This post was written by Ross Berry, our resident blacksmith and shows you how to make your own forge. Thanks Ross.
If you’ve ever wanted to be able to make some of your own bushcraft kit, such as knives and traditional fire steels, but thought that building a forge was out of your budget or skill set, then here is an easy way to build one either in the woods or in your garden. In this article I’ll show you how to make your own woodland pit forge using only some flexible hose, clay and an old 12v bilge pump all for about £30 and some ingenuity.
Dig a rectangular hole about 50cm long and 30cm wide by around 15cm deep. You want to check the soil to make sure that there aren’t any stones that might explode. If you do have soil that is, for instance, flinty, dig the hole bigger and line it with sand.
To make the whole forging process easier you’ll need to make a ‘tue iron’. A ‘tue iron’ is a device to accelerate the flow of air into the forge; the term itself is from Kent and is a corruption of the French ‘tuyere’. I’ve used about a meter of 40mm flexible hose and laid it into the hole about a third of the way in, although you could just as easily use some steel pipe.
I dug some clay out of the back garden and took it to the woods (it’s mostly chalk where our camp is on the Kent Downs), although you can buy it from the garden centre. Again, make sure there are no stones in it. I used the clay to construct the back plate as shown in the photo. At this point you need to wet the flexible hose and push it forward about 10cm.
Make sure that you mould the clay all around the flexible hose until it is about 100mm depth all the way around. You’ll need to keep wetting the clay to mould it around.
Build up the back plate until it’s another 10 or 15cm high. Now pull the flexible hose back 10cm so that it is in its original position. This is so that it doesn’t melt when the forge is in use.
You could use bellows, but it isn’t easy on your own, and even if you have someone helping out it gets tiring. So I‘ve used a 12v bilge extractor from a boat that cost £15 online. I’ve added a rheostat to adjust the airflow. You can find them in amps, or even toasters, but failing that you can buy them for a few pounds. I made a cone from some scrap aluminium to join the blower to the flexible hose. The whole thing can be connected to a 12v battery which in turn can be charged from a solar panel, although a decent solar panel alone should power the forge.
I use charcoal in the forge. After I’d built the pit forge I lit a small quantity of charcoal so that the clay didn’t dry too quickly and crack.
The forge has been in the woods at our ancient woodland camp in Kent for 6 months now and regularly used on our courses, as demonstrated here by Vicky as she made a knife recently. Since making the forge I’ve repaired a small crack, but otherwise it has been remarkably resilient and very effective.
Ross works with us on our Blacksmithing, Bodging & Bushcraft and Nordic Crafts courses. We’ve got dozens of photos from these courses on our Facebook page. You can see some of his other work on his website at Kaos Blacksmiths.