Forge Blower

I invented the Bow Blower, a combination of the bow drill and forge blower to make a device that can force air into a fire while being easy to construct from commonly occurring natural materials using only primitive technology. I began by fanning a fire with a piece of bark to increase its temperature. It is this basic principle I improved on throughout the project.

Next, I made a rotary fan from two pieces of bark that slot together at right angles to each other to form a simple 4 bladed paddle wheel about 20 cm in diameter and 5 cm tall. The blades of the fan were not angled and were designed only to throw air outwards away from the axle when spun. The rotor of the fan was made by splitting a stick two ways so it formed 4 prongs. The fan was then inserted into the prongs and the end lashed to hold it in place. Spinning the fan rotor back and forth between the palms of the hands fanned the fire. But only some of the wind generated by the fan reached the fire. The rest of it was blowing in other directions, effectively being wasted.

So I built a fan housing from unfired clay to direct the air flow into the fire. This was basically an upturned pot with a hole in the top, a spout coming out of the side. The housing was about 25 cm wide and 8 cm tall. The hole in the top and the spout were both about 6 cm in diameter so that the air coming in roughly equalled the air coming out. The base of the fan rotor sat in a wooden socket placed in the ground to make it spin easier and the top of the rotor protruded from the hole in the top of the housing.

Now when the fan spun, air entered the hole in the top of the housing and exited the spout in the side. Importantly, it doesn’t matter which way the fan spins, air always goes into the inlet and out the spout. Air is thrown out towards the walls of the housing and can only leave through the spout while the vacuum in the centre sucks new air into the housing through the inlet. A separate clay pipe called a tuyere was made to fit over the spout to direct air into the coals. This was done because the pipe that touches the fire can melt away so it’s better to make this part replaceable.

Instead of making a large wheel and belt assembly to step up the speed of rotation, I opted for a 75 cm long bow. I made a frame to hold the rotor in place consisting of two stakes hammered into the ground with a socketed cross bar lashed on to hold the top of the rotor. I made bark fibre cordage and tied the end to a stick. I then looped the cord around the rotor and held the other end in the same hand holding the stick. I then pushed and pulled the bow causing the rotor to spin rapidly, forcing air into the fire.

I made a simple mud furnace for the blower. Then I collected orange iron bacteria from the creek (iron oxide), mixed it with charcoal powder (carbon to reduce oxide to metal) and wood ash (flux to lower the meting point) and formed it into a cylindrical brick. I filled the furnace with charcoal, put the ore brick in and commenced firing. The ore brick melted and produced slag with tiny, 1mm sized specs of iron through it. My intent was not so much to make iron but to show that the furnace can reach a fairly high temperature using this blower. A taller furnace called a bloomery was generally used in ancient times to produce usable quantities of iron and consumed more charcoal, ore and labour.

This device produces a blast of air with each stroke of the bow regardless of whether it is pushed or pulled. The bow makes it possible to operate the blower without using a complicated belt and wheel assembly used in traditional forge blowers. There is a brief pause at the end of each stroke where the fan stops to rotate in the other direction, but this is effectively no different to the intermittent blast of a double acting bellows of Europe or box bellows of Asia. The materials used (wood, bark, bark fibre and clay) are readily available on most continents.  No leather, valves or precisely fitted piston gaskets are required as with other types of bellows. The cords for this device wear out often so a number of back up cords should be kept handy for quick replacement. In summary, this is an easy to make device that solves the problem of supplying forced combustion air required for high temperature furnaces and forges.



33 thoughts on “Forge Blower

  1. Would the slag be a good material for anything? I imagine you can shape then freely like clay, thus making them a bit useful. I feel so secure knowing I can do everything from scratch just by watching you. Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m curious to see if a Stirling engine, or at least some primitive (No pun intended.) form of it can be made from natural materials. Are you up for the challenge? It’s one i’d be truly fascinated to see, among the many other dwellers of the interwebs.

    Liked by 2 people

      • One tricks who should be possible is putting an fan in the chimney and have it power the intake fan.
        Know that chimney fans has been used to rotate roasts, but don’t think it has been used to increase airflow.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, those are chimney jacks and I’ve thought about it and think a wooden rotor might work as long as it didn’t touch flames. I’d like to make a rotor from non combustible material and create a turbine that supplies it’s own air. Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, think hardwood should last but not sure about bark, with your skill with clay an ceramic turbine might work better. The belt should do ok as its not in the chimney for long, that if you don’t do more work on the chimney and use just an axle. You might have to spin it yourself until things get hot.

        Don’t know if this has been used historically, yes some 18 or 19th century blacksmiths might have done something like this but not far back? Has the fan blower been used? Look like everybody used bellows.
        Yes lots of stuff was invented way late, you could have printing presses in the bronze age, same with the stirrup and horse collar.


      • They used bellows. The earliest centrifugal blower I could find was from ancient china but only used for blowing rice hulls in a winnowing machine . Thanks.


  3. Stalker/TV producer/ #1 fan here.

    I just send you a YouTube Message. Any chance you are around when I am in Australia or would be up for having a conversation?

    Keep up the great vids and hope to talk soon!
    212-683-3086 x144


  4. This was your best post so far! And others are great too.
    Is getting iron from bacteria a common knowledge or did you think of that? That’s pure genius.
    Re: the engine what about steam turbine? I’m guessing you could make all parts from clay?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you should look to rabbits as a source of leather and form straps or ropes. Or hemp ropes (do u want callouses) sailors used to make rope at sea. From that a flywheel and then a weight balanced flywheel engine is like In a grand father clock so every ten minutes u have to lift something up


    • A Field Guide to Australian Traditional Bush Crafts by Ron Edwards. SAS survival Handbook By John Wiseman. Mastery And Uses Of Fire In Antiquity by J.E.Rehder. The rest is internet research from all over as there isn’t a website with all the information in one place. I just think of something then search to see if it’s already been done. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The double-acting bellows is designed specifically so it doesn’t have the intermittent blast you mention. The top chamber is always pushing air out while the bottom chamber intermittently fills the top chamber. As you found, the lack of a completely steady airflow doesn’t change the effectiveness of the blower really. I think it’s more important for a bellows to avoid blowback.


    • There is a brief pause when the double acting bellows stops to move in the opposite direction and this is what I was referring to. It’s still a great improvement over a single acting bellows that does not blow at all during half the cycle. Thanks.


  6. Tried making it myself, Didn’t go as I hoped, as there is barely any air pressure, I think its the housing but I’m not sure, could you have a look and tell me whats wrong?


  7. Do you plan to ever combine the water power from the hammer with the bellows? Also, do you plan to use a narrower outlet tube to semi-automate burning notches in wood pieces? Thanks


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s