer, saw, file, etc. it is time to anneal it. Annealing is just heating the metal to a dull red then either letting it air cool or quenching it in water or pickling (typically a sulfuric acid solution). This process expands the molecular structure of the metal leaving it softened and ready for further working. Jewelers often refer to this state as "dead soft." Dead soft silver alloys can, some times, be worked with bare hands.

    Question?

    Oh btw I totally agree with CJ I also would love to see an ible on working silver... that would be incredibly cool! Please do that for us consider yourself to be formally requested!

    Yeah question... If you're annealing don't you want a nice slow cool ? Would quenching before full cool stage upset the annealing process. I was under the impression that is exactly why we often find those weaker shatter points in old chunks. In other words I thought they were created in one of two ways (maybe both ways) of not bringing the temp on the metal high enough and then starting to cool it when it hadn't reached that (there's a name for each heat you want to bring it to and hubby is under a horse right now...phht :^( )

    Anyway not heating it to the proper level and the other issue being the quenching because quenching increases the hardness and makes the metal more brittle as well. I always looked at them as sort of opposite things the annealing creating more conformity in the alloy and more ductility and the quench creating more hardness. I'm talking ferrous metals here.

    I know all metals are very different in terms of how you want to treat them overall. For me I know my issue right off is not getting the metal to the right temp. I'm too inexperienced for that to tell when that metal is glowing at just the right shade!

    When you say that quenching hardens the metal, what you're thinking is that quenching hardens (many kinds of) steel. Things work differently for other kinds of metals, due to the way they change under heat.

    This is easy to do without any experience at all!

    Use a magnet . When the steel loses its ability to attract the magnet it's at the right temperature.

    wow really?

    okay!!!!....

    I love simple!

    thanks for that

    That is very interesting. I have to anneal leaf springs and saw blades before I do any work on them as well. You should post some things on your silver smiting. I would love to see it. And thank you for the info I learn something every day. :)

    There is a book titled, "The Complete Metal Smith" by Tim McCreight (I think I spelled that right) which does a better job of instructing various metal working techniques than I can. Also look for "Jewelry Artist" magazine for tips on tools and techniques for working with many metals, as well as stones, bone, plastics and other materials.

    Gasp Mokume Gane!

    You need to make an ible!

    That's all I'm saying!

    sometimes you can get a small bitt of rail from a train track without being arrested.

    They have a very, very hard cap on them.

    Ha I know what you mean. I started with a piece I found at a scrap yard. and now I have a 130 LB anvil. that is over 50 years old I would say.

    blacksmiths wife here....

    I'm going to post here some tips etc for people who want to play in the fire. Where a good place to get an anvil is...and a few actual tools that are indispensable for safety reasons.

    I think making a froe is a fine useful way to get started in a forge btw. It's reasonably simple in terms of shape, yet stretches your skill level to create the eye for the handle. I think this would be a most recommended place to start... very reasonable and good choice.. and not an overwhelmingly large project as well!

    Blacksmith's wife here....

    but don't kid yourself I do more than bring him lemonade on a summer day when he's playing in the forge. I too have had my time playing in the fire. Most of what he does is make horseshoes. I occasionally simply practice some basic skills making a horseshoe that matches the one he just made. Yes it takes me infinitely and frustratingly longer. Well I'm a girl and I don't have his big muscles so that's reasonable. I don't have the strength he has for one thing and my skill level is one step beyond "never picked up a rounding hammer in my lifetime". Well at least it seems that way when I compare myself to my husband!

    I know a few things though that perhaps could be helpful in your forays here.

    First of all dirt cheap anvils can be picked up at those country style flea markets with truly a sprawling number of stalls. there's always some old codger out there with really great, nearly ancient tools that have sat in his barn for several decades, sometimes even a century or two. Do NOT be put off by rust on a big chunk of metal like a rounding hammer or a ball peen and certainly don't be put off by an old rusty anvil. Just working on the anvil will take the rust away!. These big old chunks of metal are often made much better than any modern tools. The same wouldn't apply to a froe perhaps being a much thinner piece, the rust could have done too much damage and then again too a little grinding and sharpening and you very well may be ready to go after reconditioning an old froe. We've picked up anvils occasionally at such places for a mere 5 dollars... obviously its not something you want to order from ebay the shipping is stupid ridiculous of course. Look for barn sales and yard sales being host from a barn! Those are excellent places! We have one small anvil made from rail. Its quite functional whoever made it originally put a decent horn into it. Oh yeah we have anvils... we have I think 6 or 7 different anvils. Each one is unique! Every horn is different. Turning cams on the sides are different. And yes of course my husband has his favorites. I'm not sure how you might go about this but if you had a chance to work on different horns it may be nice to be able to figure out what you personally want for a horn in that rail. Wish you lived around here, hubby could let you try out several anvils. A horseshoer in your area may be kind enough to allow you to do such a thing but they can be a surly lot.

    Be aware at all times and this is a funny thing. Hammers at least some of them have a warning label attached saying that the metal can fracture and become shrapnel etc. That REALLY does happen. Most of us don't hit hammer to metal often enough to know this, but my husband has had a few injuries of this type, none of the them serious, mostly catching some shrapnel in the hand, but that's a matter of luck alone. Children shouldn't be near a forge and anvil really. Their lower height puts them even more significantly in harm's way. And know too ANY metal can be unstable! Especially the older pieces that have seen lots of rounds of heating and cooling over decades. hammers themselves get very hot during long hours of forge work and should not be quenched!

    Do invest in at least a used leather or used kevlar apron... its a purchase you will live to be grateful for and happy that you did. It will save you from a host of small burns and flying chunks of metal that are those stupid accidents WE ALL HAVE! yes we do. Even the pros do incredibly stupid things occasionally. My hubby one day was working some small round stock, properly held and gripped in his round tongs and not wearing an apron (which he usually wears, which is of course why the accident happened) and he pressed the end nearest him into his thigh to feed it down the tongs. yep it burned through his jeans in less than a second and he branded himself. It's always the black heat that injures a person. And of course if its the red heat that's injured a person, its time to pick another hobby! Because we can see that heat.

    DO invest in a pair of proper tongs. For this project you would need flat tongs. And use the right tool for the right job (yep using flat tongs to hold a round piece of metal results in injury as well) Being able to hold that red hot piece of metal properly without it zinging out of your grip when you strike it with a hammer is EVERYTHING!

    Finally be aware that there are many types of metal that can be worked and many grades of steel and they are not all the same and are not conducive to being used for every project. My husband shoes horses and at professional lectures and conventions they do actually speak very specifically about the exact numbered type of steel etc. So be extra careful when you used salvaged metals. They may not be what your expecting. They may not have the exact tempering abilities you were expecting. Again if its an older piece it may have at some point been partially tempered creating a weak spot, It may have been tempered so many times that its simply become brittle and shatters easily. You never know the history of that piece of metal and if some bozo quenched the hammer head in a bucket of water and made it brittle. My hubby uses a home depot plastic bucket to quench in. Metal really isn't that important if you want to go cheaper. You shouldn't be quenching very often anyway. it's much more important for instance if you are hot shaping a horse shoe and then have to nail it on an animal. There are also a variety of quenching techniques. I know some blacksmiths quench in oil occasionally for specific reasons to temper the metal in particular ways. If you have any desire to make a piece like a sword you will need to have a forge that is big enough to get the whole blade in the fire at once or it won't temper properly. A friend of ours is currently making his own forge out of a truck rim (yeah like an 18 wheeler rim) my husband tells me that is done by people reasonably commonly. apparently the thickness of the rim is enough.

    My husband's forge is a metal box with a pour in liner and propane burner. The box is open at the front and there's a door at the back that opens and latches closed so he can get bar stock into the fire down the entire length of it but not all at the same time, which would be necessary for a sword for instance. But this is somewhat different because his forge has to travel with him to the barns and it is mounted in his work trailer.

    I had discussed him building a real stationary forge at home once when we had taken down a massive old oak tree. The trunk log pieces were perfect for a huge anvil and we have one over 200 lbs. So I started questioning what it would take to have a stationary old fashioned forge. As we have had many people in our lives interested in learning how to play in the fire, just like you! He said that you couldn't get a glowing red heat on the metal with a wood fire and that coal was necessary... that's why its called a coal forge, but it wasn't charcoal, it was actual mined coal. I know people order it and have it shipped to them. His propane setup also gets a glowing red heat on the metal. I think he said it gets to 600 or 700 degrees, but I can't remember now. I've been in the fire a couple dozen times now. Very honestly and truthfully unless its glowing at least a dull orange I don't find it any easier to shape the metal than if it was dead cold. I'm sure my husband who has vast experience can likely distinguish several temperature gradients in relation to workability. But steel CAN be worked cold and it often is. In fact my husband often shaped horse shoes on a stall jack right beside the horse. I attached a picture of a stall jack that resembles my husband's.

    If you go to popular mechanics on line and search for an article called "Blacksmithing 101: How to make a forge and start hammering metal." I am not suggesting here that what you've done is anything less than brilliant and cool. It is brilliant and cool! But too here you are at that stage of learning and trying and that's the point we all get to where we start to think in terms of building a better mouse trap if you know what I mean. For instance, my husband's steel box forge that is mobile has some definite advantages! Being a box with only one opening it keeps the heat in! In that fashion its highly desirable in terms of low cost and efficient use! Propane also is not expensive. So these things would be reasonable considerations as you explore this hobby, maybe someday turn it into your own business. There's certainly a whole cottage sort of hobby craft sort of thing creating working ornate hinges and hooks with an elegant turn in them of twisted square stock. Twisting is easier than one would think! A red hot 1/4 inch square stock simply secured in a vice and the other end held by the tongs and its easy even for me and they come out lovely! One never knows where starting down any particular path in life may lead eventually. But also and more importantly I have learned things about where to hit a piece of metal to get the desired effect on shaping the metal and its not nearly as straight forward as it would seem in many cases. I have the benefit of having a pro to teach me! But this article teaches some of the basics on how to move that metal to where you want it to go using a hammer. Its a very decent read! I'm not sure where your skill level sits and I hope this may acquaint you with some other techniques that you may not be currently practicing with this particular project. For every single thing there is in life there is a whole world unto that thing, with people doing that thing who LOVE doing that thing. I hope you continue to grow with this hobby. It's a cool hobby! Well no... its a hot hobby! You may find great ideas by looking through a farrier supply catalogue. A cut up old pair of jeans with some leather patches sewn on can suffice as a makeshift apron for little cost for instance. So take a look on line at a farrier supply catalogue. And if you make an apron with low to little cost for the hobbyist, post that as an instructable as well! There are a lot of guys out there and even girls out there that would benefit from you sharing your own path with all of us, people who don't want to sink big bucks into something to try something new.

    This has been a ridiculously long post, sorry about that! Do be safe in your hobby. Very nice "ible" indeed! And if you ever want to pick my brain or my husband's then contact me and we'll do what we can to help you with your hobby! Two thumbs way up. Keep hammering away at it! And a very nice job on your first project and the intelligence on the choice! Very smart!

    stall jack.jpg