Saturday, March 14, 2009

Flowerpot forge that doesn't work, yet.

Bought a set of three nesting flowerpots at the grocery store after getting the idea from another website to build a forge, or possibly a kiln or even a cupola for metal-casting. This is me pretty much seeing what kind of stuff lying around will more or less fit together. This old saw blade might be converted to a tuyere (pronounced tweer ) with some drilling and maybe removal of teeth--or not. Anyway I stuck it in there as-is just to have something for the charcoal to rest on.

So this is two of the three nesting flowerpots with dirt/rocks in between as filler. At the bottom you can see two firebricks that the pots are resting upon, and a small pipe meant to serve as an air inlet to mount a blower to at a later date (if at all). At this point I was just bored with how slowly the project was coming together and I wanted to see if the small air inlet would draft any air into the firepot without a blower. It didn't. The middle sized pot has not yet been utilized. This is just the largest and smallest put together.

I think if this pipe were larger in diameter and did not make a right angle bend, it might work as a barbecue grill without a blower. But then there's still no easy way to dump the ashes. Blower options range from blow dryer to large bellows which would likely have to be hand built, to cast iron hand cranked blowers made specifically for a forge to electric powered blowers costing about $160 also made specifically for a forge. I considered an electric leaf blower, variable speed, but am really trying to keep costs down and even those cost a bit much for me.

This chimney was laying around ( a discard that some unknown potter made and for some reason threw away ) So I though I'd try it out. Here you can see how large the chimney is and that the inlet pipe is way too small.

I knew it wouldn't work too well, but I had an agenda.

Here's me after having stuck a long pipe into the lit "oven" to see what would happen. It did seem to draw better than the shorter chimney, hard to say. The real problem was the inlet pipe being way too small.

Here was my true agenda revealed: Hot dogs! Let a little air in from the top, add a grill and it works-- actually worse than if I had simply piled charcoal on the ground, but it is more aesthetically pleasing than a pile of charcoal on the ground, plus, it's conveniently several feet above ground level.

After all the excitement (food) I decided to put the chimney back on but prop up the bottom for an air inlet, I threw some old dried up juniper in and it burned pretty well.

So here's my disclaimer: don't play with fire, don't do anything that I did, all this stuff is dangerous and if anything get good advice from somebody who knows what they are doing (not me) when it comes to making stuff.

Some things I learned: Dirt and rocks don't insulate very well at all. I also understand that rocks can have moisture trapped inside (especially river rocks) and if you heat them up they can explode, cause injury and wreak all kinds of havoc. Even though I generated very little heat with a small fire, the outside of the pot eventually became borderline too hot to touch. Flower pots aren't sold to be used as an oven either, and might fail when subjected to high heat. Anyway the whole thing stayed hot for many hours after the fire went out, so even though the R-factor must be pretty low, there is enough thermal mass there to retain heat for a long time. That could come in handy. Nothing cracked or blew up so far.

Per the internet; commercial charcoal briquets, the standard barbecue variety, makes for some pretty lousy fuel to build a forge even if you get everything else right. Around here we are somewhat challenged for electricity also (off the grid), therefore using a blower, even something as simple as a blow-dryer is quite wasteful. I was able to anneal a tiny bit of steel in this after I tipped up the chimney, added some wood etc and then let it cool overnight. So, there are some possibilities. I may utilize all three flower pots, the chimney and a very much enlarged air inlet to see what it will do. I may also bury it in the ground in order to retain more heat over a longer time period. In the meantime I have bought more firebricks and a small propane torch and may follow some general guidelines that I have seen online to make a tiny, primitive forge. Why? Propane doesn't require an additional blower, is instant-on and also instant-off, no ashes to deal with, less likelihood of air born sparks, easier to control the draft and flow of heat. . . maybe less fun than charcoal and bellows but my desire to do archaic things has it's limits.

I'm not the type to make my own higher quality charcoal from wood either but I have seen it recommended. Look for Tim Lively on the internet for some truly helpful info and an available video called "Knife Making Unplugged" and there are many other web-sites I have visited for tips and sometimes watching in horror as people very narrowly escape serious injury while fiddling around with very high temperatures.

I made a knife about ten years ago for my mother, but I didn't forge the blade myself-- far from it: I chose a replacement blade for a pair of garden shears from a garden supply store and was surprised to find how poorly it worked as a knife blade. Oh well, won't make that mistake again.
Here's a casual shot the knife I made. The handle is a "found object" oak stick with some complex curves. It feels good in your hand but has not been used much, it literally hangs on the wall. All this is about me trying to emerge more as an artist. I happen to like functional art, and the photography, writing, and even music has never quite satisfied that part of me. I've built speakers as a professional, and an electric guitar in woodshop when I was in the seventh grade which was my main "axe" for several years and I'd really like to get back to more creative works.

Pencil in the foreground is for scale. The circle near the blade is a drilled-out knot-hole which I then filled with aggregate of wood-chips and epoxy to make a sort of artificial knot with better strength. To the left of that is a copper pin made from copper wire which also helps hold the blade in place. Along the top is some copper inlay and there are several holes drilled near the back which join together inside. A loop of cowhide is laced through and knotted thirteen times, as a lanyard. It is very nearly a sort of peace-pipe, but I don't smoke, nor do I have Native American in my genetic make-up, despite some of my attachment to certain Native American rituals and beleifs, and some personal experiences with nature which also lead me in the direction of nature based spirituality. . .

It's a bit difficult for me to give myself permission to do this kind of work, beleive it or not. I don't know why it should be so hard: my family is full of artists, musicians, and other creative folks. Sometimes it seems like I had to hit-bottom financially in order to give myself permission to do the creative work that I love.


Anonymous said...


Meg Brown's son Ian made her a raku ceramic kiln from an old Weber, propane, and special potter's insulation. I found some web info on usage but not construction. (Sheryl probably has email connection; I still can't get to my Thunderbird profile.)

I enjoy your words and photos.


Anonymous said...

During a camping trip in Austin Creek SP [Armstrong Redwoods CA]
we discovered that a small battery powered air pump [for air mattresses] works wonders as a bellows when the only wood you have is wet oak and dinner is waiting to be made.

What a wonderful discovery!

I thought it might work for your project and it only costs about $15 or maybe less.

Daring to be an artist/creative being is a lot scarier than doing a job for someone else.

Go for it!


Paul Hood said...

Thanks for the suggestions and the encouragement. I'll look around for an air mattress inflator and I think I should shop for refractory cement and coatings as well.