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.