Brake Drum Blacksmith Forge

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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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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!

4 People Made This Project!

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97 Discussions

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scomstock1

1 year ago

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

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MichaelK511

1 year ago

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.

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3R-Automation

1 year ago

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.

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DarthxPotatoesMikeW195

Reply 2 years ago

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).

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sires6

2 years ago

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.

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HeathH

2 years ago

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.

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PoProbot

2 years ago

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.

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PoProbot

2 years ago

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.

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mikeczExidis

Reply 2 years ago

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!

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mbgbtbExidis

Reply 3 years ago

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.

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CharlesP34

2 years ago

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

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partsman325

3 years ago

Like it .... good pictures and description.

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.

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mbgbtbletstormdufield

Reply 3 years ago

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.

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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.

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RangerJdenswei

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

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