Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Tradeoffs of Using Propane or Coal Forges

The main advantage I have found with using propane is that your pieces don't burn up.  If you leave a piece in a coal forge for too long there is a risk it will burn up (literally disintegrate and/or fall off), which stinks after you have time invested in a piece.  That said, fire management is good skill to know and it is fun to use coal if you are a fire bug like most of us blacksmiths are. 

In terms of overall productivity, however, propane is way better because it lights in an instant (no kindling, fussing, clinkers, etc) and your pieces can stay in the fire for long periods without burning up (essential if you are like me and get distracted all the time), so a larger percentage of the time you have available can be spent actually forging rather than futzing with the fire.  Its really a personal choice though and everyone is different.  Some guys will only use coal and the opposite is also true and everyone has their own set of reasons.

I would think in most cases, propane would work well for beginners because you have less to worry about.  Having to manage a fire AND worry about not buring yourself AND also trying to hit the piece while its hot AND trying to make contact in a place and that will actually move metal where you want it to is plenty to think about. 

You can always try a coal fire at any time, so there is no hurry to learn that, especially if you have access to a propane forge already.  Most guys start with coal because they don't have a propane forge yet and the cost to entry is less.  If you are in a neighborhood, though, propane is the only way to go because there is no smoke to disturb the neighbors.

Hope this helps.

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