June 1, 2002. Portable forges are very cheaply built and are designed to be picked up and moved from one work location to another. They are comparatively light compared with heavier factory-made shop forges.
Too many disadvantages
Portable forges have disadvantages: these lightweight forges sacrifice dependability and ease of use. They are too small to easily keep coke and coal on the hearth, and take a lot of effort to keep medium and longer length bars laying in the fire for heating. Tools cannot be placed on the hearth without the annoying risk of the tools falling to the floor. These forges are very uncomfortable to work with.
The blowers are terribly inefficient. The lever-handle type forges operate the blower only on the down stroke so the lever requires twice the force to operate the blower. The crank-handle type blowers are very small and require a very fast rotation of the handles for a medium sized blast of air to the fire-very inefficient and hard on the smith. Both lever operated and hand crank style forges vibrate and wobble from the inefficient cranking of the blowers and consequently, the movement causes tools to fall off the hearth while the forge is in use. The smith must either place his tools somewhere else or pick them up off the ground. And after all this trouble blowing the fire, the fire never does get very hot.
The beginner smith has enough trouble learning to use a coal fire. These cheap portable forges require expert fire tending skills that are often beyond the ability of most beginners. The result is that the beginner will find the whole art of blacksmithing to be too much hassle if the only forge he has access to is one of the forges on this page. To learn more about how the fire is used, follow the links on the Fire page to learn more about lighting and using the fire.
If they are so bad, then why do so many smiths want them?
First, a professional blacksmith doesn't use these cheap forges. In the professional forging shops, smiths custom-build their own forges to fit the work that they produce. It is the hobby smiths who like these tiny portables and for the following reasons:
Those are the excuses for buying one of these cheap junk forges. That doesn't make them good forges just because so many inexperienced beginners buy them. It just means they are cheap.
Don't be tempted to buy one of these junk forges.
The cheap forges on this page perform very poorly. As such it is not worth the time and effort to repair one or try to work with it. A few day ago I received yet another request for help in repairing one of these junk forges. I will no longer be silent on my impressions concerning this type of forge:
For those who just have to have one of these...Beware!
When these old cheap forges are found at sales, they are often broken or missing important parts. They are not repairable. There are no parts made for them. There were seldom parts available for these cheap forges when they were still in production. If it doesn't work than don't buy! No matter what the seller claims. Gear boxes locked up with rust cannot be fixed and, no I don't care if you own the factory that makes WD-40. Oil doesn't cure gear teeth that have rusted off or bearings that are eroded away. Missing clutches cannot be fixed. Missing gear racks cannot be fixed. If the gear box in a hand cranked blower is excessively noisy or rough than don't buy it. If the belts are missing and you don't make them yourself then don't buy it. In other words if it doesn't work than don't buy it. The sellers often drag these forges out of landfills, clean them up, and then bring them to flea markets and garage sales to sell to [guess who]? To you! Think before you buy. Did the previous owner scrap it? If so then why would you want it? If you want to learn how and where to buy blacksmith's tools then see my page on buying blacksmiths tools at http://www.beautifuliron.com/gs_buying.htm .
A small hood allows the forge to be used indoors
A small enclosed hood can be fitted to or around these forges very quickly easily and cheaply. The small setup can be conveniently located anywhere in a tiny shop. However the smith must exercise good building technique and follow building codes similar to those for installing wood-burning stoves in homes, to reduce risk of fire hazards. To see some examples of hoods to use or build for these forges, see the chimneys page at: http://www.beautifuliron.com/chimneys.htm
Here is a very lightweight stamped sheet metal forge with a centrifugal blower. The whole thing weighs about 25lbs. It is about 18 inches in diameter and about 3 inches deep. A thin cast iron grate covers the blast hole. The legs are thin wall pipe. This size of forge is often referred to as a riveter's forge but it may have been used for some small horseshoeing jobs by farmers as well.
The blower on this forge is very small. It is about the size of a Buffalo 068. It requires the user to rotate the handle very fast and is uncomfortable to use. However, the extra light weight allows the owner to load this forge and all of his tools in his truck in about 5 minutes. The small diameter means only small fires can be supported without fuel spilling out of the forge. This forge is built for light use and very portable compared with others and is probably the most common forge found at sales.
A small lever forge. Light in weight (about 70 pounds) and the centrifugal blower is operated by the lever mounted to the side. The hearth bowl is cast iron about 3/8ths of an inch thick and about 22 inches in diameter. A thin cast iron grate covers the blast hole. The larger hearth bowl size (larger the first forge shown above) makes it a little bit more comfortable to use.
Some smiths wanted the traditional lever because it reminded them of pulling a bellows lever. The disadvantage to this type of operation is that this forge requires a little bit more maintenance than those with a centrifugally cranked blower and the lever is a much less efficient way to operate the blower.
The blower is driven by a leather belt fastened around the flywheel and drive pulley on the blower shaft. The crank lever is connected by a rod to a curved pivoting rack, which drives the pinion shaft. The pinion shaft contains a sprague clutch with simple beveled pawls engaging a drive hub, which transmits power from the lever and rack to the flywheel.
Click on the thumbnailed photos below to see the larger views. The owner is seen showing one of the new pawls he made to replace those that were missing when he bought this forge. The spragues are simple centrifugal fly-weight spragues which need no springs to engage them. The pawls go in one way only so it is important to make sure the bevel is in the correct position to mesh with the ratcheting slots in the drive hub. When buying this forge it isn't so important that the pawls be in place in the sprague clutch, since these can be replaced. What is important is that the hub and clutch can be held together by the existing mounting brackets and bearings that support them, so that they don't come out in the future during use. Collars with set screws keep parts located in their correct positions on the shafts and bearings.
The drive belt needed to be repaired the day we set this one up. Saddle shops and harness shops can make these belts new. The owner may need to use belt lacing or alligator lacing to allow the belt to be installed without disassembling the entire forge.
Here is another round cast iron lever cranked forge very similar to the previous one above. The bowl hearth dimensions are about the same as the previous forge as well. About 22 inches in diameter. This one was found at the Old Threshers museum in Mt. Pleasant Iowa. The cast iron grate or plate covering the tuyere hole is clearly visible in the picture at right. Judging by the coke in the hearth, someone may have test fired this forge recently. It appears complete.
Like the forge above, this forge most likely would have been bought by farmers for their home workshops or some light horseshoeing.
Updated June 1, 2002.
More forges to be added when I get some more photos of these forges both in use or on display.
Don't bother to email me about any of the forges on this page. You will not get a reply.
Page created on December 15th, 2001.