The single most important decision for beginner blacksmiths looking to get started with this hobby is deciding what kind of forge to buy. For one, it’s likely going to be the most expensive buying decision in your career as a blacksmith. Secondly, the type of forge you buy can make a world of difference as you start working on projects.
There are primarily two types of forges; coal and gas-powered. While there are pros and cons to each, I’d argue that gas-powered forges are the best for beginners. They’re simple to use, aren’t messy, and can maintain a steady, consistent heat level for easily.
That’s not to say that coal-powered forges that have their benefits as well. Let’s dive into the details, see exactly how these two types compare, and which type of forge truly is best for blacksmiths.
What are gas-powered forges?
Gas-powered essentially means that a forge is using propane or another gas as fuel. If you’ve ever used a gas-powered barbecue before, then you’ll understand how this works. For the most part, gas forges are a newer invention, as blacksmiths in the 20th century and earlier didn’t have access to this kind of technology.
There are quite a few benefits when it comes to gas forges. For one, they tend to be easier to use than their coal-based counterparts. You can just turn a dial and your forge will start heating up instantly. You don’t have to sit around as much as wait for your forge to heat up.
Also, it’s much easier to control the temperature of your forge if it’s gas-powered. When working with coals, you have much less control over exactly what temperature it’s at.
Gas forges are also a bit cleaner. When it comes to coal, its easy for things to get a little messy and smoky when you’re working away at something. Gas forges, on the other hand, require little clean-up and don’t leave much of a mess.
Lastly, once you’ve lit up your gas forge and its heated, you don’t need to do much else to maintain that fire. Other types of forges require you to constantly do something, like adding fresh coals, in order to maintain the heat of your forge. With gas forges, once they’re working, there’s little else that you need to do.
Are they perfect?
They’re close, but there are definitely some downsides. For one, gas forges tend to be smaller than their coal-based counterparts. While this is fine for beginner blacksmiths looking to get started, it might be an issue if you’re working on something bigger.
If you search up gas forges on Amazon, you’ll find that most of them are pretty small. Quite often, they’re built in the shape of a long-narrow cylinder, which is where you would put your metal. Again, this is fine for most projects (and especially suitable for knives, blades, or other long objects), but it might not suit everyone’s needs.
Lastly, while gas forges reach pretty high temperatures, it might not be enough to reach welding temperatures. To weld pure iron, you would need to heat it up to become almost white-hot. That’s around 2,500 °F to 2,700 °F. Steel with a 2% carbon content could be welded at lower temperatures, between 1,700 °F to 2,000 °F.
While most gas forges can heat steel hot enough to be able to weld it, many struggle to be able to weld iron. One of my favorite gas forges on the market, the Hells Forge Portable Double Burner, can heat up to 2,400 °F, just a bit shy from being able to weld iron.
Is that enough to be a deal-breaker for some? Maybe. But I don’t think it’s that big of an issue for beginner blacksmiths looking to bend and mold metal for casual projects.
How about coal forges?
Coal forges are very much the opposite. They are older and were frequently used many years ago before the advent of gas forges. There’s definitely a greater sense of being old-school, or more ‘traditional’ when it comes to these types of forges.
That’s definitely great for blacksmiths who already know what they’re doing, but for beginners, they might be a bit harder to use. However, they come with some significant upsides as well. For one, you aren’t exposed to any potentially dangerous gases. When you’re using a gas forge, you need to make sure you have proper ventilation (or where a ventilator to be safe if you’re working in a confined area). Coal forges, on the other hand, don’t have this problem.
Coal forges, being more old school, can also work well with hand-powered blowers. While more expensive, automatic air blowers have become more common, if you’re looking to save money on a hand-powered blower, using a coal forge as well makes perfect sense as well. You can also reach a higher temperature with a coal forge also. As mentioned before, this is crucial if you’re looking to weld iron, which needs to be heated at a higher temperature than most gas forges can produce. If this is a deal-breaker for you, then coal forges might be for you.
Have you heard of wooden forges?
People rarely talk about these nowadays, but there’s actually another type of forge out there. Wooden forges, also known as a wood fire forge, are arguably the most old-school type of forge out there. Hundreds of years ago, blacksmiths would use wooden forges to heat and temper their metals.
With modern technology and innovations, however, wooden forges aren’t really a thing anymore. The main advantage of this type of forge is that its easy to find firewood (at least, in most places) in comparison to coal and is significantly cheaper as well. However, in terms of cost, most wood fire forges actually cost similarly to their gas-based counterparts.
I wanted to include wooden forges in this list because you might hear about them occasionally, but there’s a good reason why most blacksmithing blogs aren’t talking about them. There are better forges out there, and unless you’re trying to live like an authentic middle age blacksmith in the countryside, I don’t think there’s much reason to go for these types of forges.
Making your own DIY forge
It’s worth mentioning that some of you might want to build your own forge. Typically, purchasing a forge online can set you back hundreds of dollars for either type. If you’re just starting off, you might not want to pay that much money in the beginning.
Making your own “DIY” forge is definitely possible when it comes to coal forges. If you look online or doing some Googling, you’ll find a number of videos describing how you can make your own basic coal forge with nothing but some dirt, stones, coals, and a brick or two.
Gas forges, on the other hand, really can’t be made from scratch for the average person. When it comes to working with gases like propane, it’s just too dangerous to tinker around with. I generally don’t think its easily possible – nor do I recommend – trying to make your own DIY gas forge.
The best blacksmithing forge is…?
Overall, the question of what’s the best type of blacksmithing forge depends entirely on the type of person you are. If you’re willing to pay some money, I think gas forges are more suitable for beginners as well as intermediate blacksmiths looking to get started. Once you become more experienced and know what you’re doing, I think transitioning to a coal forge makes sense if you specifically need one.
If you want to read more about this subject, I wrote a separate blog post titled What are the Best Blacksmithing Forges for Beginners that covers when specific forges I would recommend if you’re just starting out. I’ll give you a hint, they are all gas forges.