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Before going any further I want to make it clear that I do not recommend brake drum forges to anyone. A brake drum forge is the poorest and most awkward and impractical design. More convenient and effective is to throw the brake drum away and simply dig a hole in the ground with a 2 inch pipe angled into the side of the hole to supply air. Anything would work better than a brake drum- a box filled with dirt or clay with a hollow depression for the fire, a flat surface made of stone or steel with a pile of cinders creating a depression for the fire. Anything but a brake drum. Brake drums were meant for use on cars and trucks- not in a blacksmith's forge.
Page updated on: 30 December, 2010. Under construction-not ready. A quick note about some of the prices of parts that appear in this text - inflation is going out of control. Thanks to the incompetence of politicians in the U.S. government (and the morons that voted for them) and the idiots at the Federal Reserve, the value of money is being diluted through reckless money printing and criminal deficits, thus driving prices higher and higher. One of my readers notified me in December of 2010, that prices for some forge parts were in fact much higher than described on this page. After checking with some of my favorite suppliers, I was shocked to see how high prices had so quickly risen for many of the things I use in my shop. It just doesn't pay to be cheap. Coal and other fuel costs are rising dramatically. The higher these prices rise, the more important it is for us to focus our efforts on building the best and most efficient equipment for ourselves. And in this case, the brake drum forge becomes all the more foolish. Updated prices are reflected below- prices as of December 30th, 2010.
Many blacksmith websites are run by (and for) hobby smiths posing as masters or highly experienced blacksmiths. Most 'experienced' hobby smiths that participate in the internet forums are unanimous in pushing the beginner to start with a brake drum forge. They would have the beginner believe that a 'brake drum' forge and a cheap hair dryer are a good substitute for a real blacksmiths bottom blast forge and blower. Many of these hobby websites have a slick 'professional' web design appearance that causes the newbie to think he or she is getting the best advice. Any attempts to point out serious flaws in brake drum forges are immediately attacked by the regular participants in the chat rooms and discussion forums. Any newcomer that dares to question the use of a brake drums in forge design, is immediately and brutally attacked and humiliated until he/she submits or goes away. The brake drum people always claim to have years of experience using brake drum forges on a daily basis and making lots of money doing the best work using their brake drum forges. These are the people that push the use of brake drum forges on beginners.
The brake drum masters don't have anywhere near as much experience as they claim using brake drum forges. They get very little money for anything they produce with a brake drum forge and they produce very little ironwork anyway. Take a look at photos of their work (if they even provide any). The work done with a brake drum forge is always of the simplest design and lowest quality - usually 'S' hooks and railroad spike knives, lots and lots of knives. The problem with knives is that over 90% of the work to make a knife involves grinding and sanding and polishing. So if the brake drum pusher actually has photos, look for photos of their favorite sander or grinder. The sanders and grinders take up a very prominent place in the knife grinder's shop. Grinding and sanding equipment plays a huge role in the knife grinder's work, but not in the blacksmith's work. Also take a quick look at some of the date stamps on these peoples' posts, and it will be apparent that most of these people are on the internet day and night - not working in their shops as blacksmiths. These wannabe experts are in fact, inexperienced and unskilled, and they are giving the newcomer advice on how to build the most important tool in the blacksmith's shop! Do you see a problem here? Real working blacksmiths don't tell newcomers to build brake drum forges! They tell the newbie to learn how the best forges work and to build something that functions much like the professional blacksmith's forge. Think about it.
The brake drum pushers refuse to use brake drums in their own forges. That's right! Despite their own advice urging beginners to use brake drum forges, the owners of those slick hobby smith websites, along with their forum participants, have chosen to use gas forges or coal forges with homemade or commercially made firepots. Beginners should question this contradictory philosophy. Why do these 'experienced' smiths choose not to use brake drum forges themselves? Do you see a problem here? No professional smith would ever use a brake drum forge - it is easier to build a high quality forge from wood, steel, brick, concrete, clay, dirt, stone, etc. But now we discover that even the brake drum pushers refuse to use their own brake drum forges. Why? If the brake drum forge is so cheap and so easy to build, then why does everyone else refuse to use them? I will answer this question throughout the rest of this webpage.
What are the typical reasons for pushing beginners into a brake drum forge? They usually go something like this:
To the beginner or non-smith, their concerns might at first appear well intentioned, but their argument for using a brake drum forge are poorly thought out and are often abusive and condescending towards the new smith - almost as though the 'experienced' smith might actually be trying to force the beginner to use a brake drum forge as if it were some kind of hazing or occult initiation. The central theme of their arguments pretends to focus on cost of building a forge. They often point to a beginner's ability to obtain a brake drum for 'free'. But as I would argue, a 'free' object that is ill-suited for a task (such as using a brake drum instead of a properly designed firepot), usually ends up costing more to work with than if one were to simply pay full cost of a homemade or commercially made object that was made specifically for the blacksmith. In other words, that free brake drum will end end up costing more time and money than a commercially made cast iron firepot or homemade fabricated steel firepot.
The usual target of a brake drum forge is the person that 'doesn't want to spend a lot of money'. But cheapskates generally have few tools of any real quality and these people generally have no skills with which to use them. To make a brake drum fit into a forge hearth and work well, requires a substantial cash outlay to purchase the necessary tools and materials. And these people don't have the necessary skills with which to do the work. Trying to install an incompatible piece of junk like a brake drum fit into a forge, is difficult even for the experienced craftsman. Would it not also be easier AND cheaper for an unskilled workman to fashion a forge from wood and clay and dirt and stone, instead of trying to make a brake drum conform to shape? Aren't those materials 'free' too? The gently sloping sides of the ducks nest (the hollow area that supports the actual fire) are easily formed in clay or fire cement. This is done without a brake drum. Using alternative construction materials such as clay or fire cement would not require welding skills, screws and hardware, or expensive electric tools. So why not these other materials to build the beginner's first forge? These alternate materials would produce a much better forge for the blacksmith, so why do these supposed experts insist on pushing the beginner towards a poorly thought out brake drum forge - knowing that the brake drum forge performs so poorly, that the beginner will soon be forced to build a better forge soon afterwards? Why not save the effort and just do it properly the first time?
The fire is not depicted in a realistic manner. The sides of this forge (Reader's Digest illustration at right) would be roughly 3 inches tall and similar in size to the rim of a brake drum. This picture shows two iron bars roasting over the fire and everything is comfortably maintained in the tiny little hearth. It looks like the smith is simply bar-b-queuing the iron over a low bed of charcoal.
In reality the typical blacksmith's fire is roughly 7 inches or more in depth and fuel would tower over the sides of this little forge. A real blacksmith's fire would be more than double the height of the sides of this forge. And every time the smith adjusted the fire or moved the iron into or out of the fire, fuel would spill all over the floor to be wasted.
Most pictures (like the illustration at right) fail to show proper use of the blacksmith's fire because they were not drawn by blacksmiths, they were instead drawn by a book illustrator. It's a beautiful illustration but it just isn't accurate. The depiction should have shown the iron thrust into the heart of a deeper fire, not roasting above a low bed of coals.
Fuel spills off the brake drum and all over the ground (wasting valuable time and fuel) whenever long tools or iron bars are placed on the brake drum forge. This is annoying and unsafe. When coal is added to the fire on a brake drum, the beginner must be careful to add only a little at a time and place it slowly for fear that much of it will fall off the forge if he puts it on the fire too quickly. Fire tools cannot be placed conveniently nearby the fire because there is nowhere to put them on a brake drum forge hearth, that they won't fall off. Some hobby smiths like to claim that they make a tool rack to hang their fire tools from, but this is awkward- almost like having to pick them up off the ground.
Tongs and other tools cannot be hung from the horn of an anvil like the illustration above depicts, because tongs get very hot and the smith must bend down to grasp the handles of the tongs to avoid getting burned- using valuable time while the iron is wasting away in the fire or cooling in the air. Fire tools have long handles and get very hot. The blacksmith must be very careful to grasp them only by the handle, and if the tool falls to the ground with the handle underneath the forge (as they often seem to do when dropped), then the smith must bend and reach under a hot forge- often snagging clothing on the ends of the iron being heated and sending the hot iron to the ground as well. The brake drum forge hearth offers no convenient location to lay hot tools when they are not in use - thus the reason that the artist depicts tongs hung from the anvil horn.
Note that the forge depicted (in the illustration) is actually based on a small 'riveters' forge. We can use this depiction to discuss the brake drum forge because the riveter's forge is identical in size and shape to a brake drum forge.
Fire depth. Now immediately the hobby smiths on the forums are going to attack the idea that a blacksmith's fire must be at least 7 inches (180 mm.) or more in depth. So let's look at some proof in photos of forges in blacksmith's shop. Click on the photos below to enlarge them.
One of the firepots in the photo below is the Centaur Vulcan that this author has used in 3 different forges since 1981. The coal is piled on top of the firebrick to a depth of about 1-1/2 inches (40 mm.). The brick is roughly 2-3/4 inches (72 mm.) tall. The depth of the firepot below the brick is roughly 3 inches (80 mm.). Total fire depth is 7 to 8 inches (180-200 mm.). This is a typical fire for general blacksmithing work. Compare this with the brake drum forge.
Photo (near right) shows a selection of firepots - note the Centaur Vulcan firepot second from left.
Photo (at middle right) shows the Centaur Vulcan pot installed in a new steel forge.
Photo (far right) shows the new steel forge from the middle photo, in use. Coal and coke are seen piled over the height of the firebrick near the firepot. The fire can be seen to be around 7 inches (180 mm.) depth.
The Beautiful Iron blacksmith website contains literally hundreds of photos of blacksmiths working with properly designed forges. I encourage newbies to take a look at the fires on the Coal Forge pages and see for themselves how blacksmiths maintain their fires. All professional and semi-pro (amateur) blacksmiths handle their coal forge fires in the same way. In fact, fire tending skills are so important in the blacksmiths' work that we can actually determine whether a blacksmith is a professional/amateur, or just a hobbyist, simply by watching the way they maintain and use their fires. Take a look at the blacksmiths at the Harvey Yellin Memorial gate smithing workshop on this YouTube video- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_IUu0t9su0 and here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTmq0y8UZNE and here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0viHnqB0wW4 .
Brake drums are too small for forge hearths. Multiple pieces of iron must be placed on the ground for cooling as the brake drum forge hearth is very small and all available space is needed for fuel. The light weight and small footprint of the brake drum forge make it unstable so that it is constantly wiggling and causing more things to fall off of the hearth each time iron is placed in the fire. And what makes the brake drum forges really foolish is that after the forge is finally built, it will never heat the iron as quickly and easily as a properly designed forge with ready-made or a homemade fabricated firepot or side blast tuyere.
The guys that keep shouting at beginners to start with a brake drum forge won't use one themselves! Think about it.
The advantages below apply only to coal forges with a bottom blast design. This does not suggest that side blast forges are in any way, inferior to bottom blast forges- they aren't. This is simply a comparison of two bottom blast style forges; the brake drum forge vs. the properly designed firepot and tuyere.
The tools of the blacksmith's trade are very expensive. If you aren't sure that blacksmithing is something that you would want to invest lots of money and time into, then go back to the recommendations above and/or enroll in some more blacksmith classes until you know whether or not you would like to be a blacksmith. Otherwise plan to spend lots of money to get started because the blacksmith's trade is very expensive and will remain expensive for a very long time. Building 'cheap' equipment will actually cost more money in the long run compared with paying for the best equipment in the beginning. Remember that if you invest in cheap junk equipment then you will be purchasing equipment twice- once when you bought the cheap lower quality stuff, and again when you purchase the higher quality tools because the cheaper stuff didn't perform well enough.
I plan to add an articleand links here later concerning the easiest way for teenagers with little money to get a good start a blacksmithing.
The first thing visitors notice about this website, is that there are no 'brake drum forges' anywhere in the coal forge pages.
Enroll in a blacksmithing class near you. The blacksmithing class must be taught by an experienced blacksmith. Avoid learning from other beginners (the blind leading the blind). In a good class environment the beginner will have the best opportunity to learn fire maintenance, heating the iron, and get to try out a good forge for themselves. The class experience will give the beginner an opportunity to learn if they would like to continue the craft of blacksmithing and find out what it is like to work with good equipment. Learn how to use a good high quality forge BEFORE building your own forge.
If the beginner wants to start by jumping directly into smithing on his own then I recommend he/she buys good equipment. The best tools are the cheapest by far in the long run. So you say you don't have a lot of money? Then start saving money. Get a job. This craft is very expensive.
Buy a good cast iron firepot or side-blast tuyere from a blacksmith supplier such as Centaur Forge or Baker House Group. It is possible to make a good firepot from scrap steel but the cast iron firepots and tuyeres offer excellent performance. Check out your local scrap yard for scrap steel but be ready to buy new steel when they don't have some of the things you need. Buy a new anvil- they are cheaper than overpriced worn out used anvils. Buy new Peddinghaus brand hammers. Buy some 5/8ths round, 3/4ths round steel new and learn to make your own light tongs. Buy the book The Blacksmith's Craft by CoSIRA or RDC and modify their method for tongs making using your lighter materials. Buy a 5 inch leg vise- make sure the jaws are in good shape, not misaligned or worn out. Buy good blacksmith's coal, not the cheap stoker coal. Stoker coal is full of clinkers. Buy a large forge blower. Not the tiny blowers. Don't buy the tiny portable forges. Attend some seminars and see other smiths working and get some ideas for your own work. Attend a horseshoeing school that specializes in forging hand made horseshoes. Make your own rake, shovel, and poker, and make a nicer set of fire tools a year later.
Latest update on: 30 December, 2010.
An article concerning the easiest way for teenagers with little money to get a good start at blacksmithing will be added to this website in the near future and links to that article after it is ready.
Page created on November 24th, 2003.