Ray Rogers Handcrafted Knives
How To Light A Forge
Since many of you reading this are building your first forge I thought it might be a good idea to discuss some safe ways to light one. A properly handled forge is as safe as any other tool but we all know that propane can slap you down pretty hard if you aren't careful.
If the forge isn't too large and if you can get an ordinary propane torch close to the burner without putting your hand or the torch's propane bottle inside the forge then you may find it convenient to use a propane torch as a stater for the forge. They key to safely lighting a forge is to have the ignition source as close to the burner opening as possible so that the gas ignites as soon as it comes out of the nozzle and doesn't have time to build up in the forge chamber. If you use a torch, then simply use it the same way I use my 'cigar' in the instructions that follow.
To start with, I take a piece of ordinary typing paper and twist it into a cigar shape. A few squirts of WD-40 on the cigar guarantees that it will stay lit and burn for quite a while.
If your forge has a back door, close it. If your front door is large, close it until it is just enough to get a pair of tongs through the opening. You do NOT want to fully close both doors! Having the ends closed off makes it easier to gently ignite the burner when a very small gas flow is used.
I don't think there is much to say about lighting a venturi style forge. Once the cigar is in place you turn up the gas pressure slowly until the burner lights.
Forced air forges are another matter and since I advocate for them so much I think I should offer a safe way of starting one up.
First, before the cigar is even lit and with the propane still shut off, open the air valve until a small amout of air can be felt on your hand which you are holding near the burner outlet (I reach way in there to do this). Eventually, you'll figure out how many turns of the air control will provide the correct amount of air for starting and you won't have to reach in there any more.
Then, turn the blower off. Now, in the ensueing silence, start opening the propane regulator until you can hear the propane start to enter the forge. Leave the regulator set there and shut off the propane using the emergency shut off ball valve (you DO have one, right?).
Now, turn the blower back on. Since the air valve is still open a small amount of air is entering the forge. The little bit of propane that is in the burner and in the forge itself is now being cleared out - give it a moment to get clear.
Light the cigar and, holding it in a pair of tongs, put it into the forge as close to the burner outlet as possible and leave it. Get the tongs and your face out of there!
Now, open the propane emergency shut off ball valve COMPLETELY and allow the gas - whose very low pressure is still preset on the regulator - to enter the forge. The forge should light gently without so much as even a *pop*. Slowly turn up the gas and when needed add some more air. Do not go too far too fast as a forced air burner will not burn efficiently until the forge interior gets hot enough to help ignite the incoming gasses. When this stage is reached you will have to re-adjust the fuel/air mix to get that 'jet engine' sound we all know and love.
If the forge should fail to light shut off the propane at the ball valve and start the process over.
The most important safety tip I can think of is, under NO circumstances, allow the forge body to fill with propane when no fire is present. Even two seconds of propane flowing into the chamber before a fire is present to ignite it is plenty to cause an explosion.
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Ray Rogers Handcrafted Knives