History of Mankel Forge

In the late 1960’s, a Michigan farrier, Ken Mankel, was challenged by fellow farriers to build a better gas forge- if he could. Up to that point, most farriers, bladesmiths and blacksmiths were using coal forges. Step-by-step, Ken began developing parts for the only forced-air model, to our knowledge, on the market at the time; the forge and parts we still manufacture and sell today.

His first model was atmospheric (having no blower), as were/are most other forges manufactured by other companies. Recognizing the need for a lighter, more portable unit that would be easy to use and could bring material to a forging heat quickly, he soon added a blower to the forge design. He researched gas orifices, testing them for the ability to reach a forge-welding heat. The introduction of insulation firebrick materials made it possible for the forge to achieve and maintain higher temperatures, in turn making it possible to heat and work larger stock. In fact, the firebrick and refractory cement we use today allows you to use the forge at high temperatures, and even regularly use flux (in the round-bottomed models), with very little maintenance required on the liner.

In the late 1980’s, Ken introduced his gas forge to the knifemaking community at the Blade Show, then held in Knoxville, Tennessee. Knifemakers asked him to develop a model that would hold up to their unique requirements. Upon returning to Michigan, Ken made his first piece of Damascus steel in his gas forge, proving it could be done efficiently- hence the Knifemaker’s model. Once he sold his first forge to a bladesmith/knifemaker, word spread that the Mankel gas forge could achieve forge-welding heat using less gas pressure than other gas forges being made. Using 2-4 pounds of propane gas pressure, a knifemaker can make more Damascus steel in less time, reheating and re-working it more quickly if there are flaws. This could not be done in a coal forge. The ability to reach forging heat and bring materials back to working heat quickly also makes the forges particularly useful for industrial forging applications.

In 2007, Tim and Kathleen Carr, of the Black Bear Forge, bought the forge-building business from Ken and Mary Mankel. Tim had worked for Ken and Mary for 8 years and was familiar with the gas forges. He felt strongly that the Mankel gas forge was different from anything else available and had a place in the worlds of blacksmithing, bladesmithing and farrier work. So, after the Mankel gas forge had been manufactured in Cannonsburg, MI for 40 years, the operation is now located in Muskegon, MI. The Carrs are committed to continuing the level of service and support the Mankels have always offered to the forge-using community.

ken and time

Why Our Forges Are Right For You.

There are a lot of brands of gas forges manufactured and sold today. Following are some of the reasons we feel the Mankel gas forge is the one for you:

  1. The refractory cement liner in the round-bottomed Knifemaker’s model will hold up to repeated use of flux and forge-welding heat, without requiring replacement. This refractory cement liner also reflects heat efficiently, bringing your work-piece back up to forging temperature quickly. The Knifemaker’s model can also be used for general and architectural blacksmithing
  2. Liners in the other Mankel models hold up to regular use better than those of most of the other gas forges available. Mankel forges don’t use an insulation blanket as lining or have fragile coatings applied.
  3. Adjustable air and gas flow allow for better burn and temperature control in various weather conditions and elevations.
  4. The open 3 sides can be closed off in a variety of ways so you can customize the forge configuration to suite your specific project needs.
  5. Adjustable top height on all models, using additional firebrick and longer threaded rods, allows for working larger stock.
  6. All 4 models of Mankel gas forge can be ordered for use with either propane or natural gas, and can be switched from one to the other at any time, with minimal equipment change.
  7. Gas shut-off valves can be added to each burner so fuel won’t be wasted when doing smaller jobs in multi-burner forges. A 2-burner Knifemaker’s model, running continuously at 3 pounds of propane gas pressure will consume about 20 pounds of LP in an 8 hour period in Muskegon, MI. This will vary somewhat at different elevations.
  8. Any model of Mankel gas forge can be ordered with either an electric blower or with a 12-volt DC blower, for use where electricity is not available.
  9. The 2-burner models weigh 90 -110 pounds, making them very portable. The 3-burner models weigh 130 - 170 pounds.
  10. We have spoken with multiple customers who have been using a Mankel gas forge for 35 years or more, without need of repair and are just now calling for replacement liners or other parts.
  11. When comparing the cost of a solidly constructed, low maintenance, reconfigurable, versatile Mankel forge with the competition, other factors must be considered. Add in the material and labor costs of multiple relinings and flux resistant coating application to their units; factor in costs of lost productivity while their units are being serviced; consider the cost of increased fuel consumption by their units; consider their size limitations.

For questions on the Mankel gas forge, additional information, or advice on what model is right for you, please check out our contact page and send us your questions.