In my opinion, A truly exquisite knife, one you just want to carry on your next adventure, will always have a wood handle. Wood is the traditional substance for a beautiful knife handle, and unless it is planed to be used in the most extreme survival conditions, for lengths of time almost humanly unbearable, a wood handle will always perform wonderfully. And nothing really can compare to wood for adding beauty to your knife.

So with that after some time making knives, I decided to add stabilizing to my list of “do-it-yourself” knife chores. I sat down and decided on this vacuum pump, and the 6×14″ JuiceProof Chamber from turntex.com. My first order at turntex looked like this

And with shipping the turntex order came to slightly less than $400. Plus of course the cost of the pump from Amazon making it a fairly substantial investment.

Now I like to make anything I can myself. This is a hobby, and I do it for fun. I had just cut a lot of spalted beech, so I already had a lot of nice potential blanks available. Was the investment worth it? Only time will tell.

 So my first mistake was miscalculating how much cactus juice I would need. So, my first bit of advice, leave all dye off your first order. Start with wood stabilizing. It will save you some grief, unless you’re going to make everything one color and leave the natural for later. It wouldn’t be my first suggestion, but there may be a reason for a certain color.

 After some testing, I’ve determined that the equivalence of 12 knife scales (so maybe 6 scales and 3 blocks that may be hidden tang handles and may be split into scales) takes approximately 1/3 of a gallon. So right off, at close to $100 a gallon shipped, that’s still more than I expected, but not terrible.

But wait! Stop and think about what you just read. I used 1/3 of a gallon for 6 knives. So, once the next batch goes in I am stretching the limit of being able to keep the batch completely covered during processing. So after 12 knives (if you make it) you need to buy another gallon of juice to really get the total of 18 knives out of the first gallon.

And we haven’t even started talking about color. Think about it. Once you add dye to your juice, it’s always that color. So if I want to do a batch of red, I need another gallon. That gallon will get me 12 knives until I buy yet another gallon and some more dye.

Talk about a rabbit hole!

And should we talk about multi colors? It seems pretty easy but hit YouTube for advice. The first 6 videos will give you six different opinions on the best way. Do you vacuum the first color or just let it soak? If you just let it soak how far does it go? Do you cook between (you better unless you want some black juice) or do you soak twice then cook? What I’ve found is it really depends on your wood. For instance, setting that spalted beech in 1/3 soaking will soak up most of the way. Do the same with good solid oak and not so much. So, the only real way to know is try it. The good news is, almost anything you do, once on a knife and finished to perfection, will look fantastic to someone’s taste. It’s still wood after all.

My advice, if you’re headed down this rabbit hole, would be to start with a single color. A nice grained wood with a single dye looks great and will get you started. Using that one color is still going to set you back over $100 if you plan any good size batches.

Two Stabilized Beech handles. One dyed red, one natural.

I have found ways to stretch this a little further by using smaller containers to vacuum in. This takes less juice, but with fewer pieces. I also keep some cleaned up pieces of metal I can add to just take up space. There is often empty space (especially in round containers) that requires more juice. Filling this space allows you to stretch your juice.

Also doing smaller batches mean you may not need the “next” gallon quite as quick. But then your using your equipment to process enough for two or four knives. It’s a trade off and a practice I’ve employed from time to time.

Drying is a must if you’re going to stabilize. And drying to zero percent, so you’ll need to cook it. I’ve found the best way is use my toaster oven that I use for heat treating but be careful. The advice on turntex is to set your oven to about 200 degrees and cook for 24 hours. Well…….did I say….”BE CAREFUL”? I set a batch on fire. I suppose that advice is for bowl turning blocks, but it doesn’t specify. Luckily, I was in the shop and caught it before anything bad happened. Now I refuse to leave the wood cooking more than 30 minutes when I’m not on the shop.

Turning the oven off before it’s fully dry means playing catchup the next day (moisture seeps back in overnight) but it’s better than burning the shop down. I’ve also unloaded the oven and sealed the wood in an airtight container. It’s a bit of a hassle, but again, better than burning down the shop.

I start a batch and take the largest piece. I weight it on this scale, and check it every 30-60 minutes. Once it stops losing weight, I let it cook for another 30 minutes and call it done. I’ve found for knife block size pieces most will be dry in 12-14 hours.

If all this sounds like a marketing strategy to get you to buy my stabilized wood instead of stabilizing your own, your damn right! And I wish someone had prompted me to dig deeper. The information out there is really really vague. To be honest, as much fun as it is, I would have most likely held off had I known the full scope. The investment is way to close to a heat-treating oven on my want list.

My basic set up. Note the container inside the tube.
Spalted Beech that has been stabilized

My Journey into Blacksmithing & Bladesmithing


post any questions or comments on the forum

I made my first knife when I was a young teenager. So that would put it about 50 years ago now. Back then we didn’t have internet, or Google, or YouTube, so information was much harder to come by.

The knife was stock removal (although i didn’t know what that was back then) from a piece of leaf spring. I used an old angle grinder. I somehow knew I had to heat treat it, but I had no idea what that meant.

I remember I made two knives. They looked a little like  Bowie knives and I went around the farm bouncing them off trees and stumps and whatever else I could find to throw them at. I’m not sure they ever stuck in anything. They were not at all balanced.

Today, with all the abilities to gather information, it’s easier to take up and learn different techniques and processes.

I’m not sure what sparked the resurgence of my desire to form metal into things shaped like axes and knives, but I’ll share the journey. If you, learning from my mistakes, makes your journey better, I’ve done my job.

I tend to like to make tools I use if possible. And that’s an attribute of most blacksmiths. Now I get I can’t really call myself a blacksmith or a bladesmith, but I’m certainly undertaking some of the activities of one. That’s what this is about. Learning. Never stop learning.

Most of use can’t just go out and buy a new shop when a mood strikes, so we learn to use what’s available. That was my approach when this started.

I had bought an anvil a few years ago from Tim Bailey. As usual, Tim gave me a good price, and since it was something I’ve wanted since build that first knife 50 years ago, it came home with me.

The first thing I did was built a stand from an old stump. You’ll note a blacksmith vise in the photo as well. That was a flea market find from a few years ago as well. At $35 I couldn’t leave it behind. You will want some kind of vise, but a leg vise like this isn’t a requirement. I tend to use my bench vise more, but if your beating hard on hot metal, the leg vise is constructed to take a little more punishment. For now, even a few clamps will probably do you.

Don’t think you’ll need either of these for your start. You really don’t need an anvil to make knives, but you will if you plan to forge knives. But even then, almost any heavy solid chunk of flat steel will work. A chunk of railroad track is an often used anvil replacement.

You can easily start your journey with stock removal. Stock removal is simply taking a piece of metal and cutting and grinding away to shape your piece. Many bladesmiths never forge, they make all of their knives with this method.

In this stage of my journey, I do both. Some of my knives are stock removal, and some are forged. My journey will include blacksmithing and bladesmithing, so both makes sense.

In line with using what I had, I started my stock removal using a belt sander. I made a stand for it. This worked and to be honest if I had taken the time to build some jigs, it would have worked much better.

Belt grinder in a DIY Stand

My next step to improve this was to build this 2″ x 72″ grinder. This of course made a huge difference, but it’s definitely not a requirement. Use what you have or what you have access to to start.

I made my fist knives out of found metal. An old file, or a piece of leaf spring. But the first really decent knife was from a brand new piece of 1080 high carbon steel. My recommendation is start with a few pieces of known steel.

One of my first Knives

Choosing Stock

I chose 1080 because after some extensive research I found that 1080 is a long standing standard for making knives. It makes exceptional knives, is somewhat forgiving in heat treatment, and of the good steels to work with, it’s one of the easier metals to work with and find. It’s also reasonably priced.

Heat treatment

Next I needed a way to heat treat my knife. I decided since I’d also like to forge, I needed a forge. Your basic choices are coal or propane. I currently have both. If you’d rather not have a forge at this point, you can either find someone to heat treat them for you, or send the blades to be done. Many bladesmiths offer this service.

My Propane forge build is here

Other forge links

I don’t use the coal forge much. I can’t find a local source for blacksmith coal, and the home heating coal at Tractor Supply is a pain to use in my opinion. It works, and I plan to continue to use it from time to time, but I find the propane much more convenient for what I am currently doing.

I chose to build my propane forge to save some budget. There are two things I’d change if I had to do it over. First, I would have just bought my burners from Zinger……… and I wouldn’t have put a second burner on. I almost never turn the second one on. It wasn’t necessary. By the time I bought all the little parts, the savings compared to just buying the burner didn’t make sense.

Please join in the bladesmith conversation on the forum

The Oldest American Black smith. 

Reprint from “The American Blacksmith” 1901 

 In response to the request made by The American Blacksmith for the name of the oldest blacksmith in America, a large number of names of aged and very interesting smiths was received. The result was surely most astonishing, for in the brief space during which the offer remained open we have been sent the names of three smiths over ninety years of age, twenty two over eighty, and a baker’s fifty more than seventy years of age, all still working at the anvil. This showing is a most gratifying one, as it seems to say most unmistakably that the grand old craft in its individual members is hale, hearty and healthful as of old. Answers came from every part of the country, so that we believe we have obtained the name of the oldest smith in America. The honor of being America’s oldest blacksmith belongs therefore to Mr. Samuel Brock, of Falmouth, Grant County, Kentucky, ninety-four years of age, whose photograph is reproduced on this page for the benefit of our readers. The name was sent in by Mr. W. D. Lemmon, of Falmouth, Kentucky. The following taken from the Williamstown (Ky.), Courier is of interest :

“S. Brock has been putting on horse shoes for seventy-six years. He will be ninety-five years old on the 26th day of October next. He was born in Virginia, October 26th, 1807, and migrated to Kentucky, August 26th, 1840. Mr. Brock has been married three times, and has raised a family of sixteen children, eight of whom are dead. He is a Democrat in politics. His father died at the extreme old age of 113 years, and his mother died at almost as great an age, 106. Mr. Brock is a blacksmith by trade, and is yet able, as he says, to put a shoe on a mule. He lives seventeen miles from town and rides or drives to town alone.He is a conspicuous figure in Grant County history on account of his extreme old age.”


Mr. Joe Bragg Turner, of Warsaw, N. Y., and Mr. Hyatt of Lake Charles, Iowa, are each ninety-two years old, but not knowing the months of birth, we are unable to say which is older. In addition to

a few notes regarding these two smiths, we show a most interesting photograph of Joe Bragg, well bearing out the description of the old gentleman. Following the mention of these two smiths are given brief details of all we have heard from, who have journeyed along life’s pathway for more than three-quarters of a century.


 Joe (Bragg) Turner was born in 1810, being now ninety-two years of age. At an early age he was bound out to a blacksmith to learn the trade, which in those days meant a seven-years apprenticeship. His aptitude for the business made him a good workman, and for seventy years he has worked at his

trade, sixty-five of which have been in the county of Wyoming, and forty in the village of Warsaw. He is better known in this section as “Joe Bragg,” than by his legitimate cognomen, from the fact that he is always bragging of his work, and claims that he is the best steel worker in the county, if not in

Western New York. He is to-day as agile as a man of sixty, and per forms his daily duties regularly. He claims to be the oldest working blacksmith in the State, and up to this time his claim has not been disputed. The photograph is by Salisbury, and we are indebted to Richards and Sullivan of Warsaw, N. Y., for the details.


“Mr. Hyatt was in town Monday. He has resigned his position as black smith for the Industrial Lumber Company. Mr. Hyatt is ninety-two years old and his occupation, that of black smith, is an indication of his physical condition, says the Vinton Herald. He does not use glasses even to read, and

is certainly the strongest and brightest specimen of manhood nearing the century mark with whom the Vinton folks have ever come in contact.” 

Thomas Downs, Patesville, Ky., born June 16th, 1814, is almost eighty-eight years old. He still works at his trade and runs a grist mill two days each week. The mill is one and one-half miles from his residence. He has lived in the same place fifty-eight years, and is prominent in church matters. 

William Tubbs, 271 Washington Street, Norwich, Conn., aged eighty-five, was born in Lisbon, Conn., September 10th, 1816. He has been sixty nine years at the trade and is still working at the anvil. His specialty is iron work for large buildings, and a cushioned axle hand freight truck of his own patent. His name was received from E. A. Spaulding, one of the forty who learned their trade from him. 

W. H. Richards, Monongahela, Pa., eight-five years old, was born October 8th, 1816, and is still working at his trade and is very active for his age. Walter Stickney, Meriden, Conn., will be eighty-five years old on the 16th of November, 1902. He has worked at blacksmithing for years, and is actively working at the forge and anvil to this day.

John Staley was born at Millbrook, on May 10th, 1817. At the age of fifteen he went to Blairstown as an apprentice in the shop of Robert Bonnell, coming to Stillwater township six years later, in which township he still resides, and has worked at the anvil continuously ever since. He has never been sick, nor has he worn glasses at any time. His early life being spent where the log schoolhouse seemed tO be all that was required, and obliged to support himself at an early age, his education was therefore necessarily limited, in consequence of which the memory became more acute, and his work to be put on account was therefore stored in memory for days at a time, or until some kind friends would do the charging, and it was a rare thing when the smallest of items was forgotten.

Albert Avery, Hartwick, Otsego Co., N. Y., eighty-four years old, is still working at his trade of shoeing horses. He commenced at the age of nineteen and has always lived at Hartwick. 

Daniel Gorman, Lima, Ohio, eighty four years of age, was born in Ireland, coming to this country in 1859. He is always at his place in the blacksmith shop of the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Railway Company, and has not lost thirty days time on account of ill health in the past ten years, all told. Mr. Gorman may not be the oldest man in the craft now in active service, but is getting along in years. 

Daniel Bid well, Cute, Tenn., born September 5th, 1818, is eighty-three years of age. He went through the Civil War, going to the front with his company, and doing blacksmithing in the army at times when there was no fighting going on.

John S. Edwards, Leeds, Greene County, N. Y., eighty-two years old, is still working in his shop and doing a good business. 

Nathan Moseley, Limestone, Tenn., born at Huntsville, Ala., May 7th, 1821, is eighty-two years old and still works at the anvil to this day. 

Frank Miller, Potosi, Mo., eighty one years old, works at the forge every day.

Stephen H. Abies, Esperence, N. Y., eighty years old, is working every day at his trade. 

L. D. Krum, Krums Corners, N. Y., is eighty years old and has run a shop at one place for fifty-three years. He started at the age of nineteen. Mr. Krum has in his shop a foot power trip hammer, which has always been quite a curiosity, and many a student of Cornell has stopped to see the old gentle man work with his feet, as well as with his hands. Now for fifty-seven years his hammer and anvil have rung out their work notes every morning, but his work with them will soon be over.

S. D. Bolander, Allentown, Ohio, is eighty years of age. Thomas Davey, 23rd and Callowhill Streets, Philadelphia, Pa., is eighty years old and still working hard at the anvil.

G. W. M. Drake, Monticello, Minn., is eighty years old, and one of the best blacksmiths in the State of Minnesota.

H. W. Dodge, Stromness, Ontario, Canada, eighty years old, can shoe horses as well as he could Twenty years ago.

James E. Marcum, Troy, Kansas, is eighty years old. He works at his trade every day at most all kinds of work, and has ever since the first part of 1836. He was born April 10, 1822, and was in the mexican War, fifty-five years ago. Still an active smith.

John S. Baichtal, Sac City, Iowa, was born July 18th, 1822, and is seventy nine years old. Charles Johnson, West Point, Pa., seventy-nine years of age, is working at horseshoeing at the present time.

Robert McKell, Spanish Fork, Utah, seventy-nine years of age, still works at the blacksmith trade.

John Brocht, Mastersonville, Pa., seventy-eight years old, is still working at the forge.

William Crater, Glen Gardner, N. J., was born February 9th, 1824, is seventy eight years old.

James Kane of Oshkosh, Wis., seventy-eight years old, whose portrait is given above, is a blacksmith with a record of sixty-three years continuous service at the anvil. He was born in Inniskerry, Ireland, February 14th, 1824. At the age of fifteen he began work with the village smithy, serving seven years as an apprentice, and four as a journeyman. His work was horseshoeing and general blacksmithing. After eleven years in his native town, he removed to Boston, Mass., and then to Oshkosh in 1856. Here he established himself to remain, and for forty-six years has worked at his chosen trade. endowed with a strong constitution and temperate in his habits, his sterling integrity and native honesty has made him comfortably wealthy and won for him good friends. Still he continues to work at his anvil, and attributes his excellent health at the age of seventy to hard work and plenty of sleep. While his earlier working years were confined to horseshoeing, at which he is a master, and which still forms the greater part of his business, his work of late years has been somewhat diversified, and general repairing is carried on. Mr. Kane says to-day that he feels good for ten years more of active work.

William Higgins, Salisbury Mills, N. Y., seventy-eight years old, has worked in one place forty-five years. Isaac Schohe, Mastersonville, Pa., seventy-eight years of age, is still working at the forge. 

Lawrence M. Vanbuskirk, Grimsby, Ontario, Canada, seventy-eight years old, still works at the forge in the shop where he has worked forty years. 

Adam Barboe, Burnt Prairie, 111., is seventy-seven years old. Stephen Miller, Wallbridge, Ontario, Canada, seventy-six years old, has worked at the trade for sixty years.

Melchior Smith, Reading, Pa., seventy-six years old, is employed by the Greth Machine Works in Reading.

W. W. Bryant, Petersburg, 111., was born on March 4th, 1827. 

Charles Waugh, Hillsdale, Ontario, Canada, is seventy-five years old. 

“My name is Tobias Zophee. I was born in City Spwander, Court DeGlaris, Switzerland, May 17th, 1827. Began my trade at thirteen years old, and struck for my father when I had to stand on a box to reach the anvil. I came to Courtland, Ala., in 1869. I worked at my trade for General Joseph Wheeler in 1870. I am five feet, six inches high, and weigh one hundred and forty-three pounds. l am seventy five years old, and have not a gray hair in my head. I am active, work at my trade every day, and* can do any work that any other blacksmith can. I am the father of fourteen children, am now a widower and in search of a handsome rich widow. If The Blacksmith would aid me in finding this one desire of my heart you would very greatLy oblige. Tobias Zophee.”

Tempering is described as improving the hardness and elasticity of (steel or other metal) by reheating and then cooling it.

For the 108X and 1095 metals, I do 2 cycles at 425 degrees for 2 hours each. When I started, I did 3 cycles, but after some testing, I think the twice is fine. At the end of two hours (I set the timer on my phone, so I don’t forget) I just turn the oven off and let everything cool back to room temperature after each cycle. What is most important is that the blade get below 100F after any temper cycle.

The Time and number of cycles does not affect the hardness as much as temperature. The important factor is temperature. The number of cycles does not affect it nearly as much as temperature as well. If you temper two times at 400 and put it in a 3rd time, the third temper will drop it again, but the amount will be small enough that for most practical purposes it can be ignored.

If you forget and leave it in temper for 6 hours instead of one, that will also drop it, but again for most practical purposes it can be ignored.

Two – one-hour tempers or three two hours tempers will yield different hardness, but the difference will most likely only be one point (which is in of itself is a normal variation from piece to piece and hardness tester to hardness tester)

To affect tempering, the piece must be above approximately 300 degrees, so light heating will not affect it.

More on tempering in the heat treating post

Adding the Knife handle — Option 1

Now let’s add a handle to our full tang knife. I have two basic techniques that I’ve tried. I still use both from time to time. I’ll describe both and let you decide if you’d like to try both as well.

In both options I epoxy any laminated woods first. So a wood scale with two types of wood laminated is done ahead of time. This just simplifies the glueing.

I also like to use slower setting epoxy. It give a little bit more time to get things right.

I also tape off the blade. I do this for two reasons. First, it helps with cleanup (use the blue painters masking tape) and second it protects your fingers from the sharp edges.

Use a knife to cut the tape to the profile of the scales under the front.

Option 1

Mark out the scales by tracing the knife handle. Be sure you make a right and left side. There’s not much that’s more annoying then cutting out two blanks for the same side of the knife. With just a pure single species wood scale it may not matter, but I still like to ensure the nicest grain is out. Make the cut a little bigger than the knife. You will grind the excess off later.

One of the scale cut to size

I cut mine out on a bandsaw, but a coping saw, Jewelers saw or even a hacksaw will work in a pinch.

Set the scale on the knife. Make sure the front bolster side of the scale is a little long. We’ll be sanding it to size latter.

Here you need to hold the scale for drilling. You can hand hold it or clamp it. At this point it doesn’t need to be exact, but make sure the scale has not slide past the edge.

Next I drill the first hole. Slide a temporary pin into the hole to be sure it stays aligned. (The temporary pins can be the pins you plan to use, but at this point the placement is temporary)

Drill the second hole. Add another pin. Continue until all holes are drilled. (If you’ve drilled additional balance holes, be sure you don’t drill those)

Drilling the second hole
Drilling the third hole

Now push the pins so they’re flush on the second scale side. Remove one pin and hold the second scale in place and even with the first scale. (Again, this doesn’t have to be exact, as long as you don’t slide past the point of not having enough to grind even)

Drilling through the first scale into the second

Drill the first hole. (It doesn’t matter which hole you start with) Now reinsert the pin.

Remove another pin and drill the hole, making sure the scale is still aligned. (Using a small clamp will sometimes help) Drill the hole and reinsert the pin.

Drilling the second hole straight through

Repeat for all of the pins.

Now remove the scales from the knife and hold them together. Reinsert the pins in the holes. (without the knife). If you plan to use spacers, add them to the center. I drill the holes for the spacers using the same technique.

Check your fit often

Now grind the front of the scales. You will typically put a taper at the front, but this depends on the design. You want to completely sand this front portion so it does not require any sanding after installation. Sanding here without hitting the blade is next to impossible.

I’m finishing the front of the scales by hand sanding

Once this is completed, get everything ready for installation.

If you haven’t done so already, get your pins ready and make sure they fit properly. One of the mistakes I made in my first few knives was not tapering the ends of the pins enough and it caused some blow out driving them through. A little longer with a nice taper fixes that.

I cut the pins with a hack saw
I taper the pins to help prevent tear out
Cleaning the pins
Final fit test
Cut the tape to fit the scale
Lay every thing out and make sure it’s ready. Wipe everything down with rubbing alcohol or mineral spirits

Now mix your epoxy and coat each piece, one at a time as you set them together. Do one side, then insert two pins, then the other side. The first side you’ll be sliding the pins into the scales, the second side you’ll be sliding the scales onto the two pins. Leaving them protruding just enough for the scales to line up, not completely through yet.

Once the scale are lines up and in place, drive the pins into place, then coat the remaining pins and set them as well.

Now clamp the handle. You don’t want the clamps so tight that it squeezes all the epoxy out, but make sure the scale (and spacers if you’re using them) are tight, even and properly set.

Using a damp rag or paper towel with rubbing alcohol (acetone or mineral spirits work as well) wipe off any epoxy the spit out the front. The front part (bolster side) is all you need to worry about. You don’t want the rag wet enough that you pull or dilute the epoxy under the scales, so less is more.

Now let it set overnight.

Next you’ll be shaping the handle. This can be done with the belt grinder, rasp, files or any combination of these. I typically cut the pins off with a hack saw first.

If you’re using a grinder, keep in mind epoxy is heat sensitive, so you don’t want to get the handle to hot. When it gets warm to the touch, stop and let it cool or switch to hand tools.

I typically hand sand my wood scales to 2000 grit, then hand rub an oil finish. Wet sanding about every third or fourth coat will give a nice smooth finish. Us fine wet dry paper. I use 320 first, then 2000 grit.

How many coats are up to you. Coat until your happy with the results. I typically do somewhere between 4 and 10 coats.

That’s one way. Next we’ll talk about another option.


Blade was a recycled file 4 1/2”

I used conditioning belts on this knife. They work great.

Because this antler was put on with the base end first, it required a little different technique. It seems the base is bone and is harder. It did not soften like a cut end that exposes the softer insides. To get around this I drilled a hole then slightly widen it to be about the width of the tang. I drilled with a drill bit the approximate width and used a Dremel with a cutter to widen it.

I then boiled it again. This time for about 15 minutes.

I also had this antler soaking in water for several days before I was going to install it.


Two things prompted me to get a different quench tank. First, I discovered that it was better to heat the oil by heating the tank instead of dropping a piece of hot steal in it. The oil doesn’t break down as fast. To be honest, I didn’t even think about the oil breaking down.

I plan to add a block heater to the quench tank but for now I’m just sitting a torch beside it until it hits a little over 120 degrees.

And the second reason was I was starting to think about making longer knives.

It only takes a couple minutes with the torch to heat the oil to approximately 130 degrees.

Here is my journey building my propane forge. I’m not looking at this as a coal forge replacement,  but an addition to my blacksmithing tool set.
This forge is a compilation of watching a whole bunch of YouTube videos, reading blogs and websites. You don’t typically find two the same, so it seems it’s best to pick a design and go with it.


zoellerforge.com was especially helpful and I wound up ordering everything I couldn’t find local from there.
Here is a list of what I used:
A 7 gallon  air tank (an old tank that’s been around forever)
For the burners
(2) 3/4″ black iron pipe tee
(2) 3/4″ x 8″ black iron pipe
(2) 3/4″ to 1″ adapter (this is because I couldn’t find a 3/4″ x 1 1/4″ adapter)
(2) 1″ to 1 1/4″ adapter (flare)
(2) 1/4″ plug (drilled and tapped with 1/4″ x 28 for nozzle)
(2) .035 nozzle for mig welder.
(2) The ball valve came with the connection kit from Zoeller Forge
Here was what I bought from Zoeller Forge (for 2 burners)
(1) Two burner connection kit
(4) 9″ x 4 1/2″ x 3/4″  3000°F heavy duty fire bricks  (2 extra for when I use flux to forge weld)
(2) 2 1/2″ x 9″ x 4 1/2″  2600°F insulated firebricks
4 lbs Plistix 900F
(2 each) Propane Quick Disconnect and Coupler
(4 running feet) 1″  8# density 2300°F Durablanket 24″ wide
Building the burner.
This was pretty simple once I figured it out. I drilled a 1/2″ hole in the top of the tee. With just a little filling, the plug fit through the hole. Next time I think I will tap it for the plug.
I drilled and tapped the plug 1/4″ x 28 to accept the .035 nozzle. The plug fits through the hole and the ball valve threads on it to hole it in place nice and tight.
The propane connections added per Larry’s instructions.
Building the forge body
I cut the front of the tank off following the original weld line. This is just to facilitate the ability to work inside it. This cut was made with a 4 1/2″ grinder with a cut off wheel.
I used a 2″ hole saw to cut the holes for the burners.  You can obviously use a different technique  like drilling a series of holes around and knocking it out and grinding or filing it round.
The black pipe adapters were welded to the tank
I just made a few brackets to bolt the front back on.
I have seen a few designs where the door was hinged. The front opening on mine isn’t much smaller than the size of the box, so I didn’t see an advantage
I made the back opening the size of the insulated fire brick. This allows me to slide the brick in to reduce the box size and use a single burner.
The shelves on the front and back are just 1/8″ plate steel.
The front opening  is also the height of the firebrick, but wider. I can use the brick as a door to  close down the opening when appropriate.



Here is the back view. The firebrick is just closing the door. This allows me to slide the brick in to reduce the box size and use a single burner.


The firebrick can be slid to open or close the front opening


Here is the 3/4″ to 1″ adapter (this is because I couldn’t find a 3/4″ x 1 1/4″ adapter) then the 1″ to 1 1/4″ adapter to create the flare





A simple bracket to hold the front back on. The tank is threaded to accept the 1/4″ x 20 bolts cut to length.


I had trouble getting one burner to work correctly. It wound up being the nozzle was partially plugged. After figuring it out, I replaced the nozzle and everything was good.



This is my make shift back yard red neck coal burning forge. What a learning experience this has been.
This is an old wood stove that was in my shop. I used it to heat the shop for a couple years but it was was bit worn out. The fire box leaks and it’s warped bad. The doors no longer shut right and I replaced it with a better stove several years ago. It actually sat in my shop, thinking someday I’d make a forge out of it.
I gave it away 3 or 4 times but nobody ever came to pick it up. Finally i stripped the outer sheet metal shell and started to convert.
While in Tractor Supply I grabbed a bag of Nut coal. The smart thing to do would have been to do a little research first, but I was there and they had two choices, rice coal or nut coal. It seems i picked wrong.
My first attempt was to just light a fire on top. I’ve never burnt coal before so I just assumed it was similar to wood…….NOPE.

Coal Forge 01

This attempted failed and failed again. I think I used a half a tank of propane, then a half a tank of mapp gas trying to get it going.

Coal Forge 02

A bit of advice i picked up after the fact:You have to make sure you have the right kind of coal. You need bituminous and most coal sold at tractor supply is anthracite,( it too hard) it’s meant for heating homes, blacksmithing coal is softer and needs less oxygen, and for the best results if you can try and get the air to come up from underneath the fire.”


Doing a little research on the subject I thought this read was very helpful, https://www.sustainlife.org/coal-for-blacksmithing/

Coal Forge 03

My only goal for this fine Saturday morning was to turn this bolt into a coat hook. Seemed simple enough, right?

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I found this bolt on an early morning walk in the middle of a partly dirt, partly black top road. A quick session on the wire wheel and it looked a little better.

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Others say the rice coal Tractor Supply burns a little better. (I’ll let you know in future post)

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Many attempts to light this failed. Even scrapping the whole thing and starting wood fire first failed. After a quick google search I found that one of the complaint of Nut Coal is it’s very hard to get burning. I probably should have done that research first.

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So scraping the idea of a small fire on top I turned to the inside. I started a bit bigger wood fire and added some coal.

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So now it seems to actually be working. The rigging I had for the air underneath didn’t do anything, so a new plan emerged.
This is a heat gun. I really didn’t dare borrow  my wife’s hair dryer and I assumed this would work. And it did for a while.

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But problems prevailed. I just couldn’t keep the fire going. I eventually gave up and grabbed the propane forge to finish the coat hook. Not a master piece, but once hung, it will hold a coat.

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But tomorrow will prove to be a little better. Look for the next installment when I talk about making my first partially forged adze. I did manage to make this set up work (well sorta)
And thanks to my friends at Blacksmith for Beginners  I see this in my future.

Coal Forge 014

I’ve heard a rotor from a car and a mower deck works for this setup. Off to find some junk!!



After my initial design and a few days of forging I decided it was time to make some major changes to the forge.

I’ve left images of several iterations I went through before landing on this final configuration. It was truly a learning experience. I put the forge on wheels so I can wheel it outdoors. My anvil is close to an overhead door, so the coal forge can be outside. When I’m done forging, I just shut the air down, separate the coal, let it cool for just a few minutes and wheel it inside.

I like it better than the propane forge that cost almost 10 times as much and took a bunch more work to build. The propane is noisier, and try making a dinner bell in it! All in all however, I’m glad I now have both. If I get the urge to forge in bad weather I can use propane.

My only supply of coal I can find local is Tractor Supply. They have Nut coal and Rice coal. I started with the Nut Coal. It was near impossible to get started and keep burning. I tried the Rice Coal and that was much better. In trying to just use up the bag of Nut Coal I found that mixing the two worked best. Both of these coals are anthracite coal. I hope to find Bituminous coal, which is softer and works much better (so I’ve heard).

Coal Forge 1

Coal Forge 2

My air flow is a broken vacuum cleaner. I removed all the unwanted parts from it and cobbed up an air hose. I do want to find a way to regulate the air flow.

The bottom of this forge is actually the top of the wood stove turned upside down. It just makes up the stand for the fire box section.

So here is a few things I’ve learned.

  • The sides should be just high enough to stop the coal from falling off. If its to high it makes it hard to get the piece in the hot spot. The lower the sides, the more convenient it will be. If a table top was big enough to not need and side, that would be awesome.
  • You don’t want the firebox to deep. I always wondered why some of the commercial made forges didn’t have a firebox at all. No firebox will work far better than a firebox to deep.
  • How big the forge is isn’t of great importance,  you typically only work about 6″ or so of heated metal at a time. Support outside the forge can be helpful to help hold longer pieces however.
  • Bituminous coal is blacksmith coal.
  • If you are going to put a coal forge inside, think of it like a hood over a cook stove, not a chimney on a wood stove.
  • I didn’t believe you could burn metal quicker in a coal forge than a propane forge. Believe it!

Coal Forge 4

I ordered some 2″ black pipe fitting to get the air from under the fire. Getting the air under the fire seems to be the best way to go.

Coal Forge 5

Here is all you need.

  • 2″ Black Cap
  • 2″ Black Floor Flange
  • 2″ x 2-1/2″ Black Nipple
  • 2″ x 4″ Black Nipple
  • 2″ x 5″ Black Nipple
  • 2″ Black Cast Iron Steam Tee

Think of how you will connect your air. You may want the side intake longer. I also reduced mine with a shop vac end.

I forgot to order the floor drain so I wound up making the screen section to keep the coal from falling down into the pipe.

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Here are some of the “Not so good” ideas……….

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To say this didn’t really work very well was a bit of an understatement. I still wanted to use this old wood stove, if for no other reason than pure stubbornness, but I also felt if modified correctly, it could work out well.

Coal Forge 6

Next was to find a rotor. The best way to go about a forge is to have a fire basket. And I soon learned bigger isn’t necessarily better. This truck rotor is actually a little to big based on most opinions I’ve heard, but not really by much. I believe it would have worked, but I found one a little shallower and I went with that one.

The larger deeper rotor would have burnt more coal to get the fire high enough to use.

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Here is the one I ended up using.

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I started the transition by cutting the opening in the front. This was more or less a design on the fly kind of project, which is typically what my projects are anyhow. It wasn’t a good design for a forge. A fireplace maybe, but not a forge.

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So lots of things wrong with this original design. But doing it all wrong taught me why what I ended with was right. Low sides, High fire hot spot, and lots of air.

And the first real projects from the finished product. Dinner Bells made from some 100 year old rod.

Hand Forged Dinner Bell